Monday, 28 September 2009

Do wind turbines kill wildlife?

Wind turbines may provide green energy, but what is the true cost to bats and birds?
Lucy Siegle
The Observer, Sunday 27 September 2009
Imagine that at the flick of a switch, you could not only turn a light on or off but select which power source you were going to use. Would an eco warrior choose wind power or coal? Surely this is a no-brainer.
Not necessarily. While Nimbys (Not-in-My-Backyarders) are often cast as agents of self interest (prioritising the preservation of the view from their own window above progress), in reality they're often motivated by a deep belief in wildlife conservation. There is no denying that wind turbines are inextricably linked to bird and bat mortality. The prominent US wildlife ecologist and ornithologist Albert Manville claims that as many as 440,000 birds are killed by existing wind turbines in the US every year. The numbers are thought to be big because the wind currents most beneficial for producing wind energy also happen to be the ones that billions of birds use to migrate across the US. This is more than an unhappy coincidence, as it adds huge pressure to species already at risk from habitat degradation. And while wind turbines are such great hulking symbols of wildlife slaying, traditional forms of fossil-fuel electricity generation tend to be let off the hook, despite actually killing more animals. A recent US study, Comparison of Reported Effects and Risks to Vertebrate Wildlife – which appears to be the only comparative study of electricity generation to factor in wildlife mortality – concludes that thanks to emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and mercury, coal-fired generation is a far greater killer. But it's also worth mentioning that birds and bats fly into oil platforms and cooling towers, too.
As more research is conducted, so more ways are found to reduce wind-power casualties. As bats rarely fly over the ocean, offshore wind turbines have negligible effect on their mortality. Offshore turbines also seem to cause low bird mortality. The Nysted Offshore Wind Farm, in Denmark, was actually built in a duck flyway, yet mortality was discovered to be just 1.2 birds per year per tower. Other techniques include slowing turbine blades at night – the time when wind speeds are lowest anyway but bats happen to be most active – shown by US research at the Casselman Wind Power Project to cut wildlife deaths by 73%. Researchers at Aberdeen University, funded by the People's Trust for Endangered Species ( are currently making good progress on using radar to deter bats from becoming entangled in the turbine's blades. Meanwhile we need to know more about migration patterns and exactly why bats and birds are attracted to spinning blades. Nor should any wind turbine be given the go ahead without a conservation plan. Notably the RSPB – once a vehement opponent of wind power – put up its first turbine earlier this summer after consultation on finding an appropriate site. The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind. The complication is figuring out how to avoid a collision.★

