Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Third World population controls won't save climate, study claims

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
The population explosion in poor countries will contribute little to climate change and is a dangerous distraction from the main problem of over-consumption in rich nations, a study has found.
It challenges claims by leading environmentalists, including Sir David Attenborough and Jonathon Porritt, that strict birth control is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The study concludes that spending billions of pounds of aid on contraception in the developing world will not benefit the climate because poor countries have such low emissions. It says that Britain and other Western countries should instead focus on reducing consumption of goods, services and energy among their own populations.
David Satterthwaite, of the International Institute for Environment and Development , a think-tank based in London, analysed changes in population and greenhouse gas emissions for all countries between 1980 and 2005.

He found that sub-Saharan Africa had 18.5 per cent of the world’s population growth and only 2.4 per cent of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions. The United States had 3.4 per cent of the world’s population growth but 12.6 per cent of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions.
China’s one-child rule had resulted in a sharp decline in population growth but its CO2 emissions had risen very rapidly — 44.5 per cent of the growth in global emissions — largely because of the increasing number of Chinese enjoying Western levels of consumption.
Dr Satterthwaite, whose study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Environment and Urbanization, said: “A child born into a very poor African household who during their life never escapes from poverty contributes very little to climate change, especially if they die young, as many do. A child born into a wealthy household in North America or Europe and who enjoys a full life and a high-consumption lifestyle contributes far more — thousands or even tens of thousands of times more.”
The world’s population has risen from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.8 billion. It is growing by 75 million a year and is almost certain to exceed 9 billion by 2050. Nine of the ten countries with the highest predicted growth rates up to 2050 are in Africa. Uganda’s population is expected to treble from 33 million to 91 million.
The populations of developed countries, including Japan and Russia, are expected to decline over the same period.
A separate study by the Princeton Environmental Institute found that the world’s richest half billion people accounted for 7 per cent of the world’s population but 50 per cent of emissions. The difference in emissions levels between a rich Westerner and a poor African was illustrated in a study this month by the New Economics Foundation.
It found that by 7pm on January 4, a typical person in Britain would have generated the same amount of carbon emissions that someone in Tanzania would be responsible for in the whole year. A US citizen would reach the same point by 4am on January 2.
Last month the Optimum Population Trust called for population restraint policies to be adopted by every world state to combat climate change. The call was endorsed by Sir David Attenborough, James Lovelock and Jonathon Porritt.

Fate of US climate bill casts shadow over Bangkok talks

Evidence of 'clear movement' on domestic front would lend weight to UN climate talks in Bangkok, says US chief negotiator
Associated Press
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 September 2009 11.41 BST
The fate of US carbon emission cap and trade legislation weighed heavily on delegates at United Nations climate talks which started today in Bangkok, with the Americans saying delays in passing the bill could deter commitments from other nations.
Negotiations on a new UN climate pact have been hindered by a general unwillingness to commit to firm emissions targets, and a refusal by developing countries to sign a deal until the west guarantees tens of billions of dollars in financial assistance – something the richer nations have so far refused to do.
"The more specific we can be, the easier it is to press others to be equally specific," said Jonathan Pershing, the chief US negotiator at the talks. "We have a lot of things we want from countries ... The less we can put on the table, the harder it is to achieve that outcome."
The two-week conference in the Thai capital is drawing some 1,500 delegates from 180 countries to boil down a 200-page draft agreement to something more manageable, in the hope of finalising a new international climate pact this year.
In June, the US House of Representatives passed its first bill to cap carbon emissions. The Senate, currently embroiled in debates over healthcare, is expected to take up the legislation as early as this week.
However, Pershing said he doubted that there's enough time to pass an emissions bill in Congress before December's crucial climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, which aim to reach a deal to replace the outgoing Kyoto protocol, due to expire in 2012.
He said it wouldn't prevent a global deal as long as "we have clear movement, clear intent and a signal from the Senate that is it is moving" towards passing the legislation.
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer warned that the US should not repeat what happened with the 1997 Kyoto agreement – when it signed on to the deal, only to have Congress reject it a few years later over concerns that it would hurt the economy and fail to require China and India to curb their emissions.
President Barack Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao – whose countries are the world's two biggest emitters, each accounting for about 20% of greenhouse gas pollution – vowed tough measures to combat climate change at UN talks in New York last week.
Hu said China would generate 15% of its energy from renewable sources within a decade, and for the first time pledged to reduce the rate by which its carbon emissions rise. He did not provide specific targets.
There will be one more meeting in Spain in November before negotiators head to Copenhagen. De Boer said progress was slower than it should be, but remained confident a deal would be reached in Copenhagen.
David Victor, a political scientist who has written about climate negotiations since 1990, said it is unlikely a comprehensive treaty can be finalised this year.
"The world economic recession has made most governments acutely aware of policies that could affect economic growth," he said. "And the range of issues on the table in Copenhagen is so large and complex and the time available to sort them out is very short."

