Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Time for Inaction on Global Warming

Congress should consider the costs before passing "cap and trade."
"Global" and "warming" are perhaps the two most important words used to justify the approaching governmental control of our economy. In reality, global warming is barely occurring: In the 30 years starting in 1977, warming amounted to 0.32 degree Fahrenheit per decade, and in the next hundred years it is estimated to be about half a degree per decade.
So global warming looks like neither the alarmists' serious threat, nor an immediate crisis that requires governmental control of America's economy to reduce it. Nevertheless the government solution to these increases--the Waxman-Markey bill, which passed the House earlier this year--is estimated to lower global temperatures only about 0.18 degree Fahrenheit in the next 90 years.
And now comes the new Boxer-Kerry Senate bill, which would require a 20% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020.
As a practical matter, what would such a reduction mean to us and our economy? Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute calculates that a 20% reduction would mean cutting America's greenhouse gas emissions to our 1977 levels, and that would radically change both the U.S. economy and our personal lives.
As Mr. Hayward notes, we had 220 million people in America then; today we have 305 million. In 1977 our economy was produced $7.2 trillion (in 2008 dollars); today it is twice as large, at $14.2 trillion. Back then we had 145 million vehicles on the road; today we have 251 million. America has substantially grown, and our energy needs have grown as well.
So what would we have to do get back to 1977 emission levels and meet the Boxer-Kerry requirement? First, car and truck miles travelled would have to be reduced by one-third (or fuel efficiency improved by one-third, hard to do in 10 years), which would seriously reduce travel and transportation, and likely force changes in automobile design that consumers would not like.
Next, the amount of coal burned to generate electricity would have to be cut in half. So we would close more than 200 of our coal-fired power plants, and as Mr. Hayward says that would reduce our electricity supply by some 800 million megawatts. To replace those millions of megawatts with non-hydro renewable power sources like wind, solar and geothermal power would be virtually impossible. We have about 130,000 megawatts generated by them now, and the growth rate of these power sources over the last five years suggests it would take 97 years to make up for the shutdown of 200 coal-fired plants.
Nevertheless, the Boxer-Kerry bill, at least in its draft form, is an improvement over Waxman-Markey. It is in favor of nuclear power--which, in Sen. John Kerry's words, "needs to be a core component of electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction targets"--though it does not mention the construction of the 70 to 100 nuclear plants we would need to add to the 104 we now have in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It is also in favor of expanding offshore drilling and natural-gas exploration and production, something that Waxman-Markey does not support.
On the other hand, Boxer-Kerry would be as bad for our economy as Waxman-Markey in two respects. First, it too contains the protectionism of the Waxman "border adjustment program" to begin a new American policy of putting tariffs on goods imported from counties that do not adopt acceptable environmental standards, which surely would result in retaliation tariffs on our exported goods.
And the bill aims to achieve targeted emission declines through a similar cap-and-trade program involving carbon permits. This is said to cover only 2% of U.S. businesses, but it would drive up the cost of electricity, food and other goods for all households and businesses, and its 20% emission reduction is even larger than the 17% in that bill (our current recession has already reduced emissions by 6%, which Sens. Kerry and Barbara Boxer apparently think is real progress). The bill would reduce the portion of emissions covered by the caps, eliminating regulation of methane emissions from coal mines, landfills, and oil and gas pipeline distribution.
Both bills include offsets which would allow emitters (and the politicians in Washington) to claim we are hitting our reduction targets while actually emitting more carbon by "investing" in projects in the U.S. and other countries that ostensibly reduce carbon (whether or not they actually do)--a process that is fraught with potentials for fraud and abuse.
And both bills suffer from the flawed logic of thinking a cap-and-trade system would actually work, when we know it has not worked in Europe, and that the only way a cap-and-trade system could meet its emission targets in the U.S. is by shrinking our economy.
Congressional Budget Office director Douglas W. Elmendorf testified last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the cap-and-trade provisions of the House bill would reduce the U.S. gross domestic product by 0.25% to 0.75% in 2020 ($60 billion to $180 billion), and by 1.0% to 3.5% in 2050.
Like Waxman-Markey, Boxer-Kerry would expand the control the government has over the American economy, businesses, and individuals. It would have little impact on reducing global warming but would significantly depress our economy. One wonders if the purpose of the Boxer-Kerry bill is really just to give the U.S. something to take to Copenhagen for the United Nation's Climate Change Conference in December.
High-cost policies with low-impact results are not in America's best interests, so we should postpone both bills and think through more clearly our desired energy policies.

Brown Urges Progress on Climate Deal

LONDON -- U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Major Economies Forum Monday to work together and compromise to help reach agreement at U.N.-led climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December.
"If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: Once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement, in some future period, can undo that choice. By then it will be irretrievably too late," Mr. Brown said, according to prepared remarks.
He also told representatives of leaders of the world's 17 biggest polluters at a U.K.-hosted meeting that a high-carbon path of economic growth is not sustainable in the long-term.
"Such growth would be unsustainable, and soon overwhelmed by its inevitable consequences: greater energy insecurity, greater pollution and ill-health and--as a result of climate-induced migration and poverty in the poorest countries--almost inevitably, greater conflict," Mr. Brown said.
A low-carbon future means cooperation over technology development and assistance, providing finance for adaptation and a global carbon market that creates investment flows to developing countries, he added.
"This is the moment. Now is the time. For the planet there is no plan B," Mr. Brown said, according to prepared remarks.
Representatives of leaders from the 17 countries in the MEF are meeting to try to narrow disagreement on core issues of a climate deal such as finance, governance, technology transfer, mitigation and forestry.
The MEF meetings are not an official part of the U.N. negotiations, but are intended to support the talks. At the last MEF meeting in L'Aquila, Italy in July, leaders from countries including the U.S., China and the European Union, moved the process forward when they recognized the need to limit the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius.
However, there are fears that there isn't enough time remaining until the Copenhagen negotiations to find agreement on the key issues.
Countries are still haggling over how much finance developed countries will give developing nations to help pay for mitigation and adaptation, and key polluters the U.S. and China have yet to offer a concrete number for domestic emissions cuts.
Write to Selina Williams at selina.williams@dowjones.com

