Friday, 30 October 2009

Q&A: what do we know about climate change and the world's future?

Mark Henderson, Science Editor

Is the world warming?
Yes. Average global temperatures increased by 0.74C (1.33F) in the past century, and by 0.6C in the century before that.
Is there a parallel trend in greenhouse gas levels?
Yes. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) in pre-industrial times to 387ppm today. Concentrations of methane have risen from 700 parts per billion (ppb) to 1,745 ppb. Today’s levels of both gases are the highest for at least 650,000 years.
Doesn’t the world’s climate always vary?
Yes. All sorts of factors affect the world’s climate, including changes in the Earth’s orbit, changes in the Sun’s intensity, volcanic eruptions, atmospheric pollution, and natural variations such as El Niño.
How do we know that man-made greenhouse gases, and not natural variation, are responsible for global warming?
Evidence of the past climate shows that rising greenhouse gas levels have been followed by warming. In the past decade, scientists have also established that it is impossible to account for recent observed changes in global temperatures unless human activities have had an impact.
Computer models of the Earth’s climate agree that natural variation can explain only a part of recent warming. Only if anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gases are included do the models replicate what has actually happened. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2007, states that the evidence for global warming is unequivocal, and that human influence is “very likely”.
Has any more evidence emerged since the 2007 report?
Yes. A study published last year found the signature of human- induced global warming in Antarctica, the last continent on which it had not been detected. Other studies have attributed heavier rainfall, including wetter weather in Britain and increased saltiness of the sea, to anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
What has happened to temperatures over the past ten years?
The warmest year on record was 1998, in part due to a very strong El Niño, which has a heating effect. Since then, temperatures have stabilised, though at a very high level. The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997.
Does this mean that global warming has stopped?
No. Natural climate variations mean that there will be periods of temperature stability even when the overall temperature trend points upwards. A study led by Jeff Knight and Peter Stott, of the Met Office, found that such hiatuses occur relatively often during periods of warming, and aren’t inconsistent with the upward trend.
Is it possible to link specific weather events to climate change?
Not usually: there have always been hurricanes, heat waves and hot and cold years, and while many of these may be consistent with global warming, it is generally very difficult to attribute responsibility. Dr Stott’s team has identified the signature of human-induced global warming in the 2003 European heat wave that caused 35,000 deaths.
What will happen to the climate in the future?
The IPCC has set out several scenarios, which predict global temperature increases of between 1.1C and 6.4C by 2100.
Why don’t these scenarios agree?
They depend on many different variables, not least the quantities of greenhouse gases that the world continues to emit. Even if greenhouse gas production were to cease today, the world would still warm by at least 1C, because carbon dioxide that has already been emitted stays in the atmosphere for 50 to 200 years.
Modelling the future climate also carries significant uncertainties, hence the range of possible outcomes.
What is happening to the Arctic sea ice?
It is in long-term decline, and global warming is having an effect. The record low was recorded in 2007, with an extent 39.2 per cent below the average for 1979-2001. It has since recovered, though not to its previous thickness. There is considerable natural variation in ice extent from year to year, but the overall trend is towards shrinkage. Models generally predict that the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer by 2060 to 2080, though some recent estimates have suggested this could happen more quickly.

East-west tussle erupts over bill for combating climate change

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Friday 30 October 2009
European leaders were locked in an east-west tussle over how to foot the bill for combating climate change, a key issue seen as a test of European credibility on global warming in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference in December.
Poland and other more recent and poorer EU members threatened to block agreement on a financial package for funding global warming action in the developing world, a central plank of the international pact needed if the Copenhagen talks are to succeed. At the end of yesterday's talks, no deal had been agreed on funding for tackling climate change in developing countries. Talks are to continue today.
Chairing last night's Brussels summit, Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister of Sweden, said Europe's claim to lead the world on global warming was at stake. But the Poles, Hungarians, and Lithuanians fiercely criticised the outline deal tabled by the Swedes.
The Swedes and the European commission, as well as Britain, called for the EU to agree a package of up to €15bn (£13.4bn) of public money for transfers to developing countries by 2020. They want the bill to be split on the basis of the greenhouse gas emissions and economic prowess of each of the 27 member states.
The Poles and other east Europeans maintain that they cannot afford to pay a fair share of the bill, particularly since some of the east European countries have been hit particularly hard by the financial crisis.
The €15bn is supposed to be the European share of the developed world's bill of up to €50bn of public-sector spending by 2020. The EU also hoped to agree on transitional funding of up to €7bn a year, starting from next year, for the developing world.
The Germans last night objected to pinning down the short-term fund now. But the bigger problem came from east European opposition over how the bill should be split.
"In its current form, the burden sharing is not acceptable," said Gordon Bajnai, the Hungarian prime minister.
Senior officials said the Poles were also refusing to agree to the terms.
The Swedes have offered a compromise which would include "readjustment" mechanisms for the poorer EU member states in the form of rebates, or via other refunds.
"The poorer countries in eastern Europe have been more reluctant. Some of the richer ones have been less forward than us," said a senior UK official.
The poorest EU member states, such as Romania and Bulgaria, are complaining that the European subsidies will go to some developing countries, such as Brazil, which are wealthier than they are.
While Sweden, Denmark, Britain, and the European commission said that the EU had to agree a package now in order to send a strong signal to Copenhagen, put pressure on the US and other countries to agree similar funding, and retain the pioneering role it claims on climate change, Germany was reluctant to commit to figures publicly, arguing that the Europeans should not reveal their hand until the "card game" got under way properly in Copenhagen.
"You cannot simply wait right until the very end of Copenhagen to do this," said the British official. "We need to explain the terms in which we want countries to put their commitments on the table, and now is the time to do it."

