Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Renewable Energy Returns to Spotlight

The Obama administration is putting its green-power agenda back on center stage Tuesday as a Senate committee begins debating a bill to curb the greenhouse gases from fossil fuels.
President Barack Obama is in Florida, where he is expected Tuesday to highlight the $3.4 billion in economic-stimulus funding devoted to modernizing the power grid so it can better handle wind turbines, solar power and other forms of renewable electricity generation. Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is scheduled to be in Wilmington, Del., to herald a deal to retool a shuttered General Motors factory to produce plug-in hybrid cars.
Mr. Obama is expected to discuss his administration's smart-grid plan at the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Fla. A White House official said the government's investment in the grid would be matched by as much as $5 billion in private funds.
On Monday, the Obama administration announced $151 million in grants for next-generation energy research projects that Energy Secretary Steven Chu said could be vital to U.S. efforts to combat climate change. The biggest grant -- almost $9.2 million -- was awarded to Foro Energy Inc. for the development of new geothermal drilling technology. The next biggest, at $9 million, went to DuPont Co. for the production of a biofuel derived from seaweed.
The White House's focus on clean-energy projects and the jobs that could be created by them comes as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee starts debating the specifics of a proposal by Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) and Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and allocate pollution credits to various industries under a system that allows companies to buy and sell such credits.
The administration is sending the secretaries of the Energy, Interior and Transportation departments as well as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff to testify in support of incentives to develop clean-energy systems.
The bill aims to cut emissions by 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, and by about 83% by 2050.
Write to Henry J. Pulizzi at henry.pulizzi@dowjones.com

New nuclear energy will not need a taxpayers' subsidy

Things have changed. We now face energy shortages and have to decarbonise
Vincent de Rivaz
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 October 2009

Your leader column claims that the "nuclear renaissance" does not make sense on financial grounds (Nuclear power: A bung by any other name, 19 October). However, there is a growing collation of support among the public, politicians of the main parties, industry, scientists and regulators, who recognise nuclear is needed as part of the answer to keep the lights on and tackle climate change.
This was demonstrated in the last two weeks alone by reports from organisations as diverse as the Committee on Climate Change, Ofgem and the CBI. Among this coalition there is recognition that new nuclear can play its part without subsidy from taxpayers.
As a company looking to develop four new reactors in the UK, we have never sought subsidies. Our plans for this much-needed investment are viable without a penny of taxpayers' money.
Many views in last week's coverage reflect an outdated analysis of environmental and energy challenges – from a time when we did not face energy shortages, volatile prices and an urgent need to decarbonise electricity. It is simply wrong to assert that "huge cost overruns" and "massive government bailouts" are inevitable. Claims that nuclear has been subsidised in the past, so must be in the future, fail to recognise that the world has moved on.
Britain faces a serious power shortage if it does not invest massively. At the same time we need to reform the energy market to produce energy which is secure and affordable, and low carbon.
The challenge is encapsulated in the UK's target to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. That will not happen unless we decarbonise electricity generation over the next 20 years, and we will not do this without new nuclear. Recognising this, many environmentalists who were once opposed to new nuclear have recently come to support it.
However, in the current market structure there needs to be more long-term certainty to undertake largescale, 60 year-plus investments. We need a strong, robust carbon price. This is something that anyone who cares about the environment should embrace. It is not an "upfront inducement", but a cost which will make it more expensive for polluters to go on behaving as they have done in the past. It is emphatically not a subsidy for low-carbon technology.
It is also untrue that developing new nuclear "will be a costlier and riskier journey than politicians are currently willing to countenance". EDF believes there is an understanding of the costs, the risks and, above all, the need. The recent report from the prime minister's energy envoy, Malcolm Wicks, suggested that we need to substantially increase the contribution from nuclear. This need is expected to be reaffirmed in the coming weeks in the government's nuclear national policy statement. It is important that this is clear on the contribution required from nuclear.
Decarbonising electricity is a massive commitment that will create significant UK job opportunities. We must achieve it together. We are in a new world and new nuclear needs to be part of the mix.
Vincent de Rivaz is the chief executive of EDF Energy

