Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Kiwi Carbon Race

The global warming religion runs so deep today that most politicians figure it's best enact some sort of green policy, regardless of whether or not that policy actually reduces global warming. Exhibit number one is New Zealand.
The National Party-led government announced last week amendments to the country's existing emissions-trading scheme, fulfilling a campaign pledge. Some sectors will now enter the scheme earlier than planned, while the country's largest export industry, agriculture, will get a two-year reprieve. Wellington's bureaucrats will also measure businesses' "emissions intensity" rather than set hard emissions targets, so that firms aren't penalized for their expansion plans.
The Minister for Climate Change Issues, Nick Smith, said the changes take "a responsible approach to the climate-change problem caused by greenhouse gas emissions while being realistic about how much a small country like New Zealand can contribute." The Nationals are nominally conservative and keen to appear pro-business.
What Mr. Smith didn't say is that from an environmental perspective, it doesn't really matter what New Zealand does. The island nation contributes 0.2% of total global emissions. The amended scheme isn't expected to reduce even that already-miniscule figure much.
The economic cost to business is also hard to estimate, given that the new bill contains carveouts for certain industries and provisions to amend the legislation in future. The government says by 2030, the fiscal cost could reach 2.2 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.6 billion). Independent economists put that figure much higher because Kiwi businesses will become less competitive internationally as their costs rise.
The Nationals are pushing to pass the bill before the December United Nations climate-change meeting. "This emissions-trading scheme will be the first of any country outside of Europe and, as of 1 July 2010, will be the most comprehensive," Mr.Smith enthused. But to what end?

Senators to Unveil Draft Climate Bill

WASHINGTON -- Top Senate Democrats plan Wednesday to unveil a draft climate bill calling for greater reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions than a House bill would require.
But the proposal is expected to defer tough decisions on other major issues, underscoring the challenges lawmakers face in seeking a consensus.
The proposal calls for cutting U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 20% from 2005 levels by 2020, according to a copy of a draft, as well as people close to the matter.
The House bill, which passed in June, calls for cutting emissions 17% over the same period.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hope the draft legislation will give new momentum to climate change, an Obama administration priority that appears to have slid down Washington's to-do list.
The House in June approved legislation that would require companies to hold permits to emit greenhouse gases. In the initial years, the government would give away most of the permits to industries, while allowing companies to trade permits among themselves. Over time, the government would issue fewer permits, bringing overall emissions down.
The Senate proposal isn't expected to specify how the government would allocate billions of dollars worth of the permits.
Associated Press
Sen. Barbara Boxer, seen in July, seeks to return the focus to climate change.
By remaining silent on that and other issues, the proposal effectively postpones for weeks many of the toughest questions associated with climate legislation, as senators wade deeper into the debate over health-care legislation.
Administration officials have said they would like to get a climate bill signed into law before an international summit on climate change in December. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has said any chamber vote may wait until next year.
The Senate measure has already raised some worries. Keith McCoy, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said his group was "concerned" about the direction of Ms. Boxer's proposal, but is withholding judgment.
Republicans on Tuesday warned Ms. Boxer against publishing her proposal without specifying how emissions permits would be allocated. Without such details, they said, it would be impossible to gauge the bill's economic impact.
"It is imperative that we have a complete bill well in advance of legislative hearings and markup," the seven Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a letter to Ms. Boxer on Tuesday. "Otherwise the legislative process will not paint a full and accurate picture of your legislation to the American people."
Spokespersons for Ms. Boxer and Mr. Kerry didn't respond to calls seeking comment. People familiar with Ms. Boxer's thinking said she planned to flesh out details of her proposal in coming weeks, with a goal of bringing the legislation before her committee for a vote by the end of October.
Unlike the House bill, the Senate's draft bill would preserve the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. Because that law generally gives the EPA limited flexibility to consider costs when setting regulations, some business groups and many lawmakers fear the agency's regulation of greenhouse gases could lead to onerous, new rules on business.
In a bid to gain support from moderates within the Democratic Party and potential Republican votes, the Boxer-Kerry draft also includes provisions to fund training of workers in the nuclear industry and development of technology that could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Write to Ian Talley at and Stephen Power at

It's too late to seal a global climate deal. But we need action, not Kyoto II

Climate is too complex an issue to get in one gulp. If Copenhagen can pave the way for practical steps, an agreement can wait
Jeffrey Sachs, Tuesday 29 September 2009 23.20 BST

