Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Key Democrat Cites Concerns on Climate Bill

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Max Baucus said Tuesday he has "serious reservations" about climate legislation unveiled by his Democratic colleagues, signaling trouble for a proposal that is stronger in certain respects than a bill passed by the House.
Mr. Baucus made his comments at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which took up climate legislation written by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.). The bill calls for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. That is tougher than a House-passed version, which calls for a reduction of 17%.
The Senate bill also protects the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions using the Clean Air Act, powers that were stripped by the House.
Mr. Baucus, a Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Finance Committee, will be a key player in shaping any final bill, as that panel also has jurisdiction over some elements of climate legislation. His views are closer to those of other Democrats from heartland and coal-dependent states whose support will be essential to passing a climate bill.
"I have some concerns about the overall direction of the bill," Mr. Baucus said at the start of hearings Tuesday. "I have serious reservations with the depth of the midterm reduction target...and the lack of pre-emption of the Clean Air Act."
As proposed, the bill risks moving legislators "further away from that achievable consensus on common-sense climate-change [legislation]," Mr. Baucus said.
Ms. Boxer said Mr. Baucus might adjust his position when she explains that the 20% target is easier to achieve since U.S. greenhouse-gas levels have fallen in recent years. "We're going to be talking with him about that," she said.
Other Democratic members of the committee also hinted they would like to see a more moderate bill. Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) expressed concern that emission-intense industries such as oil refining or coal-production might be hurt. Pennsylvania industry relies heavily on coal-generated power.
Supporters of the climate proposal can ill afford to lose any Democratic votes in the Senate, given stiff Republican opposition. GOP panel members have said they will try to keep the bill from passing out of committee if there isn't a comprehensive review of costs by the EPA and the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans say the Kerry-Boxer bill as drafted could hurt the economy.
Several cabinet officials appeared at the hearing to encourage passage of a bill to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The Senate bill, like the House measure, would require companies across the economy to hold government-issued permits to emit greenhouse gases -- including carbon dioxide -- which scientists have linked to a long-term rise in global temperatures.
Like the House measure, the Senate bill aims to ease costs to industry by initially giving away for free permits to certain industries, such as electric utilities and makers of steel and cement. Over time, the government would reduce the number of permits issued, bringing down emissions, while letting companies trade the valuable permits among themselves.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at and Ian Talley at

Climate change is a feminist issue

Granting women control over their own reproduction would combat overpopulation and reduce carbon emissions

Mary Fitzgerald, Tuesday 27 October 2009 16.30 GMT
When it emerged earlier this year that Obama's science tsar John Holdren had once, back in 1977, co-authored a textbook discussing possible methods of population control, among them sterilisation, America's rightwing fury machine triumphantly seized upon it, dubbing him Obama's "science fiction tsar".
Yet with the climate change conference in Copenhagen approaching, how fictitious is the need for population control? As Alex Renton noted in November's Prospect magazine, if the world's population continues to grow at present rate, by 2050 the globe will need the resources of a second Earth to sustain it. And if you throw in the projected effects of a warming planet, the problem starts to look as apocalyptic as it did to Holdren, and many others, back in the 1970s.
However world leaders might try to spin this problem, nearly all the ways of tackling climate change involve taking rights away from people – be it their right to fly, to drive, or to heat their patios. The one thing that would do the opposite, that would empower human beings, would be to give women across the world control over their own bodies. Plenty of them want it: according to the UN, there are currently more than 200 million women worldwide wanting but unable to get contraception. So forget ghoulish 1970s notions of compulsory abortions – as Michelle Goldberg points out, feminism has already vanquished these – we can start "controlling" population simply by providing women with basic rights. In short, population control, and by extension climate change, are feminist issues.
Wherever women have adequate access to contraception, education, the right to work, equality before the law, the birth rate plummets. And this is where western liberal proclivities towards cultural relativism start to break down. However much we might want to respect other cultures, those that deny women these rights are directly harming all of us, even if our own society is an equitable, gender-blind utopia. Unless we want a world ravaged by droughts and floods, we are going to have to start demanding women be treated as equal citizens – everywhere. In fact, you don't even have to call it feminism. You could call it calculated self-interest.
Population control is not something the "developing world" alone needs to wise up to, either. Quite the opposite. The one-child policy of China, the world's fastest developing country, is infamous, yet as a result we already have 300-400m fewer people on the planet. (Interestingly, China is doing a lot more on climate change in other areas than we assume too). That's not to suggest that we import China's birth control policies wholesale – the People's Republic, after all, is not widely known for its regard for anyone's rights, female or otherwise. But we have to do something: one British child pollutes more than 30 children in sub-Saharan Africa do. And, unlike in Britain, there are pressing economic reasons why women in sub-Saharan Africa need children.
True, many women in rich countries already choose to limit their families; Britain's average birth rate per family is a modest 1.97, roughly average for the developed world. But this means a vast number of women are still having more than three children and, given the disproportionate bulk of their carbon footprint, they need to be persuaded not to. This doesn't have to take the shape of draconian legislation, but rather positive incentives. We should not deny women autonomy over their own bodies (as many pro-life campaigns seek to), but we could make child benefits for smaller families much more generous. We could also offer middle-class families generous tax breaks if they have two children or less. This isn't taking away people's rights, it's just weighting the options differently – and, in turn, better protecting the rights of others who share this planet.
You don't even have to believe in global warming to come to this conclusion; you can still have your head firmly in the sand about the fact that humans are having an effect on the temperature of this planet. The population question exists outside this issue. It's simply a matter of maths: the Earth can only host a finite number of people. And surely educating and bettering the lives of the world's women, for whatever purpose, is no bad thing?