Civil engineers call for greater speed in UK carbon capture drive

Report from the Institution of Civil Engineers calls for the UK government to set the framework for industry to develop and implement carbon capture and storage technology
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 October 2009 00.05 GMT
The government must move faster in implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology if the UK is to meet ambitious targets to cut its carbon emissions, according to civil engineers.
In a report published today by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), experts argue that the government must issue a national policy statement for the technology, in the same way that proposals for large-scale future energy projects in nuclear, coal and wind power are planned. This would reduce uncertainty among companies and investors while speeding up the implementation of the technology.
"Seventy per cent of the world's electricity is generated by coal," said Geoff French, the vice-president of ICE. "Coal and gas is going to stay an important part of [energy] generation but we desperately need to get CCS implemented and one of the things we desperately need is a clear and stable planning and licensing regime. What we want is for government to clearly set the framework and then leave it to industry to get on with it."
Despite the recent government consultation on CCS which proposed building several clusters of projects and up to four demonstration plants some time in the next decade, French said there were still too many missing links for businesses. "Nobody's going to do it unless they have to because inevitably it will increase the price of energy," he said.
A national policy statement would include decisions on who takes long-term responsibility for the CO2 stored underground and who builds and maintains the network of pipelines required to move the gas to storage areas. "It's not enough to say each generator of CO2 should put in their own pipework, that would be silly. We need somebody to take responsibility for providing that network," he said.
Despite government rhetoric, the ICE said that there had not been enough action to cut emissions quickly enough to meet the target of an 80% reduction by 2050 and also to keep the UK at the forefront of the technology. "I don't think having four demonstration projects by 2015 is what we should be doing – we should be having many many more. None of this is moving fast enough. I," said French.
The UK government's CCS competition will see up to four smaller demonstrations of the technology built and operational in the country some time in the middle of the next decade. Later this year, the European Union is expected to approve funding of a €180m award for a CCS demonstration project at Powerfuel's proposed 900MW coal-fired power station in Hatfield, Yorkshire. The EU wants up to 12 commercial CCS projects to be demonstrated around the continent by 2015.
Commenting on the ICE report, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband, said that Ernst and Young had recently voted the UK as the second most attractive country for CCS investment. "We firmly believe that the UK will be one of the first to develop clean coal technology. As the [ICE] points out, the UK has shown clear leadership on CCS. We have committed to building up to four CCS demonstration plants and plan a world leading dedicated financial support mechanism for CCS."
He added: "The UK government has done more than any other to encourage the demonstration and deployment of CCS including: assuming long-term responsibility for storage sites, requiring all new combustion power stations be constructed carbon capture ready and proposing that any new coal plant must demonstrate CCS on a substantial part of its capacity."

Australia can reach political deal on carbon -govt

Reuters, Tuesday October 27 2009
* Australia govt says carbon compromise would be good
* Farm and coal sectors at the heart of political talks
* Opposition says talks satisfactory (Adds quotes from minister, opposition; background)
By Bruce Hextall
GOLD COAST, Australia, Oct 27 (Reuters) - The Australian government on Tuesday talked up the prospects of a compromise deal on its hotly contested plan to cut carbon emissions, citing the farm and coal sectors as key issues in political talks.
Australia's plan for the world's most comprehensive emissions trading scheme (ETS), scheduled to start July 2011, have been stalled with a hostile Senate refusing to pass the ETS laws.
The laws are due for a second vote in November, with the government making veiled threats that it will call a snap election on the issue if rejected again.
But deputy climate change minister Greg Combet used more conciliatory rhetoric at a carbon-trading conference on Tuesday, talking more of compromise than brinkmanship.
"I think it would be a positive public policy outcome were the government able to reach a good faith negotiation process and accommodation with the opposition," Combet said.
"It is conceivable that the government can reach an accommodation with the (opposition) Liberal Party but that remains to be seen," he added.
Combet's comments suggest the ETS laws may pass through parliament next month, though with amendments in some industry sectors such as agriculture and coal, both major emiters.
Opposition parties, whose conservative constituency represents farmers, want agriculture exempt from the ETS and more compensation for emissions-intensive export industries such as aluminium, cement and coal mining.
The opposition also sounded on Tuesday as if an agreement was possible. "Those negotiations are going along very satisfactorily and we expect they will go on into next week," Ian MacFarlane, opposition climate change negotiator, told reporters in Canberra.
Combet said the question of whether to exclude agriculture or include it at a later date, remained an issue being negotiated.
"This is an issue that is subject to discussions at the moment," he said. Under the government's scheme a decision whether to include agriculture from 2015 would be made in 2013.
The debate is being closely watched overseas ahead of December global climate talks in Copenhagen, aimed at reaching agreement on a post-Kyoto deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Australia must pass its ETS laws before Copenhagen to show leadership at Copenhagen.
Australia's ETS aims to curb emissions by 5 percent by 2020, or by up to 25 percent if there is a deal at Copenhagen. The opposition supports a 5 percent reduction target.
The Australian scheme will cover 75 percent of Australian emissions from 1,000 of the biggest companies and be the second domestic trading platform outside of Europe. Companies will need a permit for every tonne of carbon they emit.
The government plans to give the biggest polluting companies up to 95 percent of permits free in the early years of the scheme, with 66 percent of permits free to industries such as cement and aluminium smelters.
Australia produces about 1.5 percent of global emissions. But it is the world's biggest coal exporter and one of the highest per-capita emitters due to reliance on coal for 80 percent of electricity. (Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Methane leakage runs up a $50bn bill

Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so when it's leaking by the ton, it's a $50bn problem. From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network
From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Monday 26 October 2009 12.20 GMT
Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so when it's leaking by the ton, it's a $50 billion problem. The New York Times described the phenomenon of methane leakage in a recent article which raised questions about the true costs of this waste.
The EPA estimates that 3 trillion cubic feet of the invisible gas unintentionally escape into the atmosphere each year from patchy gas and oil wells, pipelines, and tanks. This accidental loss alone is equivalent to about half of the global warming power of all U.S. coal power plants emissions. That is the same climate impact of a quarter billion cars.
Roger Peilke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, does an admirable job of estimating the commercial value cost of leaking methane at $24 billion. But there is more to the story—the cost to society of this methane leakage adds up to a much higher number.
Methane, like CO2, carries a social cost which must be accounted for—each ton emitted into the atmosphere exacts a toll. Weather variability will threaten crops; rising sea levels will submerge coastal lands; insurance premiums will rise as more homes are at risk of flooding and fires. As global warming worsens, these costs will become sharper, causing economic pain across the globe. Though no one benefits from leaking methane, we all pay for its effect on our climate.
Recently, the Department of Energy used a conservative estimate, $19, to price out the cost to society of a ton of CO2 emissions. Knowing that, and the fact that methane is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, we can do some simple multiplication and determine that the social cost of leaky methane hovers around $29 billion annually. This is in addition to Professor Peilke's commercial value lost, bringing the grand total to over $50 billion.
The irony here is—no one benefits from these leaks. Companies certainly don't profit from the lost revenue. So if no one benefits, and we will be charged $50 billion for the privilege, why not enforce monitoring and sealing of these leaks?
As the Times noted, next year Japan will release data from the Gosat satellite which will most likely show hot spots of methane gas pouring into the skies from the worst offenders: Russia, the United States, Ukraine, and Mexico. We'll be confronted with the images of our total emissions of this global warming gas, and it's probably not a pretty picture. Leaky methane is only part of the overall problem, but the cost-benefit analysis on fixing it is a no-brainer.
There is also a larger lesson to be learned here: our actions have consequences, and some cost more money than others. If we really want to spew methane into the atmosphere in a wasteful and unnecessary way, we must be prepared to pay the price—in this case, over $50 billion. And if we want to continue to rely on dirty coal power plants to generate our electricity, we must be prepared to pay that bill as well—one that is at least $120 billion per year (not even including climate change costs). And if we refuse to invest in controls on our heat-trapping emissions, then we should realize we are likely making a bad bet, one that could wreak havoc on American and global economies.

The View from Vanuatu on Climate Change

Global warming is a serious challenge that has captured the world's attention. But in the areas that will be worst hit by climate change, what do locals value and want prioritized?
The tiny island nation of Vanuatu speaks with a big voice on global warming, calling for larger countries to make immediate carbon cuts.
In a warning often repeated by environmental campaigners, the Vanuatuan president told the United Nations that entire island nations could be submerged. "If such a tragedy does happen," he said, "then the United Nations and its members would have failed in their first and most basic duty to a member nation and its innocent people."
Torethy Frank, a 39-year-old woman carving out a subsistence lifestyle on Vanuatu's Nguna Island, is one of those "innocent people." Yet, she has never heard of the problem that her government rates as a top priority. "What is global warming?" she asks a researcher for the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
Ms. Frank has more immediate concerns—problems that are not spoken about on the world stage, and that do not attract the attention of the media or environmental advocates.
Torethy and her family of six live in a small house made of concrete and brick with no running water. As a toilet, they use a hole dug in the ground. They have no shower and there is no fixed electricity supply. Torethy's family was given a battery-powered DVD player but cannot afford to use it.
Three of Torethy's four teenage children have never spent a day in school. The eldest attended classes on another island, which cost Torethy and her husband 12,000 vatu ($110) a year, but she now makes him stay home because "too many of the kids at the school were smoking marijuana."
Three years ago, an outbreak of malaria ravaged Torethy's village, Utanlang. The mosquito-borne illness is a big problem in Vanuatu, although aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is helping. This deadly disease causes fever, headaches and vomiting, and can disrupt the blood supply to vital organs.
One small clinic in Utanlang provides basic medicines like painkillers and bandages. For real medical care, Torethy must travel to the capital, Port Vila. In perfect conditions, that involves a 30-minute boat trip and then a two-hour car ride. Because the villagers are too poor to own any boats other than outrigger canoes, it can take up to five hours.
To get by, Torethy's village sells a few fish, fruit and baskets in mainland Vanuatu. But after paying for transport, little money is made. Torethy has learned that "it's best to return with no money and nothing new," because otherwise other villagers ask for their share.
The government, too, takes its cut in the form of tax. "But it doesn't give anything back," Torethy says. "No education, no power, no water, no transportation, no health care. Why should we pay them?"
Torethy's life would not be transformed by foreign countries making immediate carbon cuts.
What would change her life? Having a boat in the village to use for fishing, transporting goods to sell, and to get to hospital in emergencies. She doesn't want more aid money because, "there is too much corruption in the government and it goes in people's pockets," but she would like microfinance schemes instead. "Give the money directly to the people for businesses so we can support ourselves without having to rely on the government."
Vanuatu's politicians speak with a loud voice on the world stage. But the inhabitants of Vanuatu, like Torethy Frank, tell a very different story. —Mr. Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank, and author of "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" (Knopf, 2007).

