Thursday, 22 October 2009

Discussions on Climate Could Fail, Beijing Says

BEIJING -- A senior Chinese climate-talks negotiator said efforts to broker a global climate-change deal may fail unless developed countries change their demands before a planned December summit in Copenhagen.
The comments by Lu Xuedu, deputy director of China's National Climate Center, added to fears that a growing divide between richer and poorer nations -- laid bare in preliminary talks in Bangkok several weeks ago -- is hurting prospects for an agreement.
"If the trend can't be turned around in the next round of meetings, I estimate the Copenhagen meeting can only fail," Mr. Lu said.
Mr. Lu pointed to the push by developed countries to discard the Kyoto Protocol and to set binding emission cut targets for developing countries as the most distressing message that emerged in the Bangkok round of talks. Under the Kyoto Protocol, whose mandated cuts expire in 2012, developed countries agreed to legally binding cuts, but the U.S. declined to ratify the treaty, and the limits didn't apply to developing countries.
"The developed countries sent out this message" that they are seeking binding cuts, Mr. Lu said. He called the message "shocking" and said it had angered developing countries.
Meanwhile, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Chinese President Hu Jintao told U.S. President Barack Obama in a phone call that a climate deal had to include the terms covered by the Kyoto Protocol.
Negotiators from more than 180 countries have been struggling since last year to hammer out a framework for a new climate-control deal to be signed at the United Nations Copenhagen conference to be held Dec. 7-18.

Europe offers to cut emissions 95% by 2050 if deal reached at Copenhagen

EU sends 'clear message' to the world with ambitious target
Ian Traynor in Brussels, Wednesday 21 October 2009 17.31 BST
Europe attempted to reassert its international leadership in the fight against global warming today, offering to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95% by 2050 and by 30% by 2020 if a climate change pact is sealed in Copenhagen in six weeks' time.
"This should be seen as a clear message to the world," said Andreas Carlgren, the Swedish environment minister who chaired the Luxembourg meeting. "We expect to reach an agreement in Copenhagen," he added, after environment ministers from 27 countries finalised a common EU negotiating position.
But his optimism contrasted with the increasing doubts around the world enough time remains to deliver a binding agreement in Copenhagen. The EU also still has to settle disputes over the EU's carbon trading scheme and how the developing world will be paid to cope with the impacts of global warming.
Yesterday, European finance ministers failed to agree on a funding package for developing countries, with Poland and other poorer eastern European countries unhappy at being asked to subsidise action in countries such as China and India whose economies are growing strongly. Poland is also leading the dissent on the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The EU negotiating position offers to slash greenhouse gas emissions by between 80-95% by 2050 and to deepen cuts from 20 to 30% by 2020 if other world powers sign up for similar action. The ministers said they also reached accord on tough action on deforestation and agreed that aviation would have to cut its emissions by 10% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels and shipping by 20%.
However, reluctance from the big players – the US, China, and India – to unveil targets or specific figures for a climate change pact, the EU was divided over tactics ahead of the UN conference in Copenhagen in December.
Germany and Italy were reluctant to name a figure publicly so early, believing this could weaken the European bargaining position.
"I've heard arguments about tactics," said Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment. "But by telling the decision now, we encourage other countries to come with their proposals. We don't gain anything by not reaching a decision."
Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands supported this view, believing that Europe had more to gain from playing pioneer and seizing the leadership in the run-up to Copenhagen.
"Environment ministers are determined that the EU maintains its leadership position on climate change in order to promote an ambitious deal at Copenhagen," said Ed Miliband, the UK energy and climate change secretary.
Carlgren said Warsaw's proposal for changes to the ETS, which Poland thinks unfairly penalises its coal-dependent economy, was "unacceptable" to many members. Dimas added that without a breakthrough, there could be a "collapse" of the ETS, which the Europeans see as the vanguard of a potential worldwide carbon cap-and-trade system.
Leaders will meet at a summit in Brussels next week to hammer out the finances package for the developing countries, expected to total €15bn a year from the EU.
Despite today's agreement, environmental campaigners denounced the EU accord as inadequate.
"The level of ambition demonstrated by environment ministers will not deliver a fair and just global climate agreement in Copenhagen," said Sonja Meister, climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth. "Europe must go much further than this and live up to its historical responsibilities by committing to cut emissions by 40% domestically by 2020."
The EU's position is not strong enough to unlock the stalled negotiations," said Greenpeace