The Copenhagen climate-change negotiations are 10 weeks off, and time has run out to reach a detailed international agreement. Yet failure to reach a comprehensive agreement need not be a cataclysm, if the US, Europe, China, India and a few others take some important practical steps while a new protocol continues to be negotiated.
The UN summit on climate change last week, followed by the Pittsburgh G20, made clear the broad global consensus on the seriousness of the climate crisis, and the need to act. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon skilfully brought the parties together to acknowledge their shared responsibilities. There was enough practical talk to give shape to a meaningful partial accord in Copenhagen, with substantive content to move the world forward.
The climate issue is too complicated to swallow in one gulp, as was tried in Kyoto in 1997. This invites a toothless agreement that could be more posturing than progress. We should think about the component parts of real progress, and then insist on practical policies by all major players, even as the legal framework is hammered out for later signature. There is still time for a three-part package: a political framework, a financing package, and a series of practical steps announced by all major regions to tilt the trajectory on emissions.
The political framework would lay out the basics: that all countries have "common but differentiated responsibilities"; the world needs to cut emissions sharply to stay under a 2C rise; that rich countries will have to pay poor ones to bear the expense of clean technologies; and the rich must help the poor to adapt, especially since the majority of poor populations reside in tropical regions vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
To these points should be added a basic developmental point. The climate issue should in no way stop developing countries from raising living standards, and fast enough to narrow the gap with the richest countries. Emissions targets and financing should be set to protect the right of the poor to economic development, with development based on cleaner, sustainable technologies for power, transport, buildings and industry. The rich world will benefit as the poor world goes green, and will have to pay much of the cost to bring that about.
The final component of the political agreement involves sharing clean technology between rich and poor countries. There are three ways to do this. First, rich countries should include the poorer countries in publicly financed research and development efforts, such as carbon capture and sequestration, or electric vehicles. Second, they should allow the least developed countries to freely license proprietary technologies for local use, as they do with Aids drugs and other essential medicines. Third, they should establish a fund to pay down the royalties on privately owned intellectual property so that developing countries other than the least developed can use IP at subsidised rates, but without eliminating the incentives for private-sector innovation under the patent law.
This brings us to financing. The rich world should make clear that their financial commitments for economic development – made in the UN summit in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico, and at the G8 summit in 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland – will still be met, and that the extra costs of climate-change mitigation, adaptation and technology transfer will be additional to the promised development aid. The poor world will absolutely balk on climate change if they believe climate financing is just a shell game with already committed development aid. Gordon Brown recently suggested a sum of $100bn per year for climate financing by 2020. The real needs are likely to be much greater and come much earlier. No doubt this figure was an opening gambit.
These agreements are within reach, at least as a general framework without specific numbers attached. Unlike the world trade negotiations, in which "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", climate negotiations should aim for an interim agreement on general principles, financing and technology transfer even before the final deal is signed and sealed. But something more must be added. In addition to all the talk, governments should announce a meaningful set of practical programmes to reduce emissions on a large scale. These should include: testing carbon capture and sequestration at coal-fired plants in the US, Europe, China, India and Australia; tightening global supervision to support a rapid expansion of safe nuclear power; increasing global projects in renewable power, such as India's large-scale solar initiatives; establishing a global network of scientific and engineering institutions to help each government to understand the costs, benefits and trade-offs of clean-tech options; increasing the donor financing of clean energy in low-income Africa; raising energy efficiency through rapid adoption of specific improved technologies; and a global effort on the new generation of electric-powered vehicles.
Let's arrive in Copenhagen prepared not only to sign a political statement but to launch a range of real actions that can begin to tackle the global threat of catastrophe. Taking the problem in steps and committing to practical actions in each area would set a path towards bold emissions reductions, and would help to inspire the world to do more. The world is confused. A practical approach of the US, China, Europe and others on specific technologies and avoided deforestation can help to break the log-jam.

