Wednesday, 21 October 2009

EU Dodges Decision on Climate

LUXEMBOURG -- European Union finance ministers failed to agree on how to fund the fight against climate change, passing the issue to EU leaders, who will meet later this month.
Climate change led the agenda of the 27-nation bloc's monthly finance gathering.
The EU is preparing the bloc's negotiating position for the global summit in Copenhagen in December.
The contribution of rich countries to the financial burden of poorer nations struggling to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and limit the effects of climate change is instrumental to a global deal.
However, EU governments are fighting over how much they should have to give.
Former communist bloc countries such as Poland don't want to give much at all, while Sweden pleads for generosity.
Others, such as Italy, argue it would be better not to flag a precise number before the last stage of the negotiations in Copenhagen, as this would limit Europe's room for maneuvering.
"It is a disappointing outcome, that we weren't able to reach an agreement," said Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg.
The European Commission, the bloc's executive office, says developing countries are likely to need €100 billion ($149 billion) a year by 2020 to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, such as increased floods.
Without a deal Tuesday, EU leaders will have to talk hard to find an accord when they meet in Brussels on Oct. 29-30.
The EU, which is urging rich countries to cut emissions 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, wants two parameters -- total pollution and national wealth -- to determine how to divide the global cost of paying for climate-change action.
Write to Alessandro Torello at

Combating climate change costs money

Forget the unfair system of carbon credits. Poorer countries need financial help to the annual tune of $200bn
Andy Atkins, Tuesday 20 October 2009 13.30 BST

The world's major economies – and also the world's largest polluters – met in London this week. Some of these countries of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) are long-term, hardcore fossil fuel addicts – rich countries including the US, UK and the rest of Europe – while developing countries are only just getting a taste for high-carbon development. Gordon Brown is right that world leaders must engage seriously in securing a strong and fair agreement and that action must be taken now. The question, of course, is how.
It is clear what needs to happen to get things moving again. The main sticking point is cash. The rich countries of the MEF have already accepted they must provide money to enable developing countries to grow cleanly and adapt to the effects of climate change already putting millions of lives at risk. It's time for them to stop shirking their responsibility to do so and put real money on the table – at least $200bn annually – to show we're serious about enabling the massive transformation to the clean future we'll be in deep trouble without.
So far, the government has pushed for much of this money to be supplied by a global market in carbon credits – yet this will allow rich countries to offload the burden of cutting carbon emissions on to the world's poorest while generating huge profits for banks, investment funds and financiers piling into a "climate cash cow".
At the same time, rich countries have been pushing for these funds to be managed by the World Bank – an institution that they control, as well as the largest multilateral lender for fossil fuel projects in the world. Developing countries are right not to trust that this will deliver finance fairly. Providing this money through a UN framework is the only fair and transparent way to ensure this money makes a real difference on the ground.
The MEF countries must take responsibility for the fact that they have caused climate change, and lead in cutting their emissions first and fast, by at least 40% by 2020 – and without carbon offsetting, a con that just means avoiding taking real action through dodgy accounting.
It's now only a matter of weeks before the UN talks in Copenhagen begin. The price to pay for failure to the world's poorest people is vast and growing daily. The cost to the culprits for climate change, the world's richest, is not. Money talks – and right now cold, hard cash will go further than anything else to get us the strong and fair agreement we need.
As part of Friends of the Earth's Demand Climate Change campaign, it is asking everyone to sign its international petition to world leaders for a strong and fair climate deal at

Nissan to Begin Recycling Electric-Car Batteries

TOKYO—Nissan Motor Co. and Sumitomo Corp. said they will establish a joint venture to recycle lithium-ion electric car batteries.
The recycling effort could give Nissan an early lead in the fledgling market for electric cars by making its vehicles more affordable.
The venture will enable the Japanese automobile manufacturer to lower the prices of its zero-emission vehicles by taking into account the resale value of their batteries, Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said.
"This is a scheme that will make it easier for customers to use electric cars," said Mr. Shiga, whose company will launch its Leaf electric car in the U.S., Japan and Europe next year.
For Sumitomo, the partnership offers the Japanese trading house an opportunity to broaden the scope of its automobile-related business, which ranges from supplying raw materials for batteries to leasing cars.
The joint venture is Nissan's latest push to catch up with rivals enjoying brisk sales of fuel-efficient cars, such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. and their gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.
Nissan currently sells hybrid cars equipped with hybrid technology from Toyota, and plans to market a model next year powered by its own hybrid system.
The recycled batteries will be used to store energy received via photovoltaic solar panels on residential and industrial devices, for instance, or to store back-up power, Nissan's Mr. Shiga said.
In Japan, demand for such recycled batteries is expected to reach the equivalent of at least 50,000 electric cars a year by 2020, Nissan and Sumitomo said.
The lithium-ion batteries Nissan uses retain 70% to 80% of their residual capacity, even after their average lifetime of 10 years in an electric car, said Hideaki Watanabe, general manager of Nissan's global zero emission business unit.
Nissan President and Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn reiterated Monday that it will take time for electric cars to reach the mass market, but that he expects them to account for 10% of global vehicle sales by 2020.
Nissan operates a joint venture with NEC Corp. to produce lithium-ion batteries for its electric cars.
Write to Yoshio Takahashi at