China's Wind Farms Come With a Catch: Coal Plants

SHANGHAI—China's ambition to create "green cities" powered by huge wind farms comes with a dirty little secret: Dozens of new coal-fired power plants need to be installed as well.
Part of the reason is that wind power depends on, well, the wind. To safeguard against blackouts when conditions are too calm, officials have turned to coal-fired power as a backup.
China wants renewable energy like wind to meet 15% of its energy needs by 2020, double its share in 2005, as it seeks to rein in emissions that have made its cities among the smoggiest on Earth. But experts say the country's transmission network currently can't absorb the rate of growth in renewable-energy output. Last year, as much as 30% of wind-power capacity wasn't connected to the grid. As a result, more coal is being burned in existing plants, and new thermal capacity is being built to cover this shortfall in renewable energy.
Bloomberg News
A worker near a wind farm in Jiangsu province earlier this year. China hopes to double the percentage of renewable energy it uses by 2020.
In addition, officials want enough new coal-fired capacity in reserve so that they can meet demand whenever the wind doesn't blow. This is important because wind is less reliable as an energy source than coal, which fuels two-thirds of China's electricity output. Wind energy ultimately depends on wind strength and direction, unlike coal, which can be stockpiled at generators in advance.
Further complicating matters is poor connectivity between regional transmission networks, which makes it hard for China to move surplus power in one part of the country to cover shortfalls elsewhere.
China may not be alone in having to ramp up thermal power capacity as it develops wind farms. Any country with a combination of rapidly growing energy demand, an old and inflexible grid, an existing reliance on coal for power, and ambitious renewable energy-expansion plans will likely have a similar dilemma. What marks China out as different is the amount of new coal-fired capacity that needs to be added.
The China Greentech Initiative, a group made up of more than 80 mostly large Western companies and organizations with interests in the environmental sector, said in a report earlier this month, "China's increased focus on renewable energy exerts yet greater demands on China's electric power infrastructure. Power generation based on renewable energy sources ... necessitates greater use of intermittent generation management and storage."
"China will need to add a substantial amount of coal-fired power capacity by 2020 in line with its expanding economy, and the idea is to bring some of the capacity earlier than necessary in order to facilitate the wind-power transmission," said Shi Pengfei, vice president of the Chinese Wind Power Association.
Largely due to its reliance on coal, China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in absolute terms. Last year, the country accounted for more than 85% of global growth in coal demand, according to BP PLC's statistical review of world energy.
Facing pressure from abroad over the pace of China's emissions growth, President Hu Jintao used a speech to the United Nations last Tuesday to stress his country's commitment to tackling climate change. He said China will lower energy intensity as the country grows, while raising output of renewable energy and nuclear power. China aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product by a "notable margin" by 2020, Mr. Hu said, without setting a concrete cap.
The city of Jiuquan, in the flat and arid northwestern province of Gansu, shows the complexities that crop up when implementing such plans. The city is meant to showcase the strides China is making in renewable energy. Wind turbines with a combined capacity of 12.7 gigawatts are due to be installed there by 2015—more than the country's present nuclear-power capacity.
But the Jiuquan government wants to build 9.2 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity as well, for use when the winds aren't favorable. That's equivalent to the entire generating capacity of Hungary.
Construction of these thermal power plants is pending approval by Beijing, an official with the Energy Department under the Jiuquan Development and Reform Bureau said Tuesday.
The heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants to add to the power supply from large wind farms in order to meet minimum power demand is essential to grid safety, said Mr. Shi of the Chinese Wind Power Association.
To be sure, any kilowatt hour of wind power consumed by end users ultimately replaces a kilowatt hour of electricity generated by other, possibly dirty, sources such as coal, and the huge power supply expected from the new wind farms represents a major stride in China's clean energy push.
In addition to Jiuquan, there are plans for six other wind farms in China with a capacity of more than 10 gigawatts each, mostly in sparsely populated inland regions such as wind-swept Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.
Several gigawatts of new thermal power capacity will need to be built at these sites as well, Mr. Shi said.
China has plenty of windswept plains and sun-baked deserts like the Gobi which can host turbines or solar panels, but these are often far from cities and existing infrastructure for shipping power. Sebastian Meyer, director of research and advisory services with clean-energy consultancy Azure International, says China needs a more modern and flexible grid if it wants to raise the share of renewable power in its energy mix.
So-called smart-grid technology aims to modernize the power sector by overlaying digital communications onto the grid, enabling utilities to manage supply more efficiently and compensate for any variance. But while the U.S. and many countries in Europe are lining up spending to exploit the technology, China is lagging behind.
State Grid Corp., China's monopoly power distributor in all but five provinces, says it wants to build a nationwide "strong smart grid." But while it is investing heavily in grid improvements, its immediate focus is the construction of ultrahigh-voltage lines linking China's coal production and hydropower centers in inland areas to the densely populated east.
A single such line can carry up to 6.4 gigawatts of power, which makes it even more important that generation at its starting point is stable and reliable.—Jing Yang

New Appliances, in Sync With Meters, Shift to Energy-Saver Modes When Told

"Smart" appliances could be coming to a laundry room or kitchen near you.
General Electric Co. says it will introduce its first smart water heaters in November. It also says it has created a smart version of each of its other appliance lines and is ready to put them to work in utility-company demonstration projects.
Whirlpool Corp. plans to announce Monday that it will produce one million smart clothes dryers for sale in 2011. It had previously committed to having smart products available by 2015.

