Thursday, 5 November 2009

Climate change ministry signs up to campaign

Karen McVeigh, Wednesday 4 November 2009 23.35 GMT
The Department of Energy and Climate Change, responsible for promoting energy efficiency, is to sign up tomorrow to the 10:10 campaign to cut carbon emissions.
Its pledge to cut its carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 comes after it emerged that the department's headquarters in Whitehall had the worst possible energy efficiency rating on the government's own seven-point scale. It is the second government department to sign up to the campaign, which is supported by the Guardian, after the Department for International Development. The DECC's 100-year old Grade II listed building at 3 Whitehall Place was given the bottom rating of G along with the Home Office, which moved into a newly built office only a few years ago, and the Department of Health. On average, government buildings scored an F. The DECC said the new department had only moved last October into the building, which was difficult to upgrade to the standards of a new building.
About 45% of the UK's carbon emissions come from energy use in buildings. So far, 51 councils have signed up to 10:10 or passed a motion to do so.

Rich countries call on African bloc to keep climate talks on track

Poor countries forced to make a stand over lack of commitment from rich nations on emissions cuts, claims African delegate
John Vidal in Barcelona, Wednesday 4 November 2009 17.27 GMT
Rich countries today piled pressure on Africa not to derail climate talks after the poorest countries in the world shocked the UN by walking out of the official negotiations, demanding that their concerns be met.
The chair of the Africa group of nations, Kamel Djemouai, was recalled from Barcelona by the Algerian government and other African delegations reportedly received "strong" phone calls from their capitals urging them not to imperil the last negotiations before Copenhagen. Algeria admitted that its negotiator had been recalled but it was denied that this had anything to do with Africa's stand.
The African bloc complained that rich nations' carbon cuts were far too small to avoid catastrophic climate change, and refused to participate until more was done. The move forced the UN to abandon several sessions and reschedule others to give rich countries more time to debate emissions cuts. Countries have agreed to devote 60% of the remaining time to those discussions.
France has been supportive of Africa's position ahead of the climate change talks in Copenhagen. But French negotiators are known to have been angered and dismayed by the African move. "They are shooting themselves in the foot," said one French diplomat.
The Guardian has learned that Africa's intervention was not a spur of the moment decision by negotiators. The decision to make a stand to try to force rich countries to increase their commitments was taken in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month when African heads of state met to coordinate their positions before the talks.
"It was a political act, not a negotiating stand. The negotiators here in Barcelona were told to make a dramatic action," said one source close to the group.
"We took a risk and it worked. We are very pleased with the reaction," said Bruno Sekoli, head of the Lesotho national climate office and chair of the least developed countries group of the world's poorest nations.
"Africa had no choice because of the reality of climate change. The negotiations have been going a long time and have not shown much progress. It's not about money. Climate change is an issue of life or death for us. The developed countries have to shift policies. A bad deal is not good for Africa or vulnerable countries," said Sekoli.
"The impacts of climate change have come too soon, so soon. I am scared to think of the consequences," he said.
He added that the reaction from other developing countries had been heartening. The G77 group of 130 countries, the Alliance of Small island states and others in Latin America all supported the African stance.
Their move was credited with reminding delegations that the ultimate point of the talks is to reduce emissions. Until now the negotiations have been dominated by concerns of the US and China and have seemed irrelevant to many of the poorest countries which are already feeling the effects of climate change.
"Their move leaves Africa in a much stronger position. So far Africa has not been recognised in the talks at all," said Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
"It's a moral stance, it points out the difference between a good and a bad deal. A good deal is defined by what is good for the planet. Africa will feel the consequences most of a bad deal," said Huq. "If you are an African country you have much more at stake than a rich country. They are rightly confused by the talks and angry."
Hugh Cole, climate adviser for Oxfam in Southern Africa: "African countries have drawn a line in the sand this week. They are not willing to accept a bad deal in Copenhagen which will spell disaster for millions of their poorest people. Rich countries must now stop trying to dodge and delay their responsibilities — deliver the emissions cuts the science demands and the climate finance poor communities desperately need."
The Africa group of nations is a new political grouping in the UN climate talks, reflecting the continent's increased unity, and desire to work together. It is led by President Meles of Ethiopia, but is negotiating separately in the talks even though many of its members are part of larger political groupings like the G77 plus China, and the Least Developed Countries (LDC).

