Tuesday, 22 September 2009

British officials question US commitment to climate deal

British and European officials have expressed severe doubts about the commitment of the United States to a new global agreement on reducing pollution and global warming.

By Alex Spillius in Washington and Tom Leonard in New York Published: 7:02PM BST 21 Sep 2009
As 100 presidents and prime ministers prepared for the meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York, John Ashton, the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change, lamented the "ambition gap" between Europe and the US.
The US Senate is considered unlikely to approve a new energy-saving bill before the intended signing of a new climate deal in Copenhagen in December, which would replace the Kyoto Protocol.

"There is no technological obstacle, there is no macroeconomic obstacle. The barriers are political," said Mr Ashton.
John Bruton, the EU ambassador to Washington, said: "Is the US Senate really expecting all the other countries to make a serious effort on climate change at the Copenhagen conference in the absence of a clear commitment from the United States?
"The United States is just one of the 190 countries coming to this conference, but the United States emits 25 per cent of all the greenhouse gases that the conference is trying to reduce," he added.
Officials fear that the contentious debate in America on health care reform, which has raised accusations of high taxation and excessive government power, could leave President Barack Obama bereft of any political credit to push a bill controlling carbon emissions through the Senate, even though legislation already passed the House of Representatives.
Opponents are gearing up for an intense campaign that will stress the cost to industry and consumers of binding carbon targets.
"It's going to be a very big issue in this country and in the senate. Many of the same contours can be seen on climate and energy as we see today on health care, though they are not identical," said a British diplomat.
When Mr Obama took office, hopes were raised in Europe that he would lead the US on a bold reversal of George W Bush's rejection of Kyoto.
Apart from slow progress in Congress, the administration itself is unwilling to commit the US to internationally-enforced lower emission standards of the type favoured in Europe.
The Americans are determined that any international agreement is acceptable domestically, after Kyoto was signed by then president Bill Clinton in 1997 but rejected by a Republican-controlled Senate and later Mr Bush.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said the world needed to make the most of a combination of political factors, including increased interest from China and India, a change of government in Japan as well as President Obama's first year in office.
"This is a moment you have to seize. This period is a make or break opportunity," he said. "It may look like the constellation of stars is difficult but it's actually the best it's going to be for some time to come."
Developing countries were past the stage of blaming the First World for global warming and were increasingly convinced of the need to act collectively, he said in New York.
"My impression talking to the administration... is that they realise the need to come to Copenhagen with as concrete an offer as possible," he added.

Climate change's cold reality

The UN has ensured the failure of a global climate change deal by ignoring the US and embracing Kyoto's flaws
Muhammad Cohen
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 17.00 BST
The United Nations is hosting a summit on climate change Tuesday in New York. Secretary general Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, hoping to build momentum for an agreement at the UN's global warming extravaganza in Copenhagen, just 11 weeks away.
The Copenhagen conference is supposed produce a new treaty on greenhouse gas emissions as a successor to the Kyoto protocol. To avoid a global temperature rise beyond 2C that would pose significant dangers, the UN wants industrialised countries to reduce emissions 25-40% by 2020, as part of an 80% global cut by 2050. But the UN has ensured the failure of its prize project and continued carbon emissions growth by embracing Kyoto's flaws.
Kyoto and its Copenhagen successor ignore the elephant in the thermometer. Despite the extraordinary threat from the global warming, the UN thinks it just takes a handful of nations to fix it.
Only 40 industrialised countries – the US, all of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Russia – must limit their emissions under the UN's Copenhagen strategy. Other nations, including the world's biggest polluter, China, will face no limits on emissions.
Developing countries will account for an estimated two-thirds to three-fourths of greenhouse gas increases over the next decade, yet nothing in the Copenhagen agreement will even slow that trend. Industrialised countries simply must hope – and pay an estimated $140bn annually – for developing countries to pursue green policies.
Copenhagen foresees exempting countries producing half of the world's total emissions. Emissions from unrestricted countries now surpass 70% because the US didn't ratify Kyoto, objecting to the developing country exemption compared with a mandated 7% cut in its emissions output. Climate change doubter and oil man George Bush is gone, but Barack Obama won't simply fall in line with UN demands.
US negotiators say any deal must comply with US law. Given the current level of public vitriol over healthcare reform proposals, that's a political imperative: Imagine the political firestorm if Americans were told to trade in their SUVs by order of the UN.
US participation in a Copenhagen agreement is critical, but the UN hasn't engaged Washington meaningfully on the issue in the dozen years since Kyoto was negotiated. Instead, the UN has embraced green groups, inviting nearly 1,000 NGOs into the Copenhagen process.
Aligning with green groups could be helpful if it translated into grassroots support to bring the US and others aboard. But environmental NGOs bring to the table a 40-year record of failure to build public enthusiasm or lead substantial progress on the core issues of the climate change debate.
With that legacy of futility, green groups bring their ethos that America, its allies and corporations form an axis of evil. They insist climate decisions must follow what scientists recommend, with no room for debate or compromise. "If scientists were being elected to lead our countries, I'd agree with that," Obama's special assistant for energy environment Joseph Aldy told me at the Bali climate change conference in 2007. "In the end, it's about what politicians will agree to."
Fortunately, the US and China, jointly accounting for more than 40% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, are pursuing bilateral talks to limit emissions and nurture green development. They signed a preliminary co-operation agreement in July that carries political support from Obama and Hu Jintao, includes business as well as science and could bring aboard other big polluters to produce real emissions cuts along with economic growth.
By contrast, the UN's best-case scenario for Copenhagen is an agreement pretending to cut global emissions that is designed to fail, in the tradition of the UN and its NGO allies.
Mother Earth deserves better.