Government climate change ad investigated after 350 complaints

Advertising Standards Authority to look into £6m campaign accused of scaremongering and misleading the public
Mark Sweney, Wednesday 21 October 2009 08.00 BST
The advertising regulator has launched an investigation into the government's climate change TV campaign after receiving more than 350 complaints accusing it of scaremongering and misleading the public.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change launched the £6m campaign, in which the government states for the first time that scientific evidence has confirmed that climate change is man-made, earlier this month.
The Advertising Standards Authority has received 357 complaints about the campaign.
Some of the complaints argued that there is no scientific evidence of climate change. Others claimed there was a division of scientific opinion on the issue and that the ad should therefore not have attributed global warming to human activity.
Another complaint was that the ad, which features a father telling his daughter a scary bedtime story about climate change in which a cartoon dog drowns, is inappropriate for children because it is "upsetting and scaremongering".
The ASA has said it intends to investigate the complaints and the assertions on which the campaign has been based.
The campaign marked a step change in the tone of the government's marketing around its Act on CO2 initiative. The DECC came out with the hard-hitting message after research showed that more than half of the UK public think climate change will have no effect on them.
Last week the DECC defended the campaign, and the science behind it, arguing that the goal is to "protect the next generation".
"It is consistent with government policy on the issue, which is informed by the latest science and assessments of peer-reviewed, scientific literature made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other international bodies," said the energy and climate change minister Joan Ruddock.
• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000.

Ministers accused of 'misleading' public over emissions success

Data published this year fell short of the government's code of practice, says statistics watchdog chief
Press Association, Wednesday 21 October 2009 13.32 BST
Ministers were accused of exaggerating Britain's success in fighting climate change today. The government's statistics watchdog said figures on carbon dioxide emissions could "mislead" the public.
Sir Michael Scholar, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, said presentation of the data by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was "unsatisfactory".
In a letter to Tim Yeo, the chairman of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, he said a statistical bulletin released in February "fell short" of the government's code of practice. Scholar raised serious concerns about the claim that CO2 emissions had fallen by 12.8% compared to 1990 levels.
But nearly a third of that fall is made up of carbon credits purchased by polluters in an EU trading scheme and do not represent actual cuts in UK emissions. Without the credits, the fall is a much more modest 8.5%. Scholar said ministers should in future include a clearer explanation of how the figures are calculated.
He said: "In this case, the figures mentioned are, in our view, likely to be used by non-expert observers to judge progress in reducing CO2 emissions within the UK.
"We regard the quoted figures, and particularly the percentage change, as unsatisfactory in the context of that use."
Yeo said the figures were not being used in a "straightforward way" and called on ministers to put right the problem "as soon as possible".
"The committee has had some concerns about this presentation for some time so I'm not surprised by this," he said. "It's very important if the government is going to maintain the confidence of the public and the green lobby that they should be absolutely objective and straightforward about it.
"It's a very complex area and there are already a number of confusions surrounding claims about emissions reductions."