Scotland signs up to Climate Group

Move will allow Alex Salmond's Scottish nationalist government to build alliances with small states, city councils and major companies pressing for deep and binding cuts in CO2 emissions
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Wednesday 4 November 2009 16.33 GMT
Alex Salmond's Scottish nationalist government has joined California and New York city in a global alliance of small states, city councils and major companies pressing for deep and binding cuts in CO2 emissions.
The Scottish National party administration said today it had signed up to the Climate Group, a London-based not-for-profit campaign which is lobbying heavily for a far-reaching and long-term global deal on emissions at next month's climate talks in Copenhagen.
The Scottish government is in part attempting to outflank the Labour-led government in London, which has refused Salmond's demands that the UK delegation should include a Scottish minister in Copenhagen. Gordon Brown has offered only to allow a Scottish civil servant to take part, arguing that the UK has to present a united and consistent front at the talks.
The SNP, which runs a minority government in Scotland, has introduced some of the most ambitious climate change legislation of any comparable administration, partly under intense pressure from opposition parties at the Scottish parliament.
Those include legislation requiring up to 42% cuts in CO2 emissions by 2020 and annual legally binding emissions reductions, and for the first time published line-by-line carbon emissions for £33bn in core spending in its annual budget in September. Environment groups say these measures are more radical than the UK's government's policies.
The SNP is now building alternative alliances with other regional and "sub-national" governments through the Climate Group, which includes Catalonia, California, Chicago, the Greater London Authority, North Rhine and Westphalia, Western Australia, Ontario and Quebec. Major companies who are amongst the more than 60 full members include Google, Virgin, Timberland, BSkyB, BP, IBM, Tesco and Marks and Spencer.
The Scottish environment minister, Stewart Stephenson, made the announcement at a Climate Group event during the UN's pre-Copenhagen talks in Barcelona, and is expected to attend Copenhagen for the organisation's day of fringe events.
Stephenson said: "The Scottish government recognises the urgency of addressing climate change and is an active partner in the common desire to identify solutions, work towards adaptation and create a sustainable future."
Luc Bas, the Climate Group's head of government relations for Europe, said Scotland had set a "great example" by agreeing ambitious cuts targets in its Climate Change Act, the carbon assessments in its budgets and "strategic approach" to climate change adaptation.
"Scotland's commitment to green energy and the economic opportunities of the low carbon economy is impressive and far-sighted. This is a great model for other countries to follow," he said.
Some senior environmentalists have been privately very critical of Salmond's attempts to join the official UK delegation to Copenhagen, since Scotland is a minor force on the global stage, and accused him of posturing.
Despite its ambitious policies, the devolved Scottish government only controls about 30% of Scotland's total CO2 outputs, which in turn account for less than 10% of the UK's emissions. The remaining 70% are influenced by European Union and UK government policies, such as on fuel taxation, VAT and aviation.
Hitting the 42% cut by 2020 also requires a binding deal at Copenhagen, and Stephenson could cut that target if no deal is reached. Despite championing green energy projects, Salmond also supports new coal-fired power stations, the North Sea oil industry, and roads and airport expansion.
Critics believe the Scottish government is far better able to influence regional governments or states of a similar size, rather than pretend it can challenge India, China or the US.
Richard Dixon, director of the environment group WWF Scotland and a supporter of the SNP's policies on climate change, said the decision to join the Climate Group was a welcome.
"It's a perfectly sensible thing to do. Scotland shouldn't be trying to pretend to sit beside the UK. It should be sitting alongside a really good regional grouping," he said.

