Friday, 13 November 2009

How to make a successful failure out of Copenhagen

By Philip Stephens
Published: November 12 2009 20:29
Next month’s United Nations climate change conference is doomed to failure. The pre-emptive recriminations are already under way weeks before any delegates are due to arrive in Copenhagen. The finger of blame is being pointed firmly at Washington. It hardly seems worth the carbon to fly in all those officials, environmentalists, scientists and lobbyists, not to say presidents and prime ministers.
A word or two of definition is needed. When the UN negotiators met in Bali in December 2007, they set a two-year deadline for an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol. The remit called for a new accord to cut global carbon emissions at once tougher and more inclusive than its predecessor.
There are three essential elements to such a bargain: deep cuts in the CO2 emissions of rich countries alongside curbs on the carbon-intensity of growth in rising economies; a financial transfer arrangement to mitigate the cost to poorer nations of a shift to a low-carbon economy; and a commitment to embed national targets in a binding international treaty.
By this measure, failure at Copenhagen is indeed pre-ordained. It is also easy enough to see why the US will get the blame. For all the US president’s rhetorical commitment to combat global warming, Barack Obama’s administration is not yet ready to sign up to any of these three vital ingredients.
I detect a hint of I-told-you-so smugness about some of the gloomy advance commentary on Copenhagen. It is almost as if climate change campaigners are relieved that the US has lived up to its let-the-planet-go-to-hell stereotype. The process has been derailed, a spokesman for Greenpeace said the other day, because, predictably enough, Washington had bowed to “Big Carbon”.
As it happens, I sympathise with the impatience. The world badly needs to fix a carbon price if governments and businesses are to take the measures needed to drive down greenhouse gas emissions. The political and the economic incentives to reduce CO2 emissions depend on establishing an agreed global framework. The longer negotiations drag on, the greater the risk of permanent prevarication. The fate of the Doha trade talks provides a salutary warning.
The all-or-nothing approach to Copenhagen, however, carries its own dangers. The two big enemies of action on climate change have always been denial and despair. The deniers will be forever with us, however compelling the scientific evidence. There are still people, after all, who will argue that the link between smoking and cancer is not fully proven. And for now, the global warming sceptics have found in the economic recession a powerful political pressure point for inaction.
The other threat, though, comes from an approach that encourages despair. Frighten people too much and you end up persuading them there is nothing to be done. Global warming may be real enough, they conclude, but it is all too difficult; even if they make sacrifices, others will duck out of their commitments.
Climate campaigners’ act-now-or- fry-tomorrow hyperbole – we must all get out of our cars, close the airports, clean our teeth in the dark and turn off the air conditioning this instant – encourages just this response. Warnings of flood, famine, drought and mass extinction merge into an overwhelming sense of futility. We cannot do everything, so why bother doing anything?
There is a real danger, of course, that if Copenhagen does not live up to the Bali billing, the world’s political leaders will gradually back away even from more modest measures to slow the warming of the Earth. Given the condition of their economies, many of them need only the flimsiest of excuses to avoid confronting their voters with higher energy prices.
Yet from talking to officials preparing for next month’s summit, I have the impression that things are not quite as bad as they might seem. While severely irritated at the US stance, European officials say it is more about timing than substance.
To sign up to an international deal, Mr Obama must first secure domestic legislation for a carbon cap-and-trade regime. Thus far the president has been investing all his political capital in health reform. Cap-and-trade must wait until early next year. Even then, there will doubtless be some awkward compromises needed to get the legislation through. But Mr Obama is on the right side of the argument.
There have been some encouraging signs too of compromise in the emerging world. The rising nations remain insistent, and rightly so, that they must not be expected to pick up the bill for the carbon pumped into the atmosphere by the west during the past 200 years. But China and Brazil have shown themselves willing to contemplate significant curbs on the carbon-intensity of their future growth. Even obdurate India has begun to look less of an outlier.
Behind these shifts lies the self-interest that flows from an appreciation of one of the central unfairnesses of climate change. If the west bears most of the responsibility for global warming, the effects will be felt more quickly and acutely in the emerging world. China and India need only to look at the impact on their water supplies of melting Himalayan ice caps to understand that simply blaming the US for the problem does them little good.
None of this means that governments are set to come up with a convincing package to stop the planet from overheating. Political will aside, there are big question marks over technology. Everyone seems to be betting the ranch on cost-effective technology to clean up coal. What happens if carbon capture and storage turns out to be less of a panacea than now imagined?
An agreement to share the burdens of tackling climate change (and incidentally, the opportunities promised by a switch to low-carbon growth) requires a reconciliation of national and mutual interests reaching well beyond anything seen previously. The eventual outcome of the UN negotiations will make or break efforts to construct a new international order.
All the more reason why the delegates in Copenhagen should move as far as they can towards a deal. The target should be a political agreement between rich and rising nations – above all between the US and China – robust enough to deliver a binding agreement during 2010. Call it a successful failure.