Climate change pact 'remains in the balance', says Ed Miliband

Damian Carrington
The Guardian, Tuesday 20 October 2009
A global treaty to fight climate change is hanging "in the balance", Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, said last night, although there were signs that developed countries were preparing to roll back on their demand that developing countries agree to long-term cuts in emissions.
At the end of a two-day meeting in London of those countries responsible for 80% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, Miliband said: "There is a universal view that we need to get an agreement, but not at any price. It is not a done deal and remains in the balance in my view."
While Miliband felt some progress had been made in London, there was an uncompromising assessment from Barack Obama's climate envoy, Todd Stern, who spoke of "robust" discussion.
He said any agreement would be constructed from commitments made by individual countries, not a global target, and that developing economies, such as China and India, would have to "stand behind" the commitments they made.
Stern hinted at the softening stance highlighting that at the G8 in July the view was that there ought to be "both a developed country number and a worldwide number – 80% for developed countries, 50% worldwide. But he added: "I don't know whether that is going to be included or not."
Dropping the 2050 demand will make it easier to strike a deal in Copenhagen, as it will switch attention to how countries manage emissions in the next decade.
The comments, at the close of the Major Economies Forum, revealed the depths of the disagreements facing negotiators with less than 50 days to go before the final UN summit in Copenhagen in December.
Developing nations want the promise of deeper cuts in emissions from industrialised nations, which are the largest polluters per person. In return, the rich nations are demanding firm promises of action to curb emissions growth in the developing world. The scale and nature of financial help for developing countries is also an impasse. "This is an 'I will if you will' situation'," said Miliband.
Stern was adamant the proposed emissions cuts in legislation currently in the US Senate – 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 – represented a serious reduction. "Those are strong numbers, representing a seismic shift in the US," he said. The offer has been regarded as weak compared to those from other rich nations.
Stern, while acknowledging the US's giant emissions, also bluntly stated that voluntary targets for fast developing countries like China and India were not acceptable. Those nations have fiercely resisted the idea of legally binding curbs on their emissions, arguing that the west grew rich on fossil fuels and should allow poorer nations to develop as they did.
But Stern said: "What we can't have is differences in how countries stand behind the deal." He quoted an International Energy Agency report predicting that 97% of the growth in emissions by 2020 will occur in developing countries.
He refused to be drawn on whether Obama would join Gordon Brown in attending Copenhagen. Miliband said there was a "universal understanding that leaders had to be involved in the next 50 days."
Stern also made a virtue of creating a deal from the pledges of individual nations, rather than aiming for a global target that would deliver the specific cuts scientists say are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Domestic legislation could be more strongly enforced than international treaties, he said. Several nations, such as Canada, have far exceeded their Kyoto protocol targets, with little prospect of a meaningful penalty.
Miliband held out the hope of movement in the weeks ahead. "I have the sense the Chinese government will have more to say on [carbon targets] before Copenhagen." To date, China has only promised "notable" curbs.
The 17 major economies that form the MEF are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the UK, and United States.

World must shift to low-carbon economy by 2014 or face dangerous climate change, says WWF

Delay in low-carbon technologies will make it impossible to cut CO2 quickly enough to avoid worst impacts of global warming
Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 October 2009 11.05 BST
The world must start a "complete" shift to a low carbon economy by 2014 — or risk making dangerous climate change almost inevitable, a report warned today.
The study for conservation charity WWF showed that waiting until after 2014 to fully develop the clean industries needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as renewable energy, would leave it too late to halt temperature rises of more than 2C.
With low-carbon industry only able to grow at a certain rate, a delay in taking action will make it almost impossible for countries to roll out the technology in time to cut emissions by the amounts needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.
The research by analysts Climate Risk (pdf) also said countries must take action across a range of industries at once, including renewable energy, technology to capture the carbon emissions from fossil fuel power stations, preventing deforestation and improving energy efficiency.
If countries fail to tackle emissions across all sectors, they will end up getting the lowest-cost industries up and running first and not developing other areas until they are affordable.
This would make it impossible to meet targets to reduce emissions, the study warned.
The report, published as representatives of 17 countries meet in the UK for the Major Economies Forum as part of efforts to secure a new global agreement on cutting emissions at UN talks in Copenhagen in December, called for long-term investment strategies to support clean technology.
Policies are also needed to improve energy efficiency standards, pay people set tariffs for generating power from renewables and end subsidies for the use of fossil fuels.
Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: "Clean industry sectors can only expand so far, so quickly.
"If we wait until later than 2014 to begin aggressively tackling the problem, we will have left it too late to ensure that all the low-carbon solutions required are ready to roll out at the scale needed if we intend to keep within the world's remaining carbon budget.
He said the report highlighted the need for a "complete industrial shift towards a low-carbon future" which must begin with a fair and binding deal on climate change in Copenhagen in December.
An over-reliance on carbon trading - which by putting a price on pollution encourages cutting emissions where it costs least - would lead to a step-by-step approach to developing a low carbon economy that would leave the world struggling to reduce emissions on a sufficient scale and speed to prevent climate change, the study said.
The report also said that, even without a price on carbon, renewable energy could become competitive with fossil fuels between 2013 and 2025.