US scales down hopes of global climate change treaty in Copenhagen

• Binding agreement not expected in Copenhagen• Administration working towards treaty next year
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington and John Vidal in Barcelona, Wednesday 4 November 2009 23.24 GMT
The US has given up hope of reaching a global climate change treaty at Copenhagen and is working towards a deal late next year, the Obama administration said today. The decision ends hopes of a legally binding deal being sealed next month.
"We have to be honest in the process and deal with the realities that we don't have time in these four weeks to put the language together and flesh out every crossed t and dotted i of a treaty," said John Kerry, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee.
Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, agreed. "It doesn't look like it's on the cards for December," he said. "We should make progress towards a political agreement that hits each of the main elements."
The scaling back of US ambitions follows a growing international consensus that a binding legal agreement on global warming could not be reached at Copenhagen – now just 32 days away. The US shift resets expectations for what will be accomplished at Copenhagen, once billed by the UN as a last chance to avoid catastrophic global warming.
Stern, in comments to the house foreign relations committee today, said his comments playing down prospects for a binding treaty at Copenhagen reflected the views of senior US politicians including Ed Markey, the author of a climate change bill passed in June. Stern insisted that negotiators were intent on producing a blueprint in Copenhagen that would lead to a binding legal agreement "perhaps next year or as soon as possible".
He said: "We want something beyond certainly a declaration that we are going to keep working on this. We want a real agreement." However, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said today that a delay of a year before a legally binding treaty was signed would be too long, given the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions.
Kerry, speaking at a National Journal seminar, said he was looking for countries to begin to put in place firm commitments at Copenhagen that would then be enshrined in international law by the end of 2010. "What I am looking for is a binding and real political agreement where the world comes together in Copenhagen with an agreement for fixed reductions that are measurable, verifiable and reportable Then you set either a June or July date or the Mexico date in December next year and work on the language in that year."
However, Kerry acknowledged even that scaled back notion of success hinged on the US Congress passing a climate change law, which seems unlikely because of strong Republican opposition to the possible costs of emissions cuts.
As chair of the foreign relations committee, Kerry will play a pivotal role in getting any treaty ratified by the Senate. He said he was working with a Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, and the one-time Democrat Joe Lieberman to build support for the bill among Republicans and conservative Democrats. The three were meeting later today with the White House, the energy secretary, Stephen Chu, and the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, to craft a bill that would pass in the Senate — and have the support of the Obama administration.
Kerry said the reduced role for Copenhagen could work out to the world's advantage — allowing extra time for America, China, and the international community to co-ordinate their efforts. "The president can go China next week, sit with the Chinese and make clear what he is prepared to do, make clear what the Senate is prepared do. What the house has done has been made clear. so you are in a range, and the Chinese and everyone else enter into a political agreement which does not have the force of law till a year later," he said.
"We in effect have sealed a deal," he said. "It works out be a fairly logicial step by step incremental process"
In Barcelona, at the last negotiating meeting before Copenhagen, rich countries piled pressure on Africa not to derail the climate talks after the poorest countries in the world shocked the UN by walking out of the official talks, demanding that their concerns be met.
The chair of the Africa group of nations, Kamel Djemouai, was recalled from Barcelona by the Algerian government and other African delegations reportedly received "strong" phone calls from their capitals urging them not to imperil the last negotiations before Copenhagen. Algeria admitted that its negotiator had been recalled but it was denied that this was related to Africa's stand.
The African bloc complained that rich nations' carbon cuts were far too small to avoid catastrophic climate change, and refused to participate until more was done. The move forced the UN to abandon several sessions and reschedule others to give rich countries more time to debate emissions cuts. Countries have agreed to devote 60% of the remaining time to those discussions.
France has been supportive of Africa's position ahead of the climate change talks in Copenhagen. But French negotiators are known to have been angered and dismayed by the African move. "They are shooting themselves in the foot," said one French diplomat.

Copenhagen is an opportunity for ethics to trump economics

Avoiding action on climate change because it might be too expensive is on a moral par with harming other people for money

James Garvey, Wednesday 4 November 2009 08.00 GMT
How should humanity share the cost of action on climate change? Without an answer to this question, the world will not secure a strong and binding deal on the climate at Copenhagen next month, and we will continue on a path towards an increasingly inhospitable world. As many key players have warned, there is a real chance of failure. The Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, warns that negotiations are faltering because the west is unwilling to offer financing to emerging economies, and the developing world won't budge without the promise of cash.
US Senators on both sides of the aisle are doing all they can to block action with talk of danger to jobs and the US economy. Countries in eastern Europe say that contributing too much will wreck their fragile economies, and wealthier westerners are unwilling to fix numbers, hoping to translate silence into a stronger bargaining position with the US and Japan. No one wants to pay too much, and everyone wants someone else to pay more. This is only rational, isn't it, just part of getting a fair deal for all? It depends on how one counts the cost of climate change.
Some insist that the options on the table are simply too expensive. No deal is better than a deal which costs us too much. Money is the determining factor – not warnings about a grim future or something as wishy-washy as concern for the poor. As idiotic as this sounds, it nevertheless gets you where you live, right in the wallet, and many people actually fall for it. Recall Bush's excuse for pulling the US out of Kyoto, the world's first failed opportunity for a climate deal: "complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact, with layoffs of workers and price increases for consumers." He does at least speak plainly. Relieved of some of the fanfare, the climate talks are in danger of stalling because of thoughts not too distant from plain words like these. Serious action on climate change will damage our current wealth, so we won't do it.
There is something fundamentally vicious about putting money at the heart of the negotiations. No doubt matters are excruciatingly complex, and reasonable people can argue about how best to spend money on climate change and the world's other ills, but that's not what's happening. We are in danger of failing to act simply because some maintain that the cost of action is too high. Think about the relevant causes and effects of climate change: our easy lives of high-energy consumption and the damage we are doing to the planet. Consider the human beings who will suffer because of our easy lives. Avoiding meaningful action on climate change just because it might be too expensive is on a moral par with harming other people for money. Call it what it is: keeping money in exchange for the suffering of others.
Ethics sometimes has to trump economics. If you have a moral obligation to take action, you don't get out of it with talk of expense. Would you forgive someone for avoiding a moral duty because he thought it might cost him too much? He'd rather not abandon plans for a festive weekend in Spain, so those child care payments will have to wait. No judge would let a father get away with that. Sometimes we have to tighten our belts and do the right thing, even if it costs us more than we'd like.
The west has a long history of industrialisation, and it has done the most damage to our world. Therefore the west has the largest moral obligation to take action. No doubt all countries, even those industrialising much later, have moral responsibilities too, but the point is that our obligations click in no matter what the rest of the world does, no matter what other countries pay. We have to pay for our fair share of the damage, not fight hard for the cheapest way out.
Some think that talking about moral obligations just makes us feel guilty, and we've had enough of that. Others collapse in the face of complexity, groaning that we can't do enough in the short time that we have. Don't believe a word of it. Human beings can move mountains in an instant when they see that something is wrong – the obvious examples are the right ones to think about. If our representatives have forgotten the moral demand for action on climate change, it's up to the rest of us to do something – maybe remind them that they've mistaken money for the things which really matter.
• James Garvey is secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and author of The Ethics of Climate Change

Forests in the desert: the answer to climate change?