Let us equip you with the right tool to help you fight climate change

Our carbon calculator is more sophisticated and more accurate than any other on the internet

Our new carbon footprint calculator is designed to help individuals get a meaningful sense of their contribution to climate change – and what they can do to reduce it. We created the tool in response to the fact that, although there are loads of calculators out there, none of them really do what we feel they should.
One problem is that existing carbon calculators tend to focus exclusively our consumption of gas, electricity, car fuel and flights. Significant as these emissions sources are, they only add up to around half of the average footprint. The other half is made up of all the other goods and services we purchase – everything from food to gadgets to healthcare. These "indirect" emissions often get missed out, so our tool includes them and aims to provide a more rounded picture of the emissions we're each responsible for.
Instead of entering precise numbers for only a part of your carbon footprint (gas and electricity bills), you enter more approximate information for all of it. To keep things simple, we've also designed the calculator just for individuals - it doesn't look at households or include emissions from your workplace. We hope this makes it quicker to use, as well as giving ameaningful result. To create the tool, we started off with a summary of the UK's total carbon footprint, including those emissions embedded in the goods we import from China and other countries. The summary breaks down the total into 15 key areas – everything from domestic electricity use through to the manufacture of paper products and cars.
Next, we divided these 15 numbers by the UK's population to provide a comprehensive breakdown of the carbon footprint of a typical UK resident. Then we created a set of sliders that enable you to change each figure to reflect your own lifestyle.
If you're interested in the detailed methodology behind the calculator, here a few points about the data:
• The figures for UK emissions are based on a sophisticated "input-output model" created by Small World Consulting. They include all the Kyoto greenhouse gases (such as methane and nitrous oxide as well as CO2) and are adjusted for imports and exports. In other words, the figures are as close as we can get to an accurate summary of the carbon footprint of all the imported goods and services that UK citizens consume.
• Since the Small World input-output model exists only for the UK, the figures for different countries shown to the right of the tool are approximate. We've arrived at them using data for national emissions and imports and exports, so they should be considered as indicative rather than precise.
• We've tentatively included for comparison a figure for a "sustainable" footprint. We've plumped for 3.1 tonnes by 2050, based on the UK's target for an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 but factoring in carbon from goods in addition. But we're well aware that what counts as a sustainable footprint depends on a whole host of assumptions, including how quickly we reduce our emissions and how much risk of runaway climate change we're prepared to accept. Again, then, this is just an indicative number. Some people would argue that the only truly sustainable footprint is a non-existent one.
• For more information on what's included in each slider, click on the question marks next to each one on the calculator.
Lastly, it's worth saying the calculator is very much a continual work in progress, so if you have suggestions for features or improvements, let us know in the comments below. Equally, we're keen to answer any questions you have about the data too.

Baby steps to cutting climate clown footprints to size

The Guardian's quick carbon calculator shows the steps you can take to reduce your carbon emissions
You've calculated your carbon footprint. You know if you have footprints from clown shoes (nearly 20 tonnes, like the US) or baby ones (just under 5 tonnes, like the average person in China). Now it's time to try cutting your emissions down to size, hopefully bringing them towards the magic 3.1 tonne figure that UK "per capita" carbon footprints must reach by 2050 for a sustainable future.
Here are our guides to slimming your footprint:
Green your home - from eco bulbs to major insulation, everything you need to know about saving energy at home
• Chris Goodall shows you how to cut 10% off your footprint for the 10:10 campaign
How to cut your footprint if you live in rented accomodation
• Get more tips and ideas in our Green Living Blog and Ask Leo and Lucy, our archive of green living answers
Plus some inspirational stories of people who've cut their footprint:
• Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting on her baffling journey to a low carbon life
One woman's war on energy waste
• Actor Pete Postlethwaite explains how he cut this footprint
Couple Tracey and Colin Codhunter: 'We're not eco warriors'
And finally, some useful external resources for cutting carbon:
The Energy Saving Trust - consumer tips, energy efficient products and info on eco grants from the government's official energy-saving agency
10:10 - advice and energy-saving tips from the 10:10 carbon-cutting climate campaign
Act On CO2 - the government's official carbon calculator, plus useful data such as league tables of the most efficient cars (which you can also find on our environment data store)