US Chamber of Commerce falls victim to 'fraud' over climate hoax

Environmental activists held spoof press conference announcing U-turn in the organisation's stance on climate legislation
It looked – at first – eerily like a routine news event. A man in a nondescript dark suit standing at a podium in one of the smaller meeting rooms on the 13th floor of the National Press Club. But then suddenly it wasn't.
"There is only one way to do business and that is to pass a climate bill quickly so this December President Obama can go to Copenhagen and negotiate with a strong position," said the speaker – who said he represented the US Chamber of Commerce.
The statement represented a complete repudiation of the Chamber's earlier opposition to climate change legislation. The hard line had triggered walk-outs from Apple and a handful of other high-profile companies in the past few weeks. The companies are trying to press the business organisation to support the bill by the senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer that is to be debated by the Senate next week.
Or maybe not. Barely 20 minutes into the Q&A section of the press conference, an agitated spokesman for the Chamber burst into the room, screaming that the event was a hoax.
Score one for the Yes Men, who claimed responsibility for the prank. A number of news organisations and environmental groups were taken in.
Several green organisations tweeted or blogged on the about-face. Reuters news agency put out a straight news story about the Chamber's apparent U-turn, and the Washington Post and New York Times put the story on their news sites (both later removed the stories from their websites). CNBC actually sought – and got – comment from analysts. It also broke its programming to have a reporter read out the fake press release.
The spoof got under way with a press release inviting journalists to a morning news conference. Most reporters overlooked the misspelling of the Chamber president's name.
The phony spokesman said the Chamber was not happy with the bill before the Senate and would push for a carbon tax – not the greenest of positions. But he added: "If cap and trade is all we can get we have to take it so at least we can have something to put in President Obama's hands when he goes to Copenhagen."
He went out even further on a limb when he called clean coal "a hoax", saying the money would be better spent on solar energy research. "Clean technology has not only not been proven. It basically doesn't exist," he said.
It was about that time, the real Chamber spokesman burst into the room – and had a mild shoving match at the podium. "What happened today was a fraud and I believe illegal," Eric Wohlschlegel said. The spokesman said he learned of the hoax when a reporter came to the Chamber office looking for the press conference. Wohlschlegel said he immediately leaped into a taxi.
The spoof appears to be a joint production of the Yes Men, a group of activists who get their point across by impersonating greedy executives. Last month, the Yes Men took on global warming, producing fake copies of the New York Post with a banner headline declaring: "We're screwed". Two other activist groups also claimed credit.
In a statement today, the Yes Men said the stunt was intended to show how climate policy was being held hostage to corporate greed.
"The Chamber's position against climate legislation is completely troglodytic," said Andy Bichlbaum, who impersonated the Chamber spokesman. "The rest of the world sees the need for urgent action on the climate. The rest of the world's rich countries have pledged large emissions reductions. With scientists saying if we don't reduce carbon emissions, then sooner or later we're doomed, the Chamber represents corporate America at its most backwards."
The statement went on to flag up a Yes Men rally tomorrow morning and the release of their new documentary later this week.
And while a number of reporters still pressed Wohlschlegel for signs of a shift in the Chamber's position, he soon set them straight. The Chamber was as opposed to climate change legislation as ever.

The BBC should report climate change facts rather than political spin

Science reporting that downplays sober science in favour of the shrill shriek of climate denialists is nothing but propaganda
A controversy has erupted over a recent blog post by Paul Hudson that turned into a news story on BBC online with the title "What happened to global warming?" Does it mark an "amazing U-turn" of the BBC on climate, or was this a legitimate piece of reporting as the BBC maintains?
Perhaps my view as a climate scientist is of interest. To put it upfront: I think Hudson's article is more political spin than news reporting.
The piece starts with a bold assertion: "For the last decade we have not observed any increase in global temperatures." To be correct, this should have read: "If we cherry-pick a particular data set which excludes the part of the globe that warmed most, and also cherry-pick a time interval that starts with the warmest year of the 20th century and ends with the coldest year of the 21st, then we just manage to find a nearly flat piece of temperature curve."
We discussed the details of all this recently on RealClimate. The bottom line: Hudson referred to temperature data of the British Met Office that show a smaller warming recently because they leave out the Arctic, which is where most recent warming has occurred (as the Met Office confirms in its own study, (Simmons et al. 2009). And he cleverly compared 1998 (a year that stands out well above the climate trend due to an El Niño event in the Pacific) to 2008, a year that happens to be below the climate trend line, again due to natural variability. But note that in the global Nasa temperature data, even the cherry-picked trend over 1998-2008 is warming.
Hudson claims that the data contradicts climate models – which would be untrue even if temperatures had in fact stagnated. The models and data both show that due to natural variability, warming is never smooth and steady, and the observed temperature data are entirely consistent with the climate models.
Hudson goes on to present two fringe ideas. The first, by Piers Corbyn, is that some undisclosed solar mechanism is "almost entirely responsible for what happens to global temperature." But solar activity over the past years has been at an all-time low since satellite observations began in the 1970s, so if anything, it has worked towards cooling. The second is by Don Easterbrook, claiming that oceanic changes explain global warming of the past decades. But if the oceans were responsible for atmospheric warming, they would have had to release heat to the atmosphere – just the opposite of what the data shows. The oceans are soaking up heat, slowing down global warming.
When questioned by the Guardian's Leo Hickman, the BBC responded that "The point [Hudson's] article is making is that views about climate change are hotly contested." That is not quite right. The article was trying to create the false impression that views about climate change are hotly contested among credible scientists, which they are not. The article did that by dressing up maverick global warming denialists as if they were credible scientists.
Hudson should have made clear that Corbyn has no scientific track record as a "solar scientist": according to the citation database Web of Science, his only peer-reviewed publication was on pebble sizes on Chesil Beach, published in 1967 and never cited since. And Easterbrook, while having a past record as geologist, is retired, has no scientific track record on the specific issue he is talking about and likewise has no peer-reviewed publication that would support his claims. As usual in such articles, reputable climate scientists such as my German colleague Mojib Latif are also cited – but among these there is no disagreement about the basic facts of human-caused global warming.
The BBC's Richard Black argues that if their reporting gets criticised equally from both sides, it must be about right. But for science reporting, I would prefer journalists to stick with more old-fashioned indicators of good science: peer-reviewed publications and personal reputations built on a solid track record of relevant research. And they should remember that old wisdom: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
• Stefan Rahmstorf is a climate scientist and oceanographer at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and author of the upcoming book, The Climate Crisis

Is an agreement on climate change in Copenhagen still on the cards?