Senate Democrats push for climate bill ahead of Copenhagen

• Obama administration warns of cost of inaction• Move met with opposition from Baucus and Inhofe
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 27 October 2009 19.54 GMT
The epic confrontation about how America will power the economy of the future formally got underway today amid stark warnings from the Obama administration of the costs of inaction on energy reform.
Today's hearing, the first of three blockbuster sessions in the Senate, marks a last heave by administration officials and Democratic leaders to advance a bill to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions before an international climate change meeting at Copenhagen, now just six weeks away.
They were met with strong opposition from a powerful Democrat as well as Republicans on the environment and public works committee.
With the clock running down to Copenhagen, the administration wheeled out four top officials to make the case that failure to act now on climate change would relegate America to lower tier status in the global economy. "When the starting gun sounded on the clean energy race, the United States stumbled," Steven Chu, the energy secretary, told the environment and public works committee. "If we don't choose to begin the development of this new technology, China and other countries will."
American legislation on climate change is seen as essential to reaching a meaningful deal at Copenhagen. But the White House held up action in the Senate on a climate change bill to focus on healthcare reform. The proposed law, which now stretches for more than 900 pages, would cut America's greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over 2005 levels by 2020 and encourage the development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Democratic leaders in the Senate are now struggling to advance a bill - which does not have solid support even among their own party - before the meeting in Copenhagen.
In an ominous sign for those prospects, Max Baucus, who ranks second on the environment committee and chairs the finance committee which will also review the bill, said the proposed 20% reduction target was too steep. "I have some concerns about the overall direction of the bill," he said. "We cannot afford the unmitigated impacts of climate change but we also cannot afford the unmitigated effects of legislation."
For weeks, the White House, Democrats, and environmental organisations have lobbied hard to frame the bill as an economic opportunity.
Obama picked up the theme again in a visit to a solar plant in Florida where he announced $3.48bn in government grants to projects modernising America's electrical grid. In introducing the bill today, Barbara Boxer leaned heavily on an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency that showed the shift away from oil and coal would cost just 22 to 30 cents a day.
Global warming isn't waiting for who is a Democrat or who is a Republican. Either we are going to deal with this problem or we are not," she said.
John Kerry, who co-wrote the bill with Boxer, said it would usher in a technological revolution akin to the rapid growth of the internet in the 1990s. "We are going to create the equivalent of five or 10 Googles and that is going to drive the economy of our country," said John Kerry, the former presidential candidate who is the other co-author of the bill.
But their arguments appeared to make little headway with Republicanson the committee. James Inhofe, the Okalahoma Republican who notoriously declared global warming a hoax, called the bill a "temple of doom" which would cost Americans up to $400bn a year.
Some Republicans pressed for investment to build 100 new nuclear plants over the next decade, or to expand offshore oil drilling to meet America's future energy needs. Others argued that America would be damaging its own interests if it embarked on costly energy reforms - while emerging powers like India and China did not.

