Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Cutting Carbon, Feeding the World

New Zealand's new plan to improve global agricultural efficiency.
Over the next few decades, food security will become an increasingly urgent problem. At the same time, people will demand action on climate change. But how can we feed humanity while still responding to the imperatives of climate change?
Each year, agriculture contributes about 14% of all human-induced greenhouse gases—about as much as running every car, boat and plane on the planet. Yet agriculture's role in mitigating climate change has received little attention and very little research funding, especially when compared to the huge sums spent on areas like electric cars, renewable energy or carbon capture and storage.
Reducing agricultural emissions cannot be at the expense of food production, however. To feed the world, food production will need to double by 2050. This is the same time frame in which the science tells us global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be halved if we are to limit global warming to two degrees centigrade. Already the food system is struggling to feed the world's population, and food security will always take priority over climate-change considerations.
New Zealand has been thinking about this problem. In September Prime Minister John Key proposed that countries form a Global Alliance to tackle this immense challenge. A Global Alliance would undertake international research and investment into new technologies and practices, and better coordinate existing efforts. It would harness our collective knowledge and turn it into action. A Global Alliance would give agriculture the political level focus it deserves.
The response to Mr. Key's call-to-arms has been overwhelmingly positive. Already there have been expressions of interest from many countries including the United States, India, Australia and the Netherlands, as well as private-sector companies and charitable foundations.
We are under no illusions about the complexity of the challenge or about the rewards for success. New Zealand has an unusual profile for a developed country: Almost half our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Agriculture also dominates our export profile. We are the first and so far the only country in the world to have included agriculture in an emissions trading scheme.
All this has given us unique insight into the complexity of agricultural emissions. We understand that agricultural emissions are typically a waste of productive inputs. For example, nitrogen lost from fertilizer is no longer available to boost production, and carbon lost from the soil reduces the future production potential of the land.
Added to this are possible future carbon projects in agriculture and increasing demands from retailers and consumers to know the carbon footprint of their products. Taken together there are powerful commercial reasons why reducing emissions from the agricultural sector makes sense.
The model we are promoting puts the emphasis on a decentralized network rather than bricks and mortar. It will link researchers at the country level. It will be driven by the science community, with some political oversight to give strategic guidance. There is no organization today that brings together research into reducing emissions from agriculture in this way.
Through a Global Alliance we can find solutions faster, make better use of the money that is being spent around the world and encourage other countries and companies to do more in this as yet untapped area. Growing food without growing emissions can become a reality.
Mr. Groser is New Zealand minister of trade and associate minister for climate-change issues.

How to meet the Carbon Reduction Commitment

Mark Hunter

1 Conduct a self-diagnosis Harry Morrison, general manager of the Carbon Trust Standard, says that any organisation likely to be covered by the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) should act now to prepare for registration. “This means assessing your carbon emissions right across your corporate group, including any subsidiaries,” he says. The CRC will apply to about 5,000 organisations which used more than 6,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity in 2008. Failure to register between April and September 30 next year will incur penalties of £5,000 plus £500 per day.
2 Identify quick wins The CRC will reward organisations that take early action to reduce their carbon emissions. Terrence Clark, senior vice-president of CA ecoSoftware, a carbon management system, says that companies should aim for the soft targets first. “Most organisations can make significant savings just by sorting out their lighting systems and by making sure that the heating and cooling systems in their data centres aren’t competing with each other.”
3 Aim for top of the table Organisations will be ranked in a league table according to their carbon-cutting performance. “There’s a financial and reputational risk if you just do the minimum,” according to Mr Clark. “Will your customers still want to trade with you if you are at the bottom of the table?”
4 Change the culture Reducing carbon emissions requires action at every level, from the shop floor to boardroom. Paul Maryan, director of sustainability at Hyder Consulting, the environmental consultants, draws a parallel with the culture change that followed health and safety legislation.
“In the 1970s if you went on to a factory floor in a hard hat and high-visibility jacket you’d have been laughed at. Now you can’t go into any workplace without the proper health and safety equipment. But you can still turn on every light and have the heating on and the windows open and no one will challenge you. That culture will change and companies will soon be talking about their good record on carbon reduction in the same way as they talk about their good record on health and safety.”
5 Budget wisely From April 1, 2011, companies in the CRC will have to buy carbon allowances at £12 per tonne of CO2 to cover their emissions. This is still considerably cheaper than the price of the energy consumed in the first place.
6 Get ready to trade Companies with allowances left at the end of the year will be able to trade the excess on the open market. This creates a win-win situation for companies whose good carbon management policies, the Carbon Trust estimates, will have shaved 10 to 15 per cent off their energy bills already. “Allowances are going to become a very tradable commodity,” Mr Maryan argues. “If you come in under what you’ve bought, then you’d be mad not to sell on the excess. But if you’ve exceeded your allowances, then you’ve got to buy more and that could get expensive.”
7 Get on top of your data For the largely public and service sector organisations affected by the CRC, measuring every carbon emission is a mammoth task — so much so that companies such as Tesco are bringing in specialised IT systems to do the job. “A number of people across the business have been involved in measuring, documenting and reporting on our emissions — a time-consuming, largely manual task,” Mike Yorwerth, IT director at Tesco, says. In an effort to cut its global carbon footprint by 50 per cent, the company has installed a carbon management software system. This will “streamline the process of data management, helping to reduce errors and operational expenses,” Mr Yorwerth says.
8 Gain the Carbon Trust Standard The standard is awarded for good carbon management and will grant companies in the CRC an “early action metric”. This will qualify the company for bonus payments and promote it up the league table.
There are also more immediate financial benefits. “Over 100 organisations have now achieved the standard and between them their improved carbon management has saved them over £50 million a year,” Mr Morrison says.
9 Install a smart meter Companies using automatic meter readings (AMR) will also receive an “early action metric”. The metering must cover both electricity and gas and be able to capture, store and retrieve data at half-hour intervals. It must also be linked to a software system that can provide usable data.
10 Plan for the future According to Mr Morrison, the CRC is likely to get tougher as time goes by. “The price of carbon will increase, so you need a long-term strategy on carbon management. Fortunately, what the CRC does is provide a financial framework so that companies don’t have to do this in isolation.”