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Why are we asking this now?
Yesterday Gordon Brown, at a meeting of ministers from 17 "major economies" held in London to discuss the talks, warned that countries were not moving fast enough to reach an agreement.
What is at stake?
A global deal to cut the carbon dioxide emissions from power generation, industry, transport and deforestation which, all governments now accept, are causing the atmosphere to heat up, with potentially disastrous consequences for all of us.
That seems like a no-brainer. Why shouldn't all countries agree to that?
While all countries now recognise the problem – a no-brainer is right – they have very differing views about what their role in the solution should be. Cutting CO2 and other greenhouse gases can be done, but not with the wave of a wand. It means redesigning whole economies on a low-carbon model, which involves a lot of effort and a lot of expense; among much else, you have to close down your coal-fired power stations or fit them with costly equipment to capture their CO2 and bury it underground. And the argument at Copenhagen will essentially be about how the effort and the expense should be shared out between nations. If that can be agreed, a deal will be done. If it can't, the world is in for trouble.
So who's arguing?
In the simplest terms, two sides have to come together to do a deal: the rich, mainly western countries of the developed world, such as the US and Britain, and the poorer (but rapidly growing) nations of the developing world, led by China and India. The argument is about responsibility and fairness, and it turns on the fact that most of the CO2 that is in the atmosphere now (and it remains for a century or more) has been put there by the rich countries, who have been pumping the stuff out since the industrial revolution 200 years ago; but most of the extra CO2 that will go into the atmosphere in the future will be put there by the developing nations, who are now embarked on a period of unprecedented, explosive economic growth, much of it powered by burning coal, with the principal purpose of drawing their peoples out of poverty.
Throughout the 20th- century the US was the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world; but in the last two years China has overtaken it, having doubled its carbon emissions from 3bn to 6bn tonnes in a mere decade, and they will continue to grow. So you might say that China, with India, Brazil, Indonesia and their fellow developing economies, are now making the problem worse – and they are; but that the US, with Britain, and Germany and France and the other rich countries, started the problem in the first place – and we did. (And we too are worsening the problem every day, of course, with our own carbon emissions.)
What are the implications for responsibility and fairness?
The principal one is that the rich West has to lead the way in cutting carbon, and this has been recognised by all sides since the first global warming treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The treaty said that the international community had "common but differentiated responsibilities" with regard to the climate, and this principle was put into effect in the Kyoto Protocol to the treaty, signed in 1997.
Under Kyoto, the rich industrialised countries agreed to cut their carbon emissions by fixed amounts by 2012, but the developing nations were not required to make any cuts at all. They were allowed to carry on with business as usual.
Has anything changed since then?
Yes. First, although most of the rich countries, including Britain, accepted Kyoto, the US Congress would not ratify the treaty, as many US politicians felt it was giving a free ride to countries such as China who were economic competitors; George Bush withdrew the US from Kyoto in 2001. Second, the carbon emissions of China and India and their fellows have mushroomed in a way that no one imagined possible in 1997, and they will represent 90 per cent of all future emissions growth; if unchecked, they will derail all other efforts to control climate change. So the point is, the Chinas and Indias now have to make emissions cuts themselves, or first, the US will not join in a new treaty, and second, the fight to limit atmospheric CO2, and thus future temperature rises, will be lost. But China and India have always argued that they are only growing in the way the West did, and that is true; and now they find the western nations saying: 'don't do what we did, do what we say', which is clearly unfair. The deal at Copenhagen is essentially about what the West can offer to make that unfairness acceptable, and what carbon-cutting actions the Chinese and Indians and other developing countries can take, which will in turn be acceptable to the West.
What might be the offers?
The rich countries have to make clear commitments to cut their own CO2 significantly by 2020, and will have to agree massive financial help – billions and billions of dollars – for the poorer nations to continue their growth in a low-carbon way. For their part, the developing nations will have to agree some sort of numerical targets to cut their own CO2 – something which was once anathema to them, as they saw the imposition of targets on them as a ruse by western competitors to hold back their growth. All sides now have to do things which are demanding.
Then why might the talks fail?
The European Union is signed up to tough emissions cuts and backs a big financial help package; even nations such as Japan and Australia, formerly laggards, have started setting serious CO2 targets. It is the position of the US which is crucial. President Barack Obama has to take something substantial to the table in Copenhagen in December in terms of US domestic action, but the Bill which will define US climate policy is stuck in the Senate, and will not go through until Mr Obama's healthcare package is dealt with, which may not be in time. Can Mr Obama offer something to China and its fellows which Congress will ratify? Maybe. The British Government is optimistic that he will. But if he can't, there will be no deal.
Is that the only threat?
That's the major threat, but it's by no means the only one. This is a treaty whose initial text was 200 pages long and contained 2,000 "square brackets" – points of disagreement. It has to be agreed line by line by 192 countries whose representatives are all playing to different domestic agendas and who might have difficulty agreeing on the colour of an orange. If anybody tells you this is a simple matter, don't listen. It's true we have the technology to solve global warming, but this is not about technology. This is about politics, about the art of the possible. And it's the most difficult piece of politics the world has ever seen.
Could the Copenhagen climate meeting end in failure?
*The US may fail to come to the table with an adequately serious offer on climate.
*Citing the needs of their people, China and India may make offers of action that the US find inadequate.
*The huge financial agreement that is proposed may unravel because of the differing needs of each nation.
*When the time comes, President Obama's US will almost certainly try to offer what is needed.
*China and India are already recognising that they need to act themselves.
*All sides realise that the financial package is an essential part of any finally agreed deal.

India's complex game of carbon trade-offs

Never mind the rhetoric: New Delhi may yet be stealthily moving towards embracing emissions cuts
India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, did the rounds in Washington and New York last month, trying to persuade US officials, thinktanks and journalists that New Delhi was open to revising its longstanding climate policy.
Ramesh even offered specifics on the changes India would be prepared to make.
So it was a bit bewildering to see the Indian delegation revert to the traditional negotiating posture at the Bangkok climate change talks earlier this month.
In a nutshell, this is that, since it was the developed world that caused the global warming problem, and since incomes and carbon emissions are a fraction of those in the west, India refuses to accept limits on its growth in order to make emissions cuts.
India helped lead the attack by developing countries on an Australian proposal that would allow individual countries great latitude on how much to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And it was even more confusing to learn that Ramesh apparently approved that negotiating position.
But now it seems the environment minister may be involved in his own delicate internal negotiations, trying to get the Indian bureaucracy to move away from a long-established position. The Times of India reports today on a leaked letter from Ramesh to India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh.
In it, the environment minister warns that India could suffer an international backlash if it is seen to be obstructing a climate change deal at the UN talks in Copenhagen in December. He advises that India distance itself from the developing countries, and ingratiate itself with the G20 industrialised economies.
"We should be pragmatic and constructive, not argumentative and polemical," he says in the letter. "India must listen more and speak less in negotiations."
Ramesh declined to comment further to the Times of India, and he did not immediately respond to an email from the Guardian. But it does seem as if India, along with Indonesia, Brazil, and China, is floating new proposals about how much it may be ready to do on climate change – in the hope, presumably, of getting some kind of commitment in return from the US and other industrialised countries to help adoption of new green technology they will need in the future.
How far India is really prepared to go will probably be a slow-reveal between now and Copenhagen, with Singh's state visit to Washington on 24 November a key moment to watch.