Brussels targets carbon trading fraud ahead of Copenhagen summit

The EU is desperate to get its house in order ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December
Ashley Seager, Tuesday 29 September 2009 21.08 BST
The European commission announced an overhaul of the EU's VAT system today in its latest attempt to prevent its much-vaunted carbon trading system being riddled by multimillion-pound fraud.
Criminals who for years had been ripping off VAT from finance ministries around the EU on the trade of items such as mobile phones and computer chips have recently moved in on Europe's €90bn (£81bn) carbon market.
Last month Revenue & Customs raided 27 businesses and private addresses across London in relation to a suspected £38m VAT fraud on carbon credits. It has since released nine suspects on bail but the investigation is continuing.
With just two months to go before the Copenhagen climate summit in December, the EU is desperate to get its house in order as it tries to get its form of "cap-and-trade" carbon trading scheme adopted around the world as a key weapon against carbon emissions.
Officials know that a carbon market leaking millions to VAT "carousel" fraudsters would be difficult to sell on the international stage so it has moved quickly in response to a surge in VAT fraud on carbon this summer.
Brussels said it would harmonise policy between EU states and introduce a so-called "reverse charge" mechanism, which would remove the need for VAT to change hands between carbon traders every time carbon credits are sold.
This was the method adopted by the Dutch government in July as carbon traders noticed a surge in trading volumes that could only be attributed to fraud. The French government simply removed VAT from carbon markets, while the British made carbon trading zero-rated for VAT purposes.
The three countries are home to the bloc's main carbon exchanges: Climex in Amsterdam, BlueNext in Paris and London's Climate Spot Exchange and European Climate Exchange.
László Kovács, the European commissioner for taxation and customs, said: "VAT carousel fraud is against member states' finances and they should have the means to combat it efficiently. However, actions taken against this fraud should be taken in a consistent manner across the EU and clear evaluation criteria should be established.
"Very recently, several member states have been confronted with carousel fraud related to greenhouse-gas emission allowances … the very high mobility of these allowances and the very high amounts at stake are an important element."
A Treasury spokesman said: "The UK government took decisive action in July to protect taxpayer revenue from the threat of VAT fraud on carbon credits.
"We support the commission in seeking an EU-wide solution and will consider any proposal carefully."
Missing trader
In its simplest form, the fraud occurs when a trader of credits in, say, Britain, buys some from another country free of VAT, then sells them on within Britain, charging the VAT to the buyer. The seller then disappears without handing the VAT over to the taxman. This is known as "missing trader" fraud.
Some criminals re-export the credits, reclaiming VAT as they do so, then re-import them again. They can do this repeatedly, reclaiming VAT many times, hence the term "carousel" fraud.
Britain lost billions of pounds to carousel fraud, mainly on mobile phones, in 2006 and 2007 before the government changed the mobile trade to "reverse charge" VAT, meaning the tax was only levied on the final buyer and removed from the supply chain.
The European Union's carbon market is now worth about €90bn a year. It is a combination of futures and spot trading and it is the largely unregulated spot market that has been targeted this summer by the fraudsters.
The European police agency, Europol, has said it is convinced many other carbon credit VAT frauds have been committed across Europe but the total losses to national governments are largely unknown, although probably run in to the hundreds of millions of euros.
"This represents a considerable degree of sophistication on the part of the fraudsters," said Andrew Roycroft, a tax lawyer with Norton Rose.
He noted that the commission had also empowered member states to bring in a reverse charge on other items where fraud is suspected, including trade in perfume and in precious metals such as platinum – widely used in jewellery and catalytic converters in cars.
"There is clearly a problem in more than one member state and not just in the markets for mobile phones and carbon credits," he said.
Richard Ainsworth, professor of VAT policy at Boston University, applauded the commission's move as a short-term fix. But longer term, he said, countries could fix their VAT systems and make them fraud-proof by introducing a system of certified tax compliance software that firms would have to use to prove their legitimacy.

It's the climate, stupid

A deal at Copenhagen must have equality and social justice at its heart, or our time may be seen in future as the Age of Stupid
John Prescott, Tuesday 29 September 2009 14.30 BST
We know today that climate change is a global challenge that involves every nation on our planet. As a negotiator for the EU at the Kyoto 1997 conference on climate change, I can confidently say that these negotiations will be 10 times more difficult. The Copenhagen negotiations are Kyoto Part 2; an agreement will apply to 187 countries, not 47.
Not all developed countries delivered as promised on their Kyoto target. Only four did, out of the 15 countries in Europe that signed up so far; while the US, under President Bush, refused to accept it.
Nevertheless, as our report shows, there have been some good signs in the last 12 years. The science has finally been accepted, thanks to the sterling work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC determined that carbon emissions do increase the incidence of extreme weather events, such as the 2003 European heatwave, which killed 50,000 people across the continent, and floods, like those caused this weekend by tropical storm Ketsana, which has already displaced half a million people in the Philippines.
The IPCC has also reinforced the fact that developed nations must recognise their role in polluting the world and that polluters should pay, but also that technical and technological solutions can be market-based and can play their part in the solution.
But the devil is in the detail of any agreement at Copenhagen. It is not enough simply to develop the rich nations' plan, as in the EU deal, whereby its emissions cuts are between 20% and 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, and which only proposes "unspecified" funds to boost the economic growth needed in developing countries to reduce their mass poverty and increase prosperity.
Any Copenhagen agreement must have at its heart equity and social justice. The division of north and south is a division of a global population of 6.7 billion: 1.3 billion in the rich developed nations, fuelled by high-carbon economic growth, and more than 5 billion with the greater share of poverty and deprivation, living on less than $2 a day. This is totally unacceptable.
If emissions rationing is at the heart of the Copenhagen agreement, then we must address certain factors.
The EU plan does not address the per capita principle: the US emits 20 tonnes of CO2 per person a year, compared to 10 tonnes for EU countries, five tonnes in China, two in India and less than one in some parts of Africa. A simple equation of population and equity demands that we go down from an average of four tonnes to two tonnes per person, globally.
Failure is not an option, as the consequences are too horrific to contemplate. It's the 80% of the world's population who are in poverty who are far more likely to suffer, compared to the richer 20% who are responsible for the pollution and the climactic consequences yet live in comparative luxury.
The Age of Stupid looks back from 2050 to show what will have happened to the planet if we fail to secure a deal at Copenhagen. If we fail to agree that deal in December, our time will be seen historically as the Age of Stupid.
This Council of Europe has a great opportunity to prevent that and face up to the world's greatest challenges, that of securing a reduction in mass poverty and managing climate change. We must galvanise public opinion: to marshal support and put pressure on our governments to accept our New Earth Deal. We have a moral obligation to pass on this planet to future generations in better shape than we found it.
This is an edited extract of a speech by John Prescott given to the Council of Europe on 29 September 2009

