Friday, 25 September 2009

World leaders - and Pittsburgh - steeled for G20 whirlwind

The leaders of the world’s 20 most important economies arrive in Pittsburgh this afternoon for a geopolitical A-list after-party.
After listening to the various strains of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at the United Nations General Assembly, the cello music of Yomo Ma will provide welcome relief when the leaders arrive at a dinner hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama.
After just two full sessions tomorrow, the G20 hopes to announce progress on rebalancing a world economy skewed by huge deficits and surpluses; reining in bankers’ bonuses; regulating hedge funds; and reviving climate change talks in time for the two-week Copenhagen summit in December.
Some members, notably Gordon Brown, also want the process to show that the G20 has superceded the G8 as the default forum for tackling global problems.
It is a tall order, partly because the group has a problem of leadership. It is not clear who is in charge. President Obama will chair tomorrow’s meetings, but the G20 has no permanent staff or premises and even the date, host and venue of its next summit have not yet been confirmed.
In the meantime, 14 Greenpeace activists have already been arrested ahead of the summit, a homeowner under the final approach to Pittsburgh Airport has daubed the words “Obama Lies!” on his front lawn in letters 20 feet high, and the Russian delegation has parked not one but two huge Antonov transport planes at the end of a disused runway.
No one is overawed by Mr Obama in the home of the Steelers.
His main initiative for the summit is a call to end fossil fuel subsidies, which the Environmental Law Institute in Washington estimates were worth $72 billion to the US energy sector between 2002 and 2008. Yet American firms will not give them up without a fight. China is unlikely to join the effort if the US cannot lead by example, and European governments may see the idea as a distraction from the President’s stalled carbon cap and trade bill.
On executive pay, France and Germany had hoped for a binding agreement to cap bonuses, but they will not get one because of British and US opposition. On hedge fund regulation, the German finance minister said despairingly in an interview published on Wednesday that London was fighting “tooth and nail” to keep its competitive advantage.
Those hoping for a revolution in global governance will be disappointed. This summit does have one critical advantage over the UN General Assembly, however – Iran and Libya are not invited. It has another advantge over the G8: instead of being embarrassed by the presence of an undemocratic and uncooperative Russia, it makes no claims to political purity. Instead it is validated by the presence of the entire BRIC grouping (Brazil, Russia, India and China), on which so much of the planet’s economic future depends.
Why Pittsburgh? One answer is that its hyperactive 29 year-old mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, lobbied the White House for the honour as soon as Mr Obama agreed to host the summit at the last G20 in London. Another is that Mr Obama considers Pittsburgh a good example of a rust belt buckle reinvented for the knowledge economy. It prides itself on its “Eds and Meds” (hospitals and universities) and is ready to give its visitors an earnest welcome.
Volunteers have been given printed answers to anticipated questions, among them “Why are there so many fat Americans?” and “Do all Americans have guns?” The suggested answers are “The US is working to address the issue of obesity,” and “no”, or words to that effect. According to a 2008 Gallup poll, roughly a third of US adults owns a gun.

We won’t be able to save the world in 74 days

That’s how long until the Copenhagen climate change summit. But the serious players are already looking farther ahead

When the panda smiles the world applauds. Or so it seemed on Tuesday after President Hu Jintao’s speech at the UN. From the way that much of the media reported his words it was as if China had actually made an important announcement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
It hadn’t. All Mr Hu actually said was that China would now “endeavour” to curb its carbon emissions by a “notable” margin. But how does one measure “endeavour” or “notable”? As someone with close links to the Chinese administration told me when pressed: “What was said was actually pretty meaningless.”
There were no specific targets and, as any China watcher knows, this green story is old news. Official Chinese policy over the past couple of years has been to make GDP growth more green. But not at the expense of growth itself — and China plans to grow pretty fast.
At least, I suppose, the panda smiled. Poor Barack Obama didn’t even have that to offer. There was no pledge to cut emissions, and with vote-sapping battles already afoot over healthcare reform, one wonders how much time and energy the President will have for environmental imperatives.
I fear, therefore, that all we got at the UN this week was insubstantial rhetoric. The bad news is that we are likely to get more of that today at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. When I asked one finance minister what he expected to be delivered on climate change there, he said, rather wistfully: “Words, just words.”
Given that we are now only 74 days from the Copenhagen summit, which was supposed to frame the successor agreement to Kyoto that would stop climate change in its tracks, this is depressing. Perhaps the only people not suddenly depressed are those immersed in the negotiations. With more than a thousand points still to be agreed, all the policymakers I’ve spoken to recently say that they cannot see how a meaningful deal can be reached by December in Copenhagen.
In reality, everyone is already gearing up behind the scenes for what I would call “Copenhagen 2”, and what those more involved are calling “an even greater slog”. Even if some sort of communiqué is cobbled together in December — something that countries with elections coming up will push for — it is hard to believe that it will be detailed enough and committed enough to have the impact so desperately needed.
Part of the reason why “Copenhagen 1” was always bound to fail, and this may sound strange at first, is because it is all about climate change. For although its goal always should have been cuts in CO2 emissions, and agreement on funding and finance, the geopolitical reality is that climate change cannot be decoupled from trade or discussions on exchange rates, the IMF, reform of the UN and so on. There is a quid pro quo that no one explicitly talks about but which must be addressed — trade-offs between these negotiations, not just within them. We won’t see meaningful action on climate change until it is negotiated within this broader framework.
This means taking the issue out of its present compartment and being realistic enough to understand that Brazil’s position on cutting down rainforests, for example, will be affected by whether or not it is given a seat on the UN Security Council. It means being sophisticated enough to understand that as long as China feels under pressure to stop propping up the renmimbi, it is unlikely to deliver commitments on emissions cuts.
Widening the scope of the next round of negotiations so that much more can be used as bargaining chips will make the job of negotiators considerably harder. But it will also give them considerably more to work with. Copenhagen 2 not only has to navigate this complicated terrain but it must do so in less than five years. The climate bomb is ticking, and there is a palpable sense of urgency among policymakers.
For if emissions do not fall before 2015, and only fall from then onwards (and the overall trend is that they have been rising), as the International Panel on Climate Change has warned very explicitly, we will reach the point of no return. The Armageddon scenarios of droughts, floods, energy and resource wars, mass migration and rising sea levels will become a reality.
A year from now the world is very likely still to be engaged in the most important negotiations of our lifetime, which will determine the safety and security of our children, grandchildren and our entire planet.
So it is essential to reflect hard on which party can best negotiate internationally on climate change. Labour has a poor record, with Britain almost bottom of Western Europe’s league tables on the environment. The Tories? Joining forces in Europe with climate-change deniers hardly gives them the best chance.
Which leaves the Liberal Democrats, a party that got the environment years before anyone else, and is the most inherently multilateralist. The environment is too important to leave under the aegis of the two main parties. A Lib Dem influence on the environment in the next Parliament is essential. Nick Clegg, who talks convincingly on this subject, should focus on ensuring it in the coming months.
Noreena Hertz is Professor of Globalisation, Sustainability and Finance at Duisenberg School of Finance and a Fellow of the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

