Saturday, 31 October 2009

Merkel: no chance of Kyoto-style agreement at Copenhagen

David Charter and Sam Coates in Brussels

Angela Merkel tried to give the world a wake up call to the glacial progress being made towards a climate deal in Copenhagen yesterday by writing off the chances of achieving a succesor to the Kyoto treaty this year.
Alarmed by the impasse gripping pre-Copenhagen talks, the German Chancellor warned fellow EU leaders that only a broad political framework was now possible from the negotiations due in the Danish capital in December. She said that the chances of a comprehensive treaty had disappeared.
"It is realistic to say that in Copenhagen we will not be able to conclude a treaty but it is important to lay down a political framework which will be the basis of the treaty," she said at the end of the two-day EU summit in Brussels.
"Copenhagen was supposed to be a post-Kyoto regime. Now we are talking about a political framework and negotiations will drag out longer until we get a treaty."

Her stark warning carries extra weight because she led German negotiations on the original Kyoto protocol which created the first international targets for cutting harmful emissions.
Mrs Merkel, who is deeply committed to achieving a comprehensive global treaty to succeed Kyoto, will tell President Obama about her fears that the US is doing too little to secure a treaty when she travels to Washington this week.
She also held a private meeting with Gordon Brown yesterday in Brussels at which she told him that much more needed to be done to kickstart the faltering Copenhagen process.
EU leaders decided today to call for a global fund of €100 billion a year to pay developing countries to combat climate change but failed to agree on how much money it was prepared to put into it.
Proposals for the EU to pledge €10 billion a year of public money towards the fund were rejected by former Iron Curtain countries which wanted to know exactly what they were being asked to pay before signing up.
Campaigners welcomed the idea of a global fund but warned that unless the EU gave more of a lead by offering hard cash incentives, it could be impossible to persuade the US and others to join in and reach agreement at climate change talks in Copenhagen in December.
In setting their negotiating position for Copenhagen, EU leaders agreed that €22 to €50 billion a year should come from developed countries to help the poorer nations to go green. Most of the rest would come form carbon trading schemes, they said.
The final deal failed to meet Mr Brown's ambitions because the Prime Minister had pushed for the EU to name its contribution and called for the range of public funding to be set at €30 to €40 billion a year by 2020, arguing that €22 billion would be too low.
Mr Brown today described the compromise over the EU climate change deal as a "prelude" to successful global talks in Copenhagen. Unlike Mrs Merkel, he remains upbeat about the chances of success in Copenhagen.
"People realise that we are only a few days away from the negotiations in Copenhagen. We were aware that if we did not come together to make progress, the possibility of a deal [in Copenhagen] would be a lot less likely. We can now look forward to a successful outcome."
The EU is also proposing that the international community find €5 to €7 billion of fast-track funding for the 2010-12 period for the developing world before any Copenhagen agreement comes into force. Again, the EU part of that was not made clear.
"The EU failed to use this opportunity to put its money where its mouth is" said Joris den Blanken, EU climate policy director for Greenpeace.
"But all is not lost: today 27 of the world's richest nations have backed global funding to tackle climate change in developing countries.
"The Copenhagen train is still running, but the world desperately needs some climate leadership to stop the wheels from jumping off the track. Regardless of whether climate legislation is passed in the US ahead of Copenhagen, president Obama should step up and break the deadlock in negotiations."