CO2 is green: the TV advert making viewers choke

A TV advert paid for by an oil industry lobbyist telling Americans "more CO2 results in a greener earth" would be almost funny if it weren't so depressing
"Is this a joke?" splutters one of the comments underneath the YouTube video of a new 30-second TV advert that has started being aired in a handful of US states over the past few days telling viewers that "CO2 is green". Sadly not, it seems.
In a slick attempt to undermine the US Environmental Protection Agency's recent ruling that CO2 should now be classified as a pollutant because rising levels of the gas in the atmosphere will "endanger public health or welfare", a former oil industry executive has stumped up some of his cash to pay for these adverts to be shown in Montana and New Mexico. The ultimate aim of the advert, though, is to derail the forthcoming vote in the Senate on the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which now appears as if it might even impact on vital UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December.
So who's behind "CO2 is green" and this advert? One of its founders is H Leighton Steward who, until his retirement in 2000, was the vice chairman of Burlington Resources, a Houston-based oil and gas company bought by ConocoPhillips in 2006. Steward received the American Petroleum Institute's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 2001 and remains an honorary director of the oil industry lobby group. In other words, we can conclude that this man boasts a particular pedigree within the oil industry.
The Washington Post (which admits it has taken a half-page advert from the "CO2 is green" group) is reporting that Steward, along with some associates, is now trying to establish the group as a charity:
Steward has joined forces with Corbin J Robertson Jr, chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties. Its revenues were $291m [£184m] in 2008. They have formed two groups – CO2 Is Green designated for advocacy and Plants Need CO2 for education – with about $1m. Plants Need CO2 has applied for 501(c)(3) tax status, so that contributions would qualify as charitable donations, said Natural Resource Partners general counsel Wyatt L Hogan, who also serves on the group's board.
The advert (which varies slightly depending on the state) is really something to behold. Here's a transcript:
Congress is considering a law that would classify carbon dioxide as pollution. This will cost us jobs. There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant. In fact, higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the earth's ecosystems and would support more plant and animal life. Please take action. Contact your senator and congressman today and remind them CO2 is not pollution and more CO2 results in a greener earth. Go to CO2isgreen.com, because we all need CO2.
The advert is ripe for spoofing. It's certainly tempting to laugh it off. (For extra merriment, visit the "CO2 is green" website and read the "Why do people believe these myths?" section: "They have been misinformed by people that benefit financially from propagating the myth." Oh, the irony.)
But the advert is also a juddering reminder there are still powerful, influential forces straining every last sinew and dollar they possess to deny that rising CO2 levels are a problem. That such efforts should so easily be traced back to oil industry operatives is not wholly surprising, but sobering nonetheless.
Far more depressing, though, is the fact that they have produced this "Plants need CO2" website to better inform the public about the "positive effects of additional atmospheric CO2 and help prevent the inadvertent negative impact to human, plant and animal life if we reduce CO2".
A word of caution before you click on the link: prepare yourself to be "educated".

Copenhagen negotiating text: 200 pages to save the world?