EU says rich states must pay up to save climate agreement

José Manuel Barroso outlines what is needed for an agreement on global warming at Copenhagen
The EU set aside diplomatic language and issued a bare-boned challenge to industrialised countries to come up with the cash developing countries need to deal with climate change today.
The unusually blunt language from the European commission's president, José Manuel Barroso, on what was needed for an agreement on global warming at Copenhagen was delivered as leaders began arriving in Pittsburgh for a G20 summit of major economies.
In a speech at Pittsburgh University, Barroso said the industrialised economies would have to make significant reductions in emissions as well as make "a credible financial commitment" to help developing states obtain new greener technology. "In other words, no money, no deal," he said.
But Barroso also said there would be no blank cheques for rapidly developing countries such as India, China and Brazil which need the new technology if they are to avoid huge increases in future greenhouse gas emissions.
"If you are serious about the challenge of cutting emissions, we will be there to help, including with financial support. But we need developing countries to contribute to mitigation," he said. "In other words, no action, no money."
Barroso was also scathing about the red tape surrounding the negotiations. "The text that is currently on the table contains 200 pages with a feast of alternatives and a forest of square brackets," he said. "If we do not sort this out, it risks becoming the longest suicide note in history."
Barroso's comments cut to the heart of the standoff between industrialised countries and the emerging economies. An EU official said the comments did not apply to the world's poorest states, which will be most vulnerable to climate change. Funding for those states was "a given".
America and others have been pressing hard for the newly emerging countries to make firm commitments to reduce their future emissions. In his speech to the UN climate change summit this week, Barack Obama delivered a pointed message that the rapidly industrialised states would also have to curb emissions as part of a climate change deal.
The pressure appears to be getting results. China and India earlier this week did offer some pledges of action on climate change, but both fell short on specifics. By making a conditional offer of assistance, Barroso was seen as trying to get them to commit to more specific action.
Environmental organisations praised the statement for its clarity in a negotiation process that has stalled partly because of its own complexity. "They've really got to the crux of the issue: no money, no deal," said Liz Gallagher, the director of climate finance policy for the Catholic charity Cafod.
Barroso's effort to knock heads together may not produce the desired effect. India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh said it was "not very helpful".
India's climate change envoy, Shyam Saran, agreed with Barroso on the importance of unlocking climate finance, but he said India would not move further on reducing its own emissions.
"We will not be able to talk direct reduction targets of the kind which developed countries are obliged to take," he told reporters. "However that does not mean that India is not taking a number of significant mitigation actions itself."
Barroso's tough talk could also further complicate the discussions on climate finance at the G20. India and China have fought hard to try to prevent the G20 leaders from even taking up the issue of climate finance in their meetings today.
Barroso did not address the other fault line in the negotiations towards a climate change deal at Copenhagen: who will pay to protect the poorest countries that will bear the brunt of climate change. Diplomats say the EU is hoping to build trust by putting together a package of short-term financing to shield these countries from climate change.
The fund, between €5bn (£4.6bn) and €7bn, would be paid out from 2010 to 2012 and would focus on protecting the most vulnerable – low-lying states and island nations such as the Maldives – from rising seas and extreme weather.
The consequences for the most vulnerable states of climate change grew even more stark yesterday with a report from the UN Environmental Programme warning its pace and scale was exceeding even the most definitive predictions made in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
Sea levels could rise by as much as 6ft by the end of the century – instead of the 18in projected by the IPCC. The Arctic could be in summer ice-free as soon as 2030 rather than 2100.