More Governments Power Electric-Car Development

Governments are pumping more money into electric car projects, hoping the new vehicles can be part of the solution to major problems from global warming to dependence on oil.
China, the U.S. and France are among the governments that have so far pledged to spend up to $15 billion in the next five years in tax incentives, levies, subsidies and consumer bonuses to help car companies develop electric cars, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

The aid is crucial to car makers' chances of success in turning electric cars into mass-market products. At the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens to the media on Wednesday, Nissan Motor Co. plans to unveil a new electric car resembling a scooter. It is also aiming for 20,000 orders of another electric car, the Leaf, in the U.S. next year.
But car makers are being held back by the high cost of developing and running them -- and the technical difficulty of keeping them charged. It's a chicken-and-egg challenge facing many new mass-market products: Consumers will buy electric cars only when they are cheap and convenient enough to use, but that will happen only if lots of people buy the vehicles. So governments are trying to kick-start the market.
"Government help is absolutely imperative at least over the next few years," says Mitsuhiko Yamashita, Nissan's head of technology and product development. "Without those incentives, the electric-battery car is not going to be accepted in the marketplace anytime soon and anywhere around the world."
Policy makers say governments like the idea of electric vehicles because regular gas automobiles depend on oil that is often imported and is a major cause of carbon-dioxide emissions, which they have pledged to cut.
Honda Motor Co.'s EV-N, a compact electric car that looks like a conventional engine-driven vehicle, is actually powered by lithium-ion batteries.
By giving financial aid, governments are also giving their car makers a head start in a potentially big future industry.
Past attempts to commercialize electric vehicles have floundered. The batteries cost too much, running out hours before the cars had driven very far and then taking hours to recharge.
Recently, technology has improved. Concept electric cars aimed at the mass market claim to be able to run about 100 miles on a single charge thanks to new battery technology. The cost of batteries is still way too high, however, costing some $10,000 each. Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has put a small electric car on sale at four million yen, or more than $40,000, but is losing money even at that price.
"The most important thing that governments do is to give signals to consumers for what the expectation is for adoption of electric vehicles in the future -- like an announcement to get off oil," says Shai Agassi, chief executive of Better Place PLC, which is developing recharging and battery-swapping stations in Israel and Denmark.
The main way governments are contributing to electric-car development is through consumer incentives. France has announced a €5,000 bonus ($7,500) for buyers of cars with very low emissions, and it slaps a penalty tax on gas-guzzlers. China is running a 20 billion yuan incentive program ($2.9 billion) for public and service-sector vehicles, such as buses, taxis and government-use vehicles. In Japan, central and local government subsidies will amount to $10,000 per car in some cases.
Israel taxes cars that use gasoline by as much as 92% of their value, but it has reduced the tax to 10% for electric cars. Denmark levies a tax of more than the price of the car for some vehicles, but will reduce this to zero for electric models.
The U.S. government earlier this year offered $2.4 billion in grants to develop green auto technology.
Write to Sebastian Moffett at and Norihiko Shirouzu at