Europe puts figure on green aid to push climate change deal

David Adam, environment correspondent, Tuesday 27 October 2009 20.34 GMT
Europe is to breathe life into the faltering search for a new global deal on climate change by pledging billions of pounds in financial support for poor countries, the Guardian can reveal.
European heads of state will formally recommend this week that rich countries should hand over around €100bn (£90bn) a year to nations such as India and Vietnam by 2020 to help them cope with the impact of global warming. The pledge is expected to come at the end of a two-day summit of European leaders on Thursday and Friday, and before negotiations on a new climate treaty in Copenhagen in December.
The move marks a victory in Brussels for the UK and Gordon Brown, who appears to have won arguments with member states including Germany over whether Europe should commit to climate funding ahead of the Copenhagen talks. Brown was the first western leader to put hard figures on the table when he said in a speech earlier this year that rich countries needed to provide $100bn (£61bn) a year by 2020.
A draft copy of the European summit's conclusions obtained by the Guardian spells out that a "deal on financing will be a central part of an agreement in Copenhagen" and that Europe is ready to "take on its resulting fair share of total international public finance".
The document says: "It is estimated that the total net incremental costs of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries could amount to around €100bn annually by 2020, to be met through a combination of their own efforts, the international carbon market and international public finance."
It adds: "The overall level of the international public support required is estimated to lie in the range of €22bn to €50bn per year by 2020 … this range could be narrowed down in view of the Copenhagen summit." The document does not specify how much money Europe is willing to provide, though previous estimates have put their likely contribution at about €10bn-€15bn each year. That could land European taxpayers with a bill of about €5bn-€7.5bn each year.
The European move marks the first formal recognition that rich countries will need to pick up the climate change bill prior to Copenhagen. Developing nations such as China and India have stressed that serious financial assistance is a prerequisite for any deal in Copenhagen.
The draft European position says: "All countries, except the least developed, should contribute to international public financing … based on emission levels and on GDP to reflect both responsibility for global emissions and ability to pay."
Such a move would leave the US with a bill running to tens of billions a year, unlikely to go down well in Washington.
The European move comes amid gathering pessimism on the chances of a meaningful deal at Copenhagen. Hanne Bjurstroem, Norway's chief climate negotiator, became the latest senior figure to express doubts when she told Reuters today: "I don't believe we will get a full, ratifiable, legally binding agreement from Copenhagen."
Joss Garman of Greenpeace said: "This document has a big number but as soon as you drill down there's no plan for how to raise the money. Europe needs to push for a levy on shipping and aviation which could raise tens of billions to finance low carbon development in poor countries, and the means to adapt to climate change. Solving the question of finance for the developing world is the key to success in Copenhagen."Some experts have said the true costs to the developing world of tackling climate change could be much higher than what will now be pledged – perhaps up to $200-300bn a year. China and India have called for rich countries to hand over 1% of their GDP.

The Sketch: It's a climate of confusion, for sure

Simon Carr
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Things are so complicated it's a wonder anyone knows what's going on. But then, no one does. No one can. There's too much to know. Not that Lord Turner of Ecchinswell put it like that. He's climate change. It's his job to project omniscience in the face of the unknowable.
He told the Environmental Audit Committee that reducing emissions by 80 per cent will lead to a 50-50 probability of keeping world temperature increases below C. How wonderfully authoritative that sounds. What certainty it offers, by specifying the degree of uncertainty. What precision. What exactitude.
At the cost of several trillion dollars, we will achieve a global goal that sceptics assume is unachievable. This amazing effort may or may not have the predicted effect. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. Is that a little casual? By the same token, he told us that with the 80 per cent reduction, the chance of world temperatures increasing by 4C is just 1 per cent.
But we live in a world where temperature claims on both sides are supported by conflicting statistics and where the economic cycle makes a mockery of politicians' predictions – but here is Lord Turner applying his definitive probabilities to a multi-trillion-dollar bet and assumes he will carry the country with him.
He also said that if we wanted to increase the probability to 99 per cent we would have to start de-industrialising immediately. But then if we did de-industrialise and we still breached the C he would rightfully say: "I did warn you there was one chance in a hundred it would happen."
These unknowables are matched by the more ordinary mysteries of administrative life.
What's the likelihood of getting three nuclear power stations through planning and construction by 2020. Is that going to happen? "It is... absolutely... not impossible," Lord Turner said. He didn't specify the improbability.
Now, as you're a well-informed climate change specialist you can almost certainly explain the difference between a carbon credit and a carbon offset and why a credit is better than an offset. But did you know that your virtuously-procured EU Emissions Trading credits contain offsets? Ah ha!
But even if you're expert in the field to the extent of being on the EAC you might be confused about whether new power stations really had to be clean-coal-compliant. You thought there was wriggle room? No the policy changed in February.
And even if you're the minister you might not know whether some target for 2020 was 2 per cent or 20 per cent – the ministerial preference. It was 2 per cent in the minister's document but it's certain there is a probability factor that everyone was right.

Australians 'could be forced to evacuate seaside homes'

Anne Barrowclough in Sydney

Australia’s fabled beachside life of sea, surf and sundowners overlooking the ocean is under threat from rising sea levels. Those living in coastal areas most at risk could be ordered out of their homes for their own safety, while construction in other sensitive seaside areas may be banned.
A government report on climate change says that urgent action is needed to protect thousands of miles of coastline and to maintain an Australian way of life.
The issue is already coming to a head in several areas. At Byron Bay, a popular resort on the northern New South Wales coast, owners of luxury homes are fighting council plans to force the demolition of properties under threat from erosion.
The concentration of people and infrastructure on the coast makes the country “particularly vulnerable to the coastal erosion and inundation that will accompany increases in sea level”, according to the report from the bipartisan Lower House Environment Committee. It notes that for each 1cm rise in sea level, the shoreline could be pushed back by 1m.