Carbon emissions will fall 3% due to recession, say world energy analysts

Cut in greenhouse gas emissions provides countries with a unique chance to switch to less carbon-intensive energy sources, says International Energy Agency
John Vidal in Bangkok, Tuesday 6 October 2009 13.52 BST

Man-made greenhouse gas emissions will drop 3% in 2009 largely because of the worldwide financial crisis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today.
Three-quarters of the reduction has been the result of less industrial activity, with the rest coming from countries turning to renewable energy and nuclear power.
But the world's premier energy analysts calculated that to avoid dangerous climate change, countries around the world will have to spend $400bn a year building more than 350 new nuclear plants and 350,000 wind turbines in the next 20 years. They also estimate that by 2020, three-fifths of cars will need to use alternatives to the traditional internal combustion engine. The findings came in a special extract of the IEA's forthcoming annual world energy outlook report, published at the UN climate talks in Bangkok.
The emissions cuts, only the fourth in the last 50 years, provide countries with a unique chance to switch to less carbon-intensive energy sources, said the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol.
"Average growth in emissions has been 3% a year but we estimate this year that emissions will fall 3%. Because of the financial crisis, many industries have the chance to move away from unsustainable power. If we get a good result at the Copenhagen climate talks, then they could be turned to sustainable energy," he said.
The independent agency, which is funded by the world's richest 28 countries, said it would be a catastrophe if countries continued with business as usual. "We need an energy and environment revolution. Business as usual would increase temperatures by 6C. To hold emissions to 450ppm [parts per million], we need in the region of 18 nuclear power stations, 17,000 turbines, 100 concentrated solar power stations and 16 carbon capture and storage plants to be built every year until 2030," said Birol.
"We think the share of renewables and nuclear which is now 18% worldwide needs to go up to 33% by 2030," he said. "But energy efficiency will be the key."
The energy revolution envisaged by the IEA would cost about $400bn a year to fund between now and 2020, but it would cost far more to catch up with emission cuts later on, said Nobuo Tanaka, the director of the agency.
"The benefits will be that we avoid the worst implications of climate change which are unquantifiable. Everyone will also save money," he said.
Under the IEA's scenario of how the world could hold emissions to 450ppm, countries would have rapidly away from the internal combustion engine. "Ninety-five per cent of new cars today have internal combustion engines. To hold emissions to 450 [ppm] you need more and more hybrids and electric cars. By 2020, only 40% of cars should have internal combustion engines," it suggested.
For the first time, the agency estimated the costs to Opec oil-producing countries of a worldwide shift away from petrol and oil. With no deal at Copenhagen, it says, the industry could expect to earn about $28tr between 2012 and 2030. But holding emissions to 450ppm would reduce the industry's revenue by 16% to $24tr, said Birol.
"They would earn less, but it would still be four times more than they have earned in the last 22 years, he said. "Oil, coal and gas needs to peak at 2020 and then decline. Renewables, nuclear and CCS [carbon capture and storage] need to go up dramatically," said the report.
He said that the climate talks due to conclude in Copenhagen in December were fundamental to whether the world moved away from fossil fuels. "That requires signals. People do not invest in dirty power because they are bad but because of the money. Without an incentive signal from Copenhagen it will not change," he said.
"The IEA's report confirms what we already know – that every year's delay in climate action will significantly increase the costs," said Kaisa Kosonen, Greenpeace International policy analyst.
The assessment confirms that current industrialised country targets are not enough to drive energy efficiency and renewables on the scale needed.
It also confirms what Greenpeace's own scenario shows, that energy efficiency will play by far the biggest role in solving climate change - over and above any other technologies.
The rise and fall of carbon emissions
Carbon emissions are strongly linked to economic growth and have increased globally roughly 3% a year since the 1950s. But they have also fallen three times in the last 60 years.
The first drop occurred during the oil crises of the early 1970s when the price of oil more than doubled, forcing many industries to contract or close.
Emissions fell again in the early 1990s with the economic collapse of the Soviet Union which depended heavily on coal. Industrial output plummeted, coal mines closed and people could not afford to heat their homes.
More surprisingly, carbon emissions also fell 0.3% in 1998-99, thanks partly to improved energy efficiency but mainly because Britain and Germany closed many coal mines and switched to gas, and China reduced its energy subsidies. The world economy continued to grow, mainly though information technologies and service sectors that were not then major energy users.
The 2009 fall in emissions due to the credit crunch and the recession that has followed it is the deepest since the 1970s.