Fidel Castro unites with Barack Obama in the fight against climate change

Former Cuban leader praises US president for his courage and bravery — words that send a chill through the White House corridors
Fidel Castro is famous for his backside-numbing, four-hour speeches but the irrepressible Cuban leader may now have found a new subject to wax lyrical about — climate change. In a translated article on Digital Granma Internacional the bearded revolutionary dissects President Obama's speech on climate change at the UN in New York this week.
Obama had offered rousing rhetoric but no specifics — much to the disappointment of environmentalists. "We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act," he said. "We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change."
Castro's take is infused a familiar anti-US tone, but one wonders whether Obama and his advisers would have preferred that the Cuban leader had not finished by praising Obama's "courage" and "brave gesture". That's usually not the way to build support at home for a controversial policy:
The problem now is that everything he is affirming is in contradiction with what the United States has been doing for 150 years, and particularly since, toward the end of world war two, it imposed the Bretton Woods agreement on the world and became the master of the world economy.
The hundreds of military bases installed in dozens of countries on all the continents, its aircraft carriers and its naval fleets, its thousands of nuclear weapons, its wars of conquest, its military-industrial complex and its arms trading are incompatible with the idea of the survival of our species.
Consumer societies and the squandering of material resources are likewise incompatible with ideas of economic growth and a clean planet. The unlimited waste of non-renewable natural resources, particularly oil and gas, accumulated over hundreds of millions of years and which will be exhausted within barely two centuries at the current rate of consumption, have been the fundamental causes of climate change. Even if contaminating gases are reduced in the industrialized countries, which would be praiseworthy, it is no less certain that 5.200 billion inhabitants of the planet Earth are living in countries still to be developed to a greater or lesser degree, which are going to be demanding a huge consumption of coal, oil, natural gas and other non-renewable resources which, in line with consumer patterns created by the capitalist economy, are incompatible with the objective of saving the human species.
It would not be fair to blame the serious Obama of the aforementioned enigma for what has occurred to date, but it is far less just that the other Obama should make us believe that humanity can be preserved under the regulations currently prevailing in the world economy.
The president of the United States admitted that the developed nations have caused much of the damage and must assume responsibility for that. It was doubtless a brave gesture.
It would also be just to recognize that no other president of the United States would have had the courage to say what he said.

Climate change needs US leadership

At the G20 summit, Obama must go beyond his UN climate speech and fully commit to leading the climate change fight
As world leaders gather to discuss climate change, they are meeting in two metaphorically apt locations. On Tuesday, it was on the island of Manhattan, at a major climate summit at the United Nations. Later this week it's in Pittsburgh, a city famously known for its three rivers, for the G20 summit on the economy.
If nothing else focuses the minds of these leaders on the urgent challenge of climate change, these locations should. An island and a city in the midst of rivers should remind them that we are all in this together when it comes to the rising waters, literally and otherwise, brought about by global warming.
These venues should especially remind us what faces the world's poorest people, who are least to blame for the climate crisis but are being hit first and hardest by rising sea levels, intensifying storms and declining fresh water supplies.
As the host, officially at the G20 and less formally in New York, Barack Obama has a special role to play in reminding his colleagues of the consequences of this moment. While he is focused on an enormous fight over healthcare in Congress, as well as other pressing issues, he has a key opportunity to reshape the international and US debate on climate issues.
At his first speech at the UN, Obama struck the right notes, but it remains to be seen whether he and Congress can make music with meaning in the next few months.
He can't avoid playing a major role much longer. Not only are we are at a crossroads headed towards negotiations on a new global climate deal in Copenhagen in December, but other countries are increasingly demonstrating their readiness to act. China is stepping up on emission reductions, and India is putting the building blocks in place for national climate action. Many vulnerable countries, from Ethiopia to Bangladesh, are mobilising their efforts to adapt to the increasing impacts they are facing.
Developed countries are now on the hook to show what they can do. That requires not only domestic emission cuts, but also a global investment by rich countries so that a broad range of developing countries have the necessary resources for actions to reduce emissions and to adapt in the face of immediate climate impacts. This is not about handouts, but rather creating a whole approach to addressing this massive global challenge.
The European Union and Japan are taking some steps in the right direction on these climate finance issues. Both have reiterated their commitment to financing for adaptation and mitigation needs, but even the top end of the EU's estimates – $70bn annually – are under half of what's needed, and it's not clear this money would be additional to existing development aid commitments.
Together with other developed country leaders, Obama can – and should – step more forcefully in Pittsburgh. What's needed is a commitment that the US will play a leadership role by making a substantial investment in a global effort on climate change. The president should also make clear that a major leap forward is needed in Copenhagen. And he can join other leaders, like Gordon Brown and Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, in declaring their intention to personally attend the Copenhagen negotiations.
Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. Developing countries, not least the US, are facing a moment of truth. This is a time to go beyond rhetoric. Will rich countries take on their appropriate role and lead the way in pursuing that global solution? If they're unsure whether to make that leap, they should look at their watery surroundings in New York and Pittsburgh and remember the consequences if they fail to act.

The G20 must lay the foundations for bold action on climate change in Copenhagan

The interests of many vulnerable populations depend on a strong agreement signed by all Governments in Copenhagen, write Nick Young, Bekele Geleta and John Holmes.
If necessity is the mother of invention, we should be looking forward to a breathtakingly innovative agreement on climate change in Copenhagen in December. Such an agreement would not only outline how we should curb greenhouse gas emissions, but also how we could realistically adapt to climate change, and help countries cope with its negative effects.
The increasing threat to life and livelihood posed by climate change is already palpable and the need for effective action agreed in Copenhagen is increasingly urgent. Yet the lack of progress in ongoing climate negotiations raises concern as to whether world governments will be able to reach meaningful agreement in December.
For those living on the frontline - the most vulnerable communities living in risk-prone parts of the world - every day wasted could mean a step closer to food or water insecurity; communities having to move to secure adequate and safe services; or even whole regions emptying as they become unable to sustain life.
Changes in the Arctic are accelerating global climate change. Scientists warn that if the Himalayan glaciers disappear, the impact would be felt by more than one billion people across Asia. What will African farmers do when floods wash away their crops as is happening these days in West Africa?
This might sound overdramatic. However, climate change is already increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme natural hazard events, especially floods, storms and droughts. Weather-related events are affecting or displacing more people every year. During the last decade on average 140 million people annually were affected by floods and storms, or two percent of the global population. All the scientific evidence suggests that these trends will continue and accelerate.
Of course the climate change issue is complex, and cannot be neatly separated from other factors such as population growth, urbanization and environmental decline – all of which are increasing risks to vulnerable communities. But those working in the humanitarian field – whether aid workers on the ground, high level advocates or those providing funds – understand all too well that climate change is now a major factor in the rising numbers of people affected by disasters and therefore in the increasing demand for lifesaving aid. Disasters driven by climate change cost lives here and now and they also have lasting effects that take us back to square one in the fight against poverty.
We are not helpless – far from it. Many of the humanitarian consequences of climate change can be averted or reduced. For example, cyclone preparedness programmes in Bangladesh and Mozambique have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and can be expanded to address the increased risk of heavy storms and floods.
Public hygiene campaigns which have improved health in many villages and cities can be upgraded to address climate change related risks like the spread of dengue and malaria. Upgraded care for the elderly during heat waves, planting trees against landslides and storm surges, fine-tuned water saving systems against droughts. There are a multitude of small and big solutions in our hands. We are committed to bringing these solutions to the places where adaptation programmes are needed.
But the humanitarian system will need an overhaul to adapt to this new reality. Better balance must be achieved between the imperative to respond to acute humanitarian need and far greater investment in disaster risk reduction and preparedness measures in risk-prone countries. At the global level, we need to improve our risk-management systems to anticipate and respond better to future climate impacts. We also need to explore more innovative ways of sharing risk, perhaps through insurance schemes, to better protect people in the future.
Time is short. There is a unique opportunity to put in place a comprehensive global approach for climate change mitigation and adaptation. World leaders meeting at the UN in New York and at the G20 in Pittsburgh this month should help to lay the basis for an agreement. Let’s hope so, as the interests of many vulnerable populations depend on a strong agreement signed by all Governments in Copenhagen. The agreement may not tie down every detail, but it needs to be in place to ensure that all the fine words we have heard are followed up by meaningful action.
Sir Nick Young is Chief Executive of the British Red Cross
Bekele Geleta is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
Sir John Holmes is United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Solar-Power Incentives in Germany Draw Fire