Canada sets aside its boreal forest as giant carbon vault

By banning logging, mining and oil drilling in an area twice the size of California, Canada is ensuring its boreal forests continue to soak up carbon
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 29 October 2009 17.34 GMT
In the far north latitudes, buried within a seemingly endless expanse of evergreen forests, the authorities in Canada are building up one of the world's best natural defences against global warming.
In a series of initiatives, Canadian provincial governments and aboriginal leaders have set aside vast tracts of coniferous woods, wetlands, and peat. The conservation drive bans logging, mining, and oil drilling on some 250m acres – an area more than twice the size of California.
The sheer scale of the forest conservation drive is somewhat of an anomaly for Canada, whose government has been accused of sabotaging the global climate change talks by its development of the Alberta tar sands and its refusal to make deep cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions.
Last week, a former adviser to Barack Obama urged Canada to do more to keep up with America's moves towards a cleaner energy economy.
In the latest addition to the carbon storehouse, the provincial premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, this month announced a $10m (£5.6m) Canadian fund to protect a 10.8m acre expanse of boreal or evergreen forest. It was one of Doer's last acts as premier; he took over as Canada's ambassador to Washington this month.
The $10m will go towards efforts by indigenous leaders to designate boreal forest lands in eastern Manitoba as a Unesco world heritage site. The Pimachiowin Aki world heritage project, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, extends efforts by Canadian provincial leaders to protect the wide swaths of pristine forests in the north. It also ensures the survival of one of the best natural defences against global warming after the world's oceans, environmentalists say.
A report by the International Boreal Conservation Campaign said the forests, with their rich mix of trees, wetlands, peat and tundra, were a far bigger carbon store than scientists had realised, soaking up 22% of the total carbon stored on the earth's land surface.
"If you look across Canada one of [the boreal forest's] great values to us globally is its carbon storage value," said Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign. "There is so much carbon sequestered in it already that if it escaped it would pose a whole new, very grave threat."
Canada's cold temperatures slow decomposition, allowing the build-up of organic soil and peat. The forest floors beneath its evergreens hold twice as much carbon per acre as tropical forests, such as the Amazon.
It is unclear how long Canada's forests can continue to serve as carbon vaults. "As the climate warms, the place is going to dry up. There will be a problem with insect infestation. There is going to be increased natural carbon release due to fire or wetlands drying up," said Sue Libenson, a spokeswoman for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.
But she added: "The general premise is that there is still a hell of a lot of carbon in there." Its release would be a climate catastrophe.
Canada's 1.3bn acres of boreal forest store the equivalent of 27 years' worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions, a Greenpeace study found. The destruction of those forests, scientists warn, would be like setting off a massive "carbon bomb" because of the sudden release of emissions.
That threat appears to have concentrated the official mindset in Canada, which otherwise has a poor record on action on climate change. On a per capita basis, the country is one of the worst polluters on the planet, producing about 2% of the world's emissions even though it has just 33m people. It holds one of the worst track records among industrialised states for living up to its commitment under the Kyoto accords. By 2007, greenhouse gas emissions were 34% above the target Canada agreed at Kyoto.
Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, is resisting doing much more, committing to just a 6% cut over 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. "I see Harper's policy as a continuation of the Bush agenda," said David Martin, climate director for Greenpeace Canada.
A key advisor to Obama made a similar point last week, comparing Canada's current climate change policy to the inaction in America under George Bush. "The Canadians would be well served by keeping up with what's going on in the United States with respect to this push towards clean technology," John Podesta, who oversaw Obama's transition team, told a conference in Ottawa.
Environmentalists also fear that Harper intends to exclude the Alberta tar sands – the heavy crude deposits that have fuelled the rise in emissions – from any future greenhouse gas emissions regime.
But the Harper government did relent on forest protection, working with the Sahtu and Deh Cho First Nations to set aside 40m acres in the Northwest Territories.
Canadian provincial leaders have moved even more aggressively in recent years, with Ontario committed to protecting 55m acres, or about half of its forest, and Quebec committed to protecting 150m acres. "Canada is torn between wanting to promote the tar sands and make money off it now, and wanting to live up to its promises under the Kyoto accord. But as far as protecting carbon rich ecosystems, particularly the boreal forest, Canada is a world leader," said Kallick.

Nothing will happen at Copenhagen until the 11th-and-a-half hour

Copenhagen was always going to be a nail-biting experience, but if we abandon Kyoto and try to reinvent the wheel you might end up gnawing your fingers off too.
Graciela Chichilnisky, Thursday 29 October 2009 17.03 GMT

Copenhagen was always going to be a nail-biting experience, but if we abandon Kyoto and try to reinvent the wheel you might end up gnawing your fingers off too
As the world prepares for Copenhagen, China and the US are locked into a titanic confrontation reminiscent of last century's Cold War – all about warming.
Neither wants to reduce carbon emissions first, and each can produce catastrophic risks as they are the two largest emitters. The times are different, the weapons are different, but the situation is the same. The stakes are really high and yet in the recent Bangkok climate change discussions, the US looked set to scrap completely the Kyoto Protocol and negotiate a new treaty. Is this a major set-back or a good move?
The move reflects internal US politics. Kyoto has not been ratified yet by US Congress, and it is a point of national pride that the world should not be making international law without the US. But at the end of the day, the Kyoto Protocol is an American creation and follows US market ideas and the 2009 Energy Bill voted by the House goes in the right direction.
The opposition to Kyoto has geopolitical roots. Some in the US fear that the Protocol is a global redistribution plot towards poor nations. There is some truth in that, as the Protocol transferred over US$23 billion to developing nations for clean technology projects decreasing the equivalent of about 20 per cent of EU emissions. Kyoto can redistribute global wealth. Through its carbon market, the bad guys who are over-emitters, have to pay to the good guys that are under-emitters. This should be considered a great achievement of the Kyoto Protocol. Its carbon market changes economic values by making emitting expensive and cleaning profitable, and helps redistribute global wealth to the nations whose resources are over-utilised. This major change in values is exactly what is needed to resolve global warming and stop our suicidal overuse of the earth's resources.
Has Kyoto worked?
The Kyoto treaty was faulted because greenhouse gas emissions rose under its auspices. But the rising emissions of the last 13 years came mostly from nations that never ratified the Protocol. The Protocol is not at fault for those who refused to obey its limits.
Yet the Kyoto Protocol is only a start and requires improvements. Copenhagen must cut global emissions by 60 - 80 per cent by 2020 to avert the worst risks of global warming. The world emits 33 gigatons of carbon per year. The US emits about 8 gigatons, even though it houses only 5 per cent of the world's population. This has to change. Many nations will agree to substantial cuts by 2050. This sets a good scene on the world's stage – but we need action right now. That is more difficult.Why keep the Kyoto Protocol? We must bound global emissions and decrease carbon in the atmosphere - no matter what. Most people agree on this. But this is the first thing the Protocol does. So if we scrap the Kyoto Protocol we will have to start in the same place and do more of the same - so at the end we would have a Kyoto Protocol by another name. It took 13 years to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol. Why spend precious time reordering the chairs in the Titanic?
The US Energy Bill must still go through Senate and the fear is that at the end it will be very weak. It could impair a deal in Copenhagen... but I think it will be the other way around: Copenhagen will determine what happens in the US Senate. The Senate's main gripe is that China will not limit its emissions. Unless a satisfactory solution is reached between China and the US, no serious climate change regulation, no carbon limits and no carbon trading can emerge in the US.
The ticking clock
My prediction for Copenhagen is that nothing will happen until the 11½ hour. This is because the stakes are so high – involving the use of energy and the economic growth of nations – that no nation wants to move first.At the end, reaching a deal will focus everybody's attention. Copenhagen has a mandate, the same way that Kyoto had the Berlin Mandate to achieve the Protocol – and it worked. The same will happen here. The US promised to participate in this process. The stakes are high because we procrastinated too long. Hundreds of millions of people in the Small Island States – 43 of them - could drown or be displaced – an enormous cost to the political stability of the planet. President Naheen of the Maldives is already purchasing land in India. 50 million climate refugees are expected in 2010, and 200 million by 2012...
A deal will be reached in Copenhagen. The world cannot afford another failure. From my experience of 25 years, I read the smoke signals positively. It will be an agreement in principle – the details worked out over a year or so and a process agreed for this. I have made two simple proposals that involve technical and financial solutions – both win-win solutions for industrial and developing nations – modest extensions of existing law. They can diffuse the China - US impasse that is the major diplomatic confrontation.
We probably also need to suck carbon from the atmosphere now – what I call Negative Carbon. Reducing emissions does not suffice – we need to literally reduce carbon already in the atmosphere to avert climate change risks. Negative carbon technologies can do that. A small extension of the Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism can fund the building of thousands of power plants in developing nations that clean the atmosphere. All this is possible through Kyoto.
If no deal is reached, a new Copenhagen will have to be created, but it will waste yet more valuable time if we are forced to reinvent the wheel.
• This article appeared in the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network
• Professor Graciela Chichilnisky was the architect of the Carbon Market, and lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change which won the 2007 Nobel Prize.