EU puts €100bn-a-year price on tackling climate change

Leaders agree cost will amount to €100bn a year by 2020, but fail to agree on short-term aid for developing world
Ian Traynor in Brussels, Friday 30 October 2009 17.38 GMT
European leaders agreed for the first time today that the price tag for tackling global warming would amount to €100bn (£89bn) a year by 2020, up to half of which would need to come from taxpayers' money in the developed world.
But mired in wrangling over how to split the European share of the bill among 27 countries and how much Europe collectively should spend, they failed to agree on urgent short-term funding for combating climate change in the developing world.
Five weeks ahead of the Copenhagen conference on a new international treaty on global warming, an EU summit spent two days immersed in number-crunching rows over the costs and who should bear them.
Difficult decisions were shelved because of an east-west dispute pitting the poorer member states against the wealthy western countries, and because leading EU states such as Germany, France and Italy were reluctant to make specific commitments on funding for the developing world before hammering out an agreement with the US, Japan and other rich states.
"Europe is leading the way, making these bold proposals," said Gordon Brown. "The major decision to come out of this is we're leading the way on the climate change negotiations."
The agreements fell well short of what had been sought by the Swedish presidency of the EU, the Danish government hosting the Copenhagen conference, the UK and the European commission.
In the short-term, the leaders agreed that up to €7bn a year was needed from January for three years for "fast-track" funding in the developing world. The EU said only that it would seek to persuade others to share that bill and that Europe would pay its "fair share".
Some of the east Europeans, led by Poland, which balked at being asked to pay up, are refusing to contribute and Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, admitted that European contributions to the fund would be "voluntary", meaning they may not be made at all.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was said to have fought strongly to avoid firm funding pledges. She goes to Washington next week, as do other EU leaders, for what could be crucial negotiations with the Obama administration on how to come up with a global fund for the poor countries. The issue of financing climate change measures in the developing world is a possible deal-breaker at Copenhagen.
The Germans were highly critical of the east European reluctance to share the bill, arguing that it was difficult to ask some of the world's emerging economies to contribute when Europe's poorer countries were saying no.
"EU leaders speak loud and clear on the global challenges of climate change, but remain tongue-tied when it comes to meeting their own responsibilities," said Rebecca Harms, leader of the Greens in the European parliament. "EU governments have now acknowledged the need for an annual €100bn towards climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, but have once again failed to put a clear figure on the EU's contribution."
While the Swedes, Danes and others argued that Europe had to take the lead on climate change and send a strong signal for Copenhagen, the Germans are more skeptical, noting that there are limits to leadership and calling for the other rich countries to step up to the plate.
It is not yet clear on what basis the contributions will be made. The west Europeans want to combine the "polluter pays" principle with ability to pay, meaning that a donor country's GDP and level of greenhouse gas emissions will determine how much it puts in.
Of the €100bn euros ballpark figure, the Europeans said €22bn-€50bn should be public sector money in annual transfers to the developing world by 2020.
Although the Europeans refused to specify the European share, Merkel said it should be around one-third; the same amount should be supplied by the US, and Germany would foot around 20% of the European bill.
The 22-50 cost range is wide and vague enough for lots of wiggle room. Britain says €50bn is "unaffordable" and €22bn is not enough. It sought a narrower range of €30bn-€40bn.
Rather than detailing specific European pledges, the leaders agreed only to contribute a "fair share" to the global fund and stressed that the offer was "conditional" on agreement with the other main donors.

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."

EU climate aid: The politicians are the only winners in this deal

The laboured negotiations over the EU's announcement on climate aid is a taste of what's to come in Copenhagen

David Adam, environment correspondent, Friday 30 October 2009 16.33 GMT
Gordon Brown called it a significant breakthrough, yet the green groups label it as disappointing and fatally flawed - welcome to the opening exchanges of the world's attempt to finalise a new global deal on climate change.
Today's announcement in Brussels on climate aid is a necessary step towards a deal, but also a model of what we can expect as countries gear up for crucial political talks on global warming in Copenhagen in December.
Ahead of the Brussels meeting there were gloomy reports of a split and warnings of a likely crisis, quickly followed by a political huddle and talk of the need to compromise. A few hours of discussion later and his colleagues were able to emerge with handshakes and announce almost what everybody had expected all along. Job done.
As revealed in the Guardian on Tuesday, the EU has announced that poor countries need to receive some €100bn a year by 2020 from the world's rich nations to help them cope with the likely impact of global warming. Up to half of this will come from taxpayers with the rest coming from the private sector.
The agreement is a model of political negotiation, in that each national leader gets to go home and report victory to their domestic audiences. Brown, the UK prime minister, gets the credit for forcing through an overall figure, while the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, can point out that Europe has not actually committed itself to provide any specific funds, keeping that card up its sleeve. Meanwhile the heads of the member states most reluctant to put their hands in their pockets, such as Poland, have won concessions on what they are expected to pay upfront.
Against this realpolitik, campaign groups are doing what they do best - pressuring their leaders to do more and to ensure the promised money is not pilfered from existing aid budgets.