President Obama 'still undecided' about attending Copenhagen climate conference

Giles Whittell in Washington

The White House yesterday kept alive campaigners’ hopes that President Obama could travel to the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen despite the slim chances of a comprehensive deal being signed there.
Responding to a report in The Times that a presidential appearance was highly unlikely given the obstacles to a breakthrough at the meeting, an Administration spokesman insisted that “no decision has been made”.
Washington’s official stance on who will represent the US in Copenhagen was set out last week by Todd Stern, the Administration’s special envoy on climate change, who left open the possibility of a last-minute decision by the President to attend depending on what was achieved during and in the run-up to the conference.
“These meetings are always structured… to be held at ministerial level,” Mr Stern said in London. “We are not writing anything off or foreclosing possibilities but we treat this as a ministerial meeting in the first instance and if the kind of progress is made that would warrant the attendance of leaders then certainly we would consider that.”
Privately, experts both inside and outside the Administration have been downplaying the chances of a Denmark trip by the President on the basis that it would be too much of a political risk without a major deal in prospect or already agreed.
He was rebuffed by the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen when he flew there this month to try to win the 2016 Games for Chicago – a bid that had nothing to do with climate change but could all too easily be bracketed with it by his opponents.
No US President has attended a UN climate change conference before. A decision by Mr Obama to break with precedent and make an appearance was considered plausible while a deal to create a successor to the Kyoto Protocol was a likely outcome of the December meeting.
The continued refusal by China and India to consider binding limits to their national carbon footprints, and delays in passing a US climate change bill, have all but ruled out such a deal. The headline achievements at Copenhagen are likely to be less sweeping and more practical, with negotiators focusing on specific issues such as energy efficiency, forest protection and reforestation, and renewable energy supplies.
The US delegation under Mr Stern will draw attention to the Administration’s achievements so far, including passage of a climate change bill in the House of Representatives and new car emissions standards.
Whether or not he goes to Copenhagen, Mr Obama “clearly is determined to revolutionise the US posture on climate change and energy,” Paul Bledsoe of the National Commission on Energy Policy said.

Barack Obama must attend Copenhagen climate summit, says Lord Stern

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

The world “desperately needs” President Obama to attend the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen if an effective deal on tackling climate change is to be reached this December, according to one of the world’s leading climate experts.
In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford threw down the gauntlet to the US Administration, claiming that American leadership was urgently required if this historic opportunity presented was not to be squandered. “President Obama should be there. His leadership would make an enormous difference. My message to President Obama would be: come to Copenhagen, come in a collaborative spirit and take this message to the American people.”
Lord Stern, who was chief economist at the World Bank and is the author of the landmark 2006 study on the economics of climate change, was speaking after The Times disclosed on Saturday that Mr Obama was unlikely to be there, adding to concerns that Copenhagen is unlikely to yield a workable agreement amid continued deadlock between the US, China and India over pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Lord Stern has a blunt message for the world’s politicians. “If we continue with business as usual we would be looking at temperature increases of 5 degrees centigrade by early next century,” he said.