The Seattle activists' coming of age in Cophenhagen will be very disobedient

The climate conference will witness a new maturity for the movement that ignited a decade ago. But that does not mean playing it safe

Naomi Klein, Thursday 12 November 2009 20.30 GMT
The other day I received a pre-publication copy of The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle, by David and Rebecca Solnit. It's set to come out 10 years after a historic coalition of activists shut down the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle – the spark that ignited a global anti-corporate movement.
The book is a fascinating account of what really happened in Seattle; but when I spoke to climate change summit in Copenhagen and the "climate justice" actions he is helping to organise across the United States on 30 November. "This is definitely a Seattle-type moment," Solnit told me. "People are ready to throw down."
There is certainly a Seattle quality to the Copenhagen mobilisation: the range of groups that will be there; the diverse tactics that will be on display; and the developing-country governments ready to bring activist demands into the summit. But Copenhagen is not merely another Seattle. It feels, instead, as though the progressive tectonic plates are shifting, creating a movement that builds on the strengths of an earlier era but also learns from its mistakes.
The big criticism of the movement the media insisted on calling "anti- globalisation" was always that it had a laundry-list of grievances and few concrete alternatives. The movement converging on Copenhagen, in contrast, is about a single issue – climate change – but it weaves a coherent narrative about its causes, and its cures, that incorporates virtually every issue on the planet.
In this narrative, the climate is changing not only because of particular polluting practices but because of the underlying logic of capitalism, which values short-term profit and perpetual growth above all else. Our governments would have us believe the same logic can be harnessed to solve the climate crisis – by creating a tradable commodity called "carbon" and by transforming forests and farmland into "sinks" that will supposedly offset runaway emissions.
Activists in Copenhagen will argue that, far from solving the climate crisis, carbon trading represents an unprecedented privatisation of the atmosphere, and that offsets and sinks threaten to become a resource grab of colonial proportions. Not only will these "market-based solutions" fail to solve the climate crisis, but this failure will dramatically deepen poverty and inequality because the poorest and most vulnerable are the primary victims of climate change – as well as the primary guinea pigs for these emissions trading schemes.
But activists in Copenhagen won't just say no to all this. They will aggressively advance solutions that simultaneously reduce emissions and narrow inequality. Unlike at previous summits, where alternatives seemed like an afterthought, in Copenhagen the alternatives will take centre stage.
For instance, the direct action coalition Climate Justice Action has called on activists to storm the conference centre on 16 December. Many will do this as part of the "bike bloc", riding together on an as yet to be revealed "irresistible new machine of resistance", made up of hundreds of old bicycles. The goal of the action is not to shut down the summit, Seattle-style, but to open it up, transforming it into "a space to talk about our agenda, an agenda from below, an agenda of climate justice, of real solutions against their false ones … This day will be ours".
Some of the solutions on offer from the activist camp are the same ones the global justice movement has been championing for years: local, sustainable agriculture; smaller, decentralised power projects; respect for indigenous land rights; leaving fossil fuels in the ground; loosening protections on green technology; and paying for these transformations by taxing financial transactions and cancelling foreign debts. Some solutions are new, like the mounting demand that rich countries pay "climate debt" reparations to the poor. These are tall orders, but we have seen during the last year the kind of resources our governments can marshal when it comes to saving the elites. As one pre-Copenhagen slogan puts it: "If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved" – not abandoned to the brutality of the market.
In addition to the coherent narrative and the focus on alternatives, there are plenty of other changes too: a more thoughtful approach to direct action, one that recognises the urgency to do more than just talk but is determined not to play into the tired scripts of cops versus protesters. "Our action is one of civil disobedience," say the organisers of the 16 December action. "We will overcome any physical barriers that stand in our way – but we will not respond with violence if the police [try] to escalate the situation." (That said, there is no way the two-week summit will not include a few running battles between cops and kids in black; this is Europe, after all.)
A decade ago, in a New York Times comment piece published after Seattle was shut down, I wrote that a new movement advocating a radically different form of globalisation "just had its coming-out party". What will be the significance of Copenhagen? I put that question to John Jordan, whose prediction of what eventually happened in Seattle I quoted in my book No Logo. He replied: "If Seattle was the movement of movements' coming-out party then maybe Copenhagen will be a celebration of our coming of age."
He cautions, however, that growing up doesn't mean playing it safe, eschewing civil disobedience in favour of staid meetings. "I hope we have grown up to become much more disobedient," Jordan said, "because life on this world of ours may well be terminated because of too many acts of obedience."