Sea levels are expected to rise up to 80cm (32ins) globally this century, according to forecasts by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, posing a significant threat to coastlines. While most Australian states accept these forecasts, the New South Wales state government commissioned a separate report from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and is projecting a global sea level rise closer to one metre.
Australia’s principal cities are all in coastal areas and 80 per cent of Australians live near the sea, with about 711,000 homes within 3km (2 miles) of the ocean. The committee,which spent 18 months examining the impact of climate change on the country’s coastal areas, recommends that authorities consider “the possibility of a government instrument that prohibits continued occupation of the land, or future building due to sea hazard”.
Alan Stokes, from the National Seachange Taskforce, which represents local councils in coastal areas, said that the committee’s recommendations should be treated as a blueprint for the future. “There are areas around the coast that are vulnerable to such an extent that there can be no guarantee that people can live there in the future in a sense of security,” said Mr Stokes. “What we are looking at is the prospect of losing those coastal attributes that people find so attractive.”
In Byron Bay, the Byron Shire Council, which is controlled by the Green Party, published a planning policy recently advocating “planned retreat”, allowing natural erosion of the coastline, to the extent of preventing homeowners from building rock defences to protect their property from rising sea levels. Should the council succeed in enforcing this law any house under threat of erosion would be demolished.
Several residents have already been stopped from building walls to protect beachfront homes from storm surges but after mounting a legal battle they hope for a reprieve after the state government announced its own objections to the council’s move.
Sydney’s northern beaches have also proven vulnerable, with insurance firms refusing to cover some beachfront homes. The situation at Byron Bay has led to a call for greater clarification of the rights of property owners to protect homes from climate change.
The report also includes recommendations for a national coastline plan, greater co-operation between different authorities, and a revised building code to cope with storm surges and soil erosion.

Go green, go vegan

It may not be his only concern, but Lord Stern's suggestion that changing our diet would help slow climate change is important

Chris Goodall, Tuesday 27 October 2009 15.30 GMT
Clearly irritated that his argument in an interview in the Times had been boiled down to a "go veggie to save the planet" headline, Nicholas Stern has issued a clarifying statement:
I think that once people understand the great risks that climate change poses, they will naturally want to choose products and services that cause little or no emissions of greenhouse gases, which means 'low-carbon consumption'. This will apply across the board, including electricity, heating, transport and food. A diet that relies heavily on meat production results in higher emissions than a typical vegetarian diet. Different individuals will make different choices. However, the debate about climate change should not be dumbed down to a single slogan, such as 'give up meat to save the planet'.
Without representing his position as advocacy for veganism, Stern's point on food is correct: the average western diet makes a very substantial contribution to climate change. Rough calculations suggest that food production is responsible for between 15% and 20% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Food miles are important and the electricity consumption of a big supermarket might surprise you. But the really serious issue is the intensive farming of livestock, particularly cows and sheep, which generate as much as a half of the total emissions. One study from 2007 suggested that the CO2-equivalent emissions of global warming gases from beef production could be as much as 50 times the weight of the meat itself.
There are three elements to the problem: farmed livestock eat large quantities of grain, they belch methane and they use land that might otherwise be forest. To get a kilo of beef, the animal typically eats about eight kilos of grain. That corn or wheat took energy to grow, required a lot of artificial fertiliser and then needed to be processed into a cake for cattle. Some of the fertiliser applied to fields breaks down into nitrous oxide, a far more powerful global warming gas than carbon dioxide. Cows and sheep emit methane as bacteria in their digestive tracts digest the cellulose in plants. And, worldwide, the gradual increase in the consumption of meat creates pressure to cut down forests to create new pastureland and cropland for grains to help feed the livestock.
As countries get more prosperous, their populations tend to eat more meat. So unless we do something, the impacts of livestock farming are probably going to get worse. And, by the way, it isn't just meat. The same arguments apply, albeit with less force, to dairy products as well. The best diet from a climate point of view is probably a mixture of dried plant-based foods, such as beans and nuts, with large quantities of locally grown seasonal vegetables and fruits. It may also be best for our health and it would certainly save us money. In fact, the simplest and cheapest way of largely meeting your commitment to the 10:10 campaign would probably be to eat vegan foods for half the week. To many people this will seem a less demanding challenge than not flying for a summer holiday.
Nevertheless, the reaction to Lord Stern's statement has been unpleasantly vicious. People have seen his views as another illustration of how "climate change" will be used as an excuse for the elite to limit the choices of ordinary people. We are already being told to drive less, not to fly and to buy dim lightbulbs. Stern's comments suggest a future campaign to reduce our hamburger consumption.
Unfortunately, the many stresses on the world's ecosystems mean that either we eat less meat or change our farming and food manufacturing methods. The greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, food manufacturing, transport and retailing are now about two tonnes a head, about as much as we can afford to emit from all our activities in 2050. Either we decide to eat a very different diet, as Stern suggests, or we try to change agriculture so that it becomes a helpful part of our drive to reduce emissions. Instead of depleting the soil and abusing animals in pursuit of cheap meat, we could put our weight behind schemes for using agricultural soils to sequester CO2. A new campaign, called Climate Friendly Food, may offer us a way of continuing to eat some meat and looking after the global atmosphere at the same time.

Indian engineer 'builds' new glaciers to stop global warming

A retired Indian engineer is waging his own one-man battle to stop global warming melting away the Himalayan glaciers: He claims he has discovered a way to create new glaciers.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi Published: 6:00AM GMT 28 Oct 2009
Chewang Norphel, 76, has "built" 12 new glaciers already and is racing to create five more before he dies.
By then he hopes he will have trained enough new "icemen" to continue his work and save the world's "third icecap" from being transformed into rivers.