The UN is united again

On climate change, nuclear weapons and poverty, the world's nations are showing a new spirit of multilateralism
Ban Ki-moon, Tuesday 29 September 2009 07.00 BST
Every September, the world's leaders gather at the United Nations to reaffirm our founding charter – our faith in fundamental principles of peace, justice, human rights, and equal opportunity for all. We assess the state of the world, engage key issues of the day, and lay out our vision for the way ahead.
But this year is different. The 64th opening of the general assembly asks us to rise to an exceptional moment. We are facing many crises – food, energy, recession, and pandemic flu – occurring all at once. If ever there were a time to act in a spirit of renewed multilateralism, a time to put the "united" back into the United Nations, it is now.
And that is what we are doing, as action on three issues of historic consequence demonstrates.
First, world leaders are uniting to address the greatest challenge we face as a human family – the threat of catastrophic climate change. Last week, 101 leaders from 163 countries met to chart the next steps toward December's all-important UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. They recognised the need for an agreement that all nations can embrace – in line with their capabilities, consistent with what science requires, and grounded in "green jobs" and "green growth," the lifeline of a 21st century global economy.
We at the UN have prepared carefully for this moment. For two and a half years, ever since I became secretary general, we have worked to put climate change at the top of the global agenda. Today we have entered a new phase. Last week's summit sharply defined the issue and focused attention in capitals the world over. To be sure, the issues are complex and difficult, especially those of financing adaptation and mitigation efforts in poorer countries. Yet leaders left New York committed to clear and firm instructions for their negotiators: seal a deal in Copenhagen.
Japan issued a challenge, agreeing to cut CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020 if other nations follow. China's president Hu Jintao spoke about all that his country is already doing to reduce energy intensity and invest in green alternatives. He emphasised that China is prepared to do more under an international agreement, as did US president Barack Obama.
Negotiators are now gathering in Bangkok for another round of UN talks, and we are considering a smaller meeting of major emitting and most vulnerable nations in November. We need a breakthrough in this make-or-break year.
We saw another turning point on a second issue of existential importance: nuclear disarmament. Finally, the assumption that such weapons are needed to keep the peace is crumbling. At a special summit called by President Obama, the security council unanimously adopted a resolution that opens a new chapter in the UN's efforts to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament.
That resolution improves prospects for expanding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty next May, and offers hope for bringing the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty into force. It also establishes the contours of a legal framework for action against misuse of civilian nuclear technology for military purposes and reflects an emerging consensus, seen in meeting after meeting, that the time has come to increase pressure on countries that fail to respect these principles.
The world is united on a third front, as well. Though some may speak of "turning the corner to recovery," we see a new crisis emerging. According to our recent report, Voices of the Vulnerable, the near-poor are becoming the new poor.
An estimated 100 million people could fall below the poverty line this year. Markets may be bouncing back, but jobs and incomes are not. That is why, earlier this year, the UN put forward a Global Jobs Pact for balanced and sustainable growth. It is also why we are creating a new Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System, giving us real-time data and analysis on socio-economic conditions around the world. We need to know precisely who is being hurt by the financial crisis, and where, so that we can best respond.
That is also why, next year at this time, we will convene a special summit on the Millennium Development Goals. We have only five years to meet the targets for health, education, and human security that we set for 2015. At the various G20 summits over the past year, including the latest in Pittsburgh, the UN has stood firm to speak and act for all those being left behind.
Rhetoric has always been abundant at the general assembly, action sometimes less so. Yet listening to the world's leaders speak last week, I was struck by their passion, commitment, and collective determination to turn a page from a past of countries divided by narrow interests to nations united in the cause of a global common good.
From confronting climate change to creating a world without nuclear weapons to building a more equitable and sustainable global economy, I saw a spirit of renewed multilateralism, with the UN at the fore. No country can deal with any of these challenges by itself. But as nations united, the United Nations can.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