“We have not seen those sort of conditions for 30million years. These kind of changes will have huge consequences — southern Europe is likely to be a desert; hundreds of millions of people will have to move. There will be severe global conflict.”
It is a crisis, he said, that “will come to us incredibly fast and the scale of the risk is huge”.
So far, he said, public opinion in this country and around the world had simply failed to grasp the significance of the December meeting, the intention of which is to prevent catastrophic climate change by curbing emissions enough to prevent a rise of more than 2 degrees centigrade in average global temperatures.
“People need to understand just how big this is,” he said, adding that consumers needed to face the fact that dealing with climate change would mean higher costs for a range of basic goods, including energy and food.
“Politicians and others should be honest about this. Some prices will go up. In the short run, you are going to see an increase in electricity bills as companies are regulated into using new technologies.” But, he said, society needed to treat this as an investment in the future.
“High carbon growth will kill itself . . . So we are setting up a process that will be extraordinarily beneficial in terms of energy security and biodiversity,” Lord Stern said. “These are benefits that go well beyond tackling climate change. If we get this right and introduce strong policies then we will kick off a process of industrial change that will be more profound than the industrial revolution.”
Lord Stern said that Copenhagen presented a unique opportunity for the world to break free from its catastrophic current trajectory. Despite scepticism about whether a deal could be struck, most governments now agreed on the basic parameters of an agreement, he said. At Copenhagen, the world needs to agree to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 25 gigatonnes a year from 50 gigatonnes now. By 2050 emissions need to have fallen to below 20 gigatonnes per year.
Rich countries would need to commit themselves to spending $50billion (£31billion) a year by 2015 to help poor countries to deal with the costs of adapting to the climate change that was now inevitable. The US would need to provide perhaps $20billion of this total, he said, while the UK would need to spend $5billion a year — equivalent to £53 for every man, woman and child.
“In the next five years if the rich world can’t put $50billion on the table then there will be real questions about whether or not they are serious,” Lord Stern said. “I would see the US as giving at least $15billion to $20billion, but that is small beer in terms of the US economy. I believe President Obama understands this very well.”
Developing countries, led by China, which is the biggest carbon polluter in the world, and India, say that at Copenhagen the developed world needs to commit itself to cuts of at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst of climate change.
But in the US, which is the secondbiggest producer of emissions, the focus on healthcare reform has reduced the chances of a commitment on anything like that scale. The US Senate has not agreed a goal for 2020.
Although China and India are not expected to agree to achieve cuts in their emissions before 2020, persuading them to agree to longer-term reductions without US leadership will be tough.
Five to watch at Copenhagen
Lord Stern Bookish British academic from LSE, formerly chief economist at the World Bank, earned his place in global climate debate after his 2006 review on the economics of climate change
Rajendra Pachauri Indian chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among most outspoken figures in climate debate
Al Gore Nobel Peace prize-winning former presidential candidate and without doubt the biggest star on global climate concern circuit thanks to his film An Inconvenient Truth
Yvo de Boer Dutch executive secretary of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who will be expected to pull deal together
Connie Hedegaard Danish Minister for Climate Change and Energy - will have the unenviable role of chairing the meeting.

Psychology is the missing link in the climate change debate

Without a deeper insight into people's behaviour and motivations, a low-carbon world will remain out of reach