Climate change could be cancelled out in a staggeringly ambitious plan to plant the Sahara desert and Australian outback with trees
David Adam, Wednesday 4 November 2009 18.35 GMT
Some talk of hoisting mirrors into space to reflect sunlight, while others want to cloud the high atmosphere with millions of tonnes of shiny sulphur dust. Now, scientists could have dreamed up the most ambitious geoengineering plan to deal with climate change yet: converting the parched Sahara desert to a lush forest. The scale of the ambition is matched only by the promised rewards – the scientists behind the plan say it could "end global warming".
The scheme has been thought up by Leonard Ornstein, a cell biologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, together with Igor Aleinov and David Rind, climate modellers at Nasa. The trio have outlined their plan in a new paper published in the Journal of Climatic Change, and they modestly conclude it "probably provides the best, near-term route to complete control of greenhouse gas induced global warming".
Under the scheme, planted fields of fast growing trees such as eucalyptus would cover the deserts of the Sahara and Australian outback, watered by seawater treated by a string of coastal desalination plants and channelled through a vast irrigation network. The new blanket of tree cover would bring its own weather system and rainfall, while soaking up carbon dioxide from the world's atmosphere. The team's calculations suggest the forested deserts could draw down around 8bn tonnes of carbon a year, about the same as emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation today. Sounds expensive? The researchers say it could be more economic than planned global investment in carbon capture and storage technology (CCS).
"The costs are enormous but the scale of the problem is enormous," says Ornstein, who is best known for pioneering a cell biology technique called polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in the 1950s. "It's a serious suggestion in that I believe it is the most promising and practical option in terms of current technology to solve the biggest parts of the problem."
The scheme could cost $1.9tn a year, he says. "When that's compared to figures like estimates of $800bn per year for CCS, our plan looks like a loser. But CCS can address only about 20% of the problem at the $800bn price. Mine addresses the whole thing. And CCS would involve a network of dangerous high-pressure pipelines coursing through the most developed neighbourhoods of our civilisations, compared to relatively benign water aqueducts in what are presently virtually uninhabited deserts."
Planting trees to combat rising carbon dioxide levels is controversial on a large scale, because most places where it has been suggested, such as Canada and Siberia, are in the northern hemisphere where the resulting change in surface colour, from predominantly light snow and rock to predominantly dark trees, could soak up more sunlight and cancel out the cooling benefit. Ornstein says subtropical regions, such as the Sahara and the Australian outback, do not have this problem. The areas have only minimal "human occupation, agricultural food and fibre resources and competing natural biomes" the team says. "We must bite the bullet, global warming will not go away by itself ... solar, geothermal and wind power can make modest contributions. All of these are other parts of a fix. But the quicker a forest can be grown, the more time will be available to choose among and to implement such adjustments, and perhaps to develop more attractive substitutes."
Ornstein says several desert-heavy countries are suitable, including large chunks of Saudi Arabia and a string of African nations west of Egypt. The scheme would provide jobs and investment, he says, as well as a long-term source of sustainable wood that could be used as a biofuel to replace fossil fuels. Other plans for the desert region, such as the installation of giant arrays of mirrors and solar panels to generate electricity would not be affected, he says. Tree-planters, and the resulting clouds, would stick to the flatter regions further south.
Since the paper was published a few weeks ago, Ornstein has attempted to seed serious discussions on specialist websites, with little success. Critics have pointed out that the deserts are not total wildernesses, but rich and diverse ecosystems in their own right, which would be destroyed. Ornstein says: "If sacrifices are required to stem global warming, the almost non-existent ecosystems of the central Sahara and the outback seem like reasonable candidates compared to the alternatives."
The scheme does have some support. "It is incredibly important and definitely worth taking seriously," says Rick Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "While there are many practical and political difficulties of afforestation of regions this large, the benefits could be enormous and go well beyond carbon sequestration."