His race against time is shared by Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister who called on the region's Himalayan nations, including China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, to form a united front to tackle glacial melting.
The great Himalayan glaciers, including Kashmir's Siachen glacier, feed the region's most important rivers, which irrigate farm land in Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh and throughout the Indian sub-continent. The apparent acceleration in glacial melting has been blamed for the increase in floods which have destroyed homes and crops.
Chewang Norphel, the "Iceman of Ladakh", however believes he has an answer.
By diverting meltwater through a network of pipes into artificial lakes in the shaded side of mountain valleys, he says he has created new glaciers.
A dam or embankment is built to keep in the water, which freezes at night and remains frozen in the absence of direct sunlight. The water remains frozen until March, when the start of summer melts the new glacier and releases the water into the rivers below.
So far, Mr Norphel's glaciers have been able to each store up to one million cubic feet of ice, which in turn can irrigate 200 hectares of farm land. For farmers, that can make the difference between crop failure and a bumper crop of more than 1,000 tons of wheat.
The "iceman" says he has seen the effects of global warming on farmland as snows have become thinner on the ground and ice rivers have melted away never to return.
His own work has now been recognised by the Indian government, which has given him £16,000 to build five new glaciers. But time is his enemy, he told The Hindustan Times. "I'm planning to train villagers with instruction CDs that I have made, so that I can pass on the knowledge before I die," he said.

International palm oil strategy falters as producers question emission cuts

Insiders say international initiative to set environmental standards for palm oil production is 'on brink of collapse'
David Adam, Tuesday 27 October 2009 11.36 GMT
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.
The move could have significant implications for the UK government, which is relying on the project to defuse criticism that Britain's biofuel policies will help destroy rainforest and worsen climate change.
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, though the volume used is expected to increase as biofuel use expands. Palm oil is one of the cheapest biofuels and several UK power stations that could burn it to generate electricity are in the pipeline.
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. "It's a crucial moment. If we don't get agreement on this, then I think a large number of stakeholders will consider withdrawing." The issue will be discussed again at an RSPO meeting this weekend, and needs the support of the companies to be approved.
Tim Killeen, who represents Conservation International on the roundtable, said: "Failure to reach a compromise would be a serious blow to the credibility of the RSPO. I find it hard to believe that in 2010 people will accept a definition of sustainability that does not explicitly address the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
RSPO representatives from the Indonesia and Malaysia palm oil firms would not comment. A position paper from Malaysia's Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (pdf) attacks RSPO plans to ban new plantations on peatland, which produce significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions. It says: "Peatlands worldwide, including those from temperate countries, are being utilised for commercial purposes, so why can't we allocate part of our precious resources for oil palm to generate revenue for local people?"
The Indonesian Oil Palm Research Institute said: "Unfortunately the work of the [RSPO working group on greenhouse gases] has solely covered environmental issues and totally missed out economic and social aspects. In addition, we found many gaps in current research findings which create uncertainties."
Under plans to be discussed at UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December, tropical nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia could be compensated if they leave such forests standing, rather than replacing them with planted oil palm. But this so-called Redd scheme is yet to be finalised, and there is no guarantee that the Copenhagen talks will set up the financial mechanisms required.
Johan Verburg, who represents Oxfam in the RSPO, said global brands, retailers and banks have not yet given a clear signal on if or how they will value efforts by palm oil producers to address carbon emissions.
"Realistically, it was an illusion to think that producers would voluntarily commit to short-term measures in the absence of global compensation mechanisms," he said. "Although results as yet are disappointing, I believe it is too early to speak about a failure. However, the current situation shows it is even more urgent for palm oil sourcing companies in the UK and elsewhere to express their need for sustainable palm oil."

Planting the seeds of environmental disaster

The expansion of oil palm cultivation is driving global warming
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
The typical image used to represent the process of global warming is a power station, belching out black smoke. But an equally valid image would be an oil palm sitting serenely under a tropical sky. Rainforests are being cleared across south-east Asia, West Africa and South America to make way for palm oil plantations, which produce the world's cheapest vegetable oil. Yet deforestation is one of the greatest drivers of climate change. The destruction of the planet's rainforests is responsible for 20 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, as hardwood trees that have locked up carbon for decades are felled and burned.
Tropical deforestation might feel like something that is remote from our daily lives in Britain. But the reality is that the consumer choices millions of us make every day are contributing to the destruction of these forests. Half of all packaged food products sold by our supermarkets are made with tropical palm oil.