Barack Obama demands carbon targets from US government offices

President calls for state to 'lead by example' as Democrats seek progress on climate change before Copenhagen summit
Associated Press, Tuesday 6 October 2009 12.53 BST

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday requiring all arms of the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas output in an effort to curb climate change.
Each federal agency will have to set its own targets for reducing carbon emissions from its buildings, fleets and workers' commutes, and has 90 days to tell the White House how it plans to measure and limit emissions by 2020. Targets for employees' commutes and travel are due in June 2010.
"As the largest consumer of energy in the US economy, the federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Obama said in a statement.
The government mandate comes as the Obama administration begins to demand greenhouse gas reductions from car manufacturers and large industrial facilities. The White House is anxious to show some progress on emissions before more than 180 nations meet in Copenhagen in December to hammer out a new international treaty on global warming.
The president wants Congress to pass a bill setting mandatory limits, but this is unlikely to occur before the Copenhagen negotiations begin. The bill would require refineries, factories and power plants to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020, and roughly 80% by the middle of the century.
The latest order also compels agencies to curb petroleum use, conserve water and curtail waste, extending and expanding on an executive order issued by the former president, George Bush, in January 2007, which became law earlier this year.
Bush's order, unlike Obama's, did not require agencies to set emissions targets. Nevertheless, it was unclear how challenging the targets would be, or how much of a dent the proposed reductions would make in total US emissions.

Study Asks $10 Trillion for Climate

LONDON -- An investment of $10 trillion in renewable energy and other carbon-abatement technology will be necessary over the next two decades to limit the rise in the Earth's temperature, the International Energy Agency warns in a new report.
The IEA, energy adviser to the world's richest nations, urges more-aggressive reductions in carbon emissions than what many nations are currently planning. In the report, to be released Tuesday, the IEA calls for investment -- in clean-energy initiatives such as solar power, new nuclear plants and other measures -- of $500 billion a year over the next 20 years.
That is 37% more investment than what the IEA estimated was necessary just a year ago. Some analysts put the current level of investment in clean energy at around $100 billion a year.
The additional investment called for could be particularly expensive for consumers in developed nations such as Germany and the U.S., which would likely face higher costs to fill up their vehicles and keep their lights on.
The IEA also says sales of vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine will need to fall from around 95% of the world's total purchases today to 40% in 2030; electric and hybrid vehicles would need to account for the majority of new vehicle sales over the next 20 years.
The IEA's projections, though sometimes seen as overly ambitious, are generally regarded as relevant guideposts for the energy industry.
Write to Spencer Swartz at and Selina Williams at

Prepare for a Copenhagen compromise

In Copenhagen, some nations' pledges won't match their responsibility for climate change – that's just part of the process

Tan Copsey, Tuesday 6 October 2009 13.07 BST
As the clock ticks down to a global summit on climate change in Copenhagen, the prospects of a comprehensive global deal have all but disappeared. A spokesperson for President Obama announced late last week that the United States is unlikely to pass climate change legislation in time for the conference, leaving it with little to bring to the table. Meanwhile, at preparatory negotiations in Bangkok this week, national representatives have argued and admonished each other for "wasting time", "dancing around the issues" and in one case "putting crap in the text just so you could take it out later". Yesterday things got even worse as China accused developed nations of trying to "fundamentally sabotage" negotiations.
Fortunately this isn't deal or no deal – on some issues agreement is possible. But to get there nations must accept that the outcome of Copenhagen will be an uneven and incomplete series of compromises.
The bad news is that laggards such as Australia, Canada and the US are going to have to be let off the hook and allowed to pledge to meet targets grossly out of line with their responsibility for climate change. But the political reality is that there is a limit to what they will commit to this year. Push too hard and we face a nightmare scenario where they either lead a race to the bottom, dragging down developed world targets, or just walk away, derailing the process completely.
This will, of course, further enrage developing nations, so laggard states must try to find ways to appease the developing world. Most obviously they should make a large contribution to financing what will be an expensive deal. The inadequacy of the range of policies proposed by the US could also be off-set through increased bi-lateral cooperation with China on designing, manufacturing and deploying clean technology, expanding on the memorandum of understanding they signed on climate change earlier this year. It goes without saying that the US must also end hypocritical posturing about China and India and shelve ridiculous threats to impose tariffs on goods from these countries.
These kinds of compromises, though imperfect and distasteful, will be acceptable if there is progress on what the Maldives described as the "beefier" issues. Negotiators need to focus their efforts on reaching agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) and on how to expand the use of clean technology in the developing world. It would also be a significant step forward to begin the process of facilitating financial flows to help the poorest adapt in the face of droughts, floods and crop-failure. Ultimately a focus on the practicalities is better than empty promises about short term targets.
The importance of progress on these beefy issues cannot be understated either. Deforestation, for instance, is one of the largest drivers of climate change. To avoid disaster nations must tackle this issue now. Negotiations on forests are at a crucial juncture in Bangkok this week and there is a real possibility that they might go very wrong. The current negotiating text does not explicitly protect intact natural forests and might inadvertently provide financial incentive to those who convert forests to other uses. An agreement at Copenhagen could start a process that initially slows and eventually stops deforestation, but there is a danger that without sufficient attention and pressure, it could perversely encourage it.
It is worth remembering that Copenhagen will be just another step forwards, part of an ongoing process of crafting a response to climate change. Ideally this summit will lay the practical foundations for this response. But if nations fail to agree on at least some of these issues this December, then negotiations will become even more of an unyielding morass, which would be a bad thing for everyone.