Why Superfreakonomics' authors are wrong on geo-engineering

A fierce debate has been raging between climatologists and Superfreakonomics authors Stephen J Dubner and Steven Levitt, culminating in an impassioned New York Times blogpost yesterday by Dubner.
From RealClimate, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 October 2009 11.50 BST
Many commentators have already pointed out dozens of misquotes, misrepresentations and mistakes in the 'Global Cooling' chapter of the new book SuperFreakonomics by Ste[ph/v]ens Levitt and Dubner (see Joe Romm (parts I, II, III, IV, Stoat, Deltoid, UCS and Paul Krugman for details. Michael Tobis has a good piece on the difference between adaptation and geo-engineering). Unfortunately, Amazon has now turned off the 'search inside' function for this book, but you can read the relevant chapter for yourself here (via Brad DeLong). However, instead of simply listing errors already found by others, I'll focus on why this chapter was possibly written in the first place. (For some background on geo-engineering, read our previous pieces: Climate Change methadone? and Geo-engineering in vogue, Also the Atlantic Monthly "Re-Engineering the Earth" article had a lot of quotes from our own Raypierre).
Paul Krugman probably has the main issue right:
…it looks like is that Levitt and Dubner have fallen into the trap of counterintuitiveness. For a long time, there's been an accepted way for commentators on politics and to some extent economics to distinguish themselves: by shocking the bourgeoisie, in ways that of course aren't really dangerous.
Clever snark like this can get you a long way in career terms — but the trick is knowing when to stop. It's one thing to do this on relatively inconsequential media or cultural issues. But if you're going to get into issues that are both important and the subject of serious study, like the fate of the planet, you'd better be very careful not to stray over the line between being counter-intuitive and being just plain, unforgivably wrong.
Levitt was on NPR at the weekend discussing this chapter (though not defending himself against any of the criticisms leveled above). He made the following two points which I think go to the heart of his thinking on this issue: "Why would anyone be against a cheap fix?" and "No problem has ever been solved by changing human behaviour" (possibly not exact quotes, but close enough). He also alluded to the switch over from horse-driven transport to internal combustion engines a hundred years ago as an example of a 'cheap technological fix' to the horse manure problem. I deal with each of these points in turn.
Is geo-engineering cheap?
The geo-engineering option that is being talked about here is the addition of SO2 to the stratosphere where it oxidises to SO4 (sulphate) aerosols which, since they are reflective, reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. The zeroth order demonstration of this possibility is shown by the response of the climate to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 which caused a maximum 0.5ºC cooling a year or so later. Under business-as-usual scenarios, the radiative forcing we can expect from increasing CO2 by the end of the century are on the order of 4 to 8 W/m2 – requiring the equivalent to one to two Pinatubo's every year if this kind of geo-engineering was the only response. And of course, you couldn't stop until CO2 levels came back down (hundreds, if not thousands of years later) without hugely disruptive and rapid temperature rises. As Deltoid neatly puts it: "What could possibly go wrong?".
The answer is plenty. Alan Robock discussed some of the issues here the last time this came up (umm… weeks ago). The basic issues over and above the costs of delivering the SO2 to the stratosphere are that a) once started you can't stop without much more serious consequences so you are setting up a multi-centennial commitment to continually increasing spending (of course, if you want to stop because of huge disruption that geo-engineering might be causing, then you are pretty much toast), b) there would be a huge need for increased monitoring from the ground and space, c) who would be responsible for any unanticipated or anticipated side effects and how much would that cost?, and d) who decides when, where and how much this is used. For point 'd', consider how difficult it is now to come up with an international agreement on reducing emissions and then ponder the additional issues involved if India or China are concerned that geo-engineering will cause a persistent failure of the monsoon? None of these issues are trivial or cheap to deal with, and yet few are being accounted for in most popular discussions of the issue (including the chapter we are discussing here).
Is geo-engineering a fix?
In a word, no. To be fair, if the planet was a single column with completely homogeneous properties from the surface to the top of the atmosphere and the only free variable was the surface temperature, it would be fine. Unfortunately, the real world (still) has an ozone layer, winds that depend on temperature gradients that cause European winters to warm after volcanic eruptions, rainfall that depends on the solar heating at the surface of the ocean and decreases dramatically after eruptions, clouds that depend on the presence of condensation nuclei, plants that have specific preferences for direct or diffuse light, and marine life that relies on the fact that the ocean doesn't dissolve calcium carbonate near the surface.
The point is that a planet with increased CO2 and ever-increasing levels of sulphates in the stratosphere is not going to be the same as one without either. The problem is that we don't know more than roughly what such a planet would be like. The issues I listed above are the 'known unknowns' – things we know that we don't know (to quote a recent US defense secretary). These are issues that have been raised in existing (very preliminary) simulations. There would almost certainly be 'unknown unknowns' – things we don't yet know that we don't know. A great example of that was the creation of the Antarctic polar ozone hole as a function of the increased amount of CFCs which was not predicted by any model beforehand because the chemistry involved (heterogeneous reactions on the surface of polar stratospheric cloud particles) hadn't been thought about. There will very likely be 'unknown unknowns' to come under a standard business as usual scenario as well – another reason to avoid that too.
There is one further contradiction in the idea that geo-engineering is a fix. In order to proceed with such an intervention one would clearly need to rely absolutely on climate model simulations and have enormous confidence that they were correct (otherwise the danger of over-compensation is very real even if you decided to start off small). As with early attempts to steer hurricanes, the moment the planet did something unexpected, it is very likely the whole thing would be called off. It is precisely because climate modellers understand that climate models do not provide precise predictions that they have argued for a reduction in the forces driving climate change. The existence of a near-perfect climate model is therefore a sine qua non for responsible geo-engineering, but should such a model exist, it would likely alleviate the need for geo-engineering in the first place since we would know exactly what to prepare for and how to prevent it.
Does reducing global warming imply changing human behaviour and is that possible?
This is a more subtle question and it is sensible to break it down into questions of human nature and human actions. Human nature – the desire to strive for a better life, our inability to think rationally when trying to impress the objects of our desire, our natural selfishness and occasionally altruism, etc – is very unlikely to change anytime soon. But none of those attributes require the emission of fossil fuel-derived CO2 into the atmosphere, just as they don't require us to pollute waterways, have lead in gasoline, use ozone-depleting chemicals in spray cans and fridges or let dogs foul the sidewalk. Nonetheless, societies in the developed world (with the possible exception of Paris) have succeeded in greatly reducing those unfortunate actions and it's instructive to see how that happened.