This is not any old summit. Poker diplomacy has to end

The world's fate hangs on Copenhagen. From today, all of us, developing countries too, must join in a new, open dialogue
Ed Miliband
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 22.30 BST
For the two million people who live on sandbanks in Bangladesh, climate change is a matter of life and death. During my recent visit to the country, a group of women told me how the 2007 floods had destroyed nearly every home in their village. Such floods now come more frequently and more severely. For them, the instruction to world leaders meeting at the UN today is that they must deliver.
But the truth is that treating this like a conventional negotiation will fail. The route to an agreement at Copenhagen this December which safeguards the future of the planet must be based on a willingness to abandon traditional negotiating tactics.
Some are already saying that we are in danger of summit overhype. Attempts at agreements come and go. Kyoto, Doha, Gleneagles. Maybe a global deal matters less than piecemeal arrangements, they argue.
Kyoto, where promises were made but not kept, does show that agreement aftercare is essential, but it also teaches us that without everyone signed up, we cannot succeed. Copenhagen is the world's chance to get the global buy-in we need. The prize is a deal that means global emissions peak and start to fall in time to keep temperature rises to less than 2C. For the first time in the indust- rialised history of the world, greenhouse gas emissions would be under control.
To achieve this, developed countries need to cut their emissions, not just in 2050 but now. But even if rich countries clean up their act, we won't succeed without developing countries, such as China and India.
They have much lower emissions per person, hundreds of millions of people in poverty and are growing much quicker than developed countries, so they won't be able to cut their emissions straight away. But they do need to take meaningful action to slow the growth in their emissions, in advance of cuts.
The December deadline is focusing minds and forcing action. World leaders are beginning to hear the ticking of the environmental clock. President Obama has changed the American approach, Japan just announced a dramatic upping of its ambition, India that it will legislate for actions to tackle emissions and China is willing to take action too.
So some of the pieces of the jigsaw for an agreement are there, but without ambition and imagination from all countries, they won't fit together. Politics is still lagging behind science, domestic opposition is strong in many countries, the demands of finance are enormous and the technological leaps required are great.
To succeed, we need to avoid traditional finger-pointing and act collectively. Every country faces its own compelling constraints: whether it is the United States, where the debate about climate change has been held back, or India, which has 400 million people living on less than $1 a day.
And yet despite compelling constraints, Nick Stern has suggested that we are on the way to the emissions reductions we need by 2020. His analysis suggest that a climate- responsible goal is a limit on emissions of about 44 gigatonnes in 2020. Pledges already made leave us about 5 gigatonnes over that goal. The world needs to act together to identify how we make the further cuts we need.
So we must be in this together rather than looking for who to blame. The fate of every nation on earth hangs on the outcome of Copenhagen. It is too important to play the cards close-to-your-chest poker games that marked diplomacy of the 20th century. Just as we are realising that the way we do politics has to change at home, so it has to change in international negotiations. Without an open honest dialogue we will never clear the logjams that are in the way of a deal.
In particular, we need to persuade developing countries that rich nations understand their historical responsibility for the problem. They need to know that we will help support the transition to a low carbon economy and the adaptation needed to deal with the effects of climate change it is too late to avoid. That's why, well in advance of the summit, Gordon Brown has proposed a deal for developing countries worth $100bn a year by 2020.
Finally, we also need the issue to be brought out of the airless rooms and into the open. What haunts me is that this moment passes by without people realising how high the stakes are.
That's why politicians have a duty to lead in our actions and explain why this matters. And we need the public to do what they can do best, to move the politics by making their voice heard.
The climate change debate can be frustrating because it sometimes seems to veer between denial and defeatism, the people who say we don't need to act and the people who say we can't. Both are wrong and dangerous.
Summits do come and go. But if the world can really get global emissions under control, we will be charting a new course for our economies and societies. We can't afford to fail.

Costs of climate change deal would drop with truly global agreement, says report

Climate Group says full collaboration between rich and poor countries would help reduce costs of reaching carbon targets
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 12.02 BST
A truly global climate change deal — with full collaboration from the developed and developing world — would dramatically reduce the costs of dealing with global warming and moving to a clean energy economy, said a new study published today by the influential Climate Group.
The report said a broad-based agreement with ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions would amplify the potential cost savings and benefits — including job creation and rise in GDP — of dealing with climate change.
Former prime minister of Britain Tony Blair launched the report yesterday ahead of UN climate change talks in New York this week.
"A climate change deal, if a genuinely global deal with everybody in it, is not just good for the environment, it's good for the economy," he said.
The report claims that such a deal could create up to 10m new jobs by 2020, stimulate additional economic growth and accelerate sustainable development in developing countries.
Costs of carbon would also drop dramatically, said the report, the more countries join a global trading agreement to help meet targets on reducing emissions.
Researchers at Cambridge found that a tonne of carbon would cost $65 for the European Union — if operating alone — to cut its emissions by 30% over 1990 levels. But if the US joined an agreement, the price of carbon would fall to $28. The carbon cost could drop much lower — to about $4 a tonne — if there were a "global green new deal" involving developed and developing countries agreed at the Copenhagen climate change meeting in December, the researchers found.
However, that agreement would have to be carefully constructed to encourage the rapid development of cleaner cars, and more efficient power stations and buildings, the report warns. Less ambitious targets would mean lower gains in terms of GDP and job creation.
The report, Cutting the Cost: the economic benefits of collaborative climate change action, used computer simulations of economic activity, energy generation and greenhouse gas emissions developed by the Cambridge centre for climate change mitigation and Cambridge Econometric to make cost estimates of a range of scenarios.
It is released at the start of a week that will be tightly focused on climate change.
The UN chief, Ban Ki-Moon, has gathered nearly 100 world leaders in New York for a summit that is aimed at getting industrialised countries to commit to deep cuts in carbon emissions, especially over the next decade.
In Pittsburgh, later this week, G20 leaders will take on the increasingly contentious issue of climate finance: how to fund the move to cleaner energy technology in developing countries as well as protect the poorest countries who are the most vulnerable to surging seas and extreme temperatures brought by climate change.
Today's report seeks to build on earlier findings from the Stern review and others that it will cost far less to act now to mitigate man-made climate change than to deal with its catastrophic consequences to try to press those leaders for action.
"The purpose of this in a sense is to say to the politicians we know you have got the will but there is also a way," Blair said.
The benefits of a truly global deal would arrive through the greater efficiencies of economies of scale, knowledge sharing, and expanded trade and markets in new technology. "The greater the range of emission reduction opportunities that can be tapped into by countries, the more low cost abatement options there are likely to be," the report said. "As developing countries ... enter the agreement so the carbon prices becomes lower still."
The models showed slight increases in GDP under all the scenarios — though the greatest gains were in the event of a global agreement. In that case, projected global GDP would register a 0.8% increase over GDP with no climate action in 2020.
There would also be more jobs created — 10 million by 2020 under a global deal compared with 1.1 million jobs if the EU acts alone.