US firms quit Chamber of Commerce over climate change position

Nike and Johnson & Johnson among corporations criticising business organisation over chamber's resistance to 'cap-and-trade' legislation
Andrew Clark in New York, Tuesday 29 September 2009 18.09 BST
The largest American business federation, the US Chamber of Commerce, has suffered a rash of high-profile walkouts as multinational companies become uncomfortable with the organisation's hard-line opposition to measures tackling climate change.
In a sign of mounting acceptance in the business community of a need for action on carbon emissions, big names including the sportswear manufacturer Nike and the household products empire Johnson & Johnson have attacked the chamber for its refusal to back "cap-and-trade" legislation supported by the Obama administration.
This week, the largest US nuclear power generator, Exelon, resigned from the chamber over its environmental policy, following two fellow utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and PNM Resources.
In a speech to an environmental energy group in Chicago, Exelon's chief executive, John Rowe, told his audience that "the rat must smell the cheese" through incentives for green energy. He said he regretted that congressional Republicans and business organisations failed to "recognise the reality" that carbon controls were inevitable and that some were using greenhouse gas legislation as a "cudgel" against the president.
"Because of their stridency against carbon legislation, Exelon has decided not to renew its membership in the US chamber this year," said Rowe.
With three million members and roots stretching back a century, the chamber describes itself as the world's largest business organisation. It operates from premises directly opposite the White House in Washington. But discomfort about its policies came to a head last month when a senior chamber official proposed a "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" to evaluate global warming, comparing such a move to a famed 1925 courtroom confrontation in Tennessee in which a teacher was convicted for teaching evolution, rather than the Bible's version of creation.
"It would be evolution versus creationism," William Kovacs, the chamber's vice-president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, told the Los Angeles Times. "It would be the science of climate change on trial."
The chamber has since clarified its position, saying it wants public hearings on the degree of public danger caused by greenhouse gases, rather than on climate science in general. And it says it would welcome legislation, providing it fulfils several conditions – including preserving US jobs and adopting an international, rather than merely US-wide, stance.
Many US companies fear that unless they support "cap-and-trade" proposals in Congress, they could face much more severe measures. The US environmental protection agency could invoke powers to regulate carbon as a harmful emission under an existing law, the clean air act.
Responding both to public opinion and to the long-term economic implications of inaction, more than 30 large US corporations have joined an alliance called the US Climate Action Partnership, which presses for swift legislation on emissions.
Critics feel that the US Chamber of Commerce is out of step with this trend. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson asked the chamber to stop making public pronouncements on climate change that failed to "reflect the full range of views" of members. Pacific Gas & Electric accused the body of "extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics". Nike, which faces shareholder pressure on the controversy, said it "fundamentally disagrees" with the chamber's position, describing climate change as an "urgent" issue: "It is not a time for debate but instead a time for action."

Applied Materials Sees Solar Growth in China

China represents the largest opportunity for solar panel makers, based on its government's commitment to establishing solar manufacturing and spurring demand, said Mark Pinto, head of Applied Materials Inc.'s solar unit.
With the help of government stimulus and a push by all levels of government, from local mayors to the Central Committee, the China market is developing rapidly from an area devoted primarily to manufacturing solar panels to one of the world's largest buyers, he said in an interview.
Despite making about 40% of the world's solar panels last year,China consumed nearly nothing. But in the next two years, he said, China will pass market leader Germany and the still-nascent U.S. market to become the largest consumer of solar in the world.
Applied Materials makes equipment for producing computer chips and solar panels. Its solar business sells individual products to solar panel makers as well as a full manufacturing line -- called SunFab -- for making thin-film panels, which are cheaper but less efficient than traditional solar cells.
While its individual equipment sales to solar makers are profitable, its SunFab lines have continued to post losses. In the last quarter, the company's energy and environmental solutions unit, which contains both product lines, had an operating loss of $53 million.
SunFab is considered a "turnkey" manufacturing line because the product is sold in a ready-to-use state. Applied Materials sells the complete line to customers, trains the operators on how to make panels and negotiates the pricing of raw materials. Panel makers can also purchase service and maintenance contracts from Applied.
Currently, six of Applied Materials' 14 deployed SunFab lines are in production, Mr. Pinto said.
Demand in some of the largest solar markets, such as Spain and Germany, have been hurt by tight credit conditions and reduced government subsidies. Meanwhile, a supply glut of panels has pushed down prices, hurting many European manufacturers and leading to allegations that Chinese makers are dumping panels or selling them below production costs.—Martin Rapp contributed to this article.
Write to Jerry A. DiColo at