UN report slams existing biofuel policies

Planting on abandoned land may not be as beneficial to environment as previously thought. From, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Tuesday 20 October 2009 17.08 BST
A more sophisticated approach needs to be taken towards the development of biofuels if the emerging industry is to ensure it does not damage the environment, according to a major new UN report released last week.
The report, the first by the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, concludes that some first-generation biofuels, such as ethanol produced from sugar cane, can deliver net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It calculates that extracting ethanol from sugar cane, as currently practiced in countries such as Brazil, can lead to emission reductions of between 70 per cent, and more than 100 per cent when the fuel is substituted for petrol.
But it also echoes previous studies that warned some biofuels are leading to net increases in carbon emissions, calculating that the use of biodiesel from palm oil plantations grown on deforested peatlands, for example, results in greenhouse gas emissions that are up to 2,000 per cent greater than those generated from fossil fuels.
In addition, the report states categorically that biofuel adoption targets in developed countries, such as the UK's Renewable Fuel Transport Obligation, are contributing to land use changes in developing countries - a position long held by environmental groups that have argued that biofuel demand is indirectly contributing to deforestation in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.
The report estimates that globally between 118 and 508 million hectares of cropland would be needed to meet 10 per cent of worldwide transport fuel demand by 2030 if first-generation biofuels are used.
Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme, argued there was a need for a more sophisticated debate on biofuel use, saying they are neither a panacea nor a pariah.
"On one level it is a debate about which energy crops to grow and where, and about the way different countries and biofuel companies promote and manage the production and conversion of plant materials for energy purposes," he said. "On another level it is a choice about how humanity best manages its finite land bank and balances a range of competing interests in a world of six billion people, rising to more than nine billion by 2050."
The report notes that generating electricity at local power stations using wood, straw, seed oils and other crop or waste materials "is generally more energy efficient that converting biomass to liquid fuels". And it argues that while using abandoned land to produce energy crops is preferable to clearing virgin land for plantations, it is often more efficient still to use abandoned land for reforestation or solar power projects.
"Using abandoned or so-called waste land for biofuels might be a sensible option, but it may also have implications for biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions might be better cut by forestry schemes," the report states.
Additionally, it warns that higher fuel efficiency standards and the development of alternative technologies, such as plug-in vehicles, could dramatically reduce emissions from the transport sector without the need for biofuels.
Despite its implicit criticism of the EU's plans to increase use of biofuels, the report was welcomed by Timo Mäkelä of the European Commission, who said it would help in the design and implementation of new targets and sustainability criteria for the use of biofuels.
• This article was shared by our content partner, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Nuclear industry: Crumbling stores, leaky plants and the dangers of old age

Terry Macalister, Tuesday 20 October 2009 19.48 BST
Dealing with the problems of old age lies at the heart of the nuclear industry's challenge to convince the public of its safety: leaky power plants, crumbling waste stores nearing the end of their lives and overworked inspectors who do not have the time to assess properly the next generation of power stations.
Even with billions of pounds a year being poured into clean-up operations, it is a toxic legacy going back to the cold war that continually threatens to undermine the facelift given by the new private sector companies. The companies, mainly from France and Germany, have joined the government to try to convince the public it is time for a nuclear renaissance, on both energy security and climate change grounds. In recent days the industry watchdog, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), has admitted that the possibility of a serious accident at Britain's biggest nuclear complex, Sellafield in Cumbria, is still "far too high", while questioning the safety designs of new reactors being submitted for approval.
The private sector managers who took over at Sellafield less than a year ago have been told in a letter that they should reduce the risks at the radioactive storage pond dubbed "Dirty 30" and elsewhere as soon as possible.
The harsh assessment by the NII was revealed by one of its inspectors, Mark Foy, at a meeting of local stakeholders who live around the area of the plant. "We are concerned that the risk of a major event caused by further degradation of legacy plants, or increased time at risk due to deferrals, is far too high," said Foy. "We have written to Sellafield Ltd to advise that every effort should be given to addressing and reducing the risks at the earliest possibility."
The warning comes months after the Observer revealed an internal NII report that detailed 1,767 leaks, breakdowns and other mishaps around the atomic industry over the last seven years. While most were small in nature they are nonetheless worrying and undermine the cheerful message from the Nuclear Industry Association that safety of UK plants is "second to none".
Sellafield itself was fined £2m in 2006 after 80,000 tonnes of acid contaminated with 20 tonnes of uranium and 160kg of plutonium escaped from a broken pipe into what it calls "secondary containment". The fine was relatively heavy because the leak was going on for eight months before it was detected.
Sellafield is now being run by Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of Areva of France, URL Washington Group of the US and Amex of Britain. They have let it be known privately that they expect to make some £10m each this year as bonus payments under the contract they hold for clearing up the site and reducing costs. They said safety took "the highest priority" at Sellafield, but they admit that decommissioning is a slow process and any delays could leave the risk there "unacceptable".
The admonishment from the NII is a particular embarrassment for Areva, which has run into trouble with the same organisation over the approval of its European Pressurised Reactor design. The largely state-owned French power company EDF wants to build four new EPRs in Britain, but the NII, part of the Health and Safety Executive, is questioning the design's safety.
"We have serious concern about your proposal, which allows lower safety class systems or manual controls to [override] higher safety class systems," it says in a letter, suggesting the operating and safety mechanisms should be able to operate independently. Finnish regulators have also questioned this aspect of an EPR being built at Olkiluoto.
The NII is questioning both Areva and a rival company, Westinghouse, about how their designs would stand up to a 9/11-style attack from the air.
Nuclear industry executives recognise the importance of public confidence over safety and security but remain aware of the long shadows cast by the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents in the 1980s and 1990s, which destroyed public confidence.
In the UK, Sellafield, then-called Windscale, suffered a significant fire in 1957, but the many hundreds of minor accidents since have kept concern high.
The Environment Agency this year won a prosecution of Magnox Electric Ltd for allowing a radioactive leak to continue for 14 years without being detected at the Bradwell plant in Essex. Mike Weightman, the head of the NII, said at the time it was simply not possible to "inspect or check every feature of a complex plant".
However, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the "HSE has struggled to recruit sufficient nuclear safety inspectors." There are currently 166 staff but the requirement for regulating existing facilities is 192. "This would leave the NII with one of the lowest ratios of inspectors to plant in the world," Weightman admitted in a report. Furthermore, to assess new reactor designs, Weightman says he needs a further 36 inspectors, to bring the complement up to 228 by 2011.
Another issue is that a quarter of all British nuclear inspectors will be over 60 within the next "two to three years", said the NII. But it is not just the personnel that are growing old.
"Ageing issues apply across all areas of existing nuclear plant," said the report, Briefing on the Nuclear Programme, which was drafted in January but later amended. In particular, "Sellafield continues to provide significant challenge, especially in the operational fragility of some of its radioactive waste treatment plant and the lack of progress in decommissioning the highly hazardous redundant plant".
The document also shows the number of "safety events" across the years. The total is 1,767 but 1,292 are on the lowest scale of risk under the International Nuclear Event Scale, a safety classification developed post-Chernobyl. Five of them come under the second-highest ranking and almost half – 858 – were judged to have been serious enough "to have had the potential to challenge a nuclear safety system".
A DECC spokesman said: "The UK's nuclear safety regime is acknowledged to be one of the most stringent in the world, and the UK nuclear industry has a strong safety record. The same rigour will apply to a new generation of nuclear power. There is no room for complacency and the fact that all incidents, however minor, are reported to the authorities and the public is a sign of a rigorous, transparent safety regime."
Additional reporting by Rob Edwards