The other inconvenient truth: the crisis in global land use

As the international community focuses on climate change as the great challenge of our era, it is ignoring another looming problem - the global crisis in land use. From Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Jonathan Foley, Tuesday 6 October 2009 11.47 BST
It's taken a long time, but the issue of global climate change is finally getting the attention it deserves. While enormous technical, policy, and economic issues remain to be solved, there is now widespread acceptance of the need to confront the twin challenges of energy security and climate change. Collectively, we are beginning to acknowledge that our long addiction to fossil fuels — which has been harming our national security, our economy and our environment for decades — must end. The question today is no longer why, but how. The die is cast, and our relationship to energy will never be the same.
Unfortunately, this positive shift in the national zeitgeist has had an unintended downside. In the rush to portray the perils of climate change, many other serious issues have been largely ignored. Climate change has become the poster child of environmental crises, complete with its own celebrities and campaigners. But is it so serious that we can afford to overlook the rise of infectious disease, the collapse of fisheries, the ongoing loss of forests and biodiversity, and the depletion of global water supplies?
Although I'm a climate scientist by training, I worry about this collective fixation on global warming as the mother of all environmental problems. Learning from the research my colleagues and I have done over the past decade, I fear we are neglecting another, equally inconvenient truth: that we now face a global crisis in land use and agriculture that could undermine the health, security, and sustainability of our civilization.
Our use of land, particularly for agriculture, is absolutely essential to the success of the human race. We depend on agriculture to supply us with food, feed, fiber, and, increasingly, biofuels. Without a highly efficient, productive, and resilient agricultural system, our society would collapse almost overnight.
But we are demanding more and more from our global agricultural systems, pushing them to their very limits. Continued population growth (adding more than 70 million people to the world every year), changing dietary preferences (including more meat and dairy consumption), rising energy prices, and increasing needs for bioenergy sources are putting tremendous pressure on the world's resources. And, if we want any hope of keeping up with these demands, we'll need to double, perhaps triple, the agricultural production of the planet in the next 30 to 40 years.
Meeting these huge new agricultural demands will be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. At present, it is completely unclear how (and if) we can do it.
If this wasn't enough, we must also address the massive environmental impacts of our current agricultural practices, which new evidence indicates rival the impacts of climate change. Consider the following.
Already, we have cleared or converted more than 35 percent of the earth's ice-free land surface for agriculture, whether for croplands, pastures or rangelands. In fact, the area used for agriculture is nearly 60 times larger than the area of all of the world's cities and suburbs. Since the last ice age, nothing has been more disruptive to the planet's ecosystems than agriculture. What will happen to our remaining ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, if we need to double or triple world agricultural production, while simultaneously coping with climate change?
Freshwater decline. Across the globe, we already use a staggering 4,000 cubic kilometers of water per year, withdrawn from our streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. Of this, 70 percent is used for irrigation, the single biggest use of water, by far, on the globe. As a result, many large rivers have greatly reduced flows and some routinely dry up. Just look at the Aral Sea, now turned to desert, or the mighty Colorado River, which no longer sends any water to the ocean, for living proof. And the extraction of water from deep groundwater reserves is almost universally unsustainable, and has resulted in rapidly declining water tables in many regions of the world. Future water demands from increasing population and agricultural consumption will likely climb between 4,500 and 6,200 cubic kilometers per year, hugely compounding the impacts of climate change, especially in arid regions.
Widespread pollution. Agriculture, particularly the use of industrial fertilizers and other chemicals, has fundamentally upset the chemistry of the entire planet. Already, the use of fertilizers has more than doubled the flows of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds in the environment, resulting in widespread water pollution and the massive degradation of lakes and rivers. Excess nutrient pollution is now so widespread, it is even contributing to the disruption of coastal oceans and fishing grounds by creating hypoxic "dead zones," including one in the Gulf of Mexico. Given our current practices, future increases in food demand will dramatically increase water pollution and ecosystem destruction through agricultural effluent. Ironically, the fertilizer runoff from farmlands compromises another crucial source of food: coastal fishing grounds.
Greenhouse gas emissions. Last, but certainly not least, land use is also one of the biggest contributors to global warming. Of the three most important man-made greenhouse gasses — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — land use and agricultural practices, including tropical deforestation, emit 30 percent of the total. That's more than the emissions from all the world's passenger cars, trucks, trains and planes, or the emissions from all electricity generation or manufacturing. Compared to any other human activity, land use and agriculture are the greatest emitters of greenhouse gasses. The vast majority comes from deforestation, methane emissions from animals and rice fields, and nitrous oxide emissions from heavily fertilized fields. Yet, for some reason, agriculture has been largely able to avoid the attention of emissions reductions policies.
The list of environmental impacts from agricultural land use goes on and on — and clearly threatens human well-being and the health of the biosphere as much as global warming. In fact, in a recent paper in Nature, a number of us documented "planetary boundaries" where large-scale environmental changes could result in catastrophic tipping points. Of those changes, an equal number were tied to climate change and CO2 emissions as were connected to land-use and agriculture.
From these newly revealed facts, it's clear that we must consider multiple inconvenient truths. The future of our civilization and our planet requires that we simultaneously address the grand challenges of climate change and land use, ultimately finding new ways to meet the needs of our economy, our security and the environment. Anything less will be a complete catastrophe.
So, what are the solutions to the global land crisis? Here are just a few to start with.
First, acknowledge the problem. Even in circles of well-informed scientists and agricultural experts, the notion that our land use and agricultural practices rival climate change as a global environmental threat comes as a big surprise. Clearly we need to have a larger international conversation about this issue, on par with the recent efforts of the climate change community and Al Gore, to give it the attention it deserves.
Invest in revolutionary agricultural solutions. The Obama administration has invested billions of dollars into new energy technology, research and infrastructure, and aggressive plans for new climate mitigation policies are being developed. These strategies are important, but I wonder where the stimulus funding for new "out of the box" agricultural research is? Where are we investing public dollars in revolutionary approaches to feeding the world, while reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture? These might include the development of new hybrid crops, designed to use water and nitrogen more efficiently, or the invention of perennial crops that don't need to be planted every year. Don't such ideas count as national priorities, too? Can't we afford to launch a "Greener" Revolution?
Bridge the artificial divide between production agriculture and environmental conservation. We cannot solve these problems by boosting agricultural production at the expense of the environment, nor can we ignore the growing need for food in the name of preserving natural ecosystems. Instead, we must find ways to simultaneously increase production of our agricultural systems while greatly reducing their environmental impacts. This is not going to be easy. Yet, drawing on the lessons from recent research, including the successes and failures of local organic practice, combined with the efficiency and scalability of commercial agriculture, will be crucial. In recent years, for example, U.S. farmers — working with agricultural experts — have dramatically improved practices in the corn and soybean belt, cutting down on erosion, nutrient loss, and groundwater pollution, even as yields have continued to increase. As a first step, advocates of environmental conservation, organic farming and commercial agriculture all need to put down their guns and work toward solving the problems of food security and the environment — with everyone at the table.
Providing for the basic needs of 9 billion-plus people, without ruining the biosphere in the process, will be one of the greatest challenges our species has ever faced. It will require the imagination, determination and hard work of countless people from all over the world, embarked on one of the noblest causes in history.
But the first step is admitting we have more than one problem.