India plans to cut carbon and fuel poverty with untested nuclear power

Prime minister Manmohan Singh announces 100-fold increase in nuclear energy output by 2050 with thorium technology
Randeep Ramesh in Delhi, Tuesday 29 September 2009 13.29 BST
India's prime minister today signalled a huge push in nuclear power over the coming decades, using an untested technology based on nuclear waste and the radioactive element thorium.
Manmohan Singh, speaking at a conference of atomic scientists in Delhi, announced that 470,000MW of energy could come from Indian nuclear power stations by 2050 — more than 100 times the current output from India's current 17 reactors.
"This will sharply reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and will be a major contribution to global efforts to combat climate change," he said, adding that Asia was now seeing a huge spurt in nuclear plant building. The Indian plan, which relies on untested technology, was criticised by anti-nuclear campaigners as "a nightmare disguised as a dream".
The prime minister said a breakthrough deal with the US, sanctioned by the international community, had opened the door for the country to "think big" and meet the demands of its billion-strong population. He did not say how much the plans would cost, or how they would be paid for.
The intervention comes as talks in Bangkok aimed at resolving the impasse between developing and developed countries over a new climate change deal to replace the Kyoto protocol have stalled. India, one of the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, has been dismayed that its pledges of action – including a dramatic expansion of nuclear power - have been met with inaction from richer nations.
The prime minister's statement also brings Delhi alongside Beijing which has long promoted atomic energy. India's plan would see it leapfrog its northern neighbour. At present China has 11 reactors in operation producing 8,000MW but has proposed that by 2020 this output be increased 10-fold. The UK, by contrast, has an installed capacity of around 12,000MW, much of which is due to go offline and be replaced by a new fleet of reactors in the next decade.
Nuclear power has been a contentious issue in India. Although the country has had a decades-old atomic programme, it was effectively blacklisted from global civilian nuclear trade after testing a nuclear device in 1974. That embargo was lifted in 2008 after negotations with Washington.
The result has been a rush to sign deals – both to supply uranium and to build reactors. France, Russia and the United States have all sought access to the booming Indian market.
India has an ambitious three-stage nuclear programme which it sees as a "silver bullet" to its dire energy shortage. At present 400m people cannot light their homes and the country imports 70% of its oil.
Delhi says that it will be able to surmount these considerable problems and generate clean green power with an atomic programme that "virtuously recycles" the plutonium waste that reactors produce. This radioactive isotope takes thousands of years to be rendered safe and dealing with it is the greatest challenge facing nuclear energy's proponents.
The Indian plan turns this waste into fuel. Using thorium, which is abundant in the country, combined with plutonium, the country aims to produce power and "breed" stockpiles of uranium.
It is a technology that no other country has mastered – and many have dropped – but India still has more than 2,000 scientists working on the technical problems.
Singh said the country had entered "stage two" of the programme and had completed a prototype breeder reactor in southern India.
However campaigners said "if climate change is the problem, nuclear power is not the answer". SP Udayakumar, convenor of India's Alliance for Anti-Nuclear Movements, questioned whether the technology India was pushing would ever be ready.
"The nuclear technology the prime minister talks about is not proven. If we start going ahead then the issue is the amount of carbon emitted by building, maintaining, operating and decommissioning nuclear plants means that (nuclear power) is a hugely polluting technology. If it does not work then we are left with waste that takes 24,000 years to become safe. It is a gamble we will pay for generations to come."