Britain will not sign up to a weak deal at Copenhagen, says Ed Miliband

Britain will not sign up to a deal on tackling climate change unless other countries, including the US, also agree to cut emissions, warns Ed Miliband.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Published: 6:00AM GMT 29 Oct 2009

More than 190 countries are due to meet in Copenhagen in December to thrash out a new deal on climate change.
At the moment the negotiations are at deadlock over how to stop temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).

There are fears that the world will have to delay an agreement until next year because the US is unable to sign up to targets on cutting emissions, while developing countries like China will refuse to do anything that slows their economic growth.
But speaking at a UK Parliamentary Committee, Mr Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said the UK would not accept a "Plan B".
"I think we should not sign up to a deal that is inadequate. We must push for a substantial, comprehensive deal," he said.
He said the "bottom line" will be making sure carbon emissions peak by 2020 before starting to reduce. This will mean both the US and China, the world's two biggest emitters, will both have to sign up to cut carbon emissions.
He also said the rich world will have to pay poor countries to adopt clean technology like wind or nuclear instead of using fossil fuels to develop, as well as providing money for adaptation.
"In a sense we are saying to developing countries do as we say, not as we did in terms of industrial growth. In that sense I think it is right we push forward on finance," he added.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has suggested the rich world sets aside £60 billion a year and European leaders are due to set out their position today at a meeting in Brussels.
The European Council is the last chance for the European Union to set out their postions before the main negotiations begin in Copenhagen.
Across European capitals, environmental activisits have been putting up tents to represent the number of people who could be made homeless by climate change unless more money is given for adaptation.
They want Europe to increase the amount of money offered by the rich world to at least £90 billion per annum. Most of the money will come from carbon trading but a small amount will have to come from tax payer's money.
Phil Bloomer, Oxfam’s Campaigns and Policy Director, said the EU will have to put money on the table to encourage developing countries to take action on cutting emissions.
"European leaders have so far behaved as if Europe is immune– but climate change has no regard for borders. Unless rich countries invest so that poor communities can protect themselves from the effects of climate change now, millions more people will be permanently displaced from their homes. The cost of failure will be seen in the lives we have failed to protect," he said.
Tom Picken, international climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said public funding must be made available.
"The EU must stop shirking its legal and moral commitments and provide sufficient public money to developing countries so that they can grow cleanly and adapt to the effects of climate change which are already putting millions of lives at risk," he said.
:: The Government's former chief scientific adviser in the Department of International Development has called for more research into how climate change is going to affect Africa.
Prof Sir Gordon Conway said millions could die on the continent if rising temperatures cause more droughts and floods.
He said called for more money to develop drough resistant crops, including genetically modified strains, and flood defences.

EU summit: climate change and presidency top the agenda

Europe's leaders are converging on Brussels to consider candidates for a coveted new post of EU president and grapple with climate change.

Published: 11:21AM GMT 29 Oct 2009

They must decide how much aid to offer developing nations to bring them into a global climate change deal at the Copenhagen summit next month. Meanwhile they will debate who should be the first President of the European Council, a position that will be created on final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister of Sweden who is chairing the two-day summit - has said the EU's credibility is on the line and member nations must agree on an aid figure. The European Commission suggests EU nations offer developing nations up to 15 billion euros ($22 billion) a year, while aid and environmental groups say Europe should be paying 35 billion euros a year by 2020.

Negotiations between EU governments on how to fund such aid collapsed last week as finance ministers disagreed over how to share the costs.
The leaders will also hold a first debate on who should fill the club's newly created post of EU president and other top jobs after Czech objections over the bloc's treaty held them back from clinching a full deal at the two-day meeting. The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, is expected to ratify the treaty next week.
Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy and former British prime minister, has been the subject of heated debate among EU leaders. While his office has repeatedly distanced him from the job, it was reported on Thursday that he could take the position in order to "make a difference" for Europe on the world stage.
Fresh from a celebratory eve-of-summit dinner in Paris hours after Angela Merkel was sworn in for a second term as German chancellor, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the EU's twin drivers were in "almost total" agreement on the key issues.

Thermal images reveal green credentials of party leaders

Political leaders should be leading the way on climate change when it comes to energy efficiency, according to insulation experts.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 5:07PM GMT 29 Oct 2009
The first green audit of party political headquarters and constituency offices revealed all four main political parties are wasting energy.
The building in Brighton where the Green Party is based had the worst rating, emitting 610kg of CO2 a year – almost twice the national average of 344kg - according to the statistics.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's constituency office in Sheffield was the next wasteful at 525kg, closely followed by the office of David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, that produced 108kg every year.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who had his office measured because it was impossible to survey No. 10 Downing Street for security reasons, had the best insulated workplace at only 94kg.
The carbon emissions were calculated by taking a thermal image of the buildings and working out the amount of energy that is wasted through the walls, windows and roof.
Stewart Little, Chief Executive of IRT Surveys, the company that took the pictures, said he wanted to highlight how much energy is wasted from failing to insulate cavity walls or use double glazing.
"Our images show energy efficiency of the buildings those politicians occupy," he said. "It is very much a message of practice what you preach and make sure your office is as energy efficient as possible."
The Green Party pointed out that they only occupy a few offices of the Brighton Eco-Centre, making their carbon footprint comparable or even lower than the other parties. They also said the old fashioned building had since been fitted with double glazing.
Darren Johnson, the Green Party's national spokesperson on trade and industry, said the images highlight the need to make all buildings in the UK more energy efficient.
"This does highlight the problems faced by the majority of British families, businesses and organisations in terms of energy costs as well as CO2 emissions. It's really hard for individual families and businesses, especially in a recession, to find the cash to undertake the energy-saving measures we all need. So we urgently need a nationwide programme of energy-efficiency works on all British homes and business premises, and we need the government to cashflow it," he said.
"Energy-efficiency pays for itself over time, but most of the time individuals can't afford the initial outlay. That's why we need the government to make the initial investment, and get the cash back afterwards from businesses and householders once their fuel bills have been cut."

Brown's opposition to climate change plea

By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor
Friday, 30 October 2009
Next month's crucial climate change conference in Copenhagen could be jeopardised by European wrangling over the cost of tackling global warming, Gordon Brown warned EU leaders.
He spoke amid fierce resistance among a majority of EU member states to his call for them to commit budgets now to help developing nations cope with climate change.