Industry Executive Urges Cutting Government Subsidies in Campaign Against Asian Rivals
As cheaper Chinese rivals threaten to outshine Germany's pioneering solar-power industry, the head of a leading German solar company is proposing a radical counteroffense: cut the generous government subsidies that let German solar firms flourish in the first place.
SolarWorld AG Chief Executive Frank Asbeck has been pitching the proposal at a European solar-energy conference in Hamburg this week, and it is the latest salvo in the growing trade tensions between European and Asian solar companies.
It is also likely to reignite debate over how much government support is necessary to maintain Germany's prime advantage in a critical new energy industry. Some German policy makers and economists say the industry has to be weaned off the incentives faster to protect consumers from high electricity bills and to spur domestic companies to become more cost-efficient. But Mr. Asbeck is among the first within the solar industry to support the idea.
Chinese solar-cell and solar-module makers are starting to profit from Germany's generous solar incentives more than domestic ones. With as much as 30% lower production costs, China has overtaken Germany as the largest producer of solar cells. But half of the world's photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into energy are sold in Germany, making it a key market for Chinese and domestic companies alike.
The booming German demand stems from the above-market prices the government guarantees homeowners, farmers and other entrepreneurs who have rushed to buy solar installations over the past decade. Power companies are required to buy any alternative energy they produce at the higher fixed prices, providing them a guaranteed return on their investment.
Zuma Press
SolarWorld AG CEO Frank Asbeck has been pitching a plan to reduce the generous government subsidies to German solar firms.
Until now, German solar-equipment makers have warned that cutting subsidies too quickly would kill their industry. But Mr. Asbeck suggests cutting them slightly more to show the German industry is serious about lowering the cost of solar power, and in exchange for implementing new quality and environmental standards that apply to both domestic and foreign companies.
"We're saying the [incentives] can be reduced, but then we have to have a chance as serious producers to compete" on an even playing field, he said.
In recent months German solar companies have accused Chinese rivals of price dumping, and Mr. Asbeck a month ago led a charge for a "Buy European" policy there.
Jenny Chase, an analyst at research firm New Energy Finance in London, said it is unclear how new environmental criteria to sell in Germany would affect Chinese rivals. Major ones already produce solar cells and modules of the same quality as German companies.
Steve Chadima, vice president of external affairs for Suntech Power Holdings, China's biggest solar-panel maker, said Mr. Asbeck's proposal falsely assumed companies such as his weren't manufacturing at the same standards. "I think he believes the reason we're able to produce at such lower costs is that we're somehow cutting corners," he said. "That's not true."
No German lawmaker has yet lent public support to Mr. Asbeck's plan, but it could get more reception among Christian Democrats who have pushed for steeper price-subsidy cuts in recent years. Some have argued that the volume of solar-powered energy is rising so fast that consumers will end up paying billions of euros in extra energy costs over the next five years and that the subsidies will eventually benefit less expensive foreign producers.
"That's exactly what's happening," said a spokesman for Joachim Pfeiffer, a member of Parliament who led a legislative effort last year to cut price subsidies by as much as 30% this year. Lawmakers eventually compromised on an 8% to 10% annual decrease over the next three years.
Mr. Asbeck supports cutting them as much as 15%.
Write to Vanessa Fuhrmans at