America makes first move to allow independent fund for poor countries

US breaks deadlock on organisations such as World Bank deciding how to allocate money for clean tech and adaptation
John Vidal in Bangkok, Tuesday 6 October 2009 13.10 BST
The US has made the first move to bridge the yawning gulf separating rich and developing countries on the money needed to secure a successful climate change deal at crucial UN talks in Copenhagen this December.
Although US negotiators have not made any specific promises on finance at talks currently under way in Bangkok, the US has accepted the principle of a single independent fund to be administered at least in part by the UN.
This is a long way from what developing countries want - firm pledges of large sums of money to allow poor countries to buy technologies to help them develop cleanly and to adapt to climate change. But because talks have been frozen on the issue for months, the movement in the US position is being seen as a positive step.
Until now, America, backed by Britain, has proposed that any money paid should be channelled through existing organisations like the World Bank. In addition it has insisted that contributions by rich countries should be voluntary.
This has been flatly rejected in the past by G77 countries (an umbrella group of 130 developing nations) who have long mistrusted the bank, saying it is institutionally biased against poor countries. They have said they want the UN to administer a separate fund which would be guided, controlled and managed by all countries. In addition they do not want promises of cash, but guaranteed, predictable flows of money.
Under the new US proposal, countries would be allowed to choose how much they paid and to direct it to specific areas, such as forestry or technology. Rich countries would come together every few years for what have been called "pledge parties", where they would indicate how much they intended to pay. In addition, they want businesses and other groups including NGOs to have access to the funds.
The proposal will almost certainly be rejected by G77 countries and insiders do not expect it to form part of the final Copenhagen deal, but the US move is considered significant because it represents some movement in the negotiating positions. The talks have been deadlocked on finance for months.
"The positions are becoming clearer. The US has opened the door to a single fund. The worrying sign is that it assumes that the developing countries will take what they can get and will not walk out of the talks. That's a dangerous assumption," said Oxfam analyst Antonio Hill.
"We still have a deadlock on finance. The key to unlocking it is with the Annex 1 [rich] countries. At the moment no money has been put forward," said Raman Metha of Action Aid who suggested that the US proposal was a negotiating tactic to force the G77 to compromise.
Countries have made no progress in Bangkok on how much money they are prepared to put up, or what proportion would be new rather than come from carbon markets or existing aid. Discussions are expected to go to the wire at Copenhagen in December.
At present the leading contender is still Gordon Brown's suggestion of $100bn a year (£61bn) which has been endorsed by the EU's environment minister Stavros Dimas.