Opposition to his plea for the EU to give between €7bn (£6.2bn) and €10bn a year to emerging nations from 2020 is being led by Poland with the backing of eight eastern and central European countries. They insist the price is too high, not least because they face considerable expense dealing with emissions from their own smokestack industries.
Germany and France, meanwhile, say they support the intention of Mr Brown's plan, but argue that details of budgets have to be left until the global negotiations start on 8 December in Copenhagen. The arguments appear likely to dominate the formal agenda of the two-day EU summit that began in Brussels yesterday.
Mr Brown, who is being backed in the argument by the Netherlands and Denmark, told a press conference after arriving in Brussels: "The world needs a programme for climate change. Unless we have programmes for financing climate change then we will not get an agreement at Copenhagen.
"We want conclusions to show Europe showing leadership."
Mr Brown said Europe should make clear what it would contribute out of the estimated €100bn a year by 2020 the European Commission says will need to be found globally.
British officials said that the EU's share of that works out at between €30bn to €40bn (£6.2bn to £8.9bn) a year and the UK is ready to pay £1bn a year by 2020.
Mr Brown believes it will be difficult to persuade other countries to contribute towards the global fund unless the EU has taken a lead by stumping up the cash voluntarily.
Even if financing is not agreed, the summit conclusion will set out Europe's long-standing pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. That is a "unilateral" target the EU will stick to even if the rest of the world cannot agree to match it at Copenhagen.
A tougher EU target of cutting emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 is contingent on everyone else agreeing to do the same.
Europe's leaders will also confirm that emissions from planes and ships are included in the plan, with targets of cutting aviation emissions by 10 per cent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, and 20 per cent cuts across the maritime sector.
The EU will also challenge the rest of the world to set a long-term target of cutting overall carbon emissions by 80-95 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990.

Methane’s impact on global warming far higher than previously thought

Mark Henderson, Science Editor

The effects of a critical greenhouse gas on global warming have been significantly underestimated, according to research suggesting that emissions controls and climate models may need to be revised
Methane’s impact on global temperatures is about a third higher than generally thought because previous estimates have not accounted for its interaction with airborne particles called aerosols, Nasa scientists found.
When this indirect effect of the potent greenhouse gas is included one tonne of methane has about 33 times as much effect on the climate over 100 years as a tonne of carbon dioxide, rather than 25 times as in standard estimates.
Drew Shindell, of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, who led the study, said that the findings added to the importance of measures to contain methane emissions, as well as those of carbon dioxide, which will be discussed at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.

As methane breaks down much more quickly than carbon dioxide, the impact of cuts on climate would also be faster. “For long-term climate change there’s no way around dealing with CO2 — it’s the biggest thing and it lasts hundreds of years,” Dr Shindell told The Times. “But if we were to have a concerted effort to deal with non-CO2 we could have a very large impact on the near term.
“Substantial reductions in methane, carbon monoxide and black carbon: that’s the way to make a big difference. I think it should be more of a priority [for Copenhagen].”
Dr Shindell’s results, published in the journal Science, also raise the possibility that global warming forecasts may be too optimistic. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007, predicts that global temperatures will rise by between 1.1C and 6.4C during the 21st century.
The study has further implications for emissions trading schemes, which currently focus only on carbon dioxide. For these to be effective the warming effects of methane need to be pegged to those of carbon dioxide at the right “exchange rate”.
Dr Shindell said: “We undervalue methane. The whole point of having a scale is to relate different gases together, to enlarge the pool of mitigation options. But if you’ve got the wrong value for one, clearly you don’t have maximum efficiency.”
The researchers wrote in Science: “We found that gas-aerosol interactions substantially alter the relative importance of the various emissions. In particular, methane emissions have a larger impact than that used in current carbon-trading schemes or in the Kyoto Protocol.”
The exchange rate between carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is generally calculated according to global warming potential (GWP), which measures the effects of one tonne of a gas on warming over 100 years in comparison to one tonne of carbon dioxide.
Keith Shine, of the University of Reading, one of the originators of the GWP concept, said that Dr Shindell’s work would help to refine this. “It does change the picture quite significantly,” he said. “GWP is an exchange rate between different gases and this does potentially change the rate to make methane more valuable, giving more encouragement to reduce methane emissions.”
He said, however, that emissions controls should continue to focus chiefly on carbon dioxide. “The long-term effects of carbon dioxide are so strong that if you take the eye off the ball you will be storing up problems for the future.”
Methane is acknowledged as the second most important greenhouse gas produced by human activity after carbon dioxide and is responsible for about a fifth of warming effects. Its chief sources are landfill sites, fossil fuel energy and agriculture, particularly rice and livestock farming.
In the study Dr Shindell used computer models to investigate how methane, carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases besides CO2 interacted with aerosols — airborne particles such as sulphate molecules.
Sulphate molecules, produced when sulphur dioxide is oxidised in the atmosphere, have a cooling effect on the climate as they reflect heat but, while their direct effects are included in climate models, their indirect effects in combination with methane and other gases are not.
Methane and carbon monoxide reduce levels of sulphate aerosols, because they use up oxidants such as hydroxyl in the atmosphere. Fewer oxidant molecules are thus available to oxidise sulphur dioxide to produce sulphate.
“What happens is that as you put more methane into the atmosphere, it competes for oxidants such as hydroxyl with sulphur dioxide,” Dr Shindell said. “More methane means less sulphate, which is reflective and thus has a cooling effect. Calculations of GWP including these gas-aerosol linkages thus substantially increase the value for methane.”
Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “This is an excellent analysis demonstrating that methane emissions have the potential to add more to future warming than hereto realised. This new research complements the well-established result that carbon dioxide emissions have been responsible for a large fraction of the global warming observed since pre-industrial times.
“There is a requirement to distil this more complete understanding of how the many different atmospheric gases interact, both between themselves and with humans. Policy decisions must account for such interactions and links to emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and atmospheric aerosols.”

Exaggerated claims undermine drive to cut emissions, scientists warn

Mark Henderson, Science Editor
Exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the threat from global warming risk undermining efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and contain climate change, senior scientists have told The Times.
Environmental lobbyists, politicians, researchers and journalists who distort climate science to support an agenda erode public understanding and play into the hands of sceptics, according to experts including a former government chief scientist.
Excessive statements about the decline of Arctic sea ice, severe weather events and the probability of extreme warming in the next century detract from the credibility of robust findings about climate change, they said.
Such claims can easily be rebutted by critics of global warming science to cast doubt on the whole field. They also confuse the public about what has been established as fact, and what is conjecture.