A sticking plaster for the planet

Alok Jha, Wednesday 21 October 2009 16.30 BST
However impressive someone is, however many excellent and entertaining books they might have sold, never believe anyone who tells you there might be a quick fix to global warming.
It's hard to deny that Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago, and the journalist Stephen Dubner know a thing or two about applying economics to unlikely situations. In their latest book, Superfreakonomics, the pair take on global warming, and argue that technology is our best bet in dealing with it.
Specifically, they get excited about floating hoses that can shoot aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect away sunlight, cooling the Earth by a few degrees.
World-changing the easy way
Where the former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern has calculated the penalty of not dealing with a warming world through fiscal and political policies – and in the process changed the priority the political world gave to the issue – Levitt and Dubner have focused their economic nous on human behaviour. In short, why try to persuade billions of people around the world to change their behaviour, when you could easily persuade a few thousand to knock up a device to deal with it all? Even shorter: let's try geo-engineering.
Geo-engineering is a set of technologies designed for use on a global scale to prevent or slow climate change. It includes everything from sending mirrors into space to reflect away sunlight, to dumping iron into the oceans to encourage the growth of CO2-consuming algae. It was once seen as the preserve of the wacky, but in recent years its supporters have swelled in number to include scores of climate scientists and engineers. The coalition is messy, with a wide variety of opinion on the best techniques and even the merits of using technology to tackle global warming; if there is any consensus emerging, it is simply that it would be good idea to have some big ideas in reserve, a Plan B, in case nothing comes of appeals to personal abstinence and global political will.
Trial balloons
This was the conclusion of a report published last month by the Royal Society. The most comprehensive study on the subject to date, it called for urgent investment to test some of the options, arguing that scientists need to get beyond the simulations and work out whether the potential risks of these technologies outweighed the benefits on these technologies.
"Unless the world community can do better at cutting emissions, we fear we will need additional techniques such as geo-engineering to avoid very dangerous climate change in the future," said John Shepherd of the University of Southampton, who chaired the Royal Society report. He added, however,But the report's chair, John Shepherd of the University of Southampton, said that neither he nor the working group advocated geo-engineering. "Our opinions range from cautious consent to very serious scepticism about these ideas. It is not an alternative to emissions reductions and cannot provide an easy quick fix."
Levitt and Dubner, meanwhile, seem most interested in the work of Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft. He has set up a company, Intellectual Ventures, that is looking at lifting an 18-mile (29 km) hose into the stratosphere with helium balloons. By pumping sulphur dioxide particles into this region, at a cost of around $20m, the company thinks it could reflect some sunlight away from the Earth's surface.
"The theory behind it is an attempt to mimic what happens with very large volcanoes that inject material into the stratosphere," says Naomi Vaughan, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
"These are volcanoes that occur near the tropics and the clear example that everyone looks at is Mount Pinatubo, which erupted in June 1991."
Pinatubo, in the Phillipines, threw 10m tonnes of sulphate particles into the atmosphere as it erupted, lowering global temperatures by 0.5°C the following year. As for how much sulphur aerosol would be needed to achieve the effect artificially, estimates range from 1.5m to 5m tonnes. That's to offset the warming from a doubling of current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Power plants produce and pour about 35m to 40m tonnes of sulphur compounds a year into the troposphere (from the ground to 11 miles up).
"A number of factors inform this range of estimates," says Vaughan. "A key one is particle size: the smaller the particle size the less mass of sulphur is needed, but if the particles are too small they can 'glob' together and fall out of the stratosphere quicker." Injections would have to be replenished every two to three years.
Earlier this year, Vaughan published a paper with UEA colleague Tim Lenton in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, comparing different schemes to cool the Earth. They concluded that stratospheric aerosols had by far the greatest potential to combat warming in the timescale to 2050, given their relatively low cost and high efficiency.
But they also raised several concerns. Aside from unpredictable changes in the amount and pattern of global rainfall, stratospheric aerosols would two decades ago, the ozone hole over the Antarctic has been shrinking. In a study published last year in Science, Simone Tilmes of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder found that injecting stratospheric aerosols into the upper atmosphere would delay the ozone layer's recovery by 30 to 70 years.
Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is that this kind of "solar radiation management" does not do anything to tackle the culprit behind global warming: carbon dioxide. Such techniques – other proposals include throwing salt water into the air to enhance cloud cover and painting roofs white to reflect away sunlight – mask the core problem rather than permanently dealing with it. And they would need to be in place for ever.
"As soon as you stop any type of solar radiation management, the rate of warming is extremely fast – the system readjusts," says Vaughan. "Rather than having steady warming as our CO2 levels go up, if you bring the intervention in so the world cools, and then stop it 20 years down the line, you get a rapid warming back up to the level that it would have been if you'd never had that intervention."
So, as well as solar radiation management, geo-engineers would need to come up with ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There are good ideas for how to do this. Some suggest stimulating algae in the oceans could sequester large amounts of CO2, while Klaus Lackner at Columbia University wants to build huge "artificial trees" to directly suck CO2 from the air. But all are complex to engineer.
Stratospheric aerosols are easier – but making an 18-mile hose defy gravity still won't be simple. "I think they're going to do it by having 100 balloons lifting it up or something," says John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre. " We shouldn't underestimate how difficult it will be to get that up there.
"What they put forward as a possible way needs an enormous amount of work to see if it can be done practically."
Loughhead doesn't discount the effort but he warns against the temptation to focus attention on just one technology. "The problem that we face with climate and carbon is of such a scale and in a system of such complexity that to believe anything will be a silver bullet is naïve. We need to explore all the possible routes because they will all advantages and disadvantages and we will probably have to apply them all in some way ultimately to get to where we want to be."