Apple joins Chamber of Commerce exodus over climate change scepticism

Technology firm becomes latest in line of high-profile departures after federation opposes efforts to reduce emissions
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 6 October 2009 11.44 BST
Apple has become the latest in a growing list of companies to quit the US Chamber of Commerce over its policies on climate change. In a letter to the chamber president, Thomas Donohue, Apple's Catherine Novelli said she was frustrated by the hard-line stance the organisation had taken against the Environmental Protection Agency and draft climate legislation now before the Senate.
Novelli did not sugarcoat the exit. "We strongly object to the chamber's recent comments opposing the EPA's effort to limit greenhouse gases," she wrote in the letter, released yesterday, adding: "Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the chamber at odds with us in this effort." The company's departure is effective immediately.
The chamber is against the idea that the EPA should use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This is almost universally seen as a fallback position in case the Democrats fail to push a climate change bill through Congress. The chamber also opposes the climate bill passed by the house last June, claiming it will drive up business costs.
Some chamber officials have stirred things up further by calling for a commission to put the science of climate change "on trial" – even though the most authoritative report to date on the impact of climate change on different regions in the US was released just weeks ago.
Those comments may turn out to be the ones that started the (as yet) mini-exodus. Within the last two weeks, the chamber has lost California's biggest utility corporations, Pacific Gas and Electric and Exelon, along with PNM resources, a New Mexico firm. Nike resigned from the commerce executive but remains a member. Two other firms - General Electric and Johnson & Johnson - have issued statements saying that they disagree with the chamber's climate policy.
The defection of these household names has inevitably attracted attention. So, too, has the spread of business exiting the chamber, from conventional utility companies to ultra-innovative firms such as Apple.
Some see the moves as the beginnings of a new climate change consensus in the business world, but it will take many more defections before a critical mass is reached. The chamber estimates its membership at 3m "businesses and organizations of every size" and, on its official website at least, shows no sign of feeling even the faintest pinch of loss. Instead, it claims to be protecting its members by using funds to attack the climate change bill and its supporters.
Environmental organisations say the defections are the beginning of the end for the chamber. "It just underscores how out of touch the chamber position on this issue is with mainstream America." said Josh Dorner, a spokesman for Clean Energy Works. "The chamber has effectively written itself out of mainstream debate."

Google partners on device to monitor home energy

Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Google Inc is partnering with privately held Energy Inc to provide households with free energy management software, bypassing utilities' smart meters and potentially boosting energy efficiency, the company said on its blog on Monday.
Google launched in February a Web tool called PowerMeter, which lets consumers monitor how much electricity they use at home. The catch was that they had to have a smart meter installed by their utility. For the past few months, a few hundred customers have tested the software.
Now, consumers can buy Energy Inc's power-usage measuring device, called TED 5000, costing about $200 (£125), and use Google's software on top of it, without ever needing a smart meter.
The partnership between Energy Inc and Google's philanthropic arm is intended to expand the consumer market. While more and more utilities are moving to install smart meters, they still account for a small percentage of all U.S. electricity meters.
The partnership is nonexclusive and does not include financial terms, the company said. Google will continue working with its partner utilities, which include Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric and Germany's Yello Strom.
Internet behemoth Google is widely known for its online advertising and search engine, but it is also making forays into clean technology.
Its projects include ways to write software to connect plug-in hybrid vehicles to the power grid and a mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by a quarter or more.
Technology companies like Google and IBM Corp are shifting into the world of building a smart grid, envisioning a more efficient electricity grid that uses more renewable energy and powers up 'smart' appliances.

Energy efficient homes and more nuclear power: Conservatives unveil 'green deal'