Scottish leader accused of failing to consult community over power station

Residents have asked judges to block a decision to give a coal power station protected status under planning regulations
Residents next to the site of a major new coal-fired power station have accused the devolved Scottish government in court of breaching its legal duties to consult local people about the proposal.
Alex Salmond supports plans by the Danish power company Dong to build a major coal-fired station in Ayrshire to replace Hunterston nuclear power plant, claiming it would eventually be fitted with "clean coal" carbon-capture technology that will limit its CO2 emissions.
But local residents have asked judges in Edinburgh to block a decision by the Scottish government to give the power station special protected status under planning regulations.
Environmentalists believe Salmond's ambitious climate change strategies, including a 42% emissions cut target for 2020, and his championing of renewable energy, is undermined by his support for coal. He has called for Longannet coal mine in Fife to reopen, and his government has relaxed planning laws on opencast mines.
It emerged last December that the 1.6GW power station, which could open in 2014, had been quietly added to the priority list in the national planning framework (NPF), eight months after the main public consultation on the framework had closed.
That status means a planning inquiry cannot challenge the power station's purpose or legitimacy, just its design, siting and any environmental mitigation. Similar measures have been introduced by the UK government in England and Wales.
The campaigners, supported by the pressure group Planning Democracy and the Environmental Law Centre Scotland, yesterday submitted a petition for judicial review to the civil Court of Session in Edinburgh, accusing ministers of breaking planning law and European environmental law by failing to properly consult them.
The decision to add Hunterston to the NPF list of 14 priority projects was publicised in an obscure official journal, the Edinburgh Gazette, with a six-week consultation period. The main consultation on the 52 projects considered for the framework in 2008 was widely publicised and lasted for three months, supported by workshops.
They claim that the government was legally required to use local newspapers in Ayrshire and ensure that residents were fully notified of the proposal. Maggie Kelly, from the residents campaign group Communities Opposed to New Coal at Hunterston (CONCH), said: "The proposed power station would have a devastating impact on our community, damaging our health, our livelihoods and destroying the local environment. Yet under the National Planning Framework, we have been denied the opportunity to object to this major development."
The Scottish government refused to discuss the judicial review, but said: "The public will be able to have their say on matters such as siting, design and the minimisation and mitigation of potential environmental effects as part of the development management process, including any public inquiry.

ConocoPhillips' opposition to US climate bill is devious and dishonest

The green mission statements made by the US energy firm amount to nothing when it dirties its hands with tar sands and campaigns against Obama's climate bill
ConocoPhillips, America's third largest energy company, has contrived to present an unusually environmentally friendly face to the world. I know. For several years I have helped judge the Conoco-funded St Andrews prize for the environment - a prestigious award for innovative environmental activities given out every year at the ancient Scottish university.
But being a green-minded oil company was never going to be easy. You can hear the contradictions as Conoco declares in its mission statement that the company's purpose is to "use our pioneering spirit to responsibly deliver energy to the world."
And if there was a battle going on within the company for its soul, it looks like that battle has been won and lost. This summer, as the company has campaigned to block the US climate bill, has been the watershed.
It could have been so different. In 2007, ConocoPhillips was the first US oil company to join the climate action partnership, a group of US companies that called time on George W Bush's denial of climate realities and told him he should impose limits on US carbon emissions.
That year, the chief executive and chairman, James Mulva, told the US Chamber of Commerce: "We can no longer ignore rising concern over the impact of fossil-fuel use. We must show leadership that inspires the rest of the world to join us. We need to reduce our carbon footprint."
Earlier this year, the Conoco-backed climate action partnership declared its support for cuts in US emissions of 14-20% between 2005 and 2020.
That would still not get the US to the 1990 benchmark for cuts adopted by most other industrialised countries. But it would be a start. And the statements suggested there would be corporate backing from companies like Conoco for Barack Obama's plan to cap emissions.
Conoco has shown willing in other ways. For instance, by joining the carbon disclosure project, under which companies declare their carbon dioxide emissions and what they are doing to cut them.
Last month, the project released a report arguing that the world's 100 largest companies, which include Conoco, need to double the pace of CO2 reductions to avoid dangerous climate change.
But that new-found greenness at Conoco is silent about how to meet that challenge. Very silent. While the company's website lists 11 statements it made on the environment in 2007, that number dwindled to three last year and none so far this year.
Instead, Conoco's "pioneering spirit" has taken it to the tar sands of Alberta in Canada. There the company has established a giant operation at Fort McMurray, the old fur trading base for European colonists, to extract what environmentalists are calling "the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive oil on Earth".
Last month the US state department approved a multi-billion dollar pipeline to take that oil to the American midwest. About 1.8m barrels of it every day by 2015.
How is this consistent with reducing US carbon dioxide emissions by 14-20% by 2020 or Conoco's own promise to deliver energy responsibly?
And I have left the worst until last. The American Petroleum Institute (API) has, as you may have spotted, recently been masterminding a "citizens' campaign" against the Obama-backed climate bill currently before the US senate.
The hysteria and the methods of the campaign's manufacture look startlingly similar to the health insurance industry's current "citizens' campaign" against healthcare reform. Marketing people call them both "Astroturf" campaigns - the creation of an artificial grassroots movement.
And despite Conoco's green words, it is in the forefront of the API action. It is even using its website to encourage its employees and others to attend the rallies and stoke up pressure on senators to scotch the bill.
It expresses its opposition in terms of the bill being a faulty bill, and suggests that Conoco might support a better one. But the bottom line for the company is that the bill will "increase energy costs" and "drive American jobs overseas".
The company says: "We urge you to voice your opinions on this important issue". So I will. I say the company's opposition to the climate bill is devious and dishonest, and an abdication of any attempt at leadership on climate change.

GM India Signs Pact With REVA

NEW DELHI -- General Motors Co. and REVA Electric Car Co. of India said they will jointly develop an electric version of GM's Chevrolet Spark minicar, with the goal of introducing it within a year.
GM also plans to market another version of the Spark, with a 0.8-liter gasoline engine, in India next year, Karl Slym, president and managing director of General Motors India, told reporters. The current version of the minicar has a 1-liter gasoline engine.
While auto makers such as GM and Ford Motor Co. are trying to expand their market share in India by launching small cars, they are increasing their focus globally on vehicles powered by alternate fuel to cut pollution and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. As many as 41 new electric cars were displayed at the recently concluded Frankfurt auto show, including two new models from REVA, which is based in Bangalore.
"GM India and REVA began feasibility studies for electric cars 10 months ago," said Chetan Maini, REVA deputy chairman and chief technology officer.
The Indian market will be the "first priority" for selling the electric version of Spark, GM India's Mr. Slym said.
Write to Nikhil Gulati at