European Union: Changing climate in Brussels

The Guardian, Saturday 31 October 2009
Il Presidente Blair, it seems, is not to be. Over dinners on Thursday night Europe's leaders began to look for a less glamorous and less divisive politician to head the European council. Too socialist for the right, too rightwing for the socialists and too tainted with Iraq for everyone, the excitement about Tony Blair was always biggest in Britain, underscoring the point that this country is only ever gripped by European issues when they are given a domestic spin. It happened to the Conservatives, too; their new alliances in the European parliament only catching alight at home when David Miliband led the attack against them.
The murmuring of retreat could be heard in Whitehall yesterday, after a BBC interview with Poland's chief rabbi. In it he described the target of Mr Miliband's ire, the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, as a mainstream leader who was not antisemitic. Tories welcomed that – and the sense that Mr Miliband may have pushed things too hard – but they should not mistake the easing of one line of attack for a general acceptance of their European policy. Too little about it is known – and what is known is too alarming – for anyone to relax at the prospect of a Conservative government dealing with Brussels.
The point is less about extremism than about the party's refusal to co-operate even with European politicians with whom it ought to agree. Fredrik Reinfeldt, for instance, the centre-right Swedish prime minister whose government is in many ways a testing ground for what might become Cameronism, was photographed yesterday cheering the Brussels agreement on climate aid. The agreement promises the developing world a mix of private and public money to cope with the likely impact of global warming. Whether all the promised billions materialise is open to question. But the deal, which Gordon Brown pushed for, raises the European standard ahead of next month's Copenhagen summit. If the EU had done nothing this week, an effective global deal on climate change would have been several steps further away.
Though unsatisfactory in its lack of specifics, yesterday's agreement is exactly the sort of thing modern Conservatives ought to be pleased the EU can do. Instead Tory leaders sound obstructive and, more importantly, are seen by other European leaders as bewilderingly hostile to co-operation and rational institutional change. This intransigence has already had consequences: "London's loss will be Madrid's gain," declared Germany's right-of-centre Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung thinktank recently when it moved its respected director from Britain in a small but intentional snub aimed at a Conservative party which walked away from partnership with the CDU in the European parliament.
The Tories will not be too shaken by that. But they should be. Abroad, a Cameron government will need friends in Europe in the major countries. At home, a Cameron government that wants to make any headway at all on the things its leader says he cares about – education reform, for instance, or poverty – would be mad to spend its energy instead on picking a fight with the rest of Europe. Whether it does so will depend on how Mr Cameron responds to the final ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which now looks imminent. His line until now, "we will not let matters rest", will not serve after that. He is unlikely to promise a referendum on a treaty that will already be in operation. But he may promise a battle over other things – what, until Lisbon, was the EU social chapter, for instance, or the European budget when it comes up for review in 2011. Poor relations with other European right-of-centre leaders will not make such things easy to achieve.
If Mr Cameron is bold, he will face down his party on Europe. It would be a defining moment. It should happen soon. He has a choice: lead his country, or lead the opposition. Europe, once again, is make or break for the Tories.

Emissions trading hits the poor

Scrap this regressive fuel tax and let countries be prosperous and free enough to cope with the effects of climate change

Matthew Sinclair, Friday 30 October 2009 09.00 GMT
When the Grocer magazine accused Ken Clarke of planning to increase the rate of VAT on domestic fuel and power bills in 1997 it was a political scandal.
He was quick to deny their report. But, as our study released this morning shows, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is now effectively doing just what the Grocer accused Clarke of planning. The ETS is now costing British consumers £3bn a year – equivalent to around £117 per family, and a large part of that bill is coming through higher electricity prices. When combined with other climate change policies such as the Renewables Obligation, it now accounts for 14% of the average household electricity bill. Yet, what percentage of the population even knows these policies exist, let alone how much they're paying for them?
The reason why increasing electricity bills has caused such a scandal in the past, and should be taken incredibly seriously now, is that the poor and elderly spend far more as a portion of their income on electricity. The 10% of the population on the lowest incomes spend more than three times as much, as a share of their income, as the richest 10%. Over-75s spend nearly twice as much as under-30s. We need to resist increases in VAT because it hits the poor hardest, but at least VAT is exempted or at least reduced for some items like food and children's clothing. The ETS does precisely the opposite, pushing up prices on the spending priorities of low-income families.
The fact that a large share of the proceeds goes to energy companies as windfall profits rubs salt in that wound. Those profits are going to continue for some years to come as the scheme slowly moves towards auctioning allowances rather than allocating them for free. Even once full auctioning is in place, the ETS will still be a highly regressive tax.
Of course, the reason why we are supposed to accept such a regressive tax is that it will help to cut emissions. Unfortunately, the efficacy of the scheme is undermined by its inability to produce a stable carbon price. The price has collapsed a number of times since the scheme was introduced. As Oliver Tickell wrote for this website, "wild fluctuations create a risk that deters some investors altogether and makes others demand a significant risk premium, putting up the price of capital." EDF Energy has called for a floor on the carbon price to "encourage investment in low-carbon energy like nuclear power". This calls into question the whole point of the scheme.
That volatility isn't going to end any time soon. The basic problem is that the supply of allowances is fixed (the "cap" in "cap and trade") so shifts in demand are entirely reflected in prices. As firms and households find it easier or harder to improve their carbon efficiency, and as the economy grows more or less quickly, the number of allowances allocated by the participating countries will never be quite right and the price will continue to crash up and down.
That volatility doesn't just undermine the efficacy of the ETS. It also makes the burden it imposes on households and businesses that bit harder to bear.
For those reasons alone, the Emissions Trading Scheme should be abolished. Instead, we should focus on making sure that developed and developing countries are prosperous and free enough to cope with whatever climate change throws at them. We should also directly support the development of technologies that can provide us with new options, ideally with the kind of rigorous prizes that have delivered dramatic results in the development of everything from agricultural machinery and private suborbital spaceflight. That will be far more effective and affordable than the current approach.
The ETS has been an expensive failure. Having been implemented through the EU without a real debate here, it lacks democratic legitimacy and it is imposing a significant burden on the poorest families while achieving very little. It should be abolished.