China and India expected to seize initiative at New York climate talks

Pressure on America increases as China set to take lead on tackling climate change and India plans 'aggressive' cuts
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 18.29 BST
China and India appeared poised for bold new action on climate change ahead of a major UN summit tomorrow, in moves that will significantly increase pressure on President Barack Obama to deliver cuts in US emissions.
The UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, said today that he expects China's president, Hu Jintao, to announce a series of new measures tomorrow that would put the country well ahead of America in dealing with climate change. Meanwhile, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, told the Guardian his government planned to make "aggressive" cuts in India's emissions.
The Chinese and Indian measures — if fully realised — could represent a breakthrough in bringing them into a global climate change deal at a UN summit in Copenhagen in December. Almost all observers say the Copenhagen talks are danderously stalled..
"This suite of policies will take China to be a world leader on addressing climate change, and it will be quite ironic to hear that expressed tomorrow in a country (the United States) that is firmly convinced that China is doing nothing to address climate change," De Boer said.
China, India and other developing countries between them will account for more than two-thirds of the world's emissions by 2020, but they argue they cannot sacrifice economic growth and poverty relief to reducing carbon emissions, especially if the industrialised world does not take decisive action on its own emissions.
But China and India now appear to be demonstrating a new willingness to act — even in the absence of a firm commitment from America, where Obama is struggling to deliver on a promise of an economy-wide plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
In an interview with the Guardian, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, sketched out a series of measures he said would go some distance to cutting India's emissions, so-called mitigation measures. "India is going to aggressively take on voluntary mitigration outcomes," he said. "We are now going to go for domestic legislation [which] will enshrine some targets."
These include a mandatory fuel efficiency target which would come into effect in 2011; a more energy efficient building code which would come into effect in 2012; and an increase in electricity produced from renewable sources to 20% by 2020. The government was also stepping up efforts to stop deforestation, raising its target for tree cover to 15% by 2020. He said these measures and others were designed to reduce India's energy intensity by a further 5 to 10%.
"What India is going to do is to set a target date which is 2020 and introduce a quantitative outcome which is an implicit mitigation target — not explicit target. We will enshrine that into law so that there is a degree of credibility."
However, Ramesh said India would not compromise on its ambitions of achieving 8% economic growth a year. The plans could also fall hostage to India's political scene, where there are sensitivities at being seen to be giving in to pressure from the developed world.
Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said that recent moves by India, China and other developing nations had improved the chances of a comprehensive global warming deal at Copenhagen. But, writing in tomorrow's Guardian, he warned that a new kind of diplomacy was needed: "We must be in this together rather than looking for who to blame. The fate of every nation on earth hangs on the outcome of Copenhagen. It is too important to play the cards close-to-your-chest poker games that marked diplomacy of the 20th century."
Miliband also noted a new report from economist Lord Stern which showed that, even with the limited commitments so far, the world was within striking range of meeting 2020 targets for cutting emissions sufficiently to keep the earth from warming beyond 2C. Stern, in a speech at Columbia University later today , was expected to present a report showing the world was on course to reduce overall emissions from today's global total of 50 gigatonnes to 48 gigatonnes. That is not so far off the figure of 44 gigatonnes needed to avoid catastrophic global warming. Emissions, in the absence of the actions so far agreed, would rise to 65 gigatonnes by 2020.
However, leaders of countries on the sharp end of climate change did not share Miliband's optimism. Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana's president, told The Guardian he feared the deal now beginning to take shape could seriously weaken targets for reducing emissions compared to the targets demanded by scientists. That would be a calamity for Guyana, which loses some 10% of its GDP annually to flooding.
Jagdeo said he was worried about what sort of funds would be established to help shield poor countries from the worst effects of climate change.
"The negotiation process is not leading to the type of agreement that we want in Copenhagen," Jagdeo said. "We have basically farmed out the negotiations to technical people and most of them are at the limit of what we can agree to. What we need are leaders to break their silence and come up with new policies. "
Ramesh also had reduced expectations for Copenhagen. He held out little hope of a broad agreement to cut emissions that will keep global warming within 2C, a view echoed in an influential report in China last week. Instead, in his view, there was only broad agreement on the need for a fund to protect poor countries from the worst ravages of climate change, a plan to help developing countries adopt new clean energy technology, and another programme — with funding from the industrialised world — to reduce deforestation in the developing world. " It's an easier option if you don't have to change your lifestyle, you don't have to cut emissions directly. All you have to do is put some money into a forest in India or Papua New Guinea or somewhere," Ramesh said.
The UN is hoping to break through that pessimism by getting world leaders directly involved with climate change at the summit on Tuesday and beyond. The prime minister, Gordon Brown, has agreed to go to Copenhagen and is encouraging other leaders to attend the negotiations in the hopes of producing a stronger agreement. "This is too important to be left to the negotiators. Negotiators have their role but leaders are the people who are going to make this happen," said Miliband.

Guyana is a model of forest protection that could solve the climate crisis

A Copenhagen deal must enable countries like ours to generate an income by conserving forests rather than cutting them down
Bharrat Jagdeo
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 17.45 BST
The UN general assembly this week is going to change the world. This is because quiet conversations in meeting rooms and corridors around the UN complex will shape the world's climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December — and all of our lives, and those of every generation that follows.
And this is all going to happen because of trees. This week, among the talk of recession and growth, defence and terrorism, economic stimuli and trade sanctions, world leaders will discuss one of the key solutions that we need to focus on to tackle climate change — the world's forests.
Deforestation is responsible for almost 20% of the world's carbon emissions – more than all of the cars, planes, ships, trucks and trains on earth put together. On top of this, forests and other biological systems are the only viable only way of actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere. So stopping deforestation is one of the most obvious and immediate solutions to climate change.
The particular solution the UN will discuss centres around a set of ideas called Redd (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) that looks set to be a key pillar of the forthcoming Copenhagen climate agreement. Redd should help to lay to rest one of the greatest mistakes of modern times — the failure to include a mechanism for protecting forests in the Kyoto protocol.
Redd should be good news for Guyana, because we have a lot of trees, and a bold plan to make these trees the economic generator of our nation by offering their services in removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it for the nations who have been generating the emissions.
In fact, more than three-quarters of our nation is covered with trees, and we have been able to keep it that way while many similar nations have suffered from rampant deforestation. But Redd will only work if the governments of the world provide the money to make conserving forests a viable alternative to cutting them down, and it is essential that the UN delegates realise this.
A recent report estimated that Guyana could generate approximately $500m a year by cutting its forests – money that is desperately needed for healthcare, education and infrastructure in a poor nation such as ours. But the world needs our forests to prevent climate change – what should we do?
Since I last came to New York to call for forest conservation a little over a year ago, the world has lost an area of forest the size of my entire country – more than 15m hectares, with huge impacts on the climate for many years to come. This has not happened out of malice or ignorance, but because most of the world's forested nations have no alternative but to generate income by cutting their forests.
Of course, tackling deforestation is only one issue that the international community needs to address in order to stop climate change. Fundamentally, the Copenhagen agreement must involve commitments to reduce global carbon emissions to keep the temperature rise to at most 2C by 2050.
But forest conservation is an essential part of the solution and, if Guyana's model is adopted for Redd, it will overcome this and put the planet on a new path, where protecting forests is more economically prudent than cutting them down, and where we will have a chance to prevent climate change from defining this century — and prevent our generation being remembered as the one that failed.
• Bharrat Jagdeo is president of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana

Letterman gets to the heart of it all

By David Usborne
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
On jetting into New York last night ahead of this morning's climate change talks, Barack Obama did the important stuff first: appearing on the late night television show hosted by David Letterman. There he was able to ponder such things as heart-shaped potatoes and the role played by race in recent attacks on his healthcare plan.
"First of all, I think it's important to realise that I was actually black before the election," Mr Obama quipped when prodded again on the race question. Not to be outdone, Mr Letterman responded: "How long have you been a black man?"
The appearance on the Late Show did have a serious purpose of course – Mr Obama is still trying to boost popular support for his healthcare overhaul – now at a critical stage of negotiation in the US Congress. But he mostly kept things light-hearted. Before he came on the set, Mr Letterman rehearsed 10 reasons why Mr Obama would have agreed to come on the show. Among them: because he said yes without thinking about it, rather like George Bush did when he invaded Iraq.
But Mr Obama had overheard from offstage an exchange between Letterman and a woman in the audience who had come with a heart-shaped potato. "The main reason I'm here?" Mr Obama began. "I want to see the heart-shaped potato." The woman tossed it to him and told him he could keep it. When Mr Obama sees that I "heart" NY logo in future he will immediately think spud.