Brighton & Hove aims to become UK's most electric car-friendly city

Street chargers installed to motivate drivers to switch to electric
Adam Vaughan, Tuesday 29 September 2009 17.49 BST
Not content with trying become self-sufficient in food, possibly electing the first Green party MP and weaning itself off oil as a Transition Town, Brighton & Hove is launching a bid to become UK's most friendly city for electric cars.
This week the city sees a major investment in electric car charging infrastructure, with the installation of four street-side charging stations and a further 16 completed by the end of 2010. The charging stations, which are vital to create a viable charging network for electric cars that mostly have a range of less than 100 miles, will reportedly be the first street-side points outside London.
The capital currently has more than 100 on-street charging stations, and in April mayor Boris Johnson said he wanted London to become the electric car capital of Europe with 25,000 stations and 100,000 electric vehicles. Other cities such as Bristol and Gateshead have existing public charging points but only in car parks.
Brighton-based charging company Elektromotive has already completed installation of the first four Brighton & Hove pilot sites. The first 10 stations will be paid for by £130,000 from clean transport initiative Civitas, which is part-funded by the EU.
Calvey Taylor-Haw, managing director of Elektromotive, said: "By encouraging drivers to switch to electric, Brighton will benefit hugely. There will be less air pollution and local residents will appreciate the quiet of electric vehicles. The installation of the bays will take place over a short period of time, providing electric vehicle users with rapid access to charging facilities."
The bays work with a standard mains plug and wireless key fobs that open the charging stations, which recharge cars within four to eight hours. Electric car owners will pay an annual fee to Brighton & Hove council for a registration scheme to access the network, pricing for which is unconfirmed but is expected to be in the region of £75-100 to join and £30-50 annually.
The scheme has come in for some criticism on The Argus local newspaper website, with users commenting on the fact that there are only three electric cars in the city. A fact confirmed by Taylor-Haw. Electric car owners, who already enjoy a 50% discount on parking permits for the city, will be able to use the bays from November when the council registration scheme opens.
Yesterday the secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband, announced a £10m fund for local carbon-cutting initiatives such as charging stations, and earlier this summer the government said it would offer electric car buyers grants up to £5,000 to encourage take-up of the new technology.

Finally, a bid to save our soil

Hilary Benn's recognition that we need to look after our soil is long overdue – a fixation with chemistry threatens our civilisation
Graham Harvey, Tuesday 29 September 2009 10.30 BST
It's good to know the government has realised we need to take rather better care of our soil if we're to stand a chance of surviving on this planet.
Announcing a new soil protection strategy, the rural affairs secretary, Hilary Benn, declared: "Good quality soils are essential for a thriving farming industry, a sustainable food supply and a healthy environment."
Quite so, Mr Benn. But what took you so long? For an old farming hack like me it has been obvious for years that the way we've been treating our soils is bad for our health as well as for our environment.
In a nutshell, the constant pounding we've given our farmland, both with chemicals and with giant machines, has seriously compromised its ability to go on feeding us. If we go on treating it in such a cavalier way our civilisation is likely to go the way of all the others who wrecked their soils – starting with Mesopotamia.
The roots of our own particular form of soil abuse lie in the ideas of an influential 19th century chemist called Justus von Liebig. He propounded the theory that soil fertility was principally a matter of chemistry. You simply totted up the amounts of plant nutrients taken off in a crop and replaced them in the form of fertiliser.
In this way the land could be induced to go on producing crops indefinitely, Von Liebig reasoned. It's this 19th century paradigm that has underpinned our food system ever since. Around the world farmers have thrown a few major chemical elements onto their fields – principally nitrogen, phosphate and potash. And that's about it.
The idea that you might also need to apply some organic fertiliser such as animal manure has disappeared on many lowland farms.
Judged solely on the basis of crop yields the system would appear to have worked reasonably well. But serious drawbacks have begun to appear with real implications for human health. Many everyday foods are now depleted in health-protecting nutrients. And the soil itself – the only guarantor that we can go on feeding ourselves in the future – is losing its structure and eroding away.
Prof Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), sounded the alarm bells last year when he reported on a World Bank-funded investigation into global farming technology. He said: "We are putting food that appears cheap on our tables; but it is food that is not always healthy and that costs us dearly in terms of water, soil and the biological diversity on which all our futures depend."
The fatal flaw in our food system is that it is fixated on chemistry while taking little account of the life forms in soil which are the true builders of fertility. Von Liebig became known as the founder of agricultural chemistry. Unfortunately there was no one around to make the case for agricultural biology, which, if anything, was more important.
Commerce has been happy to perpetuate this myopic view of soil fertility. A handful of large corporations have made handsome returns from peddling chemical fertilisers to farmers. Why would they be worried about soils becoming damaged and breaking down?
One of the consequences of soil damage is that crops are unable to take up the nutrients they need. As a result they become unhealthy and vulnerable to attack by pests and diseases. This hands another revenue stream to the chemical companies, who are then able to cash in with the sale of pesticides.
It appears from Benn's pronouncement that the proverbial penny has finally dropped. Farmers are being encouraged to abandon damaging techniques such as ploughing and substitute techniques like "minimal tillage", a less brutal and invasive way of preparing soil to receive a new crop.
The aim of the strategy is to increase the level of soil "organic matter", an all-encompassing term for life below ground. It includes living organisms from microbes to earthworms, by way of nematodes and fungi. It also includes the dead and decaying remnants of animals and plants. It's these myriad life forms, together with the materials they work on, that supply nutrients for crop plants, for grazing animals and ultimately for us human beings.
Thankfully the government has recognised that soil fertility is not simply – or even principally – a matter of chemistry. The challenge for farmers is to create the conditions that allow life below ground to flourish. When soils are genuinely healthy and fertile, the future of our food supply – and its quality – is assured. So is the future of the planet.
Fertile soils represent a far greater store of carbon than damaged ones. Even as farmers begin to rebuild levels of organic matter in their soils, they'll be removing carbon dioxide from the air and locking it up safely below ground.
Soil represents the largest terrestrial carbon sink. It contains three times more than all the world's vegetation. That's why Benn's new protection strategy is good news for all of us. Unless, of course, you happen to have shares in the farm chemical industry.