Alistair Darling to call for EU fund to help poor nations cut emissions

• Chancellor to push member states to commit to €10bn a year• US to be urged to match the European contribution
Ashley Seager, Tuesday 20 October 2009 11.49 BST
The European Union should commit €10bn (£9.1bn) a year in direct funding to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change and reduce their emissions, Alistair Darling will say today.
The chancellor will use a regular meeting in Luxembourg with his counterparts from across the EU to urge them to contribute to new funding ahead of the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. Britain will commit €1bn and wants the funding to be delivered by existing institutions, such as the World Bank.
Darling wants developed countries to agree to firm commitments ahead of the Copenhagen conference to convince developing countries the rest of the world is serious about supporting them to meet emissions targets.
"It's in every country's interest that we agree tough action on climate change at the Copenhagen conference in December. As the prime minister has said, there are now fewer than 50 days to set the course for that action.
"We need to recognise there are responsibilities on both sides. Europe must play a critical role both by showing leadership and by bringing developed and developing nations together around a common action plan."
Darling's call for €10bn would represent the EU's contribution to at least €30bn in direct public funding for developing countries, with the chancellor intending to call for the US to match the EU contribution. Britain estimates the developing world will need at least €100bn a year by 2020, if it is to meet recommended minimum targets to cut emissions to 50% of 1990 levels by 2050.
While the richest countries currently account for 75% of emissions, more than 90% of future emissions growth will come from developing countries.
The UK estimates that of the €100bn needed, €50bn could come from carbon markets with another €15bn to €20bn from richer developing countries, such as China
The call comes ahead of the G20 finance ministers' meeting in St Andrews, Scotland early next month, where the UK will try to hammer out a consensus on a small number of options for climate finance – with the US and China expected to be the most difficult to win over.