Tories court property owners with promise of free cost-saving home improvement scheme and pledge 'immediate action to to keep Britain's lights on'
Alok Jha in Manchester, Tuesday 6 October 2009 18.22 BST
Every UK homeowners will benefit from an allowance of up to £6,500 to make their properties more energy efficient, under a "green deal" proposed by the Conservatives today. The idea is part of a wider energy and climate change package aimed at kick-starting a green economy in the UK.
The shadow energy and climate change secretary, Greg Clark, said a Tory government would immediately approve construction of several nuclear and coal-fired power stations to help prevent electricity blackouts in the next decade, to strengthen the national grid and enable the harnessing of renewable energy sources at sea, and to boost the number of charging points for electric cars.
Heating and powering homes accounts for 27% of the UK's overall carbon emissions and, speaking this afternoon, Clark set out how the green deal would aim to reduce this total. The money, to be sourced from the private sector, would not be given to householders directly; instead, energy companies or charities would insulate homes at no cost to residents and then recoup the money through energy bills. As the new insulation would reduce energy use, this should not result in extra costs for the homeowner.
In his speech, Clark said a Conservative government would "begin with a bound and with immediate action to keep Britain's lights on, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and give Britain leadership in a low-carbon world."He criticised Labour's inability to appoint a longstanding energy minister. "[In] 12 years […] there have been no less than 15 energy ministers," he said. "They had an average of nine months each. Enough to make a baby. But, apparently, not to make a decision."
Tory proposals include:
• approving 5GW's worth of coal-fired power stations, fitted with carbon capture and storage technology which has the potential to trap up to 90% of carbon emissions
• securing planning permission for nuclear power stations by 2017
• upgrading the national electricity grid to allow it to respond intelligently to the peaks and troughs of demand throughout a day
• extending the national grid out to sea to enable the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said that no political party had been able to deal with the challenge of coal. "We need a step change in political thinking to get the UK on a genuinely low carbon path and to achieve the zero emission power sector required by the Committee on Climate Change by 2030."
He added: "The current government position is to capture only a small proportion of climate changing emissions from new coal plants. That's not going to be good enough. To get it right, the Conservatives need to be clear that they will set a tough emissions standard that rules out all emissions [from coal plants] from day one, and [that they will] commit to meeting Britain's ambitious renewable energy target."
For individuals, the Tories' green deal will mean that an average household can expect savings of £360 per year on energy bills via simple home adjustments, including energy-efficient lighting and cavity and loft insulation. Based on an average spend of around £1500 per home, around £120 of the yearly saving, for 25 years, would go towards repayment of the loan and interest. Householders would be able to keep the remaining £240, with the loan tied to the property rather than the homeowner who initially took it out.
The Conservatives said that a scheme for retrofitting homes could see the creation of a £2.5bn per year industry and up to 70,000 skilled jobs, including 3,500 apprenticeships.
Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council said the building and home improvement industry needed political leadership to "unlock a fantastic new market for refurbishment, with huge benefits for people, the economy and the environment. The upfront capital cost has been an understandably big barrier for most people, but this type of scheme allows householders to pay for the work from the savings they make on their energy bill – and still be better off as a result. The green deal is a big step in the right direction."
But the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said: "The Tories fail to deliver on renewables, since Tory councils turn down 60% of windfarm applications; they can't tackle climate change through Europe because they hang around with climate change deniers; and they vote against the investment in the green manufacturing jobs of the future. Voters should beware: the Tories may talk green but they act blue."
Ed Matthews, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, thought the figure of £6,500 was too low. "The level of funding must be at least, on average, £20,000 per home to enable homes to cut at least half their carbon emissions."
The Department for Energy and Climate Change announced plans earlier this year to provide green makeovers, to include cavity wall and loft insulation, for 40,000 homes a year by 2015. Financial incentives for householders will also be available for low-carbon technologies such as solar panels, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps, paid for by a levy on utility companies. The government wants 7m homes to benefit from the schemes by 2020, extending to all UK households by 2030. If successful, the strategy would shave a third off household carbon emissions by 2020.

In praise of… the European Marine Energy Centre

The Guardian, Wednesday 7 October 2009

Britain is sitting on the biggest source of marine energy in Europe. Tapping tidal and wave energy could one day produce about 10% of the world's electricity consumption, so the incentive to develop turbines, hydrofoils and ducts which can convert this energy into watts is enormous. One such device, 150 metres of scarlet tubing known as the sea snake will be tested next spring at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, on the principle that if it can function in the seas there, it can survive anything. This is the second generation of snake to be tested in the sea; it generates electricity through hydraulic pumps in its joints, which rise and fall with the motion of the waves. The technology is still in its infancy and a smaller version of the snake tested in Portugal had problems generating the expected amount of electricity. Those sceptical of the costs of development (twice those of offshore wind farms) say that marine power is lagging 20 years behind the wind industry. But this is to miss the point. The costs of wind power have decreased by 80% in the last 25 years, with design improvement and economies of scale. Marine power is starting from a lower base. Furthermore, Britain is a world leader in this technology, while it is not in wind turbines. EMEC, owned by the Orkney Islands council, the Carbon Trust and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is the world's only accredited wave and tidal test centre. A forward-looking government would increase the funding of this industry.

Plan to create Scots science powerhouse is unveiled

Published Date: 07 October 2009
By Frank Urquhart
TWO of Scotland's leading science institutes are to join forces to create Europe's foremost centre for research into food, land use and climate change, it was revealed yesterday.
The merger of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) in Invergowrie, near Dundee, and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (MLRI) in Aberdeen is aimed at establishing the unified centre as a "powerhouse" for environmental research and the first institute of its kind in Europe.Richard Lochhead, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, claimed that the proposed merger involving 600 staff, would strengthen the organisations' research capacity and global competitiveness.Mr Lochhead said: "Scientific research is hugely important to our support for rural industries, our drive to grow the food and drink sector and our efforts to tackle global issues such as climate change and food security. "Both SCRI and the Macaulay already enjoy well-deserved reputations for excellence. Together they will be in an even stronger position to compete in the international arena and to address complex global issues, further raising Scotland's profile on the world stage."