China's Hu to Outline Emissions Proposal

BEIJING -- China's President Hu Jintao is expected to commit China to reducing carbon use but won't pledge any absolute caps on its greenhouse-gas emissions, according to analysts -- which could disappoint diplomats and climate-change activists who had hoped for more from the world's biggest greenhouse-gas producer.
In a speech Tuesday before a United Nations summit on climate change, Mr. Hu is expected to say that China will include so-called carbon intensity targets in its next five-year plan, the economic blueprint for 2011-2015. That promise could help China take the global lead in the climate-change debate, even as it dovetails with domestic policies already in place.
But China would only promise to use less carbon per dollar of economic product -- not reduce emissions overall. That may fail to impress U.S. lawmakers, to whom activists are also looking for concessions if a substantive international agreement is to be reached by December at a conference in Copenhagen. Proposed U.S. legislation would impose caps, but manufacturers argue that will hurt them in competition with China and other developing countries.
A carbon intensity target would encourage China to burn more efficiently and rely more on cleaner alternatives, but won't limit how much coal China uses.
Setting up carbon as a standard could set a framework for any future caps because China would need to measure its carbon emissions for the first time. But analysts warn that China's economy is growing so fast it could wipe out any gains made in other parts of the world unless it pursues a deep cut overall.
China has said it wants a deal at the Copenhagen meeting to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012.
Write to Shai Oster at shai.oster@wsj.com and Ian Johnson at ian.johnson@wsj.com

China ready to take lead in war on global warming

James Bone and Francis Elliott

China will unveil “impressive” measures at a high-powered summit in New York today that could help to unlock global talks on climate change, according to the UN climate chief.
Yves de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, predicted that China would become a world leader in fighting global warming.
President Hu Jintao of China and President Obama are due to address a gathering of more than a hundred world leaders at UN headquarters in New York today in an effort to agree on cuts in global emissions at a crucial Copenhagen conference in December.
Mr de Boer said that Chinese officials promised to unveil an “impressive suite of actions [that] will take China into a leadership position”.
Mr Hu is expected to lay down a “carbon intensity” goal for his country, the world’s top emitter of the greenhouse gases held responsible for global warming. “I hope that after President Hu’s speech the international community will recognise the leadership role played by China. I hope the United States equals and surpasses that role at Copenhagen,” Mr de Boer said.
Talks on setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 have been hobbled by suspicion between rich countries, particularly the United States, and rapidly developing nations such as China and India.
Mr de Boer likened the talks to “four guys sitting on a bridge. Are they going to jump at the same time? Or will three of the four remain seated? The big concern is that one will go out on a limb, taking climate change steps that the others will not take, and the end result will be job-shifting from one country to another.”
Mr de Boer suggested that China’s announcement could help President Obama to muster domestic support for US action on climate change. “The sense that China is doing nothing to address climate change is a fantasy,” he said. “You cannot get US agreement on climate change without that fantasy being exposed. If American voters are given the feeling their competitors are doing nothing, then they are right to be cautious about going out on a limb.”
Mr Obama pledged in his election campaign to slash US greenhouse gas emissions. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate Bill in June that would cut emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
However, Mr Obama is embroiled in a bruising battle over his proposed healthcare reform — raising the prospect that the US Senate will not pass its version of climate change legislation by the time of the Copenhagen conference.
Mr de Boer held out hope that the Senate could still agree cuts by December, but he said it was not essential for Mr Obama to have legislation in hand to reach a deal. “If the US representative comes to Copenhagen and signs up to a target, that is good enough for the international community,” he said. “He does not have to show his credit rating. People will take him at his word.”
Ed Miliband, the British Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said there was reason to be optimistic that a deal could be reached at Copenhagen. He pointed to recent projections by Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of an influential 2006 study on climate change, indicating that measures already announced would reduce global emissions from 50 gigatonnes today to 48 gigatonnes in 2020; not far short of the 44 gigatonnes required to limit global warming to 2C.
The International Energy Agency reported yesterday that the recession had already caused the sharpest fall in world greenhouse gas emissions in 40 years, with a projected reduction of about 2.6 per cent by the end of the year as industrial activity around the planet is curtailed.
Gordon Brown is flying to New York today to chair a round-table discussion at the climate summit. The Prime Minister will not, however, get the chance for a formal one-on-one meeting with Mr Obama, either during the UN session or at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh later in the week.
Mr Obama, who made clear his displeasure at the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, has cleared his diary for a lunch with African leaders today.
British officials denied that Mr Brown had been snubbed, insisting that the pair would see each other frequently at the UN and at the G20 summit. They claimed that the US President was holding only three bilateral meetings, with the leaders of China, Russia and Japan.
Mr Brown last addressed the UN General Assembly two years ago, soon after assuming the role of Prime Minister. On that visit he was taken to Camp David for extensive talks with President Bush.
Mr Brown raised the prospect yesterday of turning the Copenhagen talks into a summit of world leaders. “If it is necessary to clinch the deal, I will personally go to Copenhagen to achieve it — and I will be urging my fellow leaders to do so too,” he wrote in Newsweek magazine.
Middle East
Today President Obama moderates talks between Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. In his address to the UN General Assembly tomorrow Mr Obama is expected to try to relaunch the peace process. Mr Netanyahu will address the UN on Thursday, Mr Abbas on Friday. Prognosis The omens are not good. George Mitchell, the US envoy, returned empty-handed from Israel last week. Mr Obama has demanded that Israel stop settlement building in the West Bank and Mr Abbas says this is a precondition for talks. Mr Netanyahu wants only a limited freeze.
Nuclear weapons
On Thursday Mr Obama chairs a special session of the UN Security Council on nuclear disarmament, likely to be dominated by Iran’s nuclear programme. Foreign ministers from the E3+3 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US) discuss the issue tomorrow before October 1 talks with Iran. President Ahmadinejad of Iran addresses the UN tomorrow. Prognosis Hopes for agreement on disarmament brightened last week after the US agreed to change its missile shield plan. But the question of Iran’s alleged nuclear programme remains — as does the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. Iran solutions will have to wait until the October talks and beyond, but diplomats will be looking for a change in Russia’s attitude.
On Friday world leaders decamp from New York to Pittsburgh for a G20 meeting on financial regulation. Issues include bankers’ pay and attempts to stabilise the global financial system once stimulus packages are rolled back. Prognosis Ministers have agreed elements to be included in curbs on bankers’ bonuses, but some see this as a red herring next to the challenge of restoring global financial stability and the imbalance between the huge US trade deficit and the corresponding surplus in China.