Draft agreement being discussed ahead of December's crucial Copenhagen summit is long, confusing and contradictoryInteractive: Beginner's guide to the negotiating text
David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 September 2009 16.37 BST
It is a blueprint to save the world. And yet it is long, confusing and contradictory. Negotiators have released a draft version of a new global agreement on climate change, which is widely billed as the last chance to save the planet from the ravages of global warming.
Running to some 200 pages, the draft agreement is being discussed for the first time this week as officials from 190 countries gather in Bangkok for the latest round of UN talks. There is only one short meeting after this before they meet in Copenhagen aiming to hammer out a final version.
The draft text consolidates and reorders hundreds of changes demanded by countries to the previous version, which saw it balloon to an unmanageable 300 pages. It has no official status yet, and must be formally approved before negotiators can start to whittle it down. Here, we present key, edited sections from the text and attempt to decipher what the words mean.
The text includes sections on the traditional sticking points that have delayed progress on climate change for a decade or longer.
• How much are rich countries willing to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and by when?
• Will large developing nations such as China make an effort to put at least a dent in their soaring levels of pollution?
• How much money must flow from the developed world to developing countries to grease the wheels and secure their approval? How much to compensate for the impact of past emissions, and how much to help prevent future emissions?
According to the UN rules, for a new treaty to be agreed, every country must sign up – a challenging requirement. The new treaty is designed to follow the Kyoto protocol, the world's existing treaty to regulate greenhouse gases, the first phase of which expires in 2012. Because the US did not ratify Kyoto, the climate talks have been forced on to awkward parallel tracks, with one set of negotiations, from which the US is excluded, debating how the treaty could be extended past 2012. This new text comes from the second track, which lays out a plan to include all countries in long-term co-operative action.
Behind the scenes, pessimism about the Copenhagen talks is rising. Despite references in the text to a global goal and collective emission cuts of 25-40% by 2020 for rich countries, many observers believe there is little chance such an approach will succeed.
Stuart Eizenstat, who negotiated Kyoto for the US, said: "Copenhagen is more likely to be a way station to a final agreement, where each country posts the best that it can do... The key thing is let's not go into Copenhagen with all the same kind of guns blazing like we did in Kyoto."
A top European official told the Guardian: "We've moved on from the idea that we can negotiate on targets. That's naive and just not the way the deal will be done. The best we can get is that countries will put in what they want to commit to."
Once all the carbon offsets – buying pollution credits instead of cutting emissions – and "fudges" are taken into account, the outcome is likely to be that emissions in 2020 from rich countries will be broadly similar to those in 1990, he said. "That's really scary stuff."