Spain expels Israeli scientists from solar energy competition

Scientists kicked out of contest because they are based in the West Bank, Spain's government says
Spain has expelled a group of Israeli scientists from a state-funded solar energy competition because they are based in occupied areas of the West Bank, it said today.
The decision to expel the team from the Ariel University Centre of Samaria from Solar Decathlon Europe, an international competition involving 20 universities, has provoked angry reactions in Israel. The team was one of 20 finalists in a competition to design solar-powered housing that is part-sponsored by the US energy department.
Spain is hosting the first European version of the event next year and claims ultimate say over who takes part.
"All the ministry has done is apply the policy of the European Union," a housing ministry spokesman said. "The EU does not recognise the occupation of the West Bank, which is where this university is."
The university said it "rejects with disgust the one-sided announcement". It claimed the decision "contravenes international law and international charters on academic freedom" and harms 10,000 students at the university, including 500 Arabs.
It was only after the Israeli project joined the finalists, which include the University of Nottingham, that officials at Spain's housing ministry became aware that the university was in the West Bank. The Israelis and the US energy department were advised of the decision a week ago.
The Israeli team had described their "Stretch house" project as being inspired by the "Tent of Abraham". "It is adaptable according to its owner's wishes and is able to expand and create hospitable spaces," they said. "In its closed state, when additional space is not required, it uses only half the energy necessary to operate a regular house."
Pro-Palestinian groups claimed allowing the Israeli team to take part was a breach of international law. They said the university was in the second biggest zone in Israel's expanding West Bank presence.
"I wonder how the Solar Decathlon can accept a project submitted by an institution that has stolen our land and will build its project on our stolen land," said Fayeq Kishawi, coordinator of a Palestinian campaign group against the settlements, in a letter to the Spanish housing minister, Beatriz Corredor.
Jewish groups have recently claimed anti-semitism is on the rise in Spain.
A decision by El Mundo newspaper to publish an interview with the British historian and holocaust denier David Irving angered the Israeli ambassador, Raphael Schutz, who claimed it showed a lack of moral and ethical judgement.
He said he been subjected to racial abuse in Madrid, where three men shouted "dirty Jew," "Jew bastard" and "Jewish dog" at him.
A report this week by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League complained of what it claimed was a rise in anti-Semitism across Spain and, especially, in its mainstream media. "We are deeply concerned about the mainstreaming of anti-semitism in Spain, with more public expressions and greater public acceptance of classic stereotypes," said the league's director, Abraham H Foxman.
"Among the major European countries, only in Spain have we seen viciously anti-Semitic cartoons in the mainstream media, and street protests where Israel is accused of genocide and Jews are vilified and compared to Nazis."
Giles Tremlett in Madrid, Thursday 24 September 2009 17.52 BST