Airlines vow to halve carbon emissions by 2050

Exclusive: Industry will offer cut at climate change summit to avoid tougher action
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 23.23 BST
The aviation industry will tomorrow make a dramatic pledge to slash carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050 in a move that will force up air fares and spark a green technology race among aircraft manufacturers.
The British Airways chief executive, Willie Walsh, will unveil an agreement between airlines, airports and aircraft companies to cut emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2050. In a bid to seize the initiative from environmental groups clamouring for higher taxes on the industry, the plan will be presented to world leaders at the United Nations forum on climate change in New York.
Airlines have been accused of dragging their heels over climate change, but the strategic shift reflects industry concerns that it could be ambushed at the global warming summit in Copenhagen in December if it does not address its growing emissions.
Writing in the Guardian, climate change secretary Ed Miliband says he is haunted by the possibility that politicians will fail to reach a global climate deal. Calling for a new urgency and spirit of co-operation in the negotiations, he writes: "The fate of every nation on earth hangs on the outcome of Copenhagen. It is too important to play the cards-close-to-your-chest poker games that marked diplomacy of the twentieth century."
UN officials are hoping that China's president, Hu Jintao, may break the deadlock in the negotiations by announcing in New York ambitious plans to reduce China's carbon emissions.
If Walsh's proposals are accepted by the UN, they will be on the agenda at Copenhagen, where world leaders hope to agree global emissions reduction targets. The pledges drawn up by members of the global airline body, the International Air Transport Association, are:
• To reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.
• To make all industry growth carbon-neutral by 2020.
• To cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5% per year over the next decade.
• To submit plans for joining a global carbon trading scheme to the UN by November 2010.
The 50% reduction target by 2050 goes further than the UK government's target of limiting airline emissions to 2005 levels by the same deadline. Walsh's presentation to UN delegates on behalf of IATA will be viewed by climate change campaigners as an attempt to pre-empt punitive measures at Copenhagen, amid fears among airline executives that the aviation industry will be singled out over its exclusion from carbon dioxide caps enshrined in the 1997 Kyoto protocols.
Walsh will say: "International aviation emissions were not included in the Kyoto protocol 12 years ago. Now we have a chance to rectify that omission, and we must seize it. Our proposals represent the most environmentally effective and practical means of reducing aviation's carbon impact. They are the best option for the planet and we urge the UN to adopt them."
Under the proposals, airlines would leave the EU emissions trading scheme, which they are due to join in 2012, and would buy carbon dioxide permits in a global market. Walsh warned earlier this year that a global scheme would add around £3bn per year to industry costs, which would be passed on to passengers through higher fares. According to the European commission, the EU trading scheme will add €9 (£8.16) to the cost of a return short-haul flight and €40 to a long-distance return flight. However, campaigners suggested the new pledge was undermined by its reliance on the industry funding emissions cuts elsewhere. "It is a real problem that this will include offsetting and buying carbon credits," said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace. "It shows that Willie Walsh is not really taking the issue of climate change seriously."
Aviation accounts for 1.6% of global greenhouse emissions currently, but will become the biggest emitter in the developed world if it grows unchecked. The government's advisory body, the committee on climate change, warned ministers this month that aviation will account for a quarter of all emissions in the developed world even if it caps 2050 emissions at 2005 levels.
The committee also recommended state investment in the green technology. Cutting the industry's emissions will require radical advances in technology that, if they are not achieved, would force airlines to make up the difference on carbon trading or offset markets. Airlines are expected to lose $11bn (£6.8bn) this year, according to IATA, and their weak balance sheets will be strained further by carbon permits, analysts say.

Scrap those old boilers

A scheme like car scrappage to replace old for newer, energy- efficient boilers would cut emissions and stimulate the economy
Tony Juniper
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 13.02 BST
I've just signed a petition at the 10 Downing Street website: "We the undersigned petition the prime minister to work with manufacturers of central heating boilers to create a 'Boiler Scrappage Scheme'," it says.
The petition was put there as part of a campaign, called Reheat Britain , started by plumbers' merchant Mick Williams. The simple idea is that by replacing the country's old, inefficient gas boilers it would be possible to achieve a major environmental benefit and conserve a valuable resource while at the same time creating employment and economic activity. It is an idea that goes very much with the spirit of the Green New Deal proposals that a group of us published last year.
Reheat Britain suggests that a limited and temporary fund is created, mostly from public sources but perhaps also including contributions from boiler manufacturers. It would work along similar lines to the car scrappage scheme, and it is estimated that an incentive of about £200 per boiler would be needed.
Unlike the car scheme, it would have the advantage of actually cutting emissions (no pollution standards were applied to the car scheme) and creating a significant employment boost here (rather than in Germany or Japan, as we import the vast majority of cars sold here). Existing regulations mean that virtually all new boilers on the market are now highly efficient and A-rated, and two of the leading manufacturers supplying these boilers for the UK market, Worcester and Baxi, are based right here in Britain.
Reheat Britain is already attracting broad support. This is not surprising when one calculation suggests that even a limited scheme, with the same level of funding as car scrappage, could help households to cut carbon at a rate comparable to the government's whole sustainable transport strategy.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, boilers account for about 60% of the CO2 emissions from a gas-heated home. By replacing a G-rated boiler with a new A-rated condensing alternative with better controls, household bills can be cut by up to a quarter.. In an average family home that could mean a saving of £235 a year.
Reducing gas consumption reduces CO2 emissions at the same rate, so a house that swaps a G-rated boiler for an A-rated alternative could also reduce its carbon footprint by as much as 15% with just this one measure – going a long way towards reducing the emissions of everyone in it. Perhaps the cabinet, who have all just pledged to cut their own emissions by 10% next year as part of the 10:10 campaign http://www.1010uk.org/, should take note of this rather large number.
Initially, there will be a carbon cost in making and fitting new boilers. However, for an energy-using appliance like a boiler, the proportion of manufacturing emissions – compared with emissions from fuel used during its working life – is no more than a few per cent, and savings would begin to be made rapidly.
Helping businesses is another important benefit of the scheme. There are 120,000 registered Gas Safe plumbers and engineers in the UK, and many of them are sole traders or small businesses. Many are reporting difficulties since the credit crunch. This year Mick Williams's annual survey of his trade customers showed order books getting lighter for the second year running. In 2007, 28% of plumbers reported more than eight weeks of work on the books, a figure which plummeted to 14% this year. An immediate boiler scrappage scheme would help many of these businesses to stay afloat until new government schemes to promote new boilers and insulation come into effect in 2011.
And with many boilers made in the UK, when we keep hearing from politicians how concerned they are about the UK's manufacturing sector, here is a proposal to do something practical that will actually help people who are making things here.
This idea seems so sensible that I wonder why it hasn't been seized upon by ministers as a truly joined-up solution to the related and simultaneous challenges of energy security, climate change and recession. Having spent many years campaigning for policy change I would say that it is because the small- and medium-sized businesses that would benefit from this don't employ the professional lobbyists hired by the international auto firms.
I can't really see Mick and his colleagues getting access to G20 sherpa meetings, but I can very well imagine executives from the global auto giants chatting through the public-backed rescue of their businesses at the highest level – even though the energy security, environmental and even employments benefits are at best arguable.
One way to ensure the voice of greener business is heard is to sign the petition. Suggest to your friends and family that they do the same.