The first thing to note is that these issues have not been dealt with by forcing people to think about the consequences every time they make a decision. Lead in fuel was reduced because of taxation measures that aligned peoples preferences for cheaper fuel with the societal interest in reducing lead pollution. While some early adopters of unleaded-fuel cars might have done it for environmental reasons, the vast majority of people did it first because it was cheaper, and second, because after a while there was no longer an option. The human action of releasing lead into the atmosphere while driving was very clearly changed.
In the 1980s, there were campaigns to raise awareness of the ozone-depletion problem that encouraged people to switch from CFC-propelled spray cans to cans with other propellants or roll-ons etc. While this may have made some difference to CFC levels, production levels were cut to zero by government mandates embedded in the Montreal Protocols and subsequent amendments. No-one needs to think about their spray can destroying the ozone layer any more.
I could go on, but the fundamental issue is that people's actions can and do change all the time as a function of multiple pressures. Some of these are economic, some are ethical, some are societal (think about our changing attitudes towards smoking, domestic violence and drunk driving). Blanket declarations that human behaviour can't possibly change to fix a problem are therefore just nonsense.
To be a little more charitable, it is possible that what was meant was that you can't expect humans to consciously modify their behaviour all the time based on a desire to limit carbon emissions. This is very likely to be true. However, I am unaware of anyone who has proposed such a plan. Instead, almost all existing mitigation ideas rely on aligning individual self-interest with societal goals to reduce emissions – usually by installing some kind of carbon price or through mandates (such as the CAFE standards).
To give a clear example of the difference, let's tackle the problem of leaving lights on in rooms where there is no-one around. This is a clear waste of energy and would be economically beneficial to reduce regardless of the implications for carbon emissions. We can take a direct moralistic approach – strong exhortations to people to always turn the lights off when they leave a room – but this is annoying, possibly only temporary and has only marginal success (in my experience). Alternatively, we can install motion-detectors that turn the lights out if there is no-one around. The cost of these detectors is much lower than cost of the electricity saved and no-one has to consciously worry about the issue any more. No-brainer, right? (As as aside, working out why this isn't done more would be a much better use of Levitt and Dubner's talents). The point is changing outcomes doesn't necessarily mean forcing people to think about the right thing all the time, and that cheap fixes for some problems do indeed exist.
To recap, there is no direct link between what humans actually want to do and the emissions of CO2 or any other pollutant. If given appropriate incentives, people will make decisions that are collectively 'the right thing', while they themselves are often unconscious of that fact. The role of the economist should be to find ways to make that alignment of individual and collective interest easier, not to erroneously declare it can't possibly be done.
What is the real lesson from the horse-to-automobile transition?
Around 1900, horse-drawn transport was the dominant mode of public and private, personal and commercial traffic in most cities. As economic activity was growing, the side-effects of horses' dominance became ever more pressing. People often mention the issue of horse manure – picking it up and disposing of it, it's role in spreading disease, the "intolerable stench" – but as McShane and Tarr explain that the noise and the impact of dead horses in the street were just as troublesome. Add to that the need for so many stables downtown taking up valuable city space, the provisioning of hay etc. it was clear that the benefits of the horse's strength for moving things around came at a great cost.
But in the space of about 20 years all this vanished, to be replaced with electrified trolleys and subways, and internal combustion engine-driven buses and trucks, and cars such as the Model-T Ford. Almost overnight (in societal terms), something that had been at the heart of economic activity had been been relegated to a minority leisure pursuit.
This demonstrates very clearly that assumptions that society must always function the same economic way are false, and that in fact we can change the way we do business and live pretty quickly. This is good news. Of course, this transition was brought about by technological innovations and the switch was decided based on very clear cost-benefit calculations – while cars were initially more expensive than horses, their maintenance costs were less and the side effects (as they were understood at the time) were much less burdensome. Since the city had to tax the productive citizens in order to clear up the consequences of their own economic activity, the costs were being paid by the same people who benefited.
Levitt took this example to imply that technological fixes are therefore the solution to global warming (and the fix he apparently favours is geo-engineering mentioned above), but this is a misreading of the lesson here in at least two ways. Firstly, the switch to cars was not based on a covering up of the manure problem – a fix like that might have involved raised sidewalks, across city perfuming and fly-spraying – but from finding equivalent ways to get the same desired outcome (transport of goods and people) while avoiding undesired side-effects. That is much more analogous to switching to renewable energy sources than implementing geo-engineering.
His second error is in not appreciating the nature of the cost-benefit calculations. Imagine for instance that all of the horse manure and dead carcasses could have been easily swept into the rivers and were only a problem for people significantly downstream who lived in a different state or country. Much of the costs, public health issues, etc. would now be borne by the citizens of the downstream area who would not be benefiting from the economic prosperity of the city. Would the switch to automobiles have been as fast? Of course not. The higher initial cost of cars would only have made sense if the same people who were shelling out for the car would be able to cash in on the benefits of the reduced side effects. This is of course the basic issue we have with CO2. The people benefiting from fossil fuel based energy are not those likely to suffer from the consequences of CO2 emissions.
The correct lesson is in fact the same as the one mentioned above: if costs and benefits can be properly aligned (the 'internalising of the externalities' in economist-speak), societies and individuals can and will make the 'right' decisions, and this can lead to radical changes in very short periods of time. Thus far from being an argument for geo-engineering, this example is an object lesson in how economics might shape future decisions and society.
To conclude, the reasons why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering so much are based on a misreading of the science, a misrepresentation of proposed solutions, and truly bizarre interpretations of how environmental problems have been dealt with in the past. These are, in the end, much worse errors than their careless misquotes and over-eagerness to shock highlighted by the other critiques. Geo-engineering is neither cheap, nor a fix, and the reasons why it is very likely to be a bad idea are ethical and legal, much more than its still-uncertain scientific merits.
• This article was shared by our content partner RealClimate, part of the Guardian Environment Network