Super freaking wrong

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's new book promotes a contrarian view of climate change that has no scientific merit

Brad Johnson, Wednesday 21 October 2009 21.00 BST
Superfreakonomics is a super freaking mess. US publisher Harper Collins promotes the sequel to the pop-economics bestseller Freakonomics, authored by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner, as "bigger, more provocative, and sure to challenge the way we think all over again". Too often, however, the book provokes by just getting things wrong – including matters involving life and death.
Levitt and Dubner begin by arguing that if you're intoxicated, "driving is safer than walking" – based not on actual research but on "shoddy statistical work". The authors boast about their time spent interviewing a $500-an-hour call girl, describing her as "essentially a trophy wife who is rented by the hour", while getting the economics and history of prostitution wrong. But the most serious concerns are raised by their treatment of climate change.
Superfreakonomics promotes a contrarian view of climate change, calling global warming a "religion" and lionising Microsoft billionaire and scientific dilettante Nathan Myhrvold. Myhrvold unscientifically pooh-poohs solar power and promotes the "cheap and simple" solution to global warming of pumping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to blot out the sun. But this Bond-villain fantasy solution cannot come to pass, the Superfreaks bemoan, because the "people like Al Gore" think "it's nuts".
The chapter "What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?" essentially cribs from previous contrarian work, repeating confused arguments against climate science by conservative columnist George Will, and following slavishly a 2006 Rolling Stone profile by Jeff Goodell of Star-Wars physicist Lowell Wood and climate scientist Ken Caldeira. Like Will, Levitt and Dubner complain about a "drumbeat of doom" growing louder from "doomsayers" even though a "little-discussed fact about global warming," is that the average global temperature "has in fact decreased".
Of course, this "little-discussed fact" is one of the most popular canards among global warming sceptics – from Tea Party activists to the heads of the American Farm Bureau and the US Chamber of Commerce – and this decade is the warmest in recorded history. The Superfreaks also repeat Will's obsession with a supposed consensus about "global cooling" in the 1970s, falsely portraying articles that discussed scientific controversy over a wide array of climatic changes as "predicting the effects of global cooling".
Most tellingly, Levitt and Dubner shockingly misrepresent the one climate scientist they interviewed, the Carnegie Institution's Ken Caldeira, a renowned climate modeler. They say Caldeira believes that "carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight". In fact, Caldeira says, "Carbon dioxide is the right villain." They say Caldeira has found that trees are an "environmental scourge". In fact, Caldeira, whose research actually finds that tropical and boreal forests have different effects on climate change, has written that "Clear-cutting mountains to slow climate change is, of course, nuts."
They write Caldeira "endorses" the "solution" of injecting millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere as a response to global warming – forever. In fact, "geo-engineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions," Caldeira has explained. "If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geo-engineering as a way to deal with it, it's pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly." It would be, he says, "a dystopic world out of a science fiction story". "As a long-term strategy," Caldeira said in 2006, "it's nuts."
After economists, scientists, journalists and energy experts condemned Superfreakonomics for its error-ridden, fatuous contrarianism, the authors reacted with rage and confusion, accusing critics of ideological bias, falsehood and smears.
Superfreakonomics is a circus sideshow. Levitt and Dubner may think they're being super, but this time they're actually just the freaks.