Global warming website helps farmers cut livestock flatulence

Farmers are being advised how to reduce their livestock’s flatulence on a new website launched by Scottish ministers to tackle global warming.

By Simon Johnson, Scottish Political EditorPublished: 6:49PM BST 21 Sep 2009
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment minister, unveiled a five-point action plan for the country’s agricultural sector to reduce its greenhouse gases.
A fact sheet has been produced outlining how farmers can adjust their animals’ diets to reduce methane emissions. The measures include ensuring livestock eats the right length of grass.

Although vehicles produce a far larger volume of noxious gases, methane is 21 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
In total, methane is thought to contribute about 18 per cent towards the global warming effect, with cattle and sheep the main culprits. Scottish ministers have pledged to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050.
Launching the action plan and website, Mr Lochhead said: “Our farmers can lead the fight against climate change and not only help our environment but help their businesses at the same time.
“By adopting these five simple steps, farming will become part of the solution to climate change. I am confident that these practical cost-effective measures will be welcomed.”
The fact sheet tells farmers that their animals emit four greenhouse gases, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia.
Methane is produced by bacteria in the guts of livestock, and is associated with fermentation within sheep, cattle and, to a lesser extent, horses.
To reduce emissions, the fact sheet states: “It is important that good quality grass is available and this can be achieved by carefully managing the grazing.
“Graze at a target grass height to supply sufficient dry matter, but not so high that the grass has become mature and of lower digestibility.”
It also recommends using the right type of grass, and advises beef cattle producers use “high concentrate” diets for their livestock to reduce methane levels. Greenhouse gases can also be cut by using waste products from distilleries.
The New Zealand government briefly considered taxing farmers on their herds' methane output but the proposal had to be dropped following opposition.
South of the Border, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs considered introducing a system of tradable methane permits but the system was considered too complex.
Jim McLaren, president of NFU Scotland, said farmers have already made a “significant contribution” to cutting greenhouse gases.
He added: “Further research into the roles that livestock diet, soil and nutrient management will go some way to helping agriculture fulfil its potential in this area.”
The Scottish campaign, titled Farming for a Better Climate, is being funded by the taxpayer and the website is hosted by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC).
Graham Kerr, who leads the programme for the SAC, said: “This is an issue that challenges us all and land managers can play their part in reducing carbon emissions.”

From toxic waste to toxic assets, the same people always get dumped on

Trafigura is just another case of global fly-tipping. It's all too easy for firms to protect profit and pass risk to the poor world
George Monbiot
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 21.00 BST
It was revolting, monstrous, inhumane – and scarcely different from what happens in Africa almost every day. The oil trading company Trafigura has just agreed to pay compensation to 31,000 people in Ivory Coast, after the Guardian and the BBC's Newsnight obtained emails sent by its traders. They reveal that Trafigura knew that the oil slops it sent there in 2006 were contaminated with toxic waste. But the Ivorian contractor it employed to pump out the hold of its tanker dumped them around inhabited areas in the capital city and the countryside. Tens of thousands of people fell ill and 15 died. While the settlement says that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short-term low-level flu-like symptoms, and anxiety, it is one of the world's worst cases of chemical exposure since the gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. But in all other respects the Trafigura case is unremarkable. It's just another instance of the rich world's global fly-tipping.
On the day that the Guardian published the company's emails, it also carried a story about a shipwreck discovered in 480 metres of water off the Italian coast. Detectives found the ship after a tip-off from a mafioso. It appears to have been carrying drums of nuclear waste when the mafia used explosives to scuttle it. The informant, Francesco Fonti, said his clan had been paid £100,000 to get rid of it. What makes this story interesting is that the waste appears to be Norwegian. Norway is famous for its tough environmental laws, but a shipload of nuclear waste doesn't go missing without someone high-up looking the other way.
Italian prosecutors are investigating the scuttling of a further 41 ships. But most of them weren't sunk, like Fonti's vessel, off the coast of Italy; they were lost off the coast of Somalia. When the great tsunami of 2004 struck the Somali coast, it dumped and smashed open thousands of barrels on the beaches and in villages up to 10km inland. According to the United Nations, they contained clinical waste from western hospitals, heavy metals, other chemical junk and nuclear waste. People started suffering from unusual skin infections, bleeding at the mouth, acute respiratory infections and abdominal haemorrhages. The barrels had been dumped in the sea, a UN spokesman said, for one obvious reason: it cost European companies around $2.50 a tonne to dispose of the waste this way, while dealing with them properly would have cost "something like $1,000 a tonne." On the seabed off Somalia lies Europe's picture of Dorian Gray: the skeleton in the closet of the languid new world we have made.
The only people who have sought physically to stop this dumping are Somali pirates. Most of them take to the seas only for blood and booty; but some have formed coastal patrols to prevent over-fishing and illegal dumping by foreign fleets. Some of the vessels being protected from pirates by Combined Task Force 151, the rich world's policing operation in the Gulf of Aden, have come to fish illegally or dump toxic waste. The warships make no attempt to stop them.
The law couldn't be clearer: the Basel convention, supported by European directives, forbids European Union or OECD nations from dumping hazardous wastes in poorer countries. But without enforcement, the law is useless. So, for instance, while all our dead electronic equipment is supposed to be recycled by licensed companies at home, according to Consumers International around 6.6m tonnes of it leaves the European Union illegally every year.
Much of it lands in West Africa. An investigation by the Mail on Sunday found computers which once belonged to the NHS being broken up and burnt by children on Ghanaian rubbish dumps. They were trying to extract copper and aluminium by burning off the plastics, with the result that they were inhaling lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans and brominated flame retardants. Tests in another of the world's great fly-tips, Guiyu in China, show that 80% of the children of that city have dangerous levels of lead in their blood.
In February, working with Sky News and the Independent, Greenpeace placed a satellite tracking device in a dead television and left it at a recycling centre in Basingstoke run by Hampshire county council. It passed through the hands of the council's recycling company, then found its way first to Tilbury docks on the Thames then to Lagos, where the journalists bought it back from a street market. Under EU law, used electronic equipment can be exported only if it's still working, but Greenpeace had made sure the TV was unusable. A black market run by criminal gangs is dumping our electronic waste on the poor, but since the European directive banning this practice was incorporated into British law in January 2007, the Environment Agency hasn't made a single prosecution. Dump your telly over a hedge and you can expect big trouble. Dump 10,000 in Nigeria and you can expect to get away with it.
If the mafia were to establish itself as an effective force in this country, it would do so by way of the waste disposal industry. All over the world the cosa nostra, yakuza, triads, bratva and the rest make much of their fortune by disposing of our uncomfortable truths. It suits all the rich nations – even, it seems, the government of Norway – not to ask too many questions, so long as the waste goes to far away countries of which we know nothing. Only when the mobs make the mistake of dumping it off their own coasts does the state start to get huffy.
The Trafigura story is a metaphor for corporate capitalism. The effort of all enterprises is to keep the profits and dump the costs on someone else. Price risks are dumped on farmers, health and safety risks are dumped on subcontractors, insolvency risks are dumped on creditors, social and economic risks are dumped on the state, toxic waste is dumped on the poor, greenhouse gases are dumped on everyone.
Another story that broke on the same day was the shifting, by Barclays, of £7bn of residential mortgage assets and collateralised debt obligations to a fund in the Cayman Islands. These were universally described by the media as toxic assets. Some traders also call them toxic waste. Everyone understands the metaphor even if they haven't thought it through: the banks seek to dump their liabilities while clinging on to their assets. Perhaps it comes as no surprise to find that Trafigura also runs a hedge fund, or that Lord Strathclyde, leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords, is a non-executive director of that hedge fund.
That party, like New Labour, advocates the continuing deregulation of business. The Trafigura case, like the financial crisis, suggests that in business there are people ruthless enough to shut their eyes to almost anything if they think if they think they can make money. Business without regulation is scarcely distinguishable from organised crime. Regulation without strict enforcement is an open invitation to mess with people's lives. Tedious directives, state power and bureaucratic snooping – the interference that everyone professes to hate – are all that stand between civilisation and corporate hell.