Council climate change resolutions are just a lot of hot air

Our local council has banned us from having double glazing, while insisting on more insulation. What can possibly be the point?
Charles Arthur, Wednesday 4 November 2009 18.15 GMT
We've got the builders in. Yes, we're doing building. And doing building means building inspectors, sent by the council to make sure we aren't building a fire trap in the extension to our house.
They're also very keen to check we're not building something that won't conform to new environmental regulations: the ceiling and walls have to have particular thicknesses of insulating material, which doesn't come cheap, but will – we're assured – save energy.
Though when the inspector called a few days ago, he regretfully had to point out that we needed to add another 4cm of insulation to the sloping ceiling that we'd hoped would house a bedroom and perhaps even a toilet. With the extra insulation, it's starting to look as though we're only going to be inviting very small children to the bedroom.
And for our builder, the extra 4cm was a layer too far. "But you've got us putting that in while you've also insisted that we have single-glazed windows all through!" he blurted, his indignation finally getting the better of him. It's true. Our local council, which recently passed a solemn resolution that it was against climate change and would take it "seriously", has insisted that we may not have double-glazed windows in the new building.
Why? Because the main building is, by virtue of its age, listed – that strange process by which slightly obsessive-compulsive types hope to hang on to the past by pretending that the present isn't happening and that the future won't mind.
Ah, but it gets better. The main building – the one in which we actually, you know, live – isn't a paragon of "listedness" (unless you mean actually physically listing, which the floors do towards one end). In fact, it has a number of double-glazed windows. And who put them in? Why, the council itself, which used to own the property a few decades ago.
Shall we recap? We're building a modern extension in which we're obliged to put energy-leaking windows in order to conform to an historic ideal about our main home that hasn't actually been followed by the organisation now forcing us to put in the inefficient windows.
The whole process is indicative of how utterly our establishment has failed to get to grips with the twin realities of climate change and energy demand, which aren't linked but have similar outcomes: we need to use less fossil fuel energy. (Yes, we could use secondary glazing on the windows, but it's far less effective than real double glazing.)
For years, the Labour government has shied away from making rational – if politically brave – decisions about energy use: we've needed more investment in nuclear power and renewables. Instead, six years ago nuclear was left out of the energy white paper.
That's six years of not building the replacement for fossil fuels we've used (and will in future have to import from countries such as Russia, not known for its helpfulness towards Britain). I wish someone had noticed what Norway was doing – investing its windfall from oil exports in new energy sources. Too late now for North Sea oil. We spent it on … well, possibly the banks.
Meanwhile, our local councils run masterclasses in cognitive dissonance: frowning on climate change, "urging" action, insisting its aim is to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the council and the district", while forcing people to do things that will be costly in precisely those terms in the future.
My guess is that a sensible government in the future would drop the whole idea of "listing" buildings. The trouble is that when the energy crunch comes, it will be too late. We'll have been driven down a road wearing the blinkers imposed by the past. Stupidity comes in many forms; and on this occasion, it comes in the form of insulation standing by a single-glazed window.

Geo-engineering might help tackle climate change but do we really want every cloud to have a silver iodide lining?

At the moment, geo-engineering is not on the agenda for Copenhagan - but one can see why scientists are arguing that we use it to tackle climate change, writes Robert Colvile.