Royal Society accepts GM is not the only answer

For now, at least,the hype is muted. Yesterday's Royal Society report takes care not to repeat the claims, put forward by some proponents of the technology that genetic modification can itself end world hunger. Indeed it condemns such simplistic stances, noting that past debates “have failed to acknowledge that there is no technological panacea”.

Published: 7:30AM BST 21 Oct 2009
That is welcome for, as Prof James Specht of the University of Nebraska has pointed out, the “hype-to-reality ratio” has at times reached “infinity”. Instead the Royal Society, which has long supported GM crops and foods, backs a mixture of traditional farming techniques and new technology, merely asking that none "should be ruled out".Such an approach, if maintained, should open the door to a much more constructive debate, forcing even the most radical environmentalists to spell arguments out rather than pull crops up.
Some, like the Prince of Wales, oppose genetic modification on principle, as an interference in God's business. The rest of us need to weigh up costs and benefits. So far these tip the scales against the technology. GM crops, and how they are grown, do seem to do more environmental damage. Their possible effects on health remain open: too few good studies have been done to settle the matter either way. And so far the benefits have mainly accrued to the biotechnology companies that have developed and marketed them.

Nor have they so far shown much sign of feeding the world. Contrary to widespread belief, they do not generally increase crop yields, and may actually cut them. And because the world's poorest farmers – who make up most of the world's underfed – cannot afford to buy them, they tend to get driven the wall, so that hunger is increased not reduced. But GM may help in future – especially as climate change takes hold – by producing varieties that can survive droughts or floods. Environmentalists will retort that other non-GM techniques will do the job better. But that is precisely the kind of debate we should now be having.

The 'super crops' of the future

Genetically modified (GM) crops have been around for a generation but there are now new possibilities thanks to developments in understanding of the makeup of plants.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 8:01AM BST 21 Oct 2009
:: Pest resistant plants: Scientists have developed crops that are resistant to pests and disease by adding genes with antibacterial or insecticide qualities. Blight resistant potatoes are the most likely crop to be grown commercially in Britain.
:: Self fertilisers: Plants that take nitrogen out of the air and deposit in the soil take away the need to use artificial nitrates that are expensive and bad for the environment. Some plants do this naturally and scientists are working on ways to give other crops the ability.

More nutritious foods: Scientists can take the genes that provide nutrients like Vitamin A in carrots or Omega 3 from fish oils and put it into a variety of crops. Plants can even be genetically modified to produce drugs such as insulin.
:: Super efficient plants: Plants could be developed to gather more energy from the sun through photosynthesis, allowing them to grow bigger, faster. Crops could also be manipulated to grow more than once, therefore taking away the need for farmers to plough the soil and plant a new seed.
:: Drought resistant plants: Dry regions could benefit if scientists manage to develop plants that can survive in harsher environments. Flood resistant plants could also become more important as the climate changes.

Japan's Big Three Rev Up Green Cars

TOKYO—As the competition for greener cars ratchets up,Toyota Motor Corp. signaled its strong endorsement Wednesday of a new generation of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles that may serve as a successor to its best-selling Prius.
Toyota, along with rival Honda Motor Co., is pursuing plug-in hybrid technology. Such cars can be recharged via an electrical socket and drive many miles on electricity but have a gasoline engine that charges the battery when it runs out of power. Ordinary hybrids such as the Prius run on a combination of gasoline and internally generated electricity but can travel just a short distance on electricity only.