Smart appliances can be controlled remotely by a power company to go into energy-saving mode or shut off during times when there is high demand for electricity. Consumers could override the feature but likely will pay more for power during these periods.
Over time, wide use of smart appliances could save consumers money and cut the number of power plants needed to satisfy electricity demand, reducing power-industry pollution. The appliances aren't expected to be priced much higher than regular EnergyStar products.
For appliance makers -- which have been suffering from the housing bust -- smart products could be a sales opportunity. A record number of large appliances -- 47 million -- were sold in 2005, but sales have declined since then, sagging to 39.7 million in 2008. So far this year, sales are down 14%, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
Smart appliances could offer consumers a reason to replace appliances sooner. "What's been missing from the smart grid is the 'killer app' that offers real benefits to consumers," said Joseph McGuire, president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. "We think we're ready to provide that."
The surge in consumer-product development comes as the federal government is getting close to adopting "smart grid" standards for the nation's electric-power network.
In a 90-page document released for public comment last week, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology identified 80 standards intended to permit seamless integration of everything from big pieces of equipment mounted on utility poles to electric cars to small home appliances.
Reducing fossil-fuel use and cutting greenhouse gases is a top priority of President Obama. His administration and the nation's utilities and equipment vendors have been moving with unusual speed to get smart-grid standards in place by early next year.
There are still unknowns. It's not clear whether smart devices for the home will communicate mostly wirelessly or through home wiring. (The standards proposed Thursday would permit either.) Also unclear is who will dominate the race to develop the most popular central controllers -- big technology vendors like Google Inc. or Microsoft Corp., meter makers, appliance makers or others.
The imminence of smart-grid standards is expected to give manufacturers more confidence that the smart products they develop will be able to talk to each other and to central control units without difficulty. In the past, competing approaches -- think Betamax vs. VHS -- have slowed the development and adoption of new products.
"We now have a conceptual model for the smart grid, and the barriers are falling," said George Arnold, national coordinator for smart grid interoperability at NIST.
Smart appliances will come equipped with communications modules and software. During grid emergencies or periods of high electricity use, utilities could ping smart meters or other devices, such as home-network controllers, to order appliances to hunker down in energy-saving mode.
Whirlpool's smart dryers, which will account for a quarter of the company's expected 2011 production, will be able to operate in a variety of modes. In one energy-saving mode that might be used when electricity demand is high, the heat will turn on and off during an extended drying cycle but the spinning will continue to prevent wrinkles.
An electric dryer that tumbles clothes without heat uses only about 200 watts of electricity, while one that's set on maximum heat may use as much as 500 watts. Multiply that by one million dryers and the difference is equivalent, at a moment in time, to the output of half-a-dozen big coal-fired power plants.
GE's first smart-grid-enabled product is a hybrid water heater that will be able to take instructions from a smart meter or other control device. A GE spokeswoman said the heaters will cost about $1,500, more than conventional models, but they will be 62% more energy efficient. A built-in heat pump will recycle heat from room air and use it to help heat the water.
But GE doesn't intend to put most of its new smart products in stores until there is enough demand. That, in turn, requires a rate structure from power companies that varies pricing during the day depending on the level of demand.
"They'd only be beneficial where there's tiered pricing," providing incentives to run equipment when prices are lowest, said GE spokeswoman Kim Freeman. "That's where they become important."
Write to Rebecca Smith at

Stimulus Funds Speed Transformation Toward 'Smart Grid'