MP Alan Simpson sees red over 'Big Power' anti-green agenda

Labour's energy adviser calls himself a 'leftover hippy' but his politics are fresh – an assault on how the civil service and 'Big Power' try to derail the fight against climate change
The UK is in the grips of a power cartel that actively hinders the fight against global warming by lobbying for its own narrow commercial interests at the cost of local democracy and the future health of the planet. It's an argument that off-gridders and anti-capitalist campaigners will be familiar with. It's not really what you expect to hear from an adviser to the government.
Yet that is the belief of MP Alan Simpson, who occupies a place close to the heart of political power in Britain as energy adviser to the minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband.
Simpson made his eye-opening claims at an event organised this week by UK solar company Solar Century to lobby for an increase in the proposed "feed-in tariff" – the amount paid for electricity sold to the grid by households generating green energy through solar panels or wind turbines.
Next April, the government plans to introduce feed-in tariffs of 5p per unit (kilowatt-hour), plus a subsidy of 36.5p per unit generated off-grid in small solar and wind-powered installations. Simpson argued that these levels provide only a 5%-7% return on investment in solar panels, which is not high enough to kick-start the UK solar energy industry. He called for the feed-in tariff to be set at a minimum of 10p, which would provide closer to a 10% return.
He also said we don't need to look to the Middle East to see the link between energy and politics, because it's here in our own back yards. Calling for a decentralised power generation system in which individual homes and local areas generate much of the UK's power, he said:
Current energy policy in the UK is dominated by the vested interests of "Big Power" [the six utility companies that dominate UK electricity generation]. The national grid is monumentally inefficient as an energy system. It was a half-decent idea for the middle of the last century, but 70%-80% of energy put into the grid disappears before you or I even switch the light on. We need not an energy, but a power revolution that takes control from the centre and literally puts power back into the hands of the people.
The UK generated just 6 megawatt peak (MWp) from solar sources last year, compared to Germany's 1,500 MWp and Spain's 2,511 MWp. The reasons for the UK's poor performance, Simpson declared, relate to civil servants' desire to retain central control, allied with the commercial interests of "Big Power".
He said civil servants have been trying to water down feed-in tariffs designed to boost the deployment of renewable energy in the UK. He accused them of "delaying" and "frustrating" their introduction. The feed-in tariffs will be available for installations of up to 5Mw, but Simpson revealed that initially the big power companies wanted the tariff to be available only for systems that generated less than 50kw.
Cynics say the reason Simpson can be so outspoken is that as a Labour MP he expects to be voted out of power within a few months. However, the record shows that he has consistently criticised government energy policy. He is certainly one of very few British MPs to put his money where his principles are.
Four years ago, he spent £100,000 on a derelict building in Nottingham's Lace Market area, and another £200,000 to make it into an eco-home for him and his wife, the novelist Pascale Quiviger. He refurbished the south-facing roof with solar panels that now provide his home with around 75% of its power. Inside is a micro-combined heat and power (CHP) generator, producing electricity at the same time as it heats the house. The internals walls are made from compressed recycled straw and insulated with recycled cardboard tubes.
Simpson's politics provide a glimpse of the sort of progressive thinking the Labour party could have adopted when it abandoned its traditional socialist approach for Tony Blair's New Labour in the early 1990s. "I'm a leftover hippy from the 60s," he told the assembled people in suits. "Here we have an opportunity to influence huge change." Let's grasp it.
• Alex Benady is acting editor of