"The plug-in hybrid vehicle... can be driven without anxiety about how much power might remain in the battery or whether there may not be charging facilities nearby," said new Toyota President Akio Toyoda at the Tokyo Motor Show, as he unveiled the Prius plug-in hybrid concept car. "We believe the plug-in hybrid is more than ready for a full-fledged adaptation in the near future."
Also Wednesday, Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada said gasoline-electric hybrids would account for 30% of Toyota's global sales by 2020. Within that group, the new generation of plug-in hybrids would claim a significant share, he said. He didn't provide details but said plug-in electric hybrid cars should "spread the way the Prius has."
Plug-in hybrids still face a high-cost hurdle, but Toyota says it will try to contain that by giving them a relatively short electric-only driving range, limiting the amount of expensive battery capacity they need. The plug-in Prius prototype can go only about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) on battery power, then would operate like a regular hybrid, it says.
At this year's auto show in Tokyo, auto makers are trading in engines for batteries to cash in on the 'green' car hype. WSJ's Akiko Fujita takes a tour of three electric car models.
The push comes as Japan's Big Three—Toyota, Honda and Nissan Motor Co.—gamble on the future of vehicle technology. Missing the next big thing could mean years of development and heavy spending to catch up, which many rivals faced when the Prius unexpectedly caught on earlier in the decade.
All three car makers also demonstrated all-electric battery cars at the Tokyo show, which opened to the media Wednesday. They include Honda's boxy EV-N, Toyota's FT-EV II mini four-seater and Nissan's skinny two-seated Land Glider.
But behind the scenes, only Nissan appeared to stake its future on full electric cars—which, unlike hybrids, can travel only as far as their battery charge lasts—while Toyota and Honda executives expressed skepticism over that technology. Toyota's Mr. Uchiyamada said the company believes full-electric battery cars "will likely gain only a highly limited share" of the global auto market.
Honda Chief Executive Takanobu Ito said fully electric cars "are likely to face difficulty in becoming a mainstream solution in the foreseeable future." Honda, he said, is therefore "devoting our energy in getting the most fuel-efficiency out of the battery system and electric power motors to come up with a truly compelling hybrid."
Critics of all-electric cars cite the high cost of batteries and the likely need for sizable government subsidies and incentives to make all-electric battery cars affordable. The lack of a wide network of battery-charging stations also could be an impediment.
Both Toyota and Honda say a full-electric car may work for certain consumers if they are willing to treat it as a town car with limited driving range. They also say the ultimate green car over the long run will be hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, which they believe will be more efficient than full-electric battery cars. Fuel-cell cars would create their own electricity through a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.
By contrast, Nissan on Wednesday underscored its confidence in electric vehicles by unveiling a fourth battery-only concept car, a tiny, two-person vehicle that is envisioned for urban use.
Nissan already sells an Altima hybrid midsize sedan in the U.S., but the car uses licensed technology from Toyota. To close the gap, the auto maker has been developing a few hybridmodels on its own and is expected to launch them in the U.S., Japan and possibly elsewhere over the next two years.
Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's CEO, acknowledged his company was late to jump onto the hybrid bandwagon, and now plans to concentrate on battery-only cars. "We have had a period where we have had to catch up, but now we will exercise our technological power," he said. "We are aiming for leadership in [electric vehicles]."
Nissan believes it has found a way to make electric cars—such as the Leaf, a hatchback it plans to start selling late next year in the U.S., Europe and Japan—nearly as affordable as a gasoline-fueled compact cars.
Nissan hasn't yet disclosed the Leaf's business model, but one way to realize such a low price for a full electric car is to sell it without its on-board battery pack. Instead, Nissan may lease the battery pack to the customer for an affordable month fee, among other means, its executives said.
But Nissan executives also stressed that government support is necessary to launch the Leaf, which it aims to sell world-wide in 2012.
"We are asking governments to cover [the investment] up to the point when we can reach volume momentum—this will take several years," said Carlos Tavares, who heads Nissan's Americas operations. Mr. Ghosn estimated that this would take three to four years.
Write to Norihiko Shirouzu at and Mariko Sanchanta at