High-Tech Firms Seek Out Utilities As They Upgrade
After struggling to sell cutting-edge products to utilities, technology companies are sensing better times ahead with the influx of $4.5 billion in federal stimulus funds for so-called smart-grid projects.
The federal grants are expected to speed transformation of the power grid from a largely electromechanical system into a digital network that gives utilities more efficient ways to send electricity to customers. That could help cut pollution and electric bills.
Smart meters, one component of a smart grid, allow utilities to monitor usage almost in real time, letting them charge variable prices based on demand, for example. Corporate and residential customers would acquire tools to manage their energy use. Residential customers could be given an in-home meter to see how much power they are using and what it is costing them.
Utilities often take years to make technological change, in part because they must justify large expenditures to utility commissions to recoup costs through rates. Utilities also fear that new equipment could degrade transmission reliability if it doesn't perform flawlessly.
But now, utilities are being encouraged by state utility regulators to seek the federal stimulus funds. California regulators this month voted to expedite their review of smart-grid proposals to fit the U.S. Department of Energy's timetable for smart-grid grants.
That has opened up a sizeable sales opportunity for a host of tech companies, ranging from giant Cisco Systems Inc. to closely held Tendril Networks Inc. Some tech companies are beefing up staffs to pursue smart-grid projects, while others are helping utilities apply for the grants, the first of which could be doled out as early as next month.
North American utilities are expected to spend $10.75 billion on computer hardware, software and services related to the smart grid this year, up from $7.56 billion in 2008, according to research company IDC Energy Insights.
The smart-grid market "may be bigger than the whole Internet," said John Chambers, chief executive of networking giant Cisco.
Federal assistance "will accelerate the progress of projects [for many utilities] from pilots to full-scaled deployments," said Todd Arnold, senior vice president at Duke Energy Corp.
The Charlotte, N.C., company started installing advanced meters in Ohio last year as part of the utility's five-year, $1 billion smart-grid initiative.
Duke in August requested $200 million in federal funds to cover a quarter of the cost of installing two million advanced meters in Ohio and Indiana. The meters transmit readings wirelessly to utilities and customers and allow the creation of data portals to monitor energy use.
Ambient Corp. of Newton, Mass., started working with Duke in 2005, suggesting ways the utility might use Ambient's communications modules to scoop up data from smart meters to boost grid intelligence. But activity picked up only recently. Ambient last month wrote a letter to the DOE supporting Duke's smart-grid application and this month inked a deal to sell large numbers of modules to the utility, said John Joyce, Ambient's president.
The influx of stimulus dollars "is clearly significant for a firm like Ambient" because it stimulates investment in general and "will make us bigger" as utilities add projects, he said. Ambient had 2008 sales of $15 million but declined to give the value of its deal with Duke.
Competition for the stimulus grants has been fierce. The DOE last month received roughly 570 applications from utilities requesting as much as $14.6 billion in smart-grid funds -- more than three times the amount available. Grants can be as much as $200 million per project and represent as much as half of a project's cost.
Tendril Networks helped a dozen utilities in eight states prepare stimulus applications by offering the services of its lawyers, grant writers and technical advisers. The Boulder, Colo., company, whose products help consumers control their energy use, advised utilities on cost estimates and technology-integration issues.
Tendril President Tim Enwall said he has identified two dozen utilities as potential customers if they win the federal grants. The grants could mean $900 million in sales, with about 20 firms like his competing for the business, he said. The grants represent the largest sales opportunity his company has had since it decided to pursue utility sales two years ago and could accelerate the date at which Tendril seeks an initial public offering of stock, he said. The company declines to disclose Tendril's sales or projections.
PG&E Corp., meanwhile, has solicited Cisco and International Business Machines Corp. to design displays and manage data for a project to give 75,000 of its 570,000 business customers digital readouts to help them better manage energy use. The San Francisco-based utility is seeking $42.5 million in stimulus funds as part of the $85 million project.
Microsoft Corp. in July unveiled software that connects to utilities' systems and allows customers to monitor how much energy they are using. The Redmond, Wash., company also is developing products that will help utilities better manage information, said Troy Batterberry, a product manager in the company's 20-person energy group.
And Cisco in June created a unit to focus on smart-grid technology, complete with a dedicated sales force. Mr. Chambers, the CEO, said the team developing smart-grid products has "almost an unlimited budget." The San Jose, Calif., company, which has $36.1 billion in annual revenue, expects to generate at least a $1 billion a year of smart-grid related sales by 2014.
Write to Rebecca Smith at and Ben Worthen at