Coming clean about going green

Too many companies make spurious eco-friendly claims to sell their products, but there are alternatives
Laura Whateley

Next time you are in Tesco, or flicking through a magazine, try counting the number of products advertised as being eco-friendly, organic or natural. You will soon run out of fingers.
According to TerraChoice, a US marketing company, the amount of goods sold as “green” in the UK, US, Canada and Australia has risen by an average of 79 per cent since 2007. It also found that 98 per cent of products being advertised as green had some environmental failings.
In anticipation of the UN Climate Change Conference in December, Times Money exposes the worst offenders and offers some genuinely green, and often cheaper, alternatives.
Investment groups and banks
Consumers may be tempted to opt for “green” investments but first they should examine where their money is going.
Virgin Money, for example, has launched a climate change Isa, which, it claims, “invests in specially selected business” that have “a lighter environmental footprint”. However, the Isa has been criticised for supporting industries with questionable environmental credentials.
Virgin Money’s marketing literature says that the Isa “includes all industries — so you don’t miss out on lucrative sectors like oil, gas, electricity and transportation”.
Toby Webb, the founder of Ethical Corporation, a business intelligence company, says: “I had expected the fund to be investing in exciting new technology companies set to capitalise on the next green revolution.”
But Virgin’s definition of companies that fight climate change appears to be somewhat elastic, for example: “Companies taking positive action on the corporate responsibility front by promoting environmentally aware behaviour internally, such as encouraging recycling in their workplaces." Mr Webb says: “So an oil company could get into the Virgin Money Climate Change Isa fund by encouraging employees to have a recycling bin in their office.
“Is that really green? No, not at all. And it doesn’t do a lot for the climate either, really.”
HSBC and Nationwide both flaunt their green credentials by offering customers the option to switch to paperless statements. While this is of benefit, it is not a brave environmental campaign: all online banking customers can request to go paperless; some online banks will not even offer you the option of paper statements. It also saves money for the banks, too.
Barclaycard Breathe, meanwhile, says that it will donate 0.5 per cent of customers’ spends to “projects that tackle climate change”.
But the card does not have a particularly competitive rate of interest, which cancels the benefit, according to Darren Cook, of He says: “A better alternative may be to shop around for the best deal on the market and then make a cash donation to your chosen green charity.”
If you want to know that you are receiving more than vacuous green promises from your bank, Mr Cook suggests opening an account with the Co-operative and its online offshoot, Smile, Triodos or Charity Bank. “These banks offer customers transparency about which companies they fund, and promise not to lend to environmentally unfriendly organisations,” he says.
Triodos, for example, uses customers’ deposits to finance wind farms and one of the projects supported by Charity Bank is the installation of a hydro plant.
The Co-operative Bank states that it “will not finance any business whose core activity contributes to global climate change, via the extraction or production of fossil fuels”.
Energy companies
There has been a proliferation of “green” or “eco” energy tariffs on the market lately, but in reality these products do little to fight climate change.
Rob Reid, scientific policy adviser for Which?, believes that consumers are being misled about the true environmental credentials of their energy providers.
He says: “We are concerned about the way energy companies use terms such as ‘green electricity’, which we think is damaging. By law, energy companies must source 9 per cent of energy from renewable resources. Ofgem did a review last year, and found that many energy companies were simply repackaging their tariffs as ‘eco’ because they were following these guidelines.
“Ofgem ruled that energy companies can now only advertise tariffs as ‘green’ if they can prove they do more than they are legally obligated to.
“However, rather than increasing their percentage of renewable energy, companies often just donate to a green charity, or a carbon-offsetting organisation. Energy companies then charge customers a premium for such tariffs.”
Good Energy, for example, is one of the only companies that genuinely uses 100 per cent renewable energy, and Ecotricity invests more per customer in new supplies of renewable energy than any other in the UK.
There are also plenty of ways in which consumers can reduce their energy use without paying an electricity company for the pleasure.
Turning down a thermostat by 1C could cut a consumer’s heating bill by up to 10 per cent.
If only 50 families switched their washing machine temperature from 40C to 30C for a year it would save enough electricity to make a quarter of a million cups of tea, says Which?
Before buying a new electrical item, be it a fridge or a hairdryer, check its efficiency on, a new website that allows consumers to compare brands and models against estimated hourly usage.
For more ideas on how to reduce consumption the Energy Saving Trust offers a free home energy check, which will give you tips on how to save up to £300 a year on household energy bills.