US inertia could scupper world climate deal in Copenhagen, says expert

Leading climate scientist criticises Bush administration and points to general ignorance of global warming in US public polls
David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 September 2009 18.06 BST
US ignorance about the risks and reality of global warming could sink hopes of a new global deal to control greenhouse gas emissions at December's climate talks in Copenhagen, an advisor to the German government has said.
Professor John Schellnhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said the US was "climate illiterate" and that the rest of the world may be forced to agree a new deal without it.
"Nobody should dream of the possibility that numbers and targets for countries will be sealed in Copenhagen," said Schellnhuber, one of the world's foremost climate scientists. "If the US doesn't move then nothing will happen."
He added: "The US in a sense is climate illiterate. It is a deeper problem in the US, if you look at global polls about what the public knows about climate change. Even in Brazil and China, you have more people who know the problem, who think that deep cuts in emissions are needed."
He predicted that it could be several years before the US would be willing to take on carbon cuts that were ambitious enough to persuade countries such as China to set targets of their own. At UN talks last week, China and India made small steps forward on this issue, but Obama was unable to do the same.
"The political chances seem very slim that something will happen in Copenhagen and even in the years after," he said. "Maybe in the conferences following Copenhagen some countries – including China and the EU – whatever the US does, will say: we go ahead now. Why can't we save the world without the US? Why should that not happen?"
The US has by some distance the largest carbon emissions per capita in the world, and any deal without it would be significantly less effective at curbing global temperature rise.
Speaking on the fringes of a climate science conference at Oxford University today, Schellnhuber said the former US president, George Bush, was to blame for a decade of inaction on climate change, and that many in the Republican party and the wider US population still did not understand the need to act. European nations and others have been waiting for President Obama to engage with the issue in a way that Bush refused to.
Schellnhuber said: "Obama is aware of the problem and he personally wants to do something. The problem is: can he provide the leadership to overcome the system? Every top politician gets to do two or three unpopular things, and the right politicians choose the right things."
To convert a global deal on climate change into US law would require a two-thirds majority vote in the US Senate, something that many in Europe believe is unrealistic given Obama's ongoing troubles with healthcare reform. "It just may not be possible to overcome the American inertia," Scellnhuber said.
Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said: "It's vital for the climate that we get the Americans on board, but if we can't, then we can't just do nothing – we still need to make the biggest emission cuts that we can. If that means China and Europe and others going on without the Americans, then that may be the price we need to pay."
Schellnhuber's comments come as UN talks on a possible Copenhagen deal continue in Bangkok. Negotiators from 190 countries are wrestling with a draft treaty text, which runs to 200 pages and is riddled with alternate options and provisional text in square brackets.
His words reflect growing suspicion in Europe that the talks are crawling towards a unsatisfactory outcome, and that little progress is being made in the US. Earlier this month, the Guardian revealed a growing rift between Europe and the US over the latter's approach to how carbon targets could be set and met.
The Oxford conference is centred around the implications of a 4C rise in global average temperature, which scientists believe could be a possibility if serious carbon cuts are not agreed in Copenhagen.
Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, presented a study demonstrating that the world could see a 4C rise as soon as 2060-2070 – within the lifetime of many people alive today.
Nigel Arnell, a climate expert at the University of Reading, said a temperature rise on this scale would bring about colossal changes in weather conditions, affecting billions of people. Some 15% of land worldwide that is currently suitable for agriculture would become useless, he said. Available land would shift north, to regions such as Siberia, which is currently covered in forest.

Americans are 'illiterate' about climate change, claims expert

America's lack of knowledge on climate change could prevent the world from reaching an agreement to stop catastrophic global warming, scientists said in an attack on the country's environmental policy.

Published: 10:16PM BST 28 Sep 2009
Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world's leading global warming experts, described the US as "climate illiterate"
He said Americans have a lower understanding of the problems of climate change than people in Brazil or China..
More than 100 scientists are meeting at Oxford University to discuss the dangers of climate change causing droughts, floods and mass extinctions around the world.
The conference is designed to put pressure on world leaders coming together at the end of the year for the "most important meeting in the history of the human species".
The UN Climate Change Conference in December will try to reach an international deal on cutting carbon emissions so global warming stays below an increase of 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.
Prof Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change, said the chance of getting such a deal was "pie in the sky" because rich countries like America are unwilling to sign up to ambitious enough targets.
"In a sense the US is climate illiterate. If you look at global polls about what the public knows about climate change even in Brazil, China you have more people who know about the problem and think deep cuts in emissions are needed," he said.
His comments come as Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, made renewed calls for rich countries to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 while also paying poor countries to reduce greenhouse gases.
Prof Schellnhuber said rich countries have to cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels to stand a chance of stopping catastrophic climate change.
However President Obama is already struggling to get legislation through the Senate that will commit the US to cutting emissions to 1990 levels and will face an even greater public backlash trying to meet more ambitious targets.
Prof Schellnhuber, who has played a key role in waking the world up to climate change through his work advising the German government, described the Copenhagen conference as "the most important meeting in the history of the human species".
He said even if the US, which is second only to China in the amount of greenhouse gases it produces, refuses to sign up to targets the rest of the world should make cuts.
"Not in Copenhagen but maybe in the conferences following Copenhagen, some countries including China and EU, will simply say whatever the US does we will go ahead. It is not only responsible but will be good for us economically.
"Why can't we save the world without the US?"