The new organic farming revolution starts here

Farmers need to refocus if they want to sell their organic food
Jay Rayner
The Observer, Sunday 27 September 2009
It has not been a good few days for fans of organic food. Last week, Neil Stansfield, a company director, was jailed for selling repackaged conventional Tesco pies as organic to Fortnum & Mason. For those of us suspicious that many people buy organics in the pursuit of some affluent lifestyle rather than because of the quality of the products, it was compelling evidence.
At the same time as the judge was handing down the sentence the biggest players in the organics world – including Green & Black's and Yeo Valley – were meeting to discuss launching a generic advertising campaign bigging up the virtues of organics. Their panic was understandable. According to recent data from supermarket analysts TNS, the overall sector has dropped 13% in the past year. Organic fruit sales are down 16%, and vegetables by a whopping third. You can say you read it here first. Last December, this newspaper predicted that 2009 would witness the first fall in organic food sales in 15 years. Indeed, I was the one who made that prediction, though I didn't exactly need the powers of a soothsayer. The recession was upon us and it was obvious that sales of premium goods were going to tank. What I didn't anticipate was just how far those sales would tumble.
No recessionary slump is ever to be celebrated. There are the livelihoods of hard-pressed farmers at risk here. Curiously, though, it's possible this recession will be the making of the organic sector. It will finally mean they have to work out what the point of their business is. Arguments raged this summer over a report from the Food Standards Agency stating there were no significant health benefits to eating organic food. Its champions attempted, unconvincingly, to pick holes in the science. The reality is that, even if there are health benefits, they are bound to be marginal.
So how should the organic movement position itself? The Soil Association, which accredits organic farmers, has been clear in its goal to see all British agriculture move from conventional to organic farming. That's tilting at windmills. Sales have never risen above 1.5% of the £160bn food market in this country, so even a tenfold increase would still leave them massively off their goal. It is also not a solution to our food needs. The government finally announced this summer that, in the face of global food security pressures, we have to increase the amount we produce at home, to counter an 8% drop in self-sufficiency to 60.5% over the past decade. As the yield from organic farming is lower than that from conventional farming, we would inevitably end up importing more food, which is less environmentally sound than farming it conventionally here.
Instead, while pursuing modest growth, organic producers should position themselves as a political movement, arguing their point not on the fragile grounds of health benefits or taste, but on issues of environmental sustainability and ethics. Organic producers can be the conscience of British farming, using media interest in their products to push industrial food producers to ever cleaner and more viable methods. It should not be about getting them to sign up to every single line and letter of the code, as if organic farming were some fundamentalist religion. It should simply be about better. It is the only way forward. As recent sales statistics have proven, the alternative is oblivion.

Taxing the fuel-poor to bolster subsidised companies is a waste of energy

Energy policy in the UK is as badly flawed as banking regulation proved to be.