Whatever the ad men tell you, no car is truly green. Mercedes-Benz is the latest company to get into trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading the public about its environmentally friendly credentials. In an advert for a new model it stated that it was “a pleasure, but not a guilty one”.
Neil Wallis, of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, says that consumers should look at how much carbon each car produces. “There are already significant financial benefits to buying a car with lower carbon emissions,” he says, “and they will become much cheaper in the future.”
However, buyers should not assume automatically that a hybrid-electric car emits less carbon than a small petrol engine. A large hybrid car such as the Lexus LS 600h petrol hybrid emits 219g/km of CO2, compared with just 99g/km emitted by the Toyota iQ three-door hatch, with a petrol engine, according to What Green Car.
Motorists can compare the emissions of new cars on the Act On CO2 website at
Buying a new green car is, of course, not the cheapest solution. Mr Wallis says: “You can get significant fuel savings from driving in a more sensible way, which costs you nothing. Tyre pressure is also very important.”
Friends of the Earth estimates that 80 per cent of car tyres are not properly inflated, which can increase fuel consumption by up to 5 per cent.
Reducing the amount you use your car is, ultimately, the greenest option. organises car-sharing schemes and the charity is developing a network of car clubs and sharing schemes across the UK.
Household products
Tempted to pay more for the bottle of bleach decorated with a picture of a rural scene? Don’t bother. According to research by TerraChoice, British household, health and beauty products are some of the worst culprits for false green advertising.
Comfort fabric softener, for example, has been attacked for presenting its product as kind and gentle when in reality fabric softeners can pollute waterways and poison aquatic life.
The report also points out that household products often promote themselves as including “natural materials”, neglecting to make it clear that some natural substances, such as formaldehyde and arsenic, are harmful.
Directgov, the Government’s website, recommends that consumers buy genuinely environmentally friendly products from manufacturers such as Ecover, which offers cleaning products from washing-up liquid to limescale remover and laundry powder.
Ecover products are made using raw materials from vegetable and mineral sources that guarantee maximum biodegradability. Consumers should look for the European Union Ecolabel, which looks like a flower. This stamp is given to products that minimise their impact on the environment.
Ecover will, however, cost you slightly more than other products. A cheap alternative? Simply use less.
Of detergents and cleaning products Directgov says: “Don’t use more than the recommended dose, use the mildest cleaning product needed for the job and the minimum dosage for the hardness of the water in your area.”
Case study: Victorian listed house becomes ‘ecoparadise’
Mike Duff, 30, and his wife, Michelle Wilson, have spent the past year turning their Victorian Grade II listed house in Stratford, East London, into an ecoparadise. As a result, they have added £50,000 to the value of their home. As an urban design and sustainability consultant, Mike works to make cities more environmentally-friendly. He felt that it was time to apply the same logic to his own home.
The couple installed double- glazed, argon-filled windows and an air-source heat pump, which provides all their heating underfloor as well as their hot water. This uses about 25 per cent of the energy consumption of the most efficient combi-boiler. Mike says: “It is three times the cost of a combi-boiler; however, we planned to build this house as if it was our last, so are in it for the long haul. An air-source heat pump also has the added benefit of using a truly renewable fuel, air — and air can’t be taxed.”
Mike and Michelle also have a grey-water recycling system, which purifies the water from their sinks and showers enough to be reused in the garden and for flushing toilets. They grow their own vegetables and herbs, and compost all food waste.
Michelle cannot easily get to work on public transport so they decided to buy a 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid for her commute. Mike says: “This costs us less than the new version of our VW Golf would have cost. So far, we’ve driven 850 miles and filled the tiny 22-litre tank twice.”
Beyond carbon offset
A growing number of “green” insurance products are appearing on the market that promise to offset emissions caused by your driving with donations to carbon-offsetting schemes. The same applies to some “green” mortgages. Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, for example, offers a “carbon neutral mortgage”. For each green mortgage bought, 40 trees will be planted over five years.
However, environmental charities remain sceptical about the benefit of carbon-offsetting. Dan Welch, the co-editor of Ethical Consumer magazine, agrees. He says: “The very basis of carbon-offset is flawed.
If you want to support good organisations that are fighting climate change, there are plenty that offer better ways of doing it than through carbon-offset.”
He recommends policies that offer lower premiums to motorists with greener cars. and More Than both offer cheaper premiums for fuel-efficient, hybrid or electric cars, for example. Naturesave offers discounts on home insurance for houses with green features such as solar panels and water butts.