Taxpayers foot MPs junket to South Pacific 'to investigate climate change'

A group of politicians spent tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money flying to the South Pacific to investigate the impact of climate change, it has been disclosed.

By Andrew HoughPublished: 7:00AM BST 28 Sep 2009
The six members of parliament and two peers spent 16 days in the South Pacific last month as part of a “fact finding” mission.
The estimated cost to taxpayers to send the group, who flew business class to Fiji via Australia, was at least £68,200, the Channel 4 Dispatches programme said.

Critics labelled the junket “inappropriate and unnecessary” with the long-haul flights and local travel leaving a hefty carbon footprint.
Those who took the trip were Labour MPs Jim Sheridan, Betty Williams, Neil Turner, Meg Munn and Colin Challen, who were joined by Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Roper of Thorney Island and the Labour peer Lord Lea of Crondall.
Two staff members from the Commonwealth Paliamentary Association UK Two CPA staff members also travelled with the group.
According to the programme, which airs on Monday night, the flights cost £6,300 each and hotel bills for Fiji alone – where the group stayed in a five-star resort were expected to be at least £5,200.
During their time in the South Pacific the group also embarked on whale watching, enjoyed a £1000 dinner in Tonga and lunched on a paradise island where the Channel 4 reality series Shipwrecked was filmed.
The group also visited Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu as part of their mission, with the Third World Countries picking up part of the cost.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance pressure group said: “People back home are struggling to pay the bills, never mind being able to travel around the world and it sticks in people's throats when they see politicians jetting off at taxpayers' expense.”
The trip was one of several identified by the programme, which said it had spent months investigating MPs trips.
It said over the past two months alone, around 100 MPs have travelled to 15 countries at an estimated cost to the public purse of £750,000.
The CPA told the programme the trip was “probably the most effective way of discussing these important issues” and insisted the trips were “extremely hard work”.
A CPA UK spokesman added: “Ask our hosts if this was an important visit in the context of the challenges they face in mitigating the effects of climate change.
“You can only really help if you go out there.”

Gordon Brown: 'We can make the difference'

Gordon Brown is seeking an ambitious, effective and fair plan, and he asserts that it is in the best interests of everyone to warm to it
Monday, 28 September 2009

In 71 days, the international community will gather in Copenhagen to determine a new global agreement on climate change. At stake is the future of every child on this planet. There is no higher priority for me, or for this government, than forging an agreement in Copenhagen that sets the world on a path to avoiding dangerous warming – to keep the global average temperature increase to two degrees celsius.
As set out in our document The Road to Copenhagen (www.actoncopenhagen.gov.uk), we want an agreement that is ambitious, effective, and fair. Ambitious: it must set a trajectory for reducing global emissions by at least 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. Effective: it must establish a legally binding regime, and a global carbon market. And fair: it must provide developing countries with financial and technological support to help them adapt to climate change and to embark on low-carbon development paths themselves.
With UN negotiations proceeding too slowly, the UK government has been leading efforts to unblock the deal. In June, I was the first developed-country leader to table a concrete proposition for climate finance for developing countries, suggesting a working figure of £61bn ($100bn) a year from private and public sources by 2020. At the UN and G20 summits this week, I have been talking directly to other global leaders about this, and next month I will be working to agree the EU's position. And let no one be in any doubt – we can do this because of our strong engagement in Europe. No party which detaches itself from the EU mainstream can claim to be committed to acting on climate change.
And at home we are implementing a radical set of climate policies. Our Climate Change Act makes the UK the first country to put our emissions cuts into law – by 34 per cent by 2020, and by 80 per cent by 2050. And the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan we published in July (www.decc.gov.uk) is the first in the world to give every department responsibility for its own "carbon budget".
The Transition Plan represents a revolution in energy policy that will not just reduce emissions but increase our energy security and create jobs in the new green economy. Our Great British Refurb campaign will insulate every loft and cavity wall by 2015, and fit every home with a smart meter by 2020. From next year, feed-in tariffs will give cash back to households and communities installing decentralised energy. We are increasing renewable-energy production sevenfold in the next decade. We are forging ahead with a programme of new nuclear build. We will only approve new coal-fired power stations that are fitted with carbon capture and storage, with the world's largest demonstration programme for this vital new technology. And we have a £400m programme of investment in the new generation of electric vehicles.
Meeting these plans will create around 400,000 jobs in green manufacturing, low-carbon energy and environmental services over the next eight years. Through our Low Carbon Industrial Strategy and £400m investment fund, we will reap the economic benefits for Britain of the global shift to low carbon.
So we are leading the way on climate action – but we need more than just government to do this. As with Make Poverty History, we will get the agreement we need at Copenhagen only if governments can show they have public support. So I would urge as many people as possible to go to Ed Miliband's new campaign website, www.edspledge.com, and sign up their backing for an ambitious deal. Together, we can make the difference.
The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is now 386 parts per million. In 1958, it stood at 315ppm. Before the Industrial Revolution, it was 280ppm