By John ReynoldsPublished: 6:42PM BST 27 Sep 2009
We have a regressive tax that takes hundreds of millions of pounds from customers – including the fuel-poor – and redistributes it to major companies that have already received subsidies for generating renewable energy.
Equally, the policy fails to address carbon emissions because a tilted playing field transfers this money to some of the least dependable low-carbon generation while providing no financial support to the most reliable.
Of the two low-carbon forms of power generation, renewables – including the use of wind and solar – receive subsidies and are set to do so until 2037. Nuclear, by contrast, is unsubsidised. Moreover, these subsidies are not paid by the Government, but by all electricity customers through Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which are incorporated into their bills.
According to the most recent figures from the industry regulator, Ofgem, there were more than 16m ROCs in the year to March 2008, worth £872m. That is an extra £872m on the bills of every household and business in the UK supplied with electricity – in just one year. Of this, £565m subsidised renewable generation. The remaining £307m related to so-called "buy-out" payments. Suppliers – in reality, their customers – paid this £307m as penalties for failing to meet "renewable obligations".
Ofgem then distributed this cash pile to suppliers in proportion to their success in meeting targets for renewable generation – a windfall that boosted profits. That is great for shareholders, but not for hard-pressed customers. Partly because of an intractable planning process, insufficient renewable energy is being generated to meet the Government's targets.
But customers are paying the full subsidy as if those targets are being met. And with the target for renewable generation rising each year until it reaches 20pc of energy production (more than 30pc of electricity production) in 2020, subsidies and windfalls will increase further. A House of Lords committee last year calculated that by 2020 renewables will add £80 per year to the average household bill (in today's prices).
The biggest recipients of ROCs are the major generators. These companies are doing nothing wrong: they are playing by the rules as they stand. But the rules are ridiculous: fuel-poverty, or being unable to afford to pay for electricity, is a concern for many people and for struggling businesses. Now that government policy is encouraging unsubsidised nuclear power, arguments for very long-term incentives being paid to renewable generators look weak.
From an engineering perspective, the high variability of output from wind, the most common form of renewable energy, greatly reduces its benefit. Equal amounts of gas-fired generation may have to be immediately available and actually operating to offset the risk of a change in wind conditions.
Renewables also involve spending further massive sums on reinforcing infrastructure to connect remote generation plants to the grid. Private industry estimates suggest that the cost to customers of complying with the 2020 target will total more than £200bn. Given that the benefit of renewables is not clear cut, and that in the long run there is another more reliable and cheaper form of low-carbon energy (nuclear), our ersatz low-carbon measures are transferring wealth from customers to large corporations at the Government's behest – for little benefit. The redistributed payments look like a new form of regressive tax, worthy of the fictional MP for Haltemprice, Alan B'stard.
Renewables that operate most of the time and with relatively high predictability can make a genuine contribution to the environment and to fuel security. The top onshore wind farms in the UK are 50pc more efficient than badly sited facilities. Subsidising less efficient wind farms will create a mass of infrastructure with little real value.
Wave and tidal power offer reliable energy, but technologies are still at a relatively early stage. Generation from biomass can also provide reliable electricity, but will remain small scale. Carbon capture from power stations also offers benefits, but again is at an early stage.
Unlike wind, paying subsidies to early-stage technology – such as wave and tidal – can make sound policy, enabling new forms of production to develop and establishing manufacturing bases in the UK.
How did we arrive here? Energy policy took a potentially disastrous turn in 2003. The then Department of Trade and Industry failed to support new nuclear power. By 2007, this had changed. But four vital years were lost. Nuclear power only took centre stage in 2008 when John Hutton, as business secretary, proposed the building of a new generation of nuclear power plants.
When renewables were promoted in 2003 as the only future form of low-carbon energy, albeit wrongly, redistributing money nonetheless made some sense. However, since 2007, this has made little or no sense. Establishing parity between renewables and nuclear is urgent. When, in around 2020, new nuclear power stations are operational, explaining why wind but not nuclear receives huge subsidies will be impossible.
Despite this, in an 'Alice in Wonderland' moment in 2008, Chancellor Alistair Darling chose instead to extend ROCs for a further 10 years to 2037. With little scope for the further development of high-efficiency onshore wind farms, combined with the prospect of modern nuclear technology, there can be no justification for long-term redistribution of wealth – especially from those on low earnings to major international corporations.
I can only conclude that energy policy – vitally important to everyone in the UK – is designed merely to pass the test of showing some progress towards intermediate targets for new renewable projects. Meanwhile, the real challenges – large-scale low-carbon energy and security of supply in the face of dwindling North Sea gas – have been ducked. In place of an intelligent solution to national problems, we have an unfair and unnecessary, regressive tax and a failure to grasp the problem of carbon emissions.
John Reynolds is chief executive of independent investment bank Reynolds Partners and chairman of the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group.