Ken Clarke retracts comments that UK is 'not suitable' for windfarms

The shadow business secretary issues a clarification after contradicting Conservative policy at a thinktank conference
Alok Jha, Green technology correspondent and Allegra Stratton, Wednesday 21 October 2009 18.07 BST
The shadow business secretary, Ken Clarke, was slapped down by his party today after contradicting Conservative policy by suggesting mainland Britain was "not suitable" for onshore windfarms.
Clarke yesterday told a conference organised by the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange: "My view is that those few wild and open spaces that we have left in Britain should not be used for wind turbines." He also said he thought windfarms should be built offshore.
Clarke today issued a clarification through the Conservative leader David Cameron's office: "At the event I was expressing an off-the-cuff view as a layman and not as a party spokesman on this subject. There is no change in Conservative party policy."
"We're very much in favour of renewables and we've got stretching targets to meet," said the shadow energy and climate change secretary, Greg Clark. "When it comes to wind, onshore wind has its place as well as offshore."
But a spokesperson for the British Wind Energy Association said: "All senior politicians need to make sure that their language doesn't give investors second thoughts about coming to the UK. Industry has a job to reassure everyone that delivering on the 2020 [carbon reduction] targets is not going to negatively impact on the environment and that any other impact is outweighed by benefits for climate change and jobs that wind energy will bring. That includes the Tory front bench."
Friends of the Earth said Clarke's comments raised concerns about the depth of commitment across the Conservative party to tackling climate change. The executive director, Andy Atkins said: "We desperately need more turbines, not fewer. Urgently developing a low-carbon economy must be a priority for any serious political party. David Cameron must ensure that key members of his front bench team do what they can to make this a reality – or replace them with people who will."
Clarke's remarks came after recent research from a Labour-linked thinktank Sera concluded 60% of all unsuccessful applications to build wind turbines were turned down by Conservative councils – twice as many as rejected by Labour councils. The Tories say this is explained by Conservative seats being largely rural ones.
Greg Clark added that a Conservative government would encourage more offshore and onshore windfarms, with the latter built so that local communities could share in the revenues from the electricity that was generated.
The secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband, said he will write to Cameron, asking him to clarify the party's position on windfarms and seek signatures from the public on his website. Miliband has said in the past that objecting to windfarms should become as socially unacceptable as failing to wear a seatbelt while driving. "Ken Clarke's comments are further proof that the Tories just don't understand that the greatest threat to the British countryside is not wind energy but climate change," said Miliband.
Windfarms are becoming a faultline between the two parties with Labour's former deputy leader John Prescott telling a conference yesterday that local councils should be obliged to locate a windfarm in his area. "People who have a nice, chocolate-box view, they have bought that and I understand it, but you have got to strike a balance of what is in the national interest." Prescott called on local councillors to "meet their obligations" to build windfarms.
Greg Clark said that the lecturing communities would not be productive. "It's likely to be counterproductive if anything – what you need is a policy response. We've said that we would give all communities that host windfarms the right to keep six years of the business rates that they trigger."
He added: "If you look at the countries that have done well [on this], such as Denmark, a lot of these are community-owned and the enthusiasm for them comes from their roots as community enterprises."
In another development, the Tory MP Peter Luff will attempt to introduce legislation in a fortnight calling for a buffer zone between windfarms and housing. Using a ten-minute rule bill, Luff will call for a distance of half a mile to be put around smaller turbines, a mile for medium sized turbines and 1.5 miles for the largest turbines from residential areas.
The government is due to address this issue by announcing maps of renewable energy provision around the country, which would also identify optimal areas for windfarms.