The experts all believe that global warming is a real phenomenon with serious consequences, and that action to curb emissions is urgently needed.
They fear, however, that the contribution of natural climate variations towards events such as storms, melting ice and heatwaves is too often overlooked, and that possible scenarios about future warming are misleadingly presented as fact.
“I worry a lot that NGOs [non=governmental organisations] are very much in the habit of doing exactly that,” said Professor Sir David King, director of the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, and a former government chief scientific adviser.
“When people overstate happenings that aren’t necessarily climate change-related, or set up as almost certainties things that are difficult to establish scientifically, it distracts from the science we do understand. The danger is they can be accused of scaremongering. Also, we can all become described as kind of left-wing greens.”
Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said: “It isn’t helpful to anybody to exaggerate the situation. It’s scary enough as it is.”
She was particularly critical of claims made by scientists and environmental groups two years ago, when observations showed that Arctic sea ice had declined to the lowest extent on record, 39 per cent below the average between 1979 and 2001. This led Mark Serreze, of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, to say that Arctic ice was “in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return”.
Dr Pope said that while climate change was a factor, normal variations also played a part, and it was always likely that ice would recover a little in subsequent years, as had happened. It was the long-term downward trend that mattered, rather than the figures for any one year, she added.
“The problem with saying that we’ve reached a tipping point is that when the extent starts to increase again — as it has — the sceptics will come along and say, ‘Well, it’s stopped’,” she said. “This is why it’s important we’re as objective as we can be, and use all the available evidence to make clear what’s actually happening, because neither of those claims is right.”
Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at the University of Oxford, said: “Some claims that were made about the ice anomaly were misleading. A lot of people said this is the beginning of the end of Arctic ice, and of course it recovered the following year and everybody looked a bit silly.” Dr Allen said that predictions of how the world was likely to warm also needed to be framed carefully. While there was little doubt that the Earth would get hotter, there were still many uncertainties about the precise extent and regional impact.
“I think we need to be very careful about purporting to be able to supply very detailed and apparently accurate information about how the climate will be in 50 or 100 years’ time, when what we’re really giving is a possible future climate,” he added.
“We’re not in a position to say how likely it is and what the chances are of it being different. There’s an understandable tendency to want to make climate change real for people and tell them what’s going to happen in their postcode, and that’s very dangerous because it gets beyond the level on which current models can operate.”
Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “I think the research scientists in general are extremely cautious about making projections for the future, but that caution is vital. We don’t dispute that warming is happening, but it’s important that the NGOs and other people interested in the issue don’t always pick the high scenario and present it as fact.”
Temperature trends of the past two decades have also been widely mis-interpreted to support particular points of view, the scientists said. Rapid warming in the 1990s, culminating in the hottest year on record in 1998, was erroneously used to suggest that climate change was accelerating. Since then, temperatures have stabilised, prompting sceptics to claim that global warming has stopped.
“In 1998, people thought the world was going to end, temperatures were going up so much,” Dr Pope said. “People pick up whatever makes their argument, but this works both ways. It’s the long-term trend that counts, which is continuing and inexorable.”

EU countries fail to agree on fund to help developing nations go green

David Charter in Brussels

The host of the Copenhagen climate change talks made a desperate appeal to European leaders to stop arguing and open their wallets to save the prospects of a deal next month.
Nine Eastern European countries have refused to commit to an international fund to pay developing countries to go green, despite a plea from Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister. Gordon Brown was one of the few leaders to push an EU plan to pay €10 billion a year into a global fund of €30 to €40 billion from 2020, which he warned was crucial to success in Copenhagen.
But Germany was leading another group of countries, including France, that argued it was bad tactics for the EU to show how much it was prepared to pay this far in advance of the talks.
“Some countries have a position where for strategic reasons they think we should keep the wallet in our pocket for some weeks. I really disagree,” Mr Rasmussen said.

“Copenhagen is a definite deadline and the people of the earth will be very disappointed if we do not reach a comprehensive agreement. There must be money on the table and hopefully we can agree that we are prepared to pay our share.”
Poland led the opposition from Eastern European countries who want to know how much they are in line to pay to countries in Africa and South America before signing up to a general EU commitment.
The former Iron Curtain countries argue that they cannot pay in the next few years while they adapt their own coal-based economies to meet strict EU emissions targets. Gordon Bajnai, the Hungarian Prime Minister, said that sharing costs between all nations was not acceptable for the poorer members. He said: “We want a result this weekend, but not at any price.”
But Mr Brown warned: “Unless we have a plan for funding the action we are taking on climate change we will not get agreement in Copenhagen.”

Chinese-Made Turbines to Fill U.S. Wind Farm

A Chinese wind-turbine company, with financing help from Beijing, has struck a deal to be the exclusive supplier to one of the largest wind-farm developments in the U.S., a sign of how Chinese firms are aggressively capitalizing on America's clean-energy push.
The 36,000-acre development in West Texas would receive $1.5 billion in financing through Export-Import Bank of China. Shenyang Power Group, a five-month-old alliance, would supply the project with 240 of its 2.5-megawatt wind turbines, among the biggest made in the world.

The Obama administration is hoping a shift to renewable energy will inject new life into the U.S. manufacturing base and provide high-paying jobs, making up for losses in other sectors. But while the U.S. has poured money into renewable energy through tax credits and other subsidies, China has positioned itself to reap many of the benefits by ramping up its export machine.
Global manufacturing of wind turbines shifted primarily to Europe from the U.S. after the 1980s, as nations such as Spain created special pricing for renewable power. By 2005, less than a quarter of components going into turbines installed in the U.S. were made domestically.
The extension of a production tax credit stimulated domestic output during the past few years. But Elizabeth Salerno, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, said that in the first three quarters of 2009, there were 33% fewer announcements of U.S. turbine-factory expansions than in the comparable period of 2008.
U.S. officials and domestic suppliers have been concerned that the U.S. wouldn't reap the full benefit of the country's rapid expansion in renewable energy. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) has voiced concern that the U.S. has outsourced much of its clean-energy manufacturing capacity. As part of the stimulus bill earlier this year, he earmarked a $2.3 billion tax credit for domestic producers of clean-energy equipment.
Another hurdle is that many renewable-energy projects in the U.S. are having trouble securing financing because of tight credit markets and lower prices for power sales. As a result, many privately funded projects have been scaled back or canceled.
The federal government is trying to breathe new life into the industry and last month handed out more than $500 million in grants to a dozen wind and solar-energy projects.
Cappy McGarr, managing partner of U.S. Renewable Energy Group, a private-equity firm that is lead partner on the 600-megawatt development, said the partnership would seek tax credits and support from the federal stimulus package, which should amount to millions of dollars. Mr. McGarr said the project should create 2,800 jobs -- of which 15% would be in the U.S. The rest would flow to China, where Shenyang employs 800 people.
Meanwhile, China is planning on future investments in the U.S. renewable industry as a way of creating a market for Chinese wind and solar equipment manufacturers.
"This is just the beginning," said Lu Jinxiang, chief executive of A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd., which controls Shenyang Power. He said the U.S. "is an ideal target" as it seeks to shift to renewable energy from fossil fuels.
The West Texas project exclusively would use 2.5-megawatt turbines made at Shenyang's turbine-manufacturing facility. The Texas project would soak up more than half of Shenyang's current annual production of 1,125 megawatts of turbine capacity.
The project still must garner the necessary permits, but developers hope to have turbines in service in March 2011.—Ben Casselman contributed to this article.
Write to Rebecca Smith at

Ofgem to confirm £300m of European funding towards offshore wind farms

Ofgem will announce on Friday £300m of European funding for investment in power lines from offshore wind farms, as the regulator tries to encourage the "forgotten infrastructure" behind Britain's green revolution.

By Rowena MasonPublished: 7:37PM GMT 29 Oct 2009

Lord Mogg, the chairman of the regulator, said he hoped money for six projects, which will come from the European Investment Bank, would encourage investors who are not currently involved in electricity transmission.
"The energy industry has been dogged in many European countries by the dominance of incumbent players," Lord Mogg said. "Renewables could change that with the chance for different players to enter the market."