Tories wobble on 10:10 at local level

Forty-seven local councils have shown support for the 10:10 campaign, but only six are led by Tories
Blue water between the Tories and almost every other political party in the UK is getting clearer and clearer if the local council sign-ups to the 10:10 campaign are anything to go by.
At a national level, the cabinet and the Tory and Lib Dem front benches signed up. So far, so good for our national politicians. After the Lib Dems passed a motion at conference to encourage its councils to commit to reducing carbon emissions 10% in 2010, Ed Miliband urged Labour councils to join.
But so far, out of all the 47 councils that have either joined or are thinking about joining, only six of them are Tory-led. This comes as a surprise, given the Tory party's exuberant greenery. Last Friday, David Cameron made an impassioned speech to the Sustainable Consumption Institute, stressing the importance of council action in reducing emissions from consumers.
Alexis Rowell, the 10:10 coordinator for councils, claims that councillors in Surrey, North Yorkshire and Westminster have declined to join. And yes, their common colour is blue. "When 10:10 was launched," he said, "David Cameron and the Tory shadow cabinet were very quick to get on board. But there's a real disconnect between the shadow cabinet and Tory-run councils. On the ground, we're getting the sense that the Tories don't give two hoots about climate change."
Franny Armstrong, founder of the 10:10 campaign, has expressed surprise at the lack of Tory sign-ups: "I think the phenomenal support for 10:10 shows that Britain is ready to take much stronger action on climate change."
"I'm disappointed that the Tories, who have made such positive strides on environmental policy, are acting as a roadblock to the campaign locally when their leadership has been so publicly supportive of 10:10."
But more evidence has emerged to suggest that the shadow cabinet's enthusiasm for 10:10 is not repeated at local level. Last Wednesday, Tory members of the London assembly walked out of a 10:10 motion brought by Lib Dem leader Mike Tuffrey.
Tuffrey said that it was "surprising and deplorable" that the Tory assembly members walked out, along with a British National party member. "I can only presume they walked out because they didn't want to be seen to be against it. London ought to be leading on this."
But the London assembly Tories deny they walked out to make the assembly inquorate and therefore unable to vote.
The deputy leader of the Conservative group, James Cleverly, said: "It was not a ploy. The meeting was a mayor's question time, and the assembly had finished questioning him. The substantive part of the meeting was over and various members had other diary commitments. This vote would have contributed nothing to the scrutiny of the mayor, so we left."

GM research is needed urgently to avoid food crisis, says Royal Society

GM techniques will help crops survive harsher climates, as populations grow and global warming worsens, says report
David Adam, Environment correspondent, Wednesday 21 October 2009
Research to develop genetically modified crops must be stepped up as part of a £2bn "grand challenge" to avoid future food shortages, an influential panel of scientists said yesterday. In its report, the Royal Society said that GM techniques would be needed to boost yields and help crops survive harsher climates, as the global population rises and global warming worsens.
But the report said GM was not the only answer, and that measures to improve crop management, such as improved irrigation, were needed too.
Professor David Baulcombe, a plant scientist at the University of Cambridge who chaired the study, said: "We need to take action now to stave off food shortages. If we wait even five to 10 years, it may be too late. Biological science has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last decade and UK scientists have been at the head of the pack when it comes to topics related to food crops. In the UK we have the potential to come up with viable scientific solutions for feeding a growing population and we have a responsibility to realise this potential. There's a very clear need for policy action and publicly funded science to make sure this happens."
The Royal Society said the government should reverse a decay in agricultural research in Britain and spend at least £200m each year for the next 10 years on science that improves crops and sustainable crop management.
The report said the changing diets of people around the world, the likely impact of climate change and growing scarcity of water and land made it harder to increase food production to meet an expected rise in global population of 3 billion by the mid-century. Production methods would need to sustain the environment, preserve natural resources and support the livelihoods of farmers and rural populations around the world, it added.
The report came as John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the government, said a "range of solutions" would be needed to feed a growing world population.
Baulcombe added: "There is no panacea for ensuring global food security. Science-based approaches introduced alongside social science and economic innovations are essential if we're to have a decent chance of feeding the world's population in 40 years' time. Technologies that work on a farm in the UK may have little impact for harvests in Africa. Research is going to need to take into account a diverse range of crops, localities, cultures and numerous other circumstances."
Anti-GM campaigners criticised the report, which they said was at odds with a separate report on future food production produced last year by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which said there was little role for GM, as currently practised, in feeding the poor on a large scale.
Kirtana Chandrasekaran of Friends of the Earth said: "Science has a key role to play in reducing hunger and poverty, but the report's focus on GM crops ignores mounting evidence that this technology is failing. GM crops are an extension of big-business factory farming that is already wiping out wildlife, destroying communities and making climate change worse. Any attempt to combat the global food crisis must also address its root causes, such as industrial livestock production and a narrow focus on increasing yields."
Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, said: "They get ahead of themselves by demanding £2bn more for science. That's exactly the kind of decision that should be up for wider debate. The money might be better spent tackling the social and economic problems that affect whether growing more food makes a jot of difference to food security."
Julian Little, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which represents GM crop companies, said: "Farmers must be given access to all the proven tools available to help them produce more food in a more sustainable way. This should include advanced crop breeding using biotechnology and GM methods, which are already being used by more than 13 million farmers around the world and helping to deliver higher and more reliable crop yields while mitigating major threats to crop production, such as damaging effects of pests, diseases and droughts."