But this is not an exclusively British phenomenon. Food manufacturers across the world are helping to drive demand for palm oil. And in so doing they (and we) are adding to the forces of destruction assailing our precious, carbon-storing rainforests.
Palm oil cultivation does not need to involve such rampant destruction. If planted on marginal land, its environmental impact can be minimal. And many Western companies signed up three years ago to a commitment to use Asian palm oil from sustainable plantations, rather than the variety produced by rainforest clearance. But as we reveal today, their record in following through on these commitments has been miserable. Relatively few have made serious efforts to ensure that their palm oil is sustainably sourced. Although British manufacturers have generally been better than those in the rest of Europe, their achievement is nothing to boast of. The food industry as a whole has failed to make a decisive shift to sustainable palm oil.
Failure threatens on other fronts too. As we reported this week, the fate of a global deforestation treaty that will be presented to international delegates at the Copenhagen climate change summit in December is hanging in the balance. As presently framed, this treaty would grant Western subsidies to poor nations that cut down virgin rainforests and replace them with palm oil plantations. This is the opposite of what is required. Subsidies from rich countries to encourage developing nations to preserve their rainforests are undoubtedly needed. They will encourage sustainable economic growth in some of the poorest nations in the world while protecting a common international environmental resource. But there can be no question of subsidising palm oil plantations.
If this treaty is ratified in its present form it would be a disaster. Its effect would be to encourage the destruction of rainforests and accelerate the catastrophic release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that such felling would entail. Responsible governments need to ensure this treaty is modified before it reaches Copenhagen. But relying on high politics is not enough. Consumer pressure is also needed. At the moment, many food manufacturers are paying little more than lip service to their environmental commitments. Shoppers in the rich world should increase the pressure on such firms by boycotting products made with unsustainable palm oil.
The threat of environmental disaster that hangs over us comes in many shapes; and few loom larger than the shape of the oil palm.

Taiwan wind blows SeaEnergy's way

Published Date: 28 October 2009
ABERDEEN-BASED SeaEnergy, the firm formerly known as Ramco, yesterday unveiled a deal with the Taiwan Generations Corporation to develop offshore wind farms off the Taiwanese coast.
Joel Staadecker, SeaEnergy Renewables' chief executive, said: "Taiwan represents an opportunity to internationalise quickly in an environment where a project can be consented at a reasonably early date and at reasonable cost."The Aim-listed company's renewables subsidiary is made up of the team that developed the Beatrice offshore wind farm in the North Sea. The firm is working with Scottish & Southern Energy and RWE on projects off the UK coast.

Petrol prices hit highest level this year

Petrol prices are now at their highest level of the year, according to the AA.

Published: 2:31PM GMT 27 Oct 2009

Average prices at the pumps are now 107.14p a litre - beating the previous 2009 high of 107.03p a litre on September 9.
Diesel is also at its highest price of the year - averaging 108.40p a litre, the AA reported.

Petrol prices in Britain had fallen to 104.97p a litre by October 11, with diesel at 105.96p, before starting to climb again. This means that a tank of petrol now costs on average nearly £1.10 more than it did two weeks ago.
AA Public Affairs head Paul Watters said: ''With the rise in wholesale prices slowing and the price of oil falling back, the AA is hoping that this is yet another spike in the pump price that will drop back.
''However, it comes as drivers see the demands of winter motoring increase their vehicles' fuel consumption. This is bad news for families trying to make ends meet in recession.''
He went on: ''Although the blame lies squarely with stock market traders shifting funds from currencies to commodities, a 1.3p-a-litre rise in the pump price of petrol this week fuels driver suspicion that forecourt prices rise faster than they come down.''