Robert ColvilePublished: 6:46AM GMT 04 Nov 2009

If you've ever had a hankering to play God, send a CV to the Beijing Weather Modification Office. There, with a wave of the hand – or rather, a judicious dusting of silver iodide – the servants of the Chinese state believe they can force the clouds to unload moisture as and where they choose, bringing rain to parched crops or guaranteeing clear skies for occasions of supreme national importance, such as the Beijing Olympics or last month's National Day celebrations.
This weekend brought a reminder of the agency's work: in seeking to end a minor drought, the Chinese claimed to have burst the heavy clouds over the area, dumping 16 million extra tons of snow and forcing the closure of the capital's airports. The reaction from the West ranged from bemusement to admiration. But what would we do if China attempted to reorder the heavens on a global scale?
Over the next month and a half, the world's leaders will be attempting to hammer out a deal on carbon emissions, to tackle the growing threat of climate change. But already, some scientists are arguing that such a deal will come too late, or achieve too little, and that we must turn to technological fixes.
In other words, as well as changing our behaviour, whether by taking fewer flights or abandoning eating beef (as fewer cattle means less methane), we should investigate "geo-engineering": reflecting the sun's rays by painting roads and cities white, or launching mirrors into space; encouraging the growth of carbon-capturing algae in the oceans by seeding them with iron; lowering those oceans' surface temperatures by drawing cooler water from the depths; using sea water to create artificial clouds to reflect the sunlight; scrubbing carbon from the air using artificial trees; or setting up artificial volcanoes to pump sulphur into the atmosphere.
This last proposal has been receiving particular attention recently, after it was included in Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner's new book SuperFreakonomics. They profiled Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive "so polymathic as to make an everyday polymath tremble with shame", whose Seattle-based firm Intellectual Ventures reckons it could solve global warming at a bargain-basement price by injecting sulphur into the upper atmosphere, mimicking the volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, which temporarily lowered world temperatures by half a degree.
For each of these systems, grand claims are made. Myhrvold's team thinks that by rigging 18-mile-long fire hoses to helium balloons, and using the waste sulphur from oil extraction, they can get a planet-saver in place at a start-up cost of $150 million, plus $100 million a year in running costs – a bargain, considering Lord Stern's warning that between 1 and 2 per cent of global GDP will be needed to fight climate change. Hashem Akbari, who has been urging the world's cities to get out the pots of white paint, thinks his plan could offset a decade's worth of increased emissions.
The objections, of course, are equally fervent. First, the world's climate is a terrifyingly complex system, full of barely understood tipping points and feedback loops. Even though rough predictions can be made, we are only just beginning to work out the ways in which, for example, atmospheric water vapour magnifies the effects of carbon emissions. Tinker in the wrong way and you'll get nastier and, in some cases, more permanent consequences than a few snowbound runways.
Second, studies suggest that many of the proposed systems might not work, would have less of an effect than hoped, or would be prohibitively expensive. And third, given that humanity got the planet into this mess, it seems a bit of a cheat to rely on technology to fix it without making us suffer for our sins.
In a way, however, the flaws and merits of the various systems are beside the point. The squabbling surrounding Copenhagen shows that it will be a mammoth task to get the world's 200-odd governments to agree on specific measures to tackle climate change. Even if they do, coralling more than 6.7 billion people into modifying their lifestyles to suit could be a tall order. And even if emissions were slashed tomorrow, all the carbon we've pumped into the atmosphere would still be sitting there, helping to heat up the planet.
It is with these obstacles in mind that the Royal Society called for the world's governments to investigate geo-engineering as a "Plan B", through the creation of a £100 million fund to evaluate the various suggestions on offer. At the moment, it is nowhere on the Copenhagen agenda. But it's easy to see the sort of quick and easy solution offered by geo-engineering and its prophets becoming terribly attractive to one government or more, a few years down the line, despite the risks.
If a China beset by the effects of climate change decided to construct one of Myhrvold's sulphur spreaders unilaterally, would the accusations about "weapons of planetary destruction" be far behind? That would be enough of a mess to make last weekend's weather in Beijing look like a snowstorm in a teacup.

Roses chocolates ditch the tin in favour of cardboard

A tin of Roses chocolates, a Christmas treat in many households, will become a cardboard box this year as the manufacturer attempts to cut down on the packaging.

By Harry Wallop, Consumer Affairs EditorPublished: 7:00AM GMT 04 Nov 2009
Cadbury, the manufacturer of Roses, hopes to save 200 tons of steel as a result of moving its chocolates from its round 2lb tins into square, sturdy cardboard boxes. It also aims to cut the total weight of its packaging by 45 per cent, ultimately saving on transportation costs.
Initially the move into cardboard will take place at Tesco stores, but if consumers accept the change, Cadbury will abandon tins altogether.

Roses chocolates, first sold in 1938, are the biggest selling line of confectionery at Christmas, with an estimated £85 million of them sold.
However, while the boxes will save the company money, consumers will not see any reduction in the price. A 2lb tin at Tesco will still cost £5.
Jo Grice, head of marketing for Cadbury's seasonal ranges, said: “We know from our research that many of our consumers are dreaming of a green, not white, Christmas this year. Introducing an environmental twist on a festive favourite – Roses and Heroes tins – will help us to meet shoppers’ ethical concerns whilst still delivering those magical moments of pleasure this Christmas. And they are far easier to wrap."
The move follows a series of initiatives by chocolate manufacturers to cut down on their packaging. They have previously been accused of being responsible for some of the most excessive use of plastic wrapping, especially in their Easter eggs.
Mark Barthel, at the Government-funded waste reduction quango WRAP, said: “Over the festive season, when the amount of waste sent to landfill increases significantly, it’s good to see Cadbury and Tesco working together to help consumers and the environment.”

Friends of the Earth attacks carbon trading

An FoE reports says 'cap and trade' carbon markets have done little to reduce emissions but have been plagued by corruption and inefficiency
Ashley Seager
The Guardian, Thursday 5 November 2009

The government's reliance on carbon trading schemes is inefficient and could cause a financial crisis similar to that seen with sub-prime mortgages, says Friends of the Earth