Adam Corner
guardian.co.uk, Monday 26 October 2009 17.48 GMT
From 10:10 to the government's Act On CO2 campaign, it is now widely accepted that tackling climate change will require tackling behaviour change too. But until now, a key piece has been missing from the puzzle – psychology. The study of human behaviour has been conspicuous by its absence from the climate change debate.
The assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have provided the scientific evidence of human impact on the climate, and a glimpse of what the future may hold if we don't act fast. But while the consensus may be growing on the need for changes in behaviour, we're no closer to understanding how we're going to do it. Attempting an unprecedented shift in human behaviour without the input of psychologists is like setting sail for a faraway land without the aid of nautical maps.
Psychological research shows that most people in the UK don't feel personally threatened by climate change because it is vague, abstract and difficult to visualise. This means that doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic language are unlikely to work – although fear can motivate behaviour change, it only works when people feel personally vulnerable. Clearly, exaggerating the threat of climate change is not an option. So how can climate change be made more relevant to people's lives?
In the dusty journals and leather-bound books of university libraries lie decades of psychological research on human behaviour. Why are habits so difficult to change? Do people make decisions based on rational criteria, or impulse and intuition? Why do people tend to unnecessarily fear some risks, yet inadvisably discount others? These are all questions that will become increasingly pertinent as the transition to a low-carbon future progresses.
Fortunately, climate change is starting to be acknowledged by social scientists on both sides of the Atlantic. Earlier this year, the American Psychological Association published an extensive review of psychology's contribution to tackling climate change. And on 27 October, the British Psychological Society will hold its inaugural meeting on the psychology of climate change. From the language used to describe climate change, to the ways in which habits are made and broken, the signs are that psychology holds the key to driving the shift to sustainability.
An American study played people recordings of actors delivering speeches about climate change. The version that people responded to the best talked about "air pollution" rather than "climate change" – because pollution is something visible that they could relate to, with strong connotations of dirtiness and poor health. Climate change is about much more than just dirty air, but finding ways of making climate change more visible is critical. People simply don't worry about things they can't see (or even imagine).
One approach that has been used to increase the amount that people use public transport breaks down habits into simple "if… then" plans. To change a habitual behaviour, a person has to identify a goal (drive less, for example), a behaviour they want to perform in pursuit of that goal (get the bus to work on Fridays) and a situation that will trigger the behaviour (having enough time to catch the bus). In this example, if it's Thursday evening, then the alarm needs to be set for a different time, and if it's Friday morning, then have a quick shower instead of a long bath. Thinking about behaviour in these terms is unfamiliar – but even the most well-intentioned goals are doomed to fail without a strategy for achieving them.
Of course, some people are wary of committing themselves to changes in their personal behaviour. They argue that political agreements and technological advances will do more to reduce greenhouse gases than anything an individual could achieve. But while it is comforting to draw sharp distinctions between politics, technology and individuals, the reality is that human behaviour underpins it all. Political parties will not pass legislation that is patently unpopular among the electorate. Technology can provide low-carbon alternatives like electric buses. But a zero-emissions bus will have zero passengers unless people decide to use it.
Household insulation has been rightly prioritised by policymakers as a key area where individual-level changes can play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions. But as Alexa Spence and Nick Pidgeon from Cardiff University argue in a forthcoming paper in the journal Environment, changes in household insulation depend on some key behavioural assumptions. In particular, the overheating of residential buildings has to become socially unacceptable, and people will have to be motivated to make changes to their home heating routines. Spence and Pidgeon suggest that periods of transition, where routines are already in flux, provide useful opportunities to develop new, more sustainable habits. In the context of home insulation, some building work already scheduled for the house might provide not only the practical opportunity for some low-carbon upgrades, but also the perfect psychological context for making some long-intended changes to habits and routines.
If the thought of psychologically informed lifestyle change campaigns sounds a bit too Big Brother for your liking, then consider the alternative: millions of pounds spent on technology that is never taken up, and a market-based system of economic coercion that penalises the poor while the rich keep polluting. Without an understanding of what drives people's environmental behaviour, the dream of a low-carbon society will remain forever out of reach.

People may have to go vegetarian to save planet says Lord Stern

Meat wastes water, creates greenhouse gases and could become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving
David Batty and David Adam
guardian.co.uk, Monday 26 October 2009 15.37 GMT
Eating meat could become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving because of the impact it has on global warming, according to a senior authority on climate change.
Lord Stern of Brentford, former adviser to the government on the economics of climate change, said people will have to consider turning vegetarian to help reduce global carbon emissions.
"Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better," Stern said.
Farmed ruminant animals, including cattle and sheep, are thought to be responsible for up to a quarter of "man-made" methane emissions worldwide.
Stern, whose 2006 Stern Review warned that countries needed to spend 1% of their GDP to stop greenhouse gases rising to dangerous levels, said a successful deal at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December would massively increase the cost of producing meat.
People's concerns about climate change would lead to meat eating becoming unacceptable, he predicted.
"I think it's important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating," he told the Times. "I am 61 now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food."
Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank and now IG Patel Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, also warned that helping developing countries to cope with the adverse effects of global warming would cost British taxpayers about £3bn a year by 2015.
Meanwhile, an international effort to ensure that biofuel used by Britain and other western countries to tackle global warming does not damage the environment is on the brink of collapse.
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an initiative of companies and campaigners, is divided over the need to control carbon emissions and could break up within days, insiders say.
Ministers last year introduced a demand on fuel suppliers to replace 2.5% of petrol and diesel sold with biofuel, at least 8% of which is currently palm oil.
The RSPO was established to set and enforce environmental standards for palm oil production, but has run into trouble after palm plantation companies in Indonesia and Malaysia blocked efforts to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.
"If this issue is not resolved and greenhouse gas emissions are not included in the standard, then I don't see how the RSPO can continue to act as a certifying body," said Marcus Silvius of environment group Wetlands International, who sits on the RSPO's working group on greenhouse gases.