Solar-Power Innovator Who Weathered Booms and Busts

Using his family as human guinea pigs, George Löf created two of the first solar-heated homes in America. A voluble apostle for all things sun-powered, he was known to hand out plastic Fresnel lenses -- the kind used to start fires with the sun -- imprinted with his name like a business card.
Mr. Löf, who died Oct. 12 at the age of 95, conducted his first experiments with solar-power homes during World War II. The heat-transfer technologies he pioneered are part of many of today's solar-heating systems.
Colorado State University
Mr. Löf had to dismantle the solar-heating system on his first house in order to sell it.
Mr. Löf built two solar-heated homes for his family at a time when such systems were all but unheard of. For decades, Mr. Löf's solar research found little practical application beyond the homes he constructed himself. It wasn't until the 1970s, when soaring oil prices spurred interest in alternative energy, that he sought to commercialize the technology he had developed.
His first forays into solar research were financed by U.S. War Production Board grants, a wartime effort aimed at oil conservation. He relied on those grants to add a solar-heating system to his home in Denver in 1945. It consisted of a large glass roof panel and a series of pipes that led to a cache of gravel in the basement. Energy from the sun produced hot air that then heated the gravel. The gravel stored the heat, which was then used to heat the house. Mr. Löf reported that his oil use dropped about 30%.
Mr. Löf next built a home around the technology instead of retrofitting an old one, and reported even higher fuel savings. But solar heating was so unusual that he ended up having to dismantle the system on his first house in order to sell it.
Still, Mr. Löf saw a bright future in solar power, and in 1955 he predicted that within two decades 13 million homes would be solar-heated. The actual number turned out to be a tiny fraction of that -- perhaps around 5,000, according to one estimate.
Born in 1913 in Aspen, Colo., when it was still a mining town, Mr. Löf was the son of a country doctor who had emigrated from Sweden. He studied chemical engineering at the University of Denver and earned a doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mr. Löf taught chemical engineering first at the University of Colorado and then for two decades in the 1950s and 1960s at the University of Denver, where he was director of an industrial research institute.
In 1967, Mr. Löf moved to Colorado State University, where he went on to found the Solar Energy Application Laboratory. Led by Mr. Löf, scientists on the project built a series of demonstration houses that they said were the first to be both heated and cooled by the sun. Cooling works by using solar-heated water to drive a chemical refrigeration unit, or by chilling a pebble bed with cool night air.
The SEAL project allowed engineers to compare the efficiency of different solar technologies and develop industry standards. The scientists found their research to be in hot demand, as interest in solar heating surged in response to the oil shocks of the 1970s. Federal tax credits authorized during the administration of President Jimmy Carter added to the boom.
"There were a lot of hucksters out there selling bad systems," said Byron Winn, a Colorado State engineering professor who worked with Mr. Löf. "George was a gentleman in every sense but not at all reluctant to point out when there was snake oil out there."
Eventually, Mr. Löf decided to pursue commercial applications of his research, founding Denver-based Solaron Corp. in 1974 to design and install solar-heating systems in homes and farms.
More than 100,000 homes nationwide had solar-heating systems by 1980, according to U.S. Department of Energy statistics, and it looked like the industry was set to take off. But the tax credits were allowed to lapse in 1985 as oil prices retreated, and demand for solar panels withered. Mr. Löf's Solaron filed for bankruptcy in 1987.
While Mr. Löf focused primarily on home heating, he sought to develop other applications for his research, including, most notably, a solar cooker. Crafted from metallized plastic sheeting and shaped like an umbrella, his solar cooker's precise parabolic form focused the sun's rays, creating enough heat to broil a steak. Mr. Löf joked that it would cook in the sunshine, and act as an umbrella in the rain. But the "Umbroiler," as he dubbed it, was a commercial failure.
Mr. Löf worked on other solar cookers that were distributed in developing countries by Unesco, and he patented a system for using solar heat to distill freshwater from seawater.
The family home Mr. Löf built in Denver became a model for emerging solar home heating systems and attracted engineers from around the world.
Other than replacing occasional cracked glass panels on the roof, the system needed virtually no maintenance, and was still going strong at Mr. Löf's death, more than half a century after he had installed it, his son, Larry Löf, said.
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Why Blue-NG is proud to generate electricity from vegetable oil

George Monbiot was wrong to criticise Blue-NG for its use of vegetable oil – we use UK-sourced rapeseed oil and not palm oil, writes chief executive Andrew Mercer
Andrew Mercer, Tuesday 27 October 2009 11.55 GMT
George Monbiot was wide of the mark when he criticised Blue-NG for its use of vegetable oil as a fuel to generate electricity and heat. This emphatically does not include palm oil, which we regard as unsustainable. But in combination with recycled vegetable oil (RVO) and biogas from waste, Blue-NG will use UK-sourced rapeseed oil (OSR). This is crude, unrefined vegetable oil sourced as close as possible to our generating plants. It should not be confused with biodiesel, which is a heavily processed and refined high-carbon product, mixed with 95% fossil fuel diesel. The Green party toured the country this summer during the European elections campaign in a bus fuelled by UK-sourced rapeseed biodiesel. Blue-NG believes that the best use of OSR is to generate renewable electricity and heat for our homes and industry, not to prolong our love affair with the internal combustion engine.
One of our combined heat and power (CHP) plants will power about 45,000 homes or keep 80,000 electric cars on the road. Over a year, it will produce 153,541MWh of electricity. It will save between 45 and 61,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum compared with the current grid mix of fuels. Its electrical efficiency ranges between 65% and 80%, making it one of the most efficient electrical generators in the world. Add in the heat and it tops 90% overall efficiency.
One tonne of biodiesel in cars reduces CO2 emissions by 1.235 tonnes. One tonne of crude OSR in our CHP plant produces savings of 2.304 tonnes. One hectare of land yields 1520 litres of crude rapeseed oil and 1445 litres of heavily refined biodiesel. So, twice as much land is needed to achieve the same CO2 savings if OSR is used to make biodiesel for the Green party's bus, rather than to generate power and heat. Both the renewable transport and energy sectors receive subsidies from the taxpayer to encourage take-up. It is over £50 a tonne cheaper to reduce CO2 via CHP than it is with cars.
There are millions of hectares of land lying idle across the EU. OSR and cereal crop prices have declined from last year's spikes. OSR and wheat are roughly the same price that they were 10 years ago. So, by using British-sourced OSR, already a long established "break crop" grown in rotation with cereals, we do not pose a threat to world food supplies or prices. The UK has surplus OSR and this year, British farmers lost money growing it. (They lost money growing wheat as well.)
For every 100 tonnes of OSR that we grow, only 13 tonnes is used to provide our fuel. The rest goes back into the food chain. 70 tonnes is ploughed back into the soil to replenish it for next year's cereal crop (alternatively it could be burned as biomass) and 16 tonnes is turned into animal feed (thereby reducing demand for imported soya) only 1% of the plant is waste.
What's more, our emissions have been modelled as being "negligible" which means that our plants can operate safely even in air quality management zones in cities.
We are proud to be a sustainable, low-carbon, clean, decentralised, local power and heat provider, that supports British farmers.
• Andrew Mercer is the chief executive of Blue-NG