The world's carbon trading markets growing complexity threatens another "sub-prime" style financial crisis that could again destabilise the global economy, campaigners warn today.
In a new report, Friends of the Earth says that to date "cap and trade" carbon markets have done almost nothing to reduce emissions but have been plagued by inefficiency and corruption that render them unfit for purpose.
As the world heads towards the Copenhagen climate summit, Britain and other developed countries want to see carbon trading expanded worldwide. The carbon market, mainly based in Europe, was worth $126bn in 2008 and is predicted to mushroom to $3.1tn by 2020 if a global carbon market takes off.
However, FoE fears that the area has been hijacked by speculators on the financial markets. Sarah-Jayne Clifton, the report's author, said: "The majority of the trade is carried out not between polluting industries and factories covered by carbon trading schemes, but by banks and investors who profit from speculation on the carbon markets – packaging carbon credits into increasingly complex financial products similar to the 'shadow finance' around sub-prime mortgages which triggered the recent economic crash."
The FoE claims that the first phase of the European emissions trading scheme between 2005 and 2007 failed. And the second phase, from 2008-2012, is likely to fail too, it said. FoE is calling on governments to use more reliable instruments such as carbon taxes, which are harder to avoid and can be effective at changing people's behaviour and reducing emissions.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We agree that domestic action by developed countries as well as public finance is essential to meet the challenge of climate change and … the UK is going all-out to get an ambitious, fair and effective deal.
"But carbon trading can also play a role, making it far more likely that we tackle dangerous climate change, get cost-effective emissions reductions and get money to the poorest countries of the world."

Liquid Granite and the hunt for a carbon-neutral cement

Cement is responsible for 5% of the world's carbon emissions, and the race is on to find an alternative
Alok Jha, Wednesday 4 November 2009 22.00 GMT
What do you do with a problem like cement? Around 2bn tonnes are used every year, each tonne a source of 0.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide as it is made. The cement industry is responsible for 5% of the world's carbon emissionsmore than the entire aviation industry.
Standard, or Portland, cement is made by heating limestone or clay to around 1,500C. This use of energy and the decomposition of the limestone as it cooks releases copious amounts of CO2. As the carbon reduction targets from global climate agreements begin to bite, sorting out cement will become a priority.
Engineers have been working hard on the problem in recent years, with a range of approaches to cutting the environmental impact of the construction industry: some have tried synthetic polymers that would remove the need for limestone; others have fiddled with how cement is used in buildings. The latest on the block is Liquid Granite, a binding material that, according to its inventor, could almost entirely replace cement with a powder made from recycled waste materials.
Liquid Granite replaces the need for more than two-thirds of this Portland cement when making concrete, thereby saving the associated carbon emissions. "One of the biggest culprits of carbon footprint is cement, which we use in making concrete – Liquid Granite does away with most of the use of cement. The amount used is pretty small," says Prof Pal Mangat of Sheffield Hallam University, who came up with the product. "Potentially, by the time we're finished with this developmental technology, it'll be close to zero."
Mangat is cagey about the exact formulation of Liquid Granite, and with good reason: by 2020, the French bank Credit Agricole estimates, demand for cement will be 50% greater than today, and a new carbon-free building material could reap huge rewards. All that Mangat will say is that Liquid Granite is made from an inorganic powder, 30-70% of which is recycled industrial waste materials. Using the same aggregates as normal concrete, it could be used anywhere cement is but with a fraction of the carbon footprint.
"In some applications it's more suitable than concrete. For example, one of the main areas we are currently exploiting it is fire-resistant building materials," he says. "It has good fire-resistant properties, unlike concrete, which explodes upon exposure to high temperatures."
There has already been interest from the building industry, with Liquid Granite has already been used in fire-rated lintels at the Olympic Village and Stratford Shopping Centre in east London.
Others are hot on Mangat's heels. Novacem, based in London, last year created a cement that has a negative carbon footprint over its lifetime. His invention uses magnesium silicates, which emit no CO2 when heated, and the processing is carried out at a much lower temperature than that required for Portland cement. In addition, the cement absorbs CO2 as it hardens – each tonne could remove around 0.6 tonnes of the greenhouse gas over its lifetime.
Transforming a global industry as established as construction was never going to be simple. But tackling the problem of cement seems a good place to start.

Farmers have been told to go green or face the financial consequences

Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

English farmers have been given a last chance to adopt greener practices that benefit wildlife and help to combat climate change or face deductions from their state hand-outs of cash.
The Government has set a tough new target which requires that the area of arable fields covered by environmental schemes should double within three years.
Every farmer has also been told that he or she should fund some environmental improvements on their land without any financial support from payments made under the Common Agriculture Policy.
In addition, Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary, has made clear that he expects farmers to keep some land fallow to help to provide habitats for birds and small mammals such as voles and field mice.

Such action in the past qualified for “set aside” payments from the European Commission to prevent the creation of grain mountains. Last year the policy was scrapped in light of the worldwide shortage of grain.
Conservationists argued that it was important to safeguard the unintended consequence of the “set aside” policy that helped wildlife. Mr Benn has therefore stipulated that 179,000 hectares (442,000 acres) that were formerly left as set aside should remain uncropped and at least one third of this should be farmed to help wildlife.
If farmers fail to take up the plan, the alternative will be the prospect of payments being docked.
Jim Paice, the Conservative rural affairs spokesman, supported the approach in principle, though he believed that the targets should be based on populations of wildlife and plant life rather than area. Details of the plan are to be outlined today at the announcement of a new industry offensive, Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
The challenge is being directed at 41,000 arable farmers. It is estimated at least 70 per cent of these are involved in some type of countryside stewardship scheme. It is hoped that the 12,000 who are not will sign up to methods to help wildlife and climate change.
The new deal has been accepted by Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers’ Union, and Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, president of the Country Land and Business Association, who represent most farmers.
Mr Kendall said: “Many farmers do a lot of valuable work at their own expense. But we know, too, of the cynical minority who have never been involved in agri-environment schemes and it is our task to get them involved.”