How I found the light

What happens if you change the lightbulbs in your house to eco ones? You use 90% less electricity – and slash your bill by 60%
It wasn't always like this. A few months ago, I barely gave lightbulbs a thought. I never worried about start-up times, lumens per watt and colour spectra, or questioned whether I could find a suitable bulb for my most awkward sockets at home. The most exciting bulb-related thing to have happened to me was a late introduction, in my mid-20s, to recessed halogen spotlights.
Now, it's bordering on an obsession. Everywhere I go, every room I enter, I find myself calculating the wattage of the lights. From my dentist's chair last week, I noticed at least a dozen 50-watt halogens embedded in the ceiling and a smattering of fluorescent striplights (in addition to that super-bright lamp trained on my face). From my desk at work, I can count 160 striplights and 50 individual lightbulbs – some energy-efficient, many not, all switched on while it's bright and sunny outside. In a tiny clothes shop in Bristol, I counted 50 boiling hot, 35-watt spotlights all pointed at walls or into clothes – and that was just in the first half of the shop. All that electricity being wasted as heat; all those extra carbon emissions . . . My mental maths makes me scowl a lot these days.
I'm not the only one with a bee in their bonnet about bulbs, of course. This year, newspapers and comment blogs have overflowed with (mostly angry) pieces about our gradual switch to greener lighting and, in particular, the parallel demise of traditional incandescent bulbs – now gradually being banned across Europe, much to the irritation of Euro- and climate change-sceptics everywhere.
Lamenting the death of the incandescent bulb is as daft as complaining about cars becoming more fuel-efficient, or deciding you want a course of leeches instead of paracetamol to deal with a headache. Even if you don't buy into the climate and energy-saving argument, it makes sense to ditch incandescent bulbs purely on the grounds of the money you'll save on electricity bills.
My own transformation began with an innocent question about my life, as I was finally getting round to auditing the carbon footprint of my home earlier this year. As part of a larger plan to green my house, I had asked Russell Smith of the sustainable building company Eco Parity to carry out an energy survey of my freezing, energy-hungry Victorian terrace. He identified lighting as a major issue – the cost of powering the copious lightbulbs hanging from my ceilings and screwed or bayoneted into table lamps was spiking up my energy use and, consequently, my carbon footprint.
Those incandescent bulbs were identical to the vast majority of lights in the vast majority of British homes. In fact, most of the world still gets its artificial lighting from these glowing filaments of tungsten housed in a glass-enclosed vacuum, a design that has been around, virtually unaltered, for more than a century. In our climate-aware times, they represent an indefensible energy burden: up to 95% of the electricity each bulb draws is wasted as heat.
In total, lighting accounted for 28% of my home's energy use and more than half the electricity bill. I was producing around 1.5 tonnes of CO2 every year just with my lights. This had to change. I had always known that swapping incandescent bulbs for more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) would be one of the easiest ways to cut my carbon footprint, but I'd never actually quantified what this meant for me. CFLs, a miniature and more sophisticated version of fluorescent striplights, last around 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use up to 80% less energy.
Over the next few months, I spent (probably too many) evenings, weekends and lunchtimes hunting out and testing different energy-saving bulbs, each representative of even more cutting-edge lighting technology than the last. I got frighteningly familiar with terms such as GU10, R50, E14 and E27 (the technical labels for different shapes of bulb and socket – look, I did this so you don't have to). And I saw the future too, in super-bright light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Familiar in car dashboards and bicycle lights, they smash all records for energy efficiency. In a few years they will be all over your home too, and with none of the perceived stigma of CFLs.
By the time I emerged from this trek through the light side, my whopping 1.5-tonne CO2 habit had dropped to less than 150kg per year. Think what would happen if everyone made such a cut. According to the Energy Saving Trust (EST), lights account for around 20% of the electricity bill in an average home. Britons spend around £2.3bn each year on electricity to run their home lights, and if everyone switched their old-style lights to energy-saving alternatives, the electricity saved in a single year would run the country's street lighting for four and a half years, or provide electricity for every house in London for nine months. If every UK householder replaced just one 100-watt incandescent bulb with an energy-saver, the carbon saved would be equal to taking 200,000 cars off the road for a year.
Negative myths about CFLs
Governments, too, have realised this is a quick win. At the beginning of this month, incandescent lightbulbs rated above 80 watts were banned across the 27 countries of the EU. Next year, bulbs over 65 watts will be banned, and so on in the following years until incandescents disappear entirely by the middle of the next decade. Bans have also been announced in countries around the world from the US and Australia to Brazil, Turkey and Malaysia.
Not everyone is happy, though. According to their detractors, CFLs give out cold light, take ages to warm up, and might even make you ill. "Nearly all of our work seems to be trying to batter these myths down," says James Russill, a lighting expert at the EST. "There are a lot of wrong perceptions about energy-saving lightbulbs. In the early days, as the technology was developing, there were issues with warm-up times, general light output and their size. These are still at the forefront of a lot of people's minds – but the modern technology counters all of these problems."
It's not as if the incandescent bulb hasn't had a good run. Invented in the late 19th century either by Joseph Swan or Thomas Edison (depending on which side of the Atlantic you live), the first designs generated light by passing electricity through a carbonised filament of bamboo; when this got hot, it would glow orange. The longer the filament, the more light came out, so to ensure bulbs remained a practical size, later versions used long strips of bamboo curled into tight coils.
By the start of the 20th century, tungsten had replaced bamboo because it was the material that survived longest at the hottest temperatures. The coiled filament was curled upon itself to create an even brighter filament – the so-called "coiled coil" – and placed in a vacuum or inert gas to give the filament longer life. And that, largely, is how incandescent lightbulbs have stayed for more than a century.
Fluorescent lights, meanwhile, first appeared more than 80 years ago. By passing electricity through mercury gas, they produce lots of ultraviolet light that is absorbed by a phosphor chemical lining the inside of the glass tube – the phosphor then re-emits the energy as visible white light. A fluorescent tube is more expensive to make than an incandescent lamp, but the process it uses to make light is at least five times more efficient. (The efficiency of a lamp is measured in the amount of light, measured in lumens, produced per watt of power it uses: an incandescent light produces around 10 lumens per watt, halogen spotlights push that to around 20, while modern fluorescents produce 50-60.)
Fluorescents swamped offices and factories in the 50s and 60s, yet inefficient incandescent lights remained popular in homes, largely thanks to their warm yellowish light. And things would have stayed that way if it wasn't for a development in the phosphor chemicals in fluorescent lights in the 70s.
"Instead of producing one phosphor that produced white light, we took three – green, red and blue – and mixed them to get white," explains Mike Simpson, technical and design director of Philips Lighting. "One of the spin-offs was that these were less sensitive to heat so you could run them hotter, but they also gave much better colour quality."
It also meant manufacturers could modify the colour of the light coming out of fluorescent tubes, and make them thinner. By 1980, the first compact fluorescent lights were being made by bending thin tubes double and putting them into a glass container, much like a jam jar, attached to a bayonet socket base. "Back then, you'd take out a 100-watt incandescent and put in a 20-watt fluorescent," Simpson says. "Everything that has happened in the past 20 years has been to make it smaller and more efficient."
At home, I had a mixture of incandescent bulbs rated from 20 to 100 watts. The kitchen alone had seven reflector bulbs at 50 watts each, the upstairs bathroom had another four at 40 watts – in total, I had at least 1,500 watts of lighting around the house.
Replacing the main light in each room was simple: these days, there's a whole range of cheap, reliable CFLs. The colour of the lights wasn't even an issue (if it matters, you can often choose how yellow you'd like the light to be) and the start-up time for my new lightbulbs was near-instantaneous.
More problematic were the downlighters in my kitchen and bathroom. There seemed to be fewer low-energy options, and it took a lot of digging to find suitable spotlight-shaped bulbs. I eventually found some made by the low-energy lighting company Megaman on specialist lighting websites (although I have since seen the same bulbs at DIY stores, and they are becoming more available at mainstream stores and supermarkets).
The difference the new lights has made to my carbon footprint and my wallet is clear: from 1,500 watts of lights in the house, I now have around 150 watts doing the same job. By removing 90% of the lighting power, I have reduced my monthly electricity bills by around 60%.
The future is LEDs
So is that the end of my lighting story? Not quite. Where CFL technology was 20 years ago, another lighting technology is ramping up to further reduce our energy bills. LEDs have been around since the 60s, producing light by passing electricity between thin layers of different semi-conductor materials. Until now, they have only been useful as indicator lights on telephones, car dashboards and dot-matrix displays. They are costly, used only to be available in certain colours (reds or oranges, typically), and weren't bright enough for lighting entire rooms.
In the mid-90s, however, Japanese scientists invented the first blue LEDs. By coating these with a phosphor, LEDs could finally produce white light, prompting the big electronics companies to accelerate their development of LED bulbs. Philips recently produced a 3-watt bulb that has the same light output as a 35-watt halogen incandescent bulb – it is expensive (£25), but Philips claims it will last for 15 years. Factor in the amount of electricity the bulb will save and, overall, it could turn out well for your pocket and the planet. If all of the UK's domestic lighting was switched to LEDs, the electricity burden for lighting could be 10% of what it is today.
Like all technology, LEDs will no doubt get better and cheaper. Is it too much to hope that, within a couple of decades, all the lighting in one house will use the equivalent energy of a single incandescent lamp today, bringing the carbon footprint of lighting our homes to virtually nothing? At least that would stop me scowling at shopkeepers.
Trip the light fantastic Alok Jha's recommended lightbulbs
LED spotlight
Philips Econic, 3W
Unlike CFLs, this switches to full brightness immediately and runs cooler. Identical size to halogen spotlights and very similar colour light, though less sparkly. Quite a tightly focused light, however, so you will need a few around your room. Also relatively expensive, but then it will last for 15 years.
CFL stick
Philips Genie, 8W
Has near-instantaneous start-up, getting up to full brightness with a warm, yellowy-white colour in less than 10 seconds. Good for general use in lounges, hallways and bedrooms.
LED candle
Philips Novallure, 10W
Same advantages as the Econic in terms of cool running and instant switch-on, but this is meant for chandeliers. The LED light is made to sparkle slightly, thanks to a glass light-guide inside the bulb.
CFL dimmable
Sylvania Mini-Lynx Step, 20W
For anyone with dimmer switches, this will allow you to adjust your lighting levels to your heart's content. Still a relatively new technology for CFLs, so expect to pay marginally more – but the costs will come down.
CFL small globe
Megaman GA607, 7W
For lamps or light fittings with several small bulbs. Robust (like all Megaman bulbs) and available in four shades of white, from warm to daylight. Each one is rated to last 10,000 hours.
Alok Jha
The Guardian, Friday 25 September 2009