Utility Quits U.S. Chamber Over Rift on Climate Bill

Exelon Corp. on Monday became the third big utility in the past week to quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the influential business group's stance against federal climate-change legislation.
The decision by Exelon, one of the nation's biggest nuclear power-plant operators, to quit the Chamber follows similar moves by PG&E Corp. and PNM Resources Inc. and highlights a growing rift between the nation's power sector and other industries over climate policy.
Chicago-based Exelon said the U.S. government needs to set climate-change policy promptly, in part to allow energy markets to attach a price to cutting a ton of carbon-dioxide emissions. The House in June passed a bill that would require the U.S. to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, and create a market-based program called "cap and trade" in which companies could buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide.
"The carbon-based free lunch is over," Exelon Chairman and Chief Executive John W. Rowe said in a statement. "But while we can't fix our climate problems for free, the price signal sent through a cap-and-trade system will drive low-carbon investments in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible."
Exelon, PG&E and PNM all operate nuclear power plants and emit far less carbon dioxide than some of their peers, particularly companies that operate large fleets of coal-fired power plants. Coal plants produce roughly twice the greenhouse-gas emissions of similarly sized natural-gas-fired plants. Nuclear power plants emit almost no greenhouse-gas emissions, and so stand to benefit from legislation that would cap emissions.
The companies' departures are unlikely to change the Chamber's position on climate-change policy, said David Chavern, the group's chief operating officer. He added that although the Chamber opposed a House bill to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and disagrees with plans by the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating emissions, it isn't opposed to some form of U.S. climate-change legislation.
"Congress should do everything it can to promote and incentivize technology development and other policies that allow us to control carbon in ways that don't trash the economy," Mr. Chavern said.
The climate debate was overshadowed in Washington most of the summer by the battle over proposals to overhaul the health-care system. But later this week, the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), is expected to introduce a Senate proposal to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Whether the Senate will act on a proposal before an international climate summit in Copenhagen in December is unclear.
Despite their differences, U.S. power companies, represented by the lobbying group Edison Electric Institute, have banded together in support of the climate-change legislation that passed the House.
The U.S. Chamber opposed that bill, by Reps. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) and Edward Markey (D., Mass.). And it recently suggested that the U.S. come up with a forum to debate evidence that climate change is man-made, in response to a proposed finding by the EPA that global warming poses a danger to public health.
"We are not debating the science behind global warming," William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, said at the time. "We are unconvinced that EPA has demonstrated, as a matter of law, that greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles in the U.S. endanger public health or welfare."
Write to Cassandra Sweet at cassandra.sweet@dowjones.com