Voluntary approach to greener practices must be adopted, says pioneering farmer

Valerie Elliott: Case study

One of the pioneers of green farming is Ian Waller, a tenant farmer on 1,200 acres of land near Great Missenden in the Chilterns, Buckinghamshire. In four years he has created a haven for birds, butterflies and plants. Since he championed farming for wildlife, 7,500 people have visited his land, including many schoolchildren and agriculture students.
When he started greener practices there was not one lapwing on the land; now it is home to nine breeding pairs. The number of skylarks has doubled from 30 to 60 breeding pairs and barn owls have also returned for the first time in 15 years. Rare orchids are back after a 28-year absence.
The secret, he said, was to convince all farmers that they could still make a healthy profit as well as farm for the environment.
His main income is from growing milling wheat for a bread manufacturer, oilseed rape and spring beans. But he also keeps 31 rare breed Herdwick sheep to graze the chalk grassland.

Mr Waller, 51, said: “There are a lot of farmers out there who pat me on the back and say, ‘Get on with it’, but somehow feel it is irrelevant to them. Some growing high-value crops such as potatoes or sugar beet might also not bother — though I do understand they are operating under tight constraints from supermarkets.
“Some farmers just don’t like the mess of patches for wildlife in their fields. They don’t like to see grasses and flowers on the side of their big, square open fields. Then there are those who don’t like to be dictated to by anyone, especially the Government.
“But if we don’t deliver, ministers are going to say, ‘You’ve had your chance and you’ve blown it’. We have got to make this voluntary approach work.”

Nviro Cleantech rumour

Nviro Cleantech fell 1.38p to 6¼p amid concerns that the group may need to raise more cash after receiving final approval of a European Union grant of nearly €800,000 for its wood fibre recycling technology. The group, which has cut jobs to lower costs, says that it can operate until next September with present overheads.

Outbreak of optimism in Detroit as motor industry hopes the worst is over

• Chrysler and Fiat join forces to launch smaller, greener cars• Monthly car sales in the US have stabilised
Andrew Clark in New York, Wednesday 4 November 2009 19.01 GMT
It is too early to hang out any bunting but quietly, tentatively, a more upbeat mood is spreading in Detroit's downtrodden, downsized motor industry.
Chrysler set out ambitious plans today to use technology gained in its tie-up with Italy's Fiat to bring a new generation of smaller cars to US streets. Its proposals, outlined to analysts at its Auburn Hills headquarters, came two days after Ford surprised Wall Street with a $1.1bn (£670m) profit, its first quarter in the black since early 2008.
And industry-wide monthly US vehicle sales for October were flat year-on-year, a sign of stabilisation even without the "cash-for-clunkers" boost.
After $80bn of emergency aid from the US government, two major bankruptcies, scores of factory closures and tens of thousands of job losses, the industry may, finally, be past the darkest point of its trauma.
Jeff Schuster, head of forecasting at the research firm JD Power, said that if he were a car factory worker, he would feel more secure in his job. "I might be able to breathe a little bit with relief that I'm probably not going to end up in an unemployment line," he said.
General Motors' decision to hang on to its European operation – greeted with relief at Vauxhall factories in Britain – is a sign of confidence that its financial health has improved sufficiently to invest in turning around a loss-making yet technologically promising operation. GM, which is 60% owned by the US treasury, has cut its workforce from 318,000 three years ago to 209,000 globally and has got rid of brands such as Hummer, Saab, Pontiac and Saturn.
Over in Japan, Nissan returned to the black this week by delivering a 25.5bn yen (£169m) quarterly profit, ending nine months of losses. And Toyota raised its target for its sales for the year to March 2010 from 6.6m vehicles to 7m.
Chris Hopson, an automotive analyst at IHS Global Insight, warned that the US economy remained extremely weak. He expects US vehicle sales of 10.3m this year and 11.5m next year. But the real recovery will not be until 2011, with sales of 13.8m, and 2013, when he expects sales to return to the 16m-plus level of before the slump. "It's a little bit early to declare victory for any of these companies," he said. "But do all these numbers improve sentiment? Yes."
In Detroit this week, voters re-elected a former basketball star, Dave Bing, as mayor, buying into an upbeat message of renewal. "This is our time to shock the world," he said. "Because nobody thinks we're going to come back."