Ofgem has been trying to reduce costs associated with offshore connections by £1bn, insisting that nine new power lines from wind farms to the grid are auctioned off to different operators. It hopes this will foster greater competition over costs, which will be passed on to consumers.
Thirteen companies, from RWE npower and Balfour Beatty to funds connected to Macquarie Bank and ABN Amro have been shortlisted as bidders for links worth £1.15bn, but new funding would speed up the process.
More than £15bn will be needed to connect 33 gigawatts of wind power to the mainland, if Britain manages to build all the turbines to meet its climate change targets. This is on top of the £60bn to £70bn that will be needed to construct the wind farms themselves.
Simon Brooks, vice-president of the European Investment Bank, said it had decided to consider the funding because grid connections needed promoting within the priority area of energy.
"It is often forgotten and rather important that offshore wind generation actually needs connecting to the shore," he said.

Government cost cutting looks set to scupper £23bn Severn Barrage tidal project

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

Plans to build a ten-mile tidal barrage across the River Severn that could generate up to 5 per cent of Britain’s electricity are likely to be shelved under a government cost-cutting drive, The Times has learnt.
The Severn Barrage project, which would cost up to £23 billion to build, is set to be indefinitely postponed early next year when ministers announce whether to commit fresh public funding, according to Westminster insiders.
“They are moving towards a political fudge,” said one. “They will say they are delaying it, but in reality the lifeline on offer will not be worth very much.”
The vast cost and tight constraints on future public spending have led ministers to question the project’s affordability.

Government figures show that the cost of generating electricity from a barrage across the Severn or from a tidal lagoon could be as high as £317 per megawatt hour, compared with £38 for nuclear power and no more than £85 for offshore wind.
The news will be a blow for advocates of the scheme, including the Sustainable Development Commission. They argue that it would help Britain to meet its ambitious EU targets of generating 30 per cent of UK electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
However, under EU rules, to contribute to those targets, the barrage would need to be generating electricity by 2022. Because it would take up to a decade to build, that would mean construction would have to start as early as 2012 — requiring large infusions of public money within the next two or three years.
Matthew Bell, of Frontier Economics, the author of a report on the costs of the Severn project, said: “Given that the Government has only a limited amount of money and some very ambitious renewable energy targets, it wants to make sure it gets the best value it can — and the Severn Barrage is simply more expensive than any other form of renewable generation.”
The Department of Energy and Climate Change, which spent £3 million on the project last year, said that a feasibility study was continuing into the project. External consultants are working on the study, which includes an analysis of five options for how it could be built.
The group is led by Parsons Brinkerhoff, the company that built the New York subway. PricewaterhouseCoopers and DTZ are also involved.
The Conservative Party is understood to view the project as an obvious target for potential cost savings.
Two main technologies have been proposed: a conventional barrage, running between the English and Welsh coasts, and a tidal lagoon. Both would harness the enormous tidal range of the Severn, which, at 14 metres, is the second-highest in the world, to drive electricity-generating turbines.
A conventional barrage would have a capacity of 8,640 megawatts and an estimated output of 17 terawatt hours a year — providing about 5 per cent of present UK electricity demand. But such a link would involve moving 18 million tonnes of seabed to create a level surface and require 13 million tonnes of concrete and aggregates.
In July, the chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith of Finsbury, delivered a blow to the plans, hinting strongly that the agency would oppose proposals for the barrage if environmental concerns are not addressed.

Why growing virgin vegetable oil to burn is crazy

The chief executive of Blue-NG implies he's greener than the Greens – but the argument for his grotesque trade falls flat
What makes more sense, burning virgin vegetable oil in car engines, or burning it in power stations? The answer is neither. In both cases you are snatching food from people's mouths.
But Andrew Mercer, chief executive of Blue-NG, the company which owns the UK's first power station running on vegetable oil, appears to believe that he is doing the world a favour.
In arguing the case for his grotesque trade, Mercer begins by maligning the Green party. He contends that "The Green party toured the country this summer during the European elections campaign in a bus fuelled by UK-sourced rapeseed biodiesel". Because this is a less efficient use of virgin rapeseed oil than burning it in power stations, he is greener than the Greens (or so he says). That someone else has allegedly done something even more damaging is hardly a persuasive justification. But is it true?
I spoke to the Green party this morning, and discovered that Mercer had left out a crucial piece of information. The biodiesel used in its bus was made from waste cooking oil, not virgin oil. As I've been arguing since I first started attacking the practice of feeding cars rather than people, used cooking oil is currently the only sustainable feedstock for biofuel: once it is unfit for human consumption it can only be dumped or burned. It makes sense to burn it in place of fossil fuels. The Green party has now published a response in the comment thread and is requesting a correction.
Burning virgin vegetable oil is an entirely different matter. In doing so, you are directly commissioning farmers to do one of two things: divert cropland which would otherwise have been used to grow food, or break land which would otherwise have been left fallow. In either case you are harming people or the environment.
Mercer says: "There are millions of hectares of land lying idle across the EU". Another way of putting it is that there are millions of hectares currently supporting wildlife and storing carbon. If farmers bring them back into production to fuel power stations like his, there would be dire consequences for wildflowers, butterflies, songbirds and other wildlife. Were it a choice between preserving this wildlife and feeding the hungry, I could understand the need for a pay-off. But the only reason that it's commercially viable to burn virgin vegetable oil in power stations in this country is that the government is perversely offering a massive subsidy. It gives generators two renewable obligation certificates for every megawatt hour of electricity they produce, which is twice as much as you get for onshore wind. I refuse to accept that the EU's wildlife must be sacrificed for what looks like a grant-harvesting operation.
As two papers published last year in Science show (here and here), the carbon released by ploughing idle farmland to grow biofuels takes many years to repay. If we're to have a high chance of preventing climate breakdown, the major cuts must be made today, so this policy makes no sense at all.
When you consider the other greenhouse gases produced by growing crops it looks even dafter. The Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen has estimated that emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas arising from the use of nitrogen fertilisers – wipe out all the carbon savings biofuels produce (pdf), even before you take the changes in land use into account. It's significant that Andrew Mercer talks only about CO2. Even then he doesn't say how he has produced his figures – I strongly suspect that he doesn't take land use change into account. Were he obliged to consider all greenhouse gases from all sources, I suspect he would discover that burning virgin vegetable oil is far more polluting than burning fossil fuel.
Mercer then contends that oilseed rape is roughly the same price as it was 10 years ago. This isn't true either, as you can see from the IMF figures reproduced here. In October 1999, oilseed rape cost $398/tonne. Last month the average price was $857. Prices this year have consistently been about twice those of prices ten years ago. The idea that oilseed rape is just a "break crop" is risible. It is a major international commodity, grown because it makes money.
The notion that you can draw any conclusions about commodity trends from a single year's production in one small country is equally daft. It's as stupid as saying, for example, that a cold snap in the United Kingdom shows that global warming isn't happening. And no one would be dumb enough to do that, would they?
The reality is that whenever there's a global shortfall in rape production, as there was last year, palm oil helps to fill the gap. Compare this graph of palm oil prices to this one of rape oil prices and you'll see that the price trends are almost identical.
So while Mercer boasts that he is not burning palm oil in his power station, whenever his trade helps to cause a shortfall in rapeseed stocks, the result is likely to be an increase in the sales of palm oil. Growing rapeseed to burn is crazy, growing oil palm to fill the gaps is madness on a different scale altogether, in view of the massive impacts on climate, indigenous people and wildlife when the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia are cleared to plant it.
Like Biofuelwatch and other green groups, I will keep putting pressure on the government to drop its perverse subsidies. I'm offering Andrew Mercer a £10 bet that if we succeed, Blue-NG will stop burning virgin vegetable oils. This is what happened in the Netherlands: as soon as the Dutch government stopped paying companies to make electricity from food, the business ground to a halt. Let's bring this obscene, subsidised trade to an end here too.