Volvo plans plug-in diesel hybrids for 2012

By David Wilkins
Monday, 28 September 2009
Volvo has said it wants to introduce plug-in hybrid cars from 2012.
Standard hybrid cars have both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. Energy that would normally be lost under braking is directed towards recharging batteries which are then used to power the electric motor, which kicks in to support the combustion engine under acceleration. Some hybrids are able to run for very short distances at low speeds on battery power alone.
Plug-in hybrids, which as their name suggests, can be charged from the mains while the car is stationary, are able to spend a much greater proportion of a given journey running on electric power; Volvo says that its plug-in hybrids will be able to run for up to about 30 miles on batteries alone. Only beyond that distance, which, according to Volvo, covers the daily needs of about 75% of European drivers, does the combustion engine – in this case, a diesel – play a part.
A diesel plug-in hybrid can be an exceptionally economical and ecologically friendly car but the precise advantages depend on a number of factors, in particular, which fuel is used to generate electricity at the power station, but Volvo thinks its cars will achieve a range of 745 miles while emitting as little as 50g/km of CO2 and consuming as little as 148.6mpg.

Warren Buffett's support helps make Wang Chuanfu China's richest man

Wang Chuanfu, a manufacturer of electric cars has become China's richest man after his fledgling company was backed by Warren Buffett.

By Malcolm Moore, in ShanghaiPublished: 5:50PM BST 28 Sep 2009
Wang Chuanfu, 43, saw his personal wealth reach $5.1bn (£3.2bn) after the share price of his company, BYD, or Build Your Dream, rose by over 800pc in the wake of Mr Buffett's investment.
"I was shocked, I really was," said Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder of the Hurun Rich List, the leading index of Chinese billionaires.
"There's no way you could have predicted he would rise to the top, but we could not find anyone else worth as much."
Mr Wang has been feted around the world after BYD beat major manufacturers, such as Toyota and General Motors, to build a new generation electric hybrid car. A consummate salesman, Mr Wang demonstrated the environmental credentials of his car by drinking its battery fluid in front of journalists.
Mr Buffett's partner, Charlie Munger, described Mr Wang as "a combination of Thomas Edison and Jack Welch [the former head of General Electric]. I have never seen anything like it".
Mr Wang was born into a poor farming family and both his parents died while he was still at school. He spent his early years as a government researcher, before borrowing $300,000 from his relatives to found BYD in 1995.
Initially, BYD was a battery maker, and quickly captured half the world's market for mobile phone batteries, cutting costs by using people, rather than machines, on its assembly lines.
Mr Wang branched out into cars in 2003, building a 16m square foot assembly plant and hiring a team of Italian-trained car designers. A spokesman for the company said subsequently: "The technology for a car is not that sophisticated."
BYD has been accused of copying designs from other companies and Mr Wang said himself that "60pc of a new product is taken from publicly-available information, 30pc from existing products, 5pc from the materials that are available and only 5pc from our original research".
Although BYD's petrol vehicles have sold well, the hype has not matched reality for his electric hybrid. Only 100 of the vehicles have been sold since last December, falling well short of the company's 20,000 target.
Most of the cars which have been sold have been snapped up by the Shenzhen local government, which has a close relationship with BYD.