Saving the planet at school

Schools produce a lot of carbon emissions – but they can be a strong force for change, too
David Adam
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 October 2009
Built just a few years before the first bombs of the blitz began to rain on London, Fox primary school in Notting Hill is from a time when the world had other things on its mind than global warming. Its giant, single-glazed, south-facing windows leak heat during the winter and soak up stifling sunshine in the summer. Insulation, where there is any, is of a poor quality. Overall, the school building is rated as an unsatisfactory D when it comes to energy efficiency.
Buildings like this are the reason why UK schools produce more than 10m tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution each year, about 2% of Britain's carbon emissions, but 15% of those from the public sector. But they also offer an opportunity. There are 315 children at the Fox school, and most will have parents who don't think twice about flying abroad, driving when they could walk and leaving the lights on when they leave the room.
More will probably check for food miles now. The school recently held a traditional harvest festival assembly, with a green twist that only accepted British produce. Food shipped from overseas was separated and left on one side.
Paul Cotter, Fox's headteacher, says the move was part of a wider effort at the school to minimise its impact on the environment. The school is pushing for "green flag" status under the Eco-schools scheme, after being awarded the bronze and silver awards last year. "We see this very much as part of our responsibility," he says. "I want us to do everything that we can, and it is not just about the school building, but the school community as well." Cotter says his school is spreading the green message beyond the school walls, both directly, through workshops for parents, but also indirectly, through a form of green pester-power that the eco-aware children take home with them.
The school was one of the first to sign up to the 10:10 campaign, which encourages businesses, individuals, organisations and educational bodies to cut their carbon emissions by 10% during 2010. The campaign, which is supported by the Guardian, hopes to build enough grass-roots support for action to persuade Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, to commit Britain to a similar target. It comes ahead of key political talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December, where officials will try to agree a new global deal on greenhouse gas emissions to succeed the Kyoto protocol.
Today, campaign group ActionAid, which is co-ordinating the schools work of the 10:10 campaign, launches an educational pack to accompany the effort, as part of its own Countdown to Copenhagen plan. ActionAid says the first 1,000 schools in England and Scotland to sign up to 10:10 will be sent the pack for free.
Action Aid says the pack, based on the film The Age Of Stupid, which was made by Franny Armstrong, the campaigner behind 10:10, is suitable for key stage 3 and above, and aims to "stimulate debate and create an alternative ending". The pack does not contain the film, but ActionAid says it "explores its key themes through a series of photocards, film clips and thought-provoking animations".
Janet Convery, head of schools and youth at ActionAid, said: "We are very inspired to see how schoolchildren really do care, not only about their environment, but also how climate change is already having such devastating effects on the lives of their peers in the developing world. I am sure that with the help of the Countdown to Copenhagen resources, thousands of young people will be able to add their voice to the debate in the run-up to what is possibly the most important summit this decade."
At Fox primary, Cotter has plans to install a £100,000 solar photovoltaic system on the roof to generate electricity, which he says would be the second biggest in the city. The school has already secured a £50,000 government grant towards the cost, but was recently turned down by the lottery fund for the rest of the money. Schools are both good and bad for solar systems, he says. They tend to have generous flat roofs, but also tend to use little electricity during the summer, when the panels are most productive. A report on renewable energy in schools from the government in 2007 says: "Solar water heating is not ideally suited to schools because of the summer holiday period when, usually, they have little or no demand, corresponding to the highest potential output of the system." Forthcoming changes in the way spare electricity generated can be sold back into the national grid should help.
Fox is also trialling new £12,000 LED strip lighting in one classroom, which was dutifully turned on for inspection when the Guardian visited the school earlier this month. Most of the time, the school relies on natural light as another energy-saving measure. Government figures suggest that lighting accounts for 10% of the energy use in a typical school.
Twice a week, the school canteen offers meat-free meals. Reflective film costing £2,500 on the windows has slashed energy used for cooling on hot days, and allowed the school to do away with four power-hungry fans. Reflective material placed behind the radiators at minimal cost has also helped. The vast majority of an average school's energy use, about 75%, goes on heating and hot water.
The next phase of Fox's green plan, Cotter says, is to investigate ground-source heat pumps to replace the school's boilers, the thermostat for which, incidentally, is placed in the school's stairwell, one of the draughtiest spots in the building.
The children are directly involved, too. The pupils have an eco-committee, whose members enforce energy-saving measures such as turning lights off when not needed. All of its nine- and 10-year-olds raise their hand when asked if they know about global warming. "I'm worried that it's going to happen," says one. "I'm not scared, but I want to stop it so it never happens, even if it's in a million years."
Bits of Al Gore's Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth documentary on climate change have been shown in school assemblies. Cotter says he feels no obligation to show sceptical films such as Channel 4's Great Global Warming Swindle, which questioned the science of climate change and was criticised by scientists and Ofcom. "We go along the lines that global warming is a fact," he says. "But we're not into scaring them. We don't say that if they have a holiday cottage in East Anglia then they had better sell it quick."
Peter Browne, a renewable energy consultant who advises schools in Sussex, says many school's efforts to go green are hampered by slow-moving local authorities, which own the buildings and must give planning consent for measures such as wind turbines. "They never tell us what we can do, only what we can't, and that can take months," he says. "Everything takes so long. They want to make 300 primary schools in West Sussex sustainable by 2020; it's taken us a year to do one."
There are success stories, though. The 2007 government report includes case studies of schools that have successfully made the transition and have cut their carbon footprints. It also lays out detailed plans of how schools can achieve the 10% saving targeted by the 10:10 campaign, both primary and secondary.
The report highlights Cassop primary school near Durham, which it described as "the only school we have found in the UK that can truly claim to be carbon neutral". This is largely thanks to a 50kW wind turbine installed in its grounds, which produces twice as much electricity as the school needs.
The central London skyline makes a wind turbine impractical at Fox primary school, but Cotter says the school is still aiming to go carbon neutral somehow. As another member of the school's eco committee puts it: "The whole school wants to save the planet and everybody in the school is trying to save the planet."
• ActionAid is giving away 1,000 of its award-winning PowerDown toolkits to the first 1,000 primary schools that sign up to 10:10. And a "Stupid Or Not? – Education for a Smarter Planet" pack will be given to the first 1,000 secondary schools that sign up.
Be part of 10:10
The 10:10 climate change campaign, supported by the Guardian, aims to get individuals, companies and institutions to reduce their carbon footprints by 10% during 2010. To find out more, go to guardian.co.uk/10-10, or sign up at www.1010uk.org. A number of schools have already signed up: find out if yours has at www.1010uk.org/education#whos_in