Nissan CEO sees competitive electric cars in 3 years

BEIJING—Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said the Japanese auto maker intends to overcome the high cost of making advanced batteries and make its all-electric cars price-competitive even without government subsidies.
Mr. Ghosn, speaking to a small group of reporters in the Chinese capital, gave a timeframe of around three years for the cost-cutting effort, though he said the price of oil would play a large role in determining the effort's success.
"How long do we need government incentives going to the consumer?" Mr. Ghosn said. "We think [such incentives] are necessary for a period of time we estimate to be three years."
The executive said Nissan believes demand for all-electric battery cars is likely to keep increasing, and that the resulting economies of scale in producing batteries will allow Nissan and other companies to significantly slash costs involved in making electric cars. "Scale is absolutely important," he said.
Technological improvements are also expected to help cut the cost of producing lithium-ion batteries, high-power motors and other new technologies needed to build electric cars.
Nissan plans to make a big global push for its line of battery cars, starting in the second half of next year with the Leaf, a hatchback it plans to make available to fleet customers in the U.S., Europe and Japan. It is staking its future on all-electric battery cars even as its rivals express skepticism over that technology, at least over the short to medium term. Some of them have chosen to invest instead in plug-in electric hybrid cars.
In China, Nissan said it plans to test-market the Leaf in 2011 by making it available to government agencies and other fleet customers in the city of Wuhan.
Initially, Nissan plans to make the Leaf price-competitive with comparable gas-fueled compact cars around the world by relying on government incentives for private purchases and separating the car's battery from its purchase price. Nissan executives have said the company plans to lease the battery to Leaf buyers and charge them a monthly payment that is comparable to the monthly expenditure for gasoline to operate a gas-fueled compact car.
One factor manufacturers of all-electric cars can't control, and which is likely to have a profound impact on demand for electric vehicles, is the price of gasoline, Mr. Ghosn said. However, he said he believes gasoline prices will remain high in coming years and keep pushing up demand for cars powered by alternative fuel sources.
"The higher the price of oil, the faster" it will be to overcome the high cost of building electric cars because that would spur demand, Mr. Ghosn said. "I am confident that the model is going to work," he said, referring to the business model for the Leaf and other electric cars Nissan plans to launch in coming years. Mr. Ghosn expects electric vehicles to account for 10% of overall global vehicles sales by 2020.
As a sign of Nissan's confidence that demand for all-electric cars is going to take off, Mr. Ghosn said Nissan is planning to put in global capacity to produce 500,000 battery packs a year in the medium term. Many of those batteries are going to be used to produce electric cars by Nissan and its alliance partner Renault SA.

Spanish winemaker Torres warms to environmentalism

Climate change could devastate vineyards so Miguel Torres is preparing his family company for the worst
Elena Moya, Thursday 29 October 2009 18.27 GMT
Southern Britain may not be the only place in the world where risk-loving vintners can take a chance on global warming. Climate change is already changing habits at vineyards in southern Europe, forcing some producers, such as Spain's Torres, to buy land in the Pyrenees – "just in case", says the company's chairman, Miguel Torres.
Production of pinot noir and chardonnay at 1,200 metres above sea level has already started, showing no less quality than the wine produced on the gentle hills of the Penedès region, just south of Barcelona. Fears are growing, however, that lowland areas could be reduced to dust in a couple of generations. "Temperatures have already risen by one degree," Torres says. "If they increase by five, southern Europe will be full of arid steppes." This one-degree rise has already brought forward the harvest by 12 or 13 days, he says. "Vineyards are very sensitive."
Torres has donated €10m (£9m) of his own money to environmental issues, and is aiming to reduce the output of CO2 in the winery by 30% by 2020. He has a hybrid car and has bought them for his staff, invested in a wind park and is experimenting with the capture and use of CO2 from wine fermentation.
The businessman has not used synthetic chemicals in his vineyards for more than 20 years, instead using insect traps baited with sex pheromones secreted by females to trap the males and thereby stop reproduction.
Next week, the 67-year-old will wine and dine, in his home, 200 environmental experts, who are meeting in Barcelona before the Copenhagen climate conference in December. "We want to show them that they're not alone," he says, "that here, in the [wine] industry, we are also very worried about this.
"It would be dramatic to have a very hot year, such as 2003, coinciding with a drought," he muses. "Luckily, we had a lot of rain in the spring of 2003."
The fourth generation of a family that has produced wine in Catalonia since 1870, the veteran vintner has increased exports, which now account for two-thirds of the company's almost €200m annual sales. Britain is Torres's top export market, with 4.2m bottles sold a year, including brands such as Sangre de Toro and Viña Sol. The company also sells, in upmarket shops, high-end brands such as Salmos Priorat, for £16.99, or its top Reserva Real, for £68. Is it worth that much?
"It's a matter of perception," Torres says as he shakes a glass of red to bring out the aroma before smelling it and having a sip.
He says he would not spend the £8 or £9 charged for a large glass of wine in many UK bars and pubs. But the 19th-century Bordeaux he opened at a 50th birthday party in Germany is the best he has ever tasted. "You closed your eyes and you could hear the birds – it was impressive."
Wine in the UK is more expensive as each bottle faces £1.61 of tax, Torres says. The popular Sangre de Toro ("bull's blood") sells for €4.05 in Spain – without the little plastic bull tied to the bottle here – compared with £6.99 in Britain.
In any case, wine is a matter of quality, not quantity, Torres says. He drinks half a bottle a day – "as much as the doctor lets me" – and always with food, he stresses.
Torres claims to have only passed out once, when he was 10, after drinking cava, wine and champagne at a family party. Since then, he says he only became a bit "dizzy" after a heavy lunch in Madrid, in 1991 – he remembers the date as the bill reached €600 after he ordered a few wines to show to a journalist. It is a sampling that he has never repeated, he says.
Moderation is the idea that Torres wants to engrave in his family business, shying away from a glamorous lifestyle. The biggest present to his children was to pay for half of the homes they bought when they married. He has never given them cars and he pays them as much as other employees of the same level at the company, which now employs some 1,200 people.
Torres feels he is fair to his staff, as after reading Marx and Bakunin in his youth, he "can understand how workers feel, and the need to have a motivated workforce," he says. The funds he allocates to his employees' pensions surpass the 5% of profits that are distributed to shareholders – all family members, he says.
He learned about life and the less privileged in society when he fled Franco's Spain to study oenology in Dijon, France, as young man. "They didn't tell us about the poor," he says of his posh Barcelona school. But he remembers the darkest days of the Franco dictatorship, in the late 1940s, when those with almost nothing could see the diners in the open-air restaurants of Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia through the hedges put up to screen the tables. This was as close as the poorest got to food, Torres recalls.
In France, where he went to study after dropping out of the University of Barcelona, Torres saw an open society. It was far from insular Spain, "where girls had to be home at 10 o'clock, otherwise their fathers would go out to find them", he says.
Torres married a German holidaymaker, a painter whom he met one summer in the more liberal coastal town of Sitges, south of Barcelona. They have three children.
For four generations, the Torres business has been passed from "father to son", with no woman leading the company. Now, the son and daughter employed at the firm are both capable of running it when he retires in two or three years, he says, unwilling to give more details. "Family businesses are very delicate issues," he admits. He has hired advisers to "look for the right equilibrium for the fifth generation".
Above all, he wants to make sure that the company stays loyal to what he calls its principles of honesty, profitability and quality. A stockmarket flotation is far from his thoughts: "That would be a deadly sin – that would send us to hell; that's when you become short-termist."
Family ownership guarantees a patient and long-term outlook, much needed in the wine industry, Torres says, adding that his firm re-invests 95% of its profits in the business. Torres says he learned to be patient when his father refused to pass control of the company to him, believing that he would "die while working" some day. After taking a year off in Montpellier at the age of 40 to distance himself from family disputes, Torres says: "As my father saw me more relaxed, he started to yield control."
During his tenure, Torres has been more focused on production than his father, who was a "great salesman", he says. He has improved technology and will start producing organic wine for the Spanish market this year.
A traditionalist, he is also keen to revive ancient varieties of Catalan grapes, which are in danger of disappearing. The region once had more than 100 varieties of vines but after the phylloxera epidemic of the mid-19th century, only a dozen have survived. In the past 15 years, he has rediscovered 58 types by contacting farmers and asking them to alert him when they find a vine they do not recognise.
Apart from tending his 2,000 hectares of vineyards in Chile, California and Catalonia, Torres also plans to expand his olive oil business as demand for healthy Mediterranean products grows around the world. Good habits and moderation are the key, he says, as he heads off for a short siesta.
Born: Barcelona, 1941.
Education: Started chemistry at Barcelona University but dropped out a year later, in 1958, to join University of Dijon (Burgundy, France), specialising in oenology and viticulture.
Career: Joined the family business in 1962; became president after his father died in 1991.
Married: Waltraud Maczassek, from Germany, with whom he has three children.
Hobbies: Reading, being with grandchildren, and sports including cycling, tennis, skiing and jogging.
Books: In 1977 he published Vines and Wines, which has been translated from Spanish into Catalan, French, English, German, Norwegian, Finnish and Japanese. Has also written Spanish Wine: An Uncertain Future (1979), and The Distinctive Wines of Catalonia (1982).