Adelaide latest victim of global water shortages

Australia's fifth-largest city could be reliant on bottled water as early as next week as overuse and drought stretch the Murray River to its limit
Toni O'Loughlin and John Vidal
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 September 2009 17.58 BST
The water in Australia's biggest river is running so low and is so salty that the nation's fifth-largest city, Adelaide, is at risk of having to ship water in to its residents, politicians have warned.
Adelaide's water crisis follows similar problems in cities around the world, as the combination of growing population, increasing agricultural use and global warming stretches resources to the limit. Experts are warning of permanent drought in many regions.
Salinity levels in some stretches of the Murray River already exceed the World Health Organisation's recommendations for safe drinking, and South Australia's water authority and 11 rural townships east of Adelaide have been told to prepare for the worst.
"Another dry year will deplete our reservoirs and the water in the Murray will become too saline to drink. We are talking about 1.3 million people, who are not far off becoming reliant on bottled water. We are talking a national emergency," said South Australian MP David Winderlich.
As early as next week, water from parts of the river may become too dangerous to drink, which would require the water authority to begin delivering supplies to hospitals, clinics, aged care facilities and local supermarkets in plastic bottles, said Winderlich.
"There's simply too many people pulling water out of the river," said Roger Strother, Coorong council mayor. "We've been saying that one day it would catch up, and this summer is when it is going to happen. It could be next week."
Recent rains have topped up Adelaide's dams, but only enough for one year, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which oversees water use across the whole of south-east Australia, says water levels in reservoirs are much lower than expected. Today the authority said the whole basin was at 25% capacity.
Australia's worst drought in a century has lasted over 10 years in places, and many cities have had to restrict water use.
Climate experts fear the continent faces a permanently drier future as the impact of global warming kicks in. South Australians have watched the waters stagnate as farmers, especially cotton and rice growers upstream, siphoned up to 83% of the water from the river system.
The WHO says the acceptable level of salinity for safe drinking water is 800 EC (electrical conductivity) units but the salinity in parts of the Murray is now around 1,200 EC units. The water authority says it will begin shipping water when the salinity rises to 1,400 EC units.
Adelaide is one of many cities around the world facing acute water shortages as populations grow, long-term droughts continue and ground water is not replenished. The Chinese water minister, Chen Lei, today told engineers at a water conference that two-thirds of Chinese cities now face serious shortages due to rapid industrialisation and climate change.
"Compared to 1956-79, the average rainfall has dropped 6% in three major river basins," Lei said. "Most parts in the north of China are now facing water shortages problems, especially because of the increasing influence of climate change and the faster speed of industrialisation and urbanisation."
By 2015, Lei said, water efficiency would have to be increased by 30%. "Water abstraction must be strictly controlled. We should have strict management of groundwater exploitation and consumption, put a limit on total use of groundwater, and ban or set quotas on groundwater exploitation. Nearly two out of three cities are facing water shortages, and the farmland affected by drought reaches nearly 15m sq km a year."
According to a new UN environment programme report, perennial drought conditions are developing in south-eastern Australia and south-western North America. "Projections suggest that persistent water scarcity will increase in a number of regions in coming years, including southern and northern Africa, the Mediterranean, much of the Middle East, a broad band in central Asia and the Indian subcontinent," the report said.
"There is growing concern that thresholds or tipping points may now be reached in a matter of years or a few decades, including dramatic changes to the Indian subcontinent's monsoon rains, the Sahara and west Africa monsoons, and climate systems affecting the Amazon rainforest," it said.
Hopes in some countries that an El Niño weather event would bring rain to parched areas of the US this week declined as the US government climate prediction centre said temperatures in the equatorial Pacific had stopped climbing. During strong El Niños, abnormally warm waters in that region pump heat and moisture into the atmosphere, which leads to intense storms.
Cities around the world under water stressBEIJING: Most of Beijing's water comes from the Miyun reservoir, but a decade of drought and huge population increase has left extreme shortages. Water diversion projects are helping, but this is depleting resources from other regions. The city must spend $3.5bn (£2.2bn) in the next five years to cope with a population expected to rise to 17 million.
NAIROBI: The city has imposed water rationing, following an acute drought that has affected all Kenya's water catchment areas. River and reservoirs are at historically low levels. Flower farms and export-oriented agriculture are also reducing supplies available to people.
MEXICO CITY: 2009 has been the driest year recorded in the city of 19 million people. Water is rationed and many areas have no piped water for days at a time. The government has imposed fines of up to $1,200 for hosing down cars and sidewalks or watering lawns during daytime hours. Signs warn that the city could run out of water next spring unless residents switch to low-flow showers and toilets, and plug leaks.
GAZA: Water fit for human use will run out in the Gaza strip within 10 years, the Gaza Coastal Municipal Water Utility and UN agencies said this month. Tap water is already salty, and only 5-10% of groundwater is drinkable. Gaza's population is expected to increase to 3 million by 2025.
KATHMANDU: Erratic rainfall and drier winters have left Nepal's capital very short of water. The water company can provide only 160m litres a day but the demand is well over 200m litres. Many households are drilling their own boreholes to extract groundwater with electric pumps, but the water table is sinking approximately 2.5 metres a year and this is not sustainable in the medium term.