India can't play the victim on climate change

Its poor may have small carbon footprints, but that is a specious excuse for not taking a global lead on the issue
Kapil Komireddi, Sunday 27 September 2009 12.00 BST
The Copenhagen conference on climate change will most likely fail. And two parties will bear the principal responsibility for its failure: the United States and India. No one should be surprised by President Hu Jintao's pledge to significantly reduce his country's CO2 emissions. Beijing's dictatorship is keen to assuage international anxieties. But Washington and New Delhi cannot indulge international opinion at the expense of alienating their domestic constituencies.
President Obama simply cannot afford to advocate further austerity to Americans reeling under a recession, and Jairam Ramesh, India's pugnaciously articulate environment minister, won't be satisfied unless Obama does precisely that. As Ramesh explained to an American interviewer on Tuesday: "In the United States, emissions are lifestyle emissions. For [India], emissions are developmental emissions. You're asking [India] to compromise on development ... You change your lifestyle and then we'll think of compromising on development."
India's argument resonates throughout the developing world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Obama's sermon on shared responsibility strikes as an affront, akin to a burglar telling his victim to split the defence costs. The voluptuaries of the west may advocate, without a hint of remorse or irony, that billions of people in India and China and Africa renounce material comforts and advancement which developed nations take for granted; but developing nations seem to be firm in their conviction that, though climate change is a real threat, those who have contributed overwhelmingly to its causes – and continue to pollute the planet in the spirit of carpe diem – must also be the ones to devise and pay for solutions to curb it.
But India has a habit of invoking the injustices of the past to suppress the failures of present. New Delhi repeatedly refers to the fact that, measured by per capita emissions, India ranks near the bottom of the list of worst polluters. This may be true, but it is a disingenuous argument. Per capita figures are meaningless (and unjust) because they are arrived at by apportioning the pollution that is principally produced in the urban centres, where wealth is concentrated, in equal measure to a billion individuals – an overwhelming majority of whom have been denied the dividends of pollution. India is adducing its poor as the reason for its intransigent stand. But its recent history is replete with instances of the state displacing the poor to create vacant lands for wealthy corporations – in effect socialising the costs of pollution while privatising its profits. Unlike corporations, the planet belongs to everyone. So concessions on emissions, if they can be worked out, must be linked to the equitable distribution of profits derived from pollution.
Working to prevent climate change will not be enough. States must actively seek to establish contingency measures to deal with its consequences. Bangladesh's land mass is literally shrinking. It is more than likely that India will have a colossal humanitarian crisis on its hands in the not too distant future, with Bangladeshis crossing the border into West Bengal on a scale that will make 1971 appear puny. India cannot turn them back, but it cannot conceivably bear the cost of their absorption alone. New Delhi should start pushing for a global fund from which it can draw later. As a country that has lost more lives to climate change than any other, India also has a duty to make its rich – the beneficiaries of its emissions, the inhabitants of its mini-Americas – pay the costs.
Regardless of the results of the Copenhagen summit, India must stop playing the victim and take the lead in combatting climate change. It has already made impressive strides, and the government has announced a series of ambitious plans to produce renewable energy and substantially reduce India's dependence on fossil fuels. According to the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, solar thermal power plants can fulfil India's energy needs. Since sunlight is abundant, the "potential is unlimited". India could electrify not only itself but all of Asia and Africa. In the process, it could help save humankind from extinction. This would be a fitting tribute to its founder, Pandit Nehru, who at the turbulent time of its founding dedicated India to the "larger cause of humanity".