Reverse the decline in green taxes

The Green Fiscal Commission's report shows how the transition to a low-carbon economy can be helped by smart taxation
John Sauven
guardian.co.uk, Monday 26 October 2009 15.00 GMT
Talk is cheap, and valued accordingly. At some point ministers will need to translate their climate rhetoric into the language of real change – money. Since 1997 the proportion of government revenues derived from green taxes has actually fallen. The cost of motoring (despite the tabloid headlines) has fallen by 13% in real terms since 1997, while bus and coach fares have increased by 17% above inflation. For most of us, political speeches are a dull drone in the background while the message that always comes through loud and clear is spelt out in pounds and pence. If we're serious about confronting climate change – and everyone actively involved in the debate claims to be – then some taxes are going to have to rise.
That doesn't mean the total tax take, nor taxes on the poor and vulnerable – these complaints are distractions that can be easily dealt with in a variety of ways, most obviously by balancing increases in green taxes with reductions in other taxes, particularly those which impact most heavily on the least well off. This is about the change in approach that Labour promised back in the 90s, a reduction in taxing the positive products of our society, and an increase in taxes on the negatives – primarily pollution. What tax could be fairer than one where the polluter who damages the resources we hold in common – air, water, soil and a stable climate – pays for that damage?
But this is not just an issue of justice. The economic choices we make will determine whether we enter the low-carbon economy as world leaders, dominating export markets with clean technology made in Britain, or have to mortgage our economic recovery importing that technology while spending billions buying carbon credits from the nations who overtook us. Nations like Germany and Denmark, who remodelled their tax systems to encourage green innovation and are now the world leaders in those technologies.
The Stern review advocated three kinds of policy to reduce CO2 emissions: carbon pricing, technology stimulation and removal of the barriers to behaviour change. Green tax acts on all three. It prices carbon. It stimulates low carbon technology. And it incentivises behaviour change.
There's a rare confluence here of desperate need with competitive advantage. We don't have any choice over reducing our emissions if we want to retain any sort of economy at all, but we can use a gradual implementation of the sorts of measures proposed in the Green Fiscal Commission's report to make that transition in an advantageous way, giving us green jobs in new low-carbon industries, a better-trained construction industry expert in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies; energy-efficient homes, with consumers keeping warm using less energy, and spending no more than before; and greater energy security with the UK being less vulnerable both to disruptions to supplies of fossil fuels and to energy price rises in oil and gas markets.
But all this comes at the cost of admitting that sometimes – perhaps rarely and in very specific circumstances, but sometimes – a tax rise can be a good thing.