Wind-Turbine Makers Press for Green Mandates

Wind-turbine makers say growth in their industry could dramatically slow unless the federal government requires more electricity come from renewable energy.
New federal stimulus grants helped restart a stalled wind-power industry, but Vic Abate, a General Electric Co. vice president in charge of its wind-turbine business, said orders for wind turbines to be built in 2012 and thereafter have been "extremely light."
He is worried that wind-power installation by 2012 could fall back to one-third of last year's construction levels without additional government support, taking the wind industry from "a boom to a bust cycle."
The biggest impact will be felt by the wind-turbine makers. Last year, GE made 43% of the turbines in the U.S. market. Competitors including Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S, Germany's Siemens AG and India's Suzlon Energy Ltd. each held about 10% of the market, according to trade group American Wind Energy Association.

Vestas, the second-largest turbine manufacturer in the U.S., recently reported its order backlog in North and South America was down 66.6% from a year earlier. Michael Peck, head of institutional relations at the U.S. unit of Spanish turbine-maker Gamesa Corp., says passing a strong renewable-energy standard is needed to spur renewable-energy growth.
To head off a bust, the U.S. wind industry has made passage of a national renewable-electricity standard -- a requirement for electric power from sources such as wind, solar and geothermal -- a top priority.
Their pitch to lawmakers is jobs. A wind turbine "is a big piece of steel with rotating parts," said Andris Cukurs, chief executive of Suzlon's U.S. unit. "It is one of the few industries where you can absorb rust-belt workers." The industry's trade group said wind power added 35,000 jobs in the past year.
Numerous states already have passed renewable-electricity requirements, including California, where the governor last week signed an order requiring 33% of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.
But the wind industry insists that a national policy is needed to spur utilities to sign long-term deals for renewable energy. Without these long-term deals, wind farms can't get financing. And without wind-farm development, the thousands of jobs manufacturing high-tech blades, towers and other turbine parts could be in jeopardy.
Critics aren't convinced. Dan Kish, senior vice president of the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market energy think tank, said the government shouldn't be promoting renewable energy through mandates. "It's frankly outrageous," he said.
But wind energy has been a success story for the U.S., which generates more electricity from wind than any other country. In 2008, about 8.5 gigawatts of wind power, capable of powering more than two million homes, were installed in the U.S.
The federal government has been responsive to the needs of the wind industry. Earlier this month, it began handing out cash grants to wind-farm developers to encourage development.
That is helping restart wind projects stalled by the financial crisis. But the industry is not seeing many new orders for wind farms to be built in 2012 and 2013. Typically, turbine orders are placed two to three years ahead of construction.
The climate bill passed by the House of Representatives in June -- and now under consideration in the Senate -- calls for 20% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Another bill, proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D, N.M.), requires a weaker standard: 15% of electricity from renewable sources by 2021. The wind-turbine industry said the lower standard would stall wind growth for five years.
Even that lower standard may be too high for some utilities. Dominion Resources Inc. Chairman Tom Farrell this summer said he thought hitting 15% in the southeast U.S. "would be a real stretch."
Write to Russell Gold at russell.gold@wsj.com

Electric cars are driving the transition to sustainable technologies

With cutting-edge engineering and new kinds of public-private partnerships, the new age of electric cars exemplifies the powerful opportunities we can grasp as we make the transition to sustainability