First change the pig’s diet, then change ours

The environmental damage caused by our appetite for meat is immense. We must end our wasteful ways of rearing animals
Tristram Stuart

Tesco will soon carry carbon labels on its meat products. These will show that beef and cheese are vastly more costly in terms of carbon emissions than alternatives such as lentils and chicken. It would appear that Tesco knows how to sell things to the public — even climate-change induced dietary shifts — rather better than hairshirt-wearing environmentalists.
The furious response to Lord Stern of Brentford’s comments about meat consumption suggests that many believe he was calling for a Soviet-style imposition of strict vegetarianism on the entire population. He wasn’t. He was simply reiterating the point he has been making since the 2006 Stern report: that it would be much cheaper and more beneficial to address climate change now, rather than waiting for global warming to wreak havoc.
When it comes to food production, Lord Stern points out that people must pay for the true cost of their choices. Take the world’s remaining tropical forests. They are valuable habitat for innumerable species of plants and animals, and they store billions of tonnes of carbon, which if released, would harm everyone. And yet, millions of acres of forest are cleared every year, largely to produce soy and grassland to satisfy the soaring global demand for meat and dairy products.
Deforestation and forest degradation is costing the world’s economy €1.3 to €3.4 trillion every year. But no one is paying this bill. Although these costs are real, and constantly rising, the world economy currently has no mechanism for billing those responsible for them.

Lord Stern’s view is that we should put a price on these costs. This would mean that those who wished to buy the most polluting items would be free to do so: but they should pay for it. It is inequitable to expect others — including our descendants — to pay that bill for us.
Promoting vegetarianism to save the climate would be a tactical error. For the carnivorous majority it is an alienating concept and, more to the point, it is by no means necessary to save the planet. The V-word was invented in the 1840s to provide a label for those who wished to build a barrier between their own pure diet and the meaty meals of the majority. Society responded by pigeon-holing vegetarians as sandal-wearing faddists and then ignoring most of what they said.
There has been a turnaround in attitudes in the past two or three years. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested last year that cutting down on meat was “the most attractive opportunity” for making simple and swift reductions in emissions. Jonathon Porritt, founder of Forum for the Future, has long put his name to the “eat less meat” campaign. Now Nicholas Stern has joined his voice to theirs.
These initiatives have largely been in response to the mounting evidence about the harmful effects of modern meat production. In 2006 the UN concluded that the livestock sector produces 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, from a noxious combination of methane emissions, fossil fuel consumption, nitrogen fertilisers and deforestation.
About 40 per cent of the world’s cereals are used to feed farm animals, mainly for the satisfaction of the world’s richest consumers. This seems greedy when there are nearly a billion people in the world who can’t get enough food for themselves. Of the 700 million tonnes or so of wheat, rice and maize fed to livestock, only a third of the calories in the feed ends up being converted into useful meat or dairy products. The rest is turned by the animals into faeces, heat and inedible tissues. In the US, livestock give back only 20 per cent of the food they consume. About a third of the meat and dairy products produced is then wasted, so only around 13 per cent of the calories in the original arable harvest is actually consumed by people.
This level of profligacy is also reflected by the amount of water used in meat production. It takes 500–4,000 litres of water to grow a kilogram of wheat. But a kilo of meat takes 5,000–100,000 litres. Meanwhile, water scarcity is one of the most serious threats to human survival in parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
There is enormous scope for reducing emissions by changing the way animals are reared. When humans first domesticated livestock they did so because they could contribute to the food supply. Sheep and cattle ate grasses and shrubs that were otherwise useless to humans; pigs and chickens foraged for leftovers. It is only in the past several decades that livestock have been turned into consumers of vast quantities of grains.
Some meat is still produced in the industrialised world without this inordinate reliance on feed concentrates: British hill-sheep farming relies on extensive grazing.
One big obstacle to producing meat sustainably is the EU ban on feeding food waste to livestock. Since the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 it has been illegal to feed swill to pigs, even though swill can be rendered safe simply by heat-treating it. The UN has calculated that if we fed livestock with food waste and agricultural residues, we could feed three billion additional people. Feeding food waste to pigs could also save millions of tonnes of carbon emissions by avoiding the need to produce conventional feed.
Lord Stern was brave to confront the dramatic changes we will all have to accept if catastrophic climate change is to be averted. It may seem unfeasible to expect rich countries to forgo their meaty, dairy-lubricated diets any time soon. But is it any more realistic to expect global meat production to burgeon without causing irreversible damage to the environment?
Tristram Stuart is author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (Penguin)