Met Office warns of catastrophic global warming in our lifetimes

• Study says 4C rise in temperature could happen by 2060• Increase could threaten water supply of half world population
David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 28 September 2009
Unchecked global warming could bring a severe temperature rise of 4C within many people's lifetimes, according to a new report for the British government that significantly raises the stakes over climate change.
The study, prepared for the Department of Energy and Climate Change by scientists at the Met Office, challenges the assumption that severe warming will be a threat only for future generations, and warns that a catastrophic 4C rise in temperature could happen by 2060 without strong action on emissions.
Officials from 190 countries gather today in Bangkok to continue negotiations on a new deal to tackle global warming, which they aim to secure at United Nations talks in December in Copenhagen.
"We've always talked about these very severe impacts only affecting future generations, but people alive today could live to see a 4C rise," said Richard Betts, the head of climate impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, who will announce the findings today at a conference at Oxford University. "People will say it's an extreme scenario, and it is an extreme scenario, but it's also a plausible scenario."
According to scientists, a 4C rise over pre-industrial levels could threaten the water supply of half the world's population, wipe out up to half of animal and plant species, and swamp low coasts.
A 4C average would mask more severe local impacts: the Arctic and western and southern Africa could experience warming up to 10C, the Met Office report warns.
The study updates the findings of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said the world would probably warm by 4C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The IPCC also listed a more severe scenario, with emissions and temperatures rising further because of more intensive fossil fuel burning, but this was not considered realistic. "That scenario was downplayed because we were more conservative a few years ago. But the way we are going, the most severe scenario is looking more plausible," Betts said.
A report last week from the UN Environment Programme said emissions since 2000 have risen faster than even this IPCC worst-case scenario. "In the 1990s, these scenarios all assumed political will or other phenomena would have brought about the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by this point. In fact, CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel burning and industrial processes have been accelerating."
The Met Office scientists used new versions of the computer models used to set the IPCC predictions, updated to include so-called carbon feedbacks or tipping points, which occur when warmer temperatures release more carbon, such as from soils.
When they ran the models for the most extreme IPCC scenario, they found that a 4C rise could come by 2060 or 2070, depending on the feedbacks. Betts said: "It's important to stress it's not a doomsday scenario, we do have time to stop it happening if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon." Soaring emissions must peak and start to fall sharply within the next decade to head off a 2C rise, he said. To avoid the 4C scenario, that peak must come by the 2030s.
A poll of 200 climate experts for the Guardian earlier this year found that most of them expected a temperature rise of 3C-4C by the end of the century.
The implications of a 4C rise on agriculture, water supplies and wildlife will be discussed at the Oxford conference, which organisers have billed as the first to properly consider such a dramatic scenario.
Mark New, a climate expert at Oxford who has organised the conference, said: "If we get a weak agreement at Copenhagen then there is not just a slight chance of a 4C rise, there is a really big chance. It's only in the last five years that scientists have started to realise that 4C is becoming increasingly likely and something we need to look at seriously." Limiting global warming to 2C could only be achieved with new technology to suck greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. "I think the policy makers know that. I think there is an implicit understanding that they are negotiating not about 2C but 3C or 5C."

Climate change is enormous opportunity, says McFadden

Junior business minister says UK has choice of being green technology from abroad or 'being part of its creation'
Hélène Mulholland, Sunday 27 September 2009 17.38 BST
Pat McFadden, the junior business minister, said today that the government's policies on climate change represented "an enormous industrial opportunity" for creating jobs.
McFadden portrayed the Conservatives as a party that had "absolutely nothing to say" on creating a low carbon economy.
"It's an enormous industrial opportunity. How we produce our energy, how we build and heat our homes, how we travel from A to B ... all of these are going to undergo huge change," he told delegates at the Labour conference in Brighton.
"It's a new industrial revolution. And as a country we have a simple choice. We either buy the new technologies involved from elsewhere or vow to be part of their creation. So when it comes to green energy, when it comes to low carbon vehicles, let our ambition be that the term 'Made in Britain' is at the heart of our economic future."
McFadden also announced that the government would secure 20,000 apprenticeships through procurement contracts.
As an organisation that spends "billions every year on goods and services", the government would use the lever of procurement contracts to secure 20,000 apprenticeships over the next three years: "It's a fair bargain. If you want to work for government, make expanding the life chances of your workforce part of your mission."
This will be part of the government's overall target of securing 250,000 apprenticeships at the start of each year from 2020.
McFadden, chair of Labour's national policy forum, said the manifesto being drawn up for the next general election would present "ambition for Britain" as the country comes out of recession.
In a further sideswipe to the Tories, McFadden said Labour was committed to giving people the chance to do these jobs by increasing opportunity, social mobility, and "not just lifting the glass ceiling but breaking it".
"We don't believe in the tired notion that there is a restricted lump of educational excellence and that more always means worse," he said.
"No, for us, it is about taking away the barriers that stop people being what they can be, lifting ambition and making sure there is a platform on which everyone can achieve no matter who you are, no matter where you come from."

Green shoots sprouting for Plant Impact

Today is a big day for Plant Impact, which has been one of the Aim's few winners in the past 18 months.
The group will announce this morning it is due its first milestone payment after encouraging progress of its Bug Oil pesticide.
The payment is the first of a potential £20m it could earn over the next decade from its licensing agreement with Arysta, the Japanese agrochemical group. Plant Impact says it has three more products with potentially even greater revenue. The company produces a clever technology that allows plants to absorb more calcium, which is useful in what it calls poor abiotic conditions – that's bad weather, to you and me.