Jeffrey Sachs
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 September 2009 15.26 BST
The key to climate change control lies in improved technology. We need to find new ways to produce and use energy, meet our food needs, transport ourselves, and heat and cool our homes that will allow us to cut back on oil, gas, coal, nitrogen-based fertiliser, and other sources of the climate-changing greenhouse gases.
There are enough good options available to suggest that the world can accomplish the goal of controlling climate change at a reasonable cost (perhaps 1% of global income per year) while enabling the world economy to continue to grow and raise living standards. One of the most exciting developments on the horizon is the new generation of electric cars.
In the earliest days of the automobile in the late 19th century, many kinds of cars competed with each other – steam, battery, and internal combustion engine (ICE). The petrol- and diesel-powered internal combustion engines won the competition with the success of the Model T, which first rolled off of the assembly line in 1908.
Now the age of electric vehicles is upon us. The Toyota Prius, a hybrid-electric vehicle first introduced in Japan in 1997, marked an initial breakthrough. By connecting a small generator and rechargeable battery to the braking system of a standard car, the hybrid augments the normal engine with a battery-powered motor. Petrol mileage is sufficiently enhanced to make the hybrid commercially viable, and petrol-saving vehicles will become even more commercially viable when consumers are taxed for the carbon dioxide they emit from their vehicles.
Much more innovation is on the way, led by General Motors' plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt, at the end of 2010. While the Prius is a normal ICE automobile with a small motor, the Volt will be an electric vehicle with an engine alongside. Based on typical driving patterns, the Volt will get so many miles on the battery that it will achieve around 230 miles per gallon of petrol.
Larry Burns, the visionary head of GM's research and development until his recent retirement, sees the electric vehicle as much more than an opportunity to save petrol. According to Burns, the electric-vehicle age will reshape the energy grid, redefine driving patterns, and generally improve the quality of life in urban areas, where most of the world's population will live and drive.
First, there will be many types of electric vehicles, including the plug-in hybrid, the all-battery vehicle, and vehicles powered by the hydrogen fuel cell, essentially a battery fed by an external source of hydrogen.
These different vehicles will be able to tap into countless energy sources. Solar, wind, or nuclear power – all free of CO2 emissions – can feed the power grid that will recharge the batteries or produce the hydrogen to power the hydrogen fuel cell.
Second, the storage capacity of the vehicle fleet will play an important role in stabilising the power grid. Not only will battery-powered vehicles draw power from the electricity grid during recharging, but, when parked, they can also feed additional power back into the grid during periods of peak demand.
Third, electric-powered vehicles will open up a new world of "smart" vehicles, in which sensor systems and vehicle-to-vehicle communications will enable collision protection, traffic routing, and remote management of the vehicle.
These are visionary ideas, yet they are within technological reach. But implementing these concepts will require new forms of public-private partnership. Car-makers, utility companies, broadband providers, and government road builders will each have to contribute to an integrated system. All of these sectors will require new ways of competing and co-operating with the others. The public sector will have to put forward funding to enable the new generation of vehicles to reach commercialisation – through R&D outlays, consumer subsidies, and support for complementary infrastructure (for example, outlets for recharging in public places).
We need to rethink the climate challenge. By harnessing cutting-edge engineering and new kinds of public-private partnerships, we can hasten the worldwide transition to sustainable technologies, with benefits for rich and poor countries alike – and thereby find the basis for global agreements on climate change that have so far proven elusive.
• Jeffrey D Sachs is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Most English and Welsh rivers too dirty for new European standards

• Report says only 5 of 6,114 are in pristine condition• Government could be taken to court or fined
John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian, Tuesday 22 September 2009
Only five of the 6,114 rivers in England and Wales are in pristine condition, and more than three-quarters are expected to fail new European quality standards, says the government's fullest-ever ecological assessment of water quality.
The report, by the official pollution watchdog, the Environment Agency, shows that 117 English and Welsh rivers are ranked on a par with the dirtiest rivers in eastern Europe, a further 742 are considered to be in "poor condition" and 3,654, or 60%, are in "moderate" condition.
The chemical and biological state of UK rivers, wetlands, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters has improved considerably in the last decade, but the results are highly embarrassing because the government is legally required by Europe to ensure that 95% of all British rivers are in "good" ecological condition by 2015.
Today, just 26% are in that category and at the present rate of improvement, the report says, only a further 5% will meet this target.
That would leave Britain open eventually to unlimited fines and court cases reminiscent of the 1980s, when it was repeatedly taken to court by Europe for pollution on its beaches and it acquired the tag of the "dirty man of Europe".
The government insisted that rivers in England and Wales had never been in such good condition, but an alliance of Britain's largest environmental and angling groups countered yesterday that the government was way behind improvement targets that it is legally obliged to meet. "It's terribly disappointing. Millions of pounds has been invested by the water industry but this shows just how far we have to go to tackle the problems," said Mark Avery, director of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Northumberland emerged as England's top county for river quality. Four of the "high status" rivers cascade off the Cheviot hills, running to the rivers Coquet and Tweed. The Ridlees burn, the Barrow burn, the river Till and the Linhope burn are all young, fast flowing and relatively small, full of waterfalls, pools and rippling shallows loved by salmon and sea trout. All are prone to pollution from cattle, but are far from large populations or heavy industry. The fifth pristine river, the Caletwr in north Wales, is lined with ancient oak woods and tumbles into the river Conwy.
Yesterday Anthony Carroll, who offers fishing holidays on the river Till, said the Northumbrian rivers may have avoided pollution because they mostly flowed through a series of large country estates, including that of the Duke of Northumberland. "They could be unpolluted because they have had centuries of good management. We look after our rivers in Northumberland," he said.
The 116 rivers in the worst condition mostly pass through urban and industrial areas and suffer from sewage run-off, increased flooding and greater demand for drinking water, but some rivers are heavily polluted by farming.
The combination of pollutants has contributed to a major decline in wildlife. Otters, water voles, kingfishers and more than 30 species of fish all rely on rivers.
Included in the "bad" list are stretches of many of Britain's best-known rivers including the Thames, the Medway and the Lee. Others, like the Severn, the Trent, the Tyne, the Dee in Wales and the Stour estuary have improved in the last decade following investments, mainly by water companies, but remain a long way short of being in good ecological health.
Lakes are faring no better, with only one out of 762 English and Welsh lakes considered to be of high status, and seven considered "bad". None were named by the agency but it admits nearly 70% of lakes are in line to miss the targets.
Britain signed up in 2000 to the EU Water Framework. The new ecological approach produces a much more accurate picture. So far, the government has failed to address the wider impacts of farming, housing and water extraction on rivers.
It is estimated that it could cost £9bn to get 95% of UK rivers to "good" status by 2015. If, as expected, this proves impossible, the EU allows interim targets to be set for 2015 and 2021.
Later this year the government will publish detailed maps showing exactly what they intend to do to improve water quality in 11 river catchment areas. Yesterday it listed hundreds of actions, but critics described them as "weak", saying the vast majority were long standing commitments which government and local authorities had already failed to implement.
Although water companies have invested several billion pounds into improving river quality in the last decade, the government has progressively reduced spending on pollution and has been reluctant to impose more regulations on farmers.
Tom Le Quesne, WWF freshwater policy adviser, said: "Unless we take action now to stop the decline in the health of our rivers then we are storing up a raft of problems for the future. We are heavily reliant on this precious resource and our legislation and actions must deliver a positive improvement to its state."
Yesterday the Environment Agency insisted that seven out of 10 English rivers and nine out of 10 Welsh rivers achieved 'very good' or 'good' status in terms of chemical and biological water quality in 2008, and that water quality had improved for the 19th year in a row.
Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: "Our rivers are at their cleanest for over a century. But we need to go even further to meet the new EU measures. That is why we have announced plans to clean up 9,000 miles of river over the next five years."