India 'may accept' greenhouse gas cuts ahead of climate change summit

India may yet accept Western demands to make cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as part of its campaign for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, according to a leaked letter from its environment minister.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi Published: 4:14PM BST 19 Oct 2009
In the letter to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, Jairam Ramesh warned that India should play a constructive role in negotiations to strike a new deal to tackle climate change at the Copenhagen summit in December.
India should break away from the G77 group of developing nations pushing for greater financial aid to tackle climate change and play a bigger role with other developed countries in the G20, he said.

Failure to engage as a "dealmaker" would damage India's dreams of permanent membership of the UN Security Council and formal acknowledgement of its status as a global power.
Mr Ramesh's proposal marks a dramatic change of heart which, if accepted by his prime minister, could improve the chances of a climate change deal being struck at Copenhagen.
Until now India has argued that Western decadence and decades of industrial development were to blame for climate change, and that developed countries should pay for its impact in countries like India where floods and droughts have wreaked havoc.
Ministers had contrasted India's greenhouse gas levels as "survival emissions" with the West's "luxury emissions".
It has rejected all suggestions that it should reduce its growing emissions by adopting new clean and renewable energy production rather than continue its dependence on coal-fired power stations.
In the letter, which was leaked to the Times of India newspaper, Mr Ramesh said: "India must listen more and speak less in negotiations" because its position is "disfavoured by the developed countries, small island states and vulnerable countries. It takes away from India's aspirations for permanent membership of the Security Council."

Old-Fashioned Energy Play

Forget windmills. Investing in Drax, owner of a 35-year-old British coal-fired power plant, could be a savvier way to profit from Europe's efforts to cut carbon-dioxide emissions.
Sound far-fetched? Not when considering the skewed incentives and lack of certainty in the EU's policy of reducing CO2 emissions 20% by 2020 partly through ensuring renewable energy meets 20% of demand.
The chief uncertainty surrounds the EU's emissions-trading system, which has led to volatile and unexpectedly low prices, below €15 ($22) a ton, less than half last year's peak. There is no visibility on what carbon will cost after 2020. That is a serious issue given the life of a new power plant is measured in decades, and new technology -- such as carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) -- is years from commercialization.
Unless governments address the uncertainty pushing up the cost of capital for new low-CO2 generation, too little capacity may be built to meet future demand and environmental targets. The recession has simply delayed the crunch, because it has also deterred new investment. In the U.K., plans for two new coal-fired power stations were suspended last week and with them opportunities to test CCS technology.
The U.K. may need 22 gigawatts of new capacity by 2020, and not just to replace aging facilities. Extra capacity will have to be built if wind is to provide a fifth of energy supply, because it is an intermittent power source. Should enthusiasm for wind wane, the double-digit earnings multiples windmill-makers like Gamesa, Vestas Wind Systems and Nordex are trading on may prove too high.
Extending the life of existing plants looks the likely way to ensure the lights don't go out in the U.K. and other countries, requiring politicians to rethink policy. Take Germany's tentative re-evaluation of nuclear power and Belgium's recent decision to delay nuclear decommissioning by a decade.
Should this happen in the U.K., it would benefit Drax because, as a low-cost, pure-play supplier meeting 7% of domestic demand, it is highly geared to any life-extension. The slump in U.K. energy prices this year has left Drax with an enterprise value of just five times 2010 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. That is barely half the level enjoyed by its bigger utility and renewable-energy rivals. Barring an environmental-policy shakeup, "yesterday's" technology is starting to look unjustly undervalued.
Write to Matthew Curtin at matthew.curtin@dowjones.com

Longyuan Aims to Raise up to $1 Billion

HONG KONG -- China Longyuan Power Group Corp., the country's largest producer of electricity generated by wind power, plans to raise up to US$1 billion in a Hong Kong initial public offering before the end of this year, a person familiar with the situation said Monday.
The Beijing-based company plans to use the proceeds to boost its capacity to meet rising demand in China for cleaner energy, said the person, who declined to be named.
China is one of the world's largest investors in renewable energy, as part of its long-term plan to replace coal and oil with cleaner fuels.
Longyuan -- the renewable-energy arm of China Guodian, one of China's five biggest state-owned power generators by capacity -- said in June it accounted for 25% of China's wind-power producing capacity, with a power generation capacity of 3,000 megawatts.
It said earlier it planned to boost its capacity to 6,000 megawatts by 2010 and to 20,000 megawatts by 2020.
The person familiar with the situation said Longyuan's shares could begin trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange by early December.
Longyuan will join a number of other wind energy companies listed in the city, though none of them can match Longyuan's scale or the level of its state support.
Shares in China WindPower Group Ltd. have more than tripled since the start of this year. China WindPower, which made a backdoor listing in April 2007, said in July it aimed to boost its wind power capacity to about 600 megawatts by March 2010, and to 2,000 megawatts by March 2012.
Morgan Stanley and UBS AG are handling Longyuan's planned IPO, the person said.
Write to Yvonne Lee at yvonne.lee@wsj.com

Prescott attacks windpower 'nimbys'