David Attenborough and Jonathon Porritt challenged on population growth

Third World population booms will have a negligible effect on global emissions and climate change, a new 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.

How a rubbish idea could save the planet

In the first of his new columns, Roger Highfield gives readers the chance to take part in a 'truly rubbish experiment'.

Published: 7:00AM BST 29 Sep 2009
THE Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of my favourite places on the planet. Its sprawling campus runs at a thousand ideas an hour, and it's there that I recently found out an absolute humdinger of an invention. It aims to show that when it comes to throwing stuff away, there's no such thing as "away" .
The project emerged from the SENSEable City Laboratory, run by Carlo Ratti, which harnesses sensors and hand-held electronics to help describe cities in a new way. As urban environments become ever more complicated and interconnected, they present us with new opportunities to study how they work – and to make them better places to live in.
On my visit to the lab, I stared at a computer screen as a map of Rome exploded with movement and flickering colour, showing the ebb and flow of Italian football fans as they surged into squares and bars after their team won the World Cup. The secret was to use mobile calls made by the fans to monitor their antics: when the game heated up, so did the call rate.
Now the professor wants to use the same simple mobile-phone technology to reveal the journeys taken by familiar everyday objects after we throw them out. The hope is that it will help to deal with one of the most pressing urban problems, both in practical and aesthetic terms: rubbish.
We are all used to the idea of separating different kinds of rubbish: a bin for this, a skip for that, a box for the other. But how do you know that all your diligent efforts paid off in the end?
This is where Ratti's Trash Track project comes in. His team have developed tags consisting of a battery-powered Sim card and motion sensor, encased in resin, which updates them about the location of a piece of rubbish every 15 minutes for up to eight weeks.
Lewis Girod, who designed the tags, says they can use the mobile phone network to pinpoint an object to within 100 metres or so in the city, and around half a mile in the country.
Ratti likens the use of these tags to injecting a radioactive substance into a patient in order to find blockages that might be causing health problems.
In this case, the blockages are problems with a city's waste-disposal system: by tracking the final resting place of pieces of waste, from coffee cups to fluorescent bulbs, they can discover whether stuff that can be recycled ends up in a landfill. That applies not just to glass and plastics, but valuable (or toxic) substances such as gold, aluminium, nickel, copper, zinc, lead, cadmium and mercury, too.
As soon as he had spelt out the potential, I asked Carlo if I could get hold of some tags for a pilot project. A few months later, I was able to sit in London and watch a similar screen, tracking 60 pieces of rubbish in Seattle. Each one had a story to tell.
On July 12, Musstanser Tinauli, an MIT project leader, threw a digital camera into a roadside rubbish bin in south Seattle. Two days later, it turned up in a residential area to the south, presumably adopted by a new owner. A clapped-out Dell laptop belonging to Ewen Callaway was donated to the Computer Recycling Service store in the suburb of Green Lakes, north of the city. Within a few days it, too, seemed to have found a new home.
Detective work by a colleague of mine, Catherine Brahic, revealed how 11 pieces, including a Spiderman shoe, a keyboard and a laptop battery, ended up near two recycling facilities. Three items ended up in shipping yards. A toy tossed into a recycling bin in western Seattle turned up five days later on a hill south of the city, near Maple Valley.
Overall, only two pieces of garbage found their way to Seattle's main landfill in Oregon: the city's waste-sorting appeared to be working.
"Trash Track has the potential to encourage people to make more sustainable decisions," says Assaf Biderman, director of the lab. He believes it will help us move closer to a garbage utopia where we recycle or reuse everything we can, with the help of far tinier, and far cheaper, versions of the tags.
Next month, the project will go large-scale, as 3,000 more pieces of garbage are tagged in New York and Seattle. But we are also offering 10 British residents the chance to tag their own property for an experiment over here. Nominations close tomorrow, so visit to submit your ideas for what I reckon is the best rubbish experiment ever.
* Roger Highfield is the editor of 'New Scientist', and will be writing a regular column for 'The Daily Telegraph'