Green private jets? Don't make me laugh

Private jet companies are charging executives puny sums to supposedly make the flights carbon-neutral. What a greenwash
Fred Pearce, Thursday 29 October 2009 11.51 GMT
Ah, the joys of your own executive jet. No more standing in line at the airport; no more travelling according to someone else's timetable; no more getting into the same plane as beastly ordinary people. And to hell with the climate consequences.
Well, that used to be the mantra. But these days something even more worrying is afoot. Now you can hire your own private plane and bask in the glow of being carbon-neutral at the same time.
NetJets Europe, which claims to be "the world's largest business aviation company", is adding compulsory carbon offsetting to contracts with all its customers. It says that by 2012, when all existing contracts will have been renewed, the entire operation will be carbon-neutral.
Its partner in this process is the Dublin-based offsetting company Ecosecurities, which specialises in cutting methane emissions from pig farm slurry pits, landfills and water treatment works across the world.
Gulp if you will, but arguably this is the logical outcome of the carbon offsetting business. It means the filthy rich can maintain their lifestyles while buying virtue at a cost few of them will notice. The cost of those offsets will generally be less than 1% of the hire cost of a plane.
NetJets is so far sticking by only voluntary offsets outside Europe. But, to be fair, it is also looking at biofuels as a long-term option, which has the potential to drastically cut actual emissions from the company's fleet. It is sponsoring research at Princeton University on future jet fuels.
Other private jet companies are joining the green push. But most are simply offering their customers off-the-shelf ways to buy their way to a green image through offsets. So you can "eliminate your carbon footprint" with Chief Executive Air, which says:
Enjoy the comfort and convenience of flying private and work with us to promote a cleaner environment by sponsoring a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Fly Chief Executive Air for personalized private flight that's GREEN.
You might almost believe –and I can't help thinking some executives will believe – that the more you fly the better it is for the environment.
An increasing number of carbon offset companies are joining in, too. Their old mantra that you should cut your emissions first and then offset what emissions are unavoidable seems to have been lost in the rush to soak up the cash and carbon of the rich.
How much greater are the emissions from executive jets? I am indebted to HalogenGuides Jets, "the insider's guide to private aviation", for doing the stats.
They reviewed 10 popular private jets using emissions stats provided by TerraPass, the offset company used by Chief Executive Air. The planes ranged from the Gulfstream 400, which burns up 32l of fuel a minute and can carry up to 19 passengers, to the Learjet 40XR, which burns more than 13l a minute to carry a maximum of five passengers.
HeliumReport converts this fuel burn into carbon dioxide emissions per hour. If we assume the plane is fully loaded with passengers, they mostly come in at between 200-300kg of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere per passenger per hour. But of course, the purpose of having your own jet is that you are not stuck with silly cost-cutting exercises like filling every seat on the plane.
I know of no analysis of how full private jets normally fly, but let's assume they are mostly half full. That gives emissions per passenger-hour of 400-600kg of carbon dioxide. That's about half a tonne.
How does that compare with a regular commercial flight? For one from London to Paris, which is roughly an hour, TerraPass reckons 59kg per passenger per hour, or little more more than a 10th as much as flying your own, half full, Learjet.
If you are interested in carbon emissions, these numbers are scary. An hour's flight on a private jet will emit more carbon dioxide than most Africans do in a whole year.
But of course if you are a top executive, offsetting costs on average, according to HeliumReport, between 0.1% and 0.6% of the hourly hire cost of the aircraft. Small change, in other words.
This cannot be right. This is not the place to pursue the question of how leaky and unpredictable the climate benefits of carbon offsets often are. They have some value, for sure, but they are very much second best to cutting your emissions.
I blame the offsetters for the marketing of offsets as an alternative, even a superior alternative, to cutting corporate emissions. They get an easy ride from greens. TerraPass proudly quotes the green blog Treehugger's plaudit that "we've always been impressed with the way TerraPass thinks beyond offsets to how they can actually encourage folks to lead greener lifestyles too".
I'm sorry. TerraPass has a special part of its website dedicated to signing up corporate clients using private jets. I didn't see any mention there of how, maybe, commercial flying might be better.
It's a sham. It's greenwash.