India to Phase Out Ozone-Depleting HCFCs By 2030

NEW DELHI -- India will phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons, chemicals widely used in refrigeration and air-conditioning, by 2030 under the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to protect the ozone layer, the environment minister said Tuesday.
"We are going to freeze the use of HCFCs at 2009 levels by 2013. We are going to mitigate the use of HCFC by 10% by 2015 as compared to 2009 levels and bring it to zero by 2030," Jairam Ramesh said, unveiling India's roadmap to phase out the chemicals.
HCFC consumption has grown at an average annual rate of over 11% in the past 15 years, boosted by sustained growth in demand for consumer, commercial and industrial products.
Since 2001, consumption of HCFCs in India has more than tripled and the trend is expected to continue, the minister said.
The phase out of HCFCs is challenging for an emerging economy such as India due to issues related with technology and funding to facilitate the transition without burdening the economy and constraining consumers and industry.
"This roadmap is a giant leap in the dark. It is a huge act of faith because we don't know what technology is going to replace HCFCs...We don't know where funding is going to come from," Mr. Ramesh said.
India should develop its own technology rather than relying on other countries, Mr. Ramesh added.
Write to Rakesh Sharma at

Weather eye: Tracking air pollution wth lichens

Lichens are formed by a partnership between algae and fungi. They can be found growing on trees, pavements, gravestones and in other inhospitable places. These crusty organisms also tell us how dirty our air is.
Modern-day air pollution mostly comes from traffic, farming and industry, but the trouble is that we cannot always see it. Most lichens are like canaries in coalmines — they are very sensitive to dangerous gases and die. However, other lichens actually thrive on them.
A new study of lichens has been launched to map air pollution across the UK, and the public are being asked for help. Volunteers are needed to record the different lichens found growing on trees in their neighbourhood, and also count the number of tar spots on sycamore leaves. These are black blotches caused by a fungus that is also sensitive to air pollution. By gathering information from across the country, the Open Air Laboratories (Opal) project will map the impact of air pollution. “Are we seeing more of certain species in certain areas because the air is cleaner today? Or is it because the pollutants have changed?” asks Pat Wolseley, of the British Lichen Society, which is closely involved in the survey. “Everyone’s contribution to this survey is valuable; even a result of ‘no lichens’ still tells us something about the air quality in that area.”
Anyone can take part, and a free survey pack and recording chart can be obtained from

England is sinking while Scotland rises above sea levels, according to new study

England is sinking into the sea while Scotland is rising at such a rate it may counteract the effects of sea level rise due to climate change, according to a new geological map.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 12:01AM BST 07 Oct 2009
The University of Durham looked at levels of land uplift and subsidence in the British isles since the Ice Age. As the ice retreated 20,000 years ago the release of the enormous weight meant the north slowly tilted up while the south sank down. Scotland is still experiencing this "springboard" effect while southern Ireland, Wales and England continues to sink.
The new study shows that land levels could rise by up to 10cm in some areas of Scotland over the next century, offsetting the effects of sea level rise caused by global warming. But in parts of England, where the land is set to sink by up to 5cm over the next century, it could add between 10 to 33 per cent on sea level rises.
The map is the most accurate projection of land subsidence in the UK ever compiled.
The Durham team not only looked a "geophyscial" simulations, which predict what will happen to the earth's crust over time, but studied sediments in the soil at 80 sites around the country to see how the land has been changing in the past.
Prof ian Shennan, who led the study, said soil sediments showed that sites in the north of the country are still rising.
"The action of the Ice Age on our landmass has been like squeezing a sponge which eventually regains its shape. The earth's crust has reacted over thousands of years and is continuing to react," he said.
Prof Shennan said the information could now be used, alongside predictions of sea level rises caused by climate change, to help councils and other bodies protect vulnerable areas like coastland.
"Subsidence and rising sea levels will have implications for people and habitats, and will require action to manage resorts, industrial sites, ports, beaches, salt marshes and wetlands, wildlife and bird migrations," he said.
:: Areas of falling land and rising sea levels:
Somerset, Cornwall and Devon
Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex
Kent and Essex
Suffolk and Norfolk
The Wash
Humberside and North Lincolnshire
Shetland Islands.
South Wales
Southern Ireland
Western Ireland
:: Areas with little land-level change:
North Yorkshire; Cleveland
Mid Wales
:: Areas of rising land levels include:
Tyne and Wear
Northumberland coast, Berwickshire, East Lothian,
The Firth of Forth and the Moray Forth
Fife, Aberdeenshire, Caithness
Minch and the Western Isles
Argyll, Ayrshire and the Solway Firth
Northern Irish coast
Isle of Man
Cumbria, Lancashire and Merseyside
North Wales