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, will today launch a ferocious attack on the “landowners and nimbys” who he says are holding up the installation of wind farms across Britain and thus hindering the fight against climate change.
In unashamed class-warrior style, Mr Prescott lashes out at opponents of windpower who successfully block planning applications for wind turbines because they may spoil their “chocolate box view”. He will tell the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) at its annual conference in Liverpool: “We cannot let the squires and the gentry stop us meeting our moral obligation to pass this world on in a better state to our children and our children's children.”
Mr Prescott, who played a key role in brokering the Kyoto Protocol, the current international climate treaty, in 1997, has now taken up a new and vocal role as the rapporteur on climate change for the Council of Europe, and been touring schools recently lecturing on the dangers of global warming.
He is addressing the BWEA today as it announces that the UK’s installed windpower capacity has now reached four gigawatts, enough to power all the 2.3m homes in Scotland. (A gigawatt is roughly the output of a big coal-fired power station.)
It took 14 years, until 2005 for the first GW of wind energy capacity to be installed, but only 20 months to the 2nd GW and 18 months to the 3rd, while industry experts predict that next year will see the installation of both the 5th and the 6th GW in quick succession, as Britain moves to meet its target of 30GW of wind power by 2020.
However, as much as nine gigawatts of wind capacity is currently stalled in the planning system, and approvals for wind farms are only running at 25 per cent of applications.
“Time and time again,” Mr Prescott says, "We see ambitious and worthy wind turbine applications defeated by a vocal minority of landowners and nimbys. They hire professional consultants to delay, obstruct and ultimately defeat these applications.
"It's all very well arguing that a wind turbine might spoil the chocolate box view for a few homeowners. But did these same people campaign against the mobile phone masts that allow them to call locals to organize their protests? Did they moan about the pylons that bring electricity to their hamlets to power their computers that sent out emails to lobby the councils against wind farm applications? Of course they didn't! They accepted them because they were necessary."
He adds: "The government has developed a strategy for the UK's contribution towards a global solution to climate change. It has created national and global policies but it also requires the successful delivery of this strategy at a local level. It is absolutely scandalous that three quarters of applications are now being refused - the highest it's ever been."
Mr Prescott suggests that in future, local authorities should be compelled to designate areas for the development of wind farms. The Government should "encourage the delivery of renewable targets at the local level," he says, adding: "This could work in a similar way to waste recycling legislation whereby a planning authority would face a sanction if it missed its targets."
Mr Prescott is stoking a row that flared up last March when the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, said that opposition to wind farms should become as socially unacceptable as failing to wear a seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing. He was roundly criticised by anti-wind campaigners, not least James Lovelock, the celebrated environmental scientist and founder of the Gaia theory of the earth as a single organism, who said that Mr Miliband's comments were an erosion of freedom and "near to what I see as fascism."
Mr Prescott is undeterred by such comments. He says today that "the squires and the gentry" have "had it their way for far too long," adding "So let me tell them loud and clear: it's not your backyard anymore- it's ours!"

I'd choose nuclear power over a climate crash. But will the government grow up and clean its mess up?

Nuclear power is our only workable low-carbon energy source but what will we do with the waste – and who will pay for it?
There's little doubt that nuclear power could be produced safely and cleanly. There's also little doubt that it seldom has been. The contrast between the way things are and the way they should be threatens to split the environmental movement from top to bottom.
The movement has many roots, but one is the terror of nuclear weapons in the 1960s, and the recognition that the atomic power industry in its early days was little more than a cover for weapons manufacture. "Nuclear power – no thanks" was the defining slogan of the older generation of greens. It a rational response to the greatest threat to life on Earth. Their continuing repulsion was justified by a shocking series of accidents and leaks, not only at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, but also at Dounreay, Sellafield and many other sites.
Today, while the threat of nuclear war hasn't disappeared, it is less urgent than the prospect of climate breakdown. The two industries – weapons and power – were split up (though in reality long after it came into force) by the Euratom treaty and modern reactor designs are much safer than their predecessors. As nuclear energy produces less carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than coal or gas, and as uranium mining, though hideous, causes less damage than opencast coal, the argument has changed. Now the issue comes down to this: whether the nuclear waste will be disposed of safely, and whether it can it be done without the massive use of state funds.
Until the government chooses a site and produces detailed plans for a nuclear waste repository, neither question can be answered. To commission a new generation of nuclear power stations before we know what will happen to the waste we already have offends the most basic environmental principle: you don't make a new mess before you've cleared up the old one.
There's no mystery about how it should be done. No argument against a deep repository in a geologically stable rock formation withstands examination. The notion that some future generation might accidentally dig up our nuclear waste pile is preposterous: if our descendants possess the knowledge and technology required to mine through thousands of metres of backfill and break through all the layers of defence to find this worthless treasure, they would also possess the knowledge and technology required to understand the warning signs.
Nor do I have a problem, unlike some Guardian colleagues, with the notion of shoring up the carbon price, to allow this or any other low-carbon technology to become viable. The price of carbon has always been an artefact of policy, and the absence of a floor price – below which it cannot fall – is a persistent impediment to green investment of all kinds. If the government really intends to guarantee that the price will be €30 or more, as reported in yesterday's Guardian, this is something we should welcome: it cannot assist the nuclear industry in this way without also assisting the renewable and energy-saving industries.
Ideally it would simply set the carbon floor price, lay down the wider environmental criteria, then let the different technologies fight it out.
But the persistent trouble with nuclear power – like any other potentially polluting industry – is that doing things the right way is expensive, while doing them the wrong way is cheap. My newfound complacency about nuclear power – it's ugly, but not nearly as bad as a global climate crash – was shaken by the discovery last month of a shipwreck off the coast of Italy. The ship was one of 42 believed to have been scuttled by the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. Most were sunk off the coast of Somalia.
The wreck appears to be stuffed to the gunwhales with Norwegian nuclear waste, despite the fact Norway has some of the strictest environmental regulations on Earth. The UN has pointed out that it costs roughly 400 times as much to dispose of dangerous waste legally as it costs to look the other way. The temptation to cut corners often proves overwhelming. I would choose nuclear power over coal, and nuclear dumping over climate breakdown, but I would rather have neither.