World goes into 'ecological debt'

The world has gone into 'ecological debt' having used up more resources and produced more waste already this year than the planet can cope with, the New Economics Foundation warned.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 12:01AM BST 25 Sep 2009
The global recession meant "ecological debt day" on September 25 fell a day later than the previous year for the first time in 20 years as less resources were used.
However environmental groups said the slow down was not enough to make a difference to the environmental damage being caused by over consumption, the burning of fossil fuels and intensive farming.

Think tank the New Economics Foundation measures how much land, forests and seas are used up to produce our food, energy, clothes and other goods per head. When this reaches a point when each individual is using more than the world could possibly replace through planting new forests, recovering fish or food stocks or absorbing carbon dioxide the world goes into "ecological debt".
In 1995, ecological debt day fell on November 25 but this year it was two months earlier on September 25.
Andrew Simms, NEF policy director and co-author of the report, said it was a day later than last year but still too early in the year.
"Debt-fuelled overconsumption not only brought the financial system to the edge of collapse, it is pushing many of our natural life-support systems towards a precipic," he said.
"Politicians tell us to get back to business as usual, but if we bankrupt critical ecosystems no amount of government spending will bring them back.
"We need a radically different approach to 'rich world' consumption. While billions in poorer countries subsist, we consume vastly more and yet with little or nothing to show for it in terms of greater life satisfaction."

Loss of soil threatens food production, UK government warns

Defra's chief scientist says safeguarding soil is 'critical' if food production is to increase in the UK in the next 20-30 years
John Vidal, environment editor, Thursday 24 September 2009 18.00 BST
More than 2m tonnes of topsoil from farms and forests is being eroded by wind and rain each year, jeopardising efforts to increase food production, the UK government said today.
The soil erosion is reducing the amount of food grown, increasing the risk of flooding and undermining efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
UK land has been steadily degraded by 200 years of intensive farming and industrial pollution, warned the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in a major study of soils. But it said the situation is not nearly as bad as in many Asian and African countries, where soil erosion due to overgrazing and poor farming practices is now seriously threatening food production.
New housing and transport infrastructure as well as climate change are all adding to the pressures on soils, explained the environment secretary, Hilary Benn. "Soil erosion already results in the annual loss of around 2.2m tonnes of topsoil. This costs farmers £9m a year in lost production. Climate change has the potential to increase erosion rates through hotter, drier conditions that make soils more susceptible to wind erosion, coupled with intense rainfall incidents that can wash soil away," he said.
British soils contain around 10bn tonnes of carbon, half of which is found in peat habitats. Many of this habitat is under threat from climate change, mining, or poor land management. "Losing this [carbon] store to the atmosphere would create emissions that are equivalent to more than 50 times the UK's current annual greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
Defra's chief scientist, Professor Bob Watson, said safeguarding soil would be "critical" if food production was to increase in the next 20-30 years. "We face many challenges of climate change, we have to produce twice as much food, it needs to be more nutritious, and if we don't take care of our soil and our water, we will not be able to accomplish that task," he said.
The government plans to improve soil conditions by tightening the planning system to make developers take soils into account, encouraging farmers to put back more organic matter back and preventing industrial pollution. Most soils in Britain are degraded by poor land management and the inefficient use of fertilisers, especially nitrogen.
The Soil Association, the organisation that promotes organic farming, welcomed what it said was a recognition thatintroducing large amounts of nitrogen fertiliser was not sustainable in the long term, but said that the government's proposed measures did not go nearly far enough.
"They [the government] will not put right the huge degradation that our soils have suffered over the last 200 years, partly as a result of what the government calls intensive agricultural production. Organic farming should be acknowledged as a key approach to protect our vital soils," said policy director, Peter Melchett.
Kathryn Alton, soil scientist and executive officer of the British Society of Soil Science, said: "The numbers of professional soil scientists in the UK has declined over time in conjunction with the loss of soil science departments. Investment is clearly needed in training soil scientists to meet these future challenges."