Carbon Trust - the big questions: the best way forward?

Sir John Parker, chairman of Anglo American and National Grid, tackles some of the burning issues regarding carbon reduction at home and abroad.

Andrew CavePublished: 3:26PM GMT 12 Nov 2009
If you were Ed Miliband, what further measures would you take to encourage businesses to act on carbon reduction now?
The Government needs to press Copenhagen for a strong signal on the carbon price and to ensure that the European trading system for carbon really is effective, because that is vital.

Secondly, I would be pressing for targets to be set globally per country to achieve the reductions that will keep our temperature increase between now and 2050 at no more than two degrees. Those targets will clearly vary by country, but there has got to be a route map. It has taken some time but, conceptually, we now know what has to be done. We need to ensure that planning processes, the carbon price and regulation are really aligned with those objectives.
Do you think the recession is having a positive or negative impact on business efforts to cut carbon?
I think the recession has inevitably forced many companies to manage their businesses for cash. Investments were slashed in the shockwaves of autumn 2008, some order books went into freefall and there was great uncertainty in the market about the ability of companies to raise finance. The bond market had dried up and the banks, for a period, were not lending — even to well-rated corporates.
Inevitably, that has taken the focus off investments in energy savings in some companies. But others who are a bit more muscular, financially speaking, were able to continue investing in energy saving and examining the merits of carbon capture and storage.
Are there any areas where you would welcome greater government action?
An important thing we have lobbied for is to simplify the planning around decisions on vital infrastructure. This is in place now and it must be kept in place regardless of which party is in power next time around.
We need to get new power stations built and reinforce distribution to the right places. We need to connect up the new streams of renewable energy production and also have to deal with the coal-fired power stations: that is where the introduction of carbon capture and storage is going to be vital for the coal industry. Coal is very much part of our commodity production at Anglo American. We want to play our part in ensuring that we come up with the right technology.
In the UK, carbon capture and storage will be vital to maintaining a sizeable coal burn. If you look at China and India, their demand for thermal coal is going to be quite significant, but their contribution to carbon reduction will only be achieved if we can technically solve the capture and storage issue.
The Government has set aside money to create pilots in carbon capture and storage and that has been a very good move. You have to keep moving: you need bigger nuclear power stations and efforts to achieve a clean-coal society.
What does the low-carbon economy mean to you, personally? What is your own vision of a low-carbon world?
We have done a lot of modelling for the UK government on how a low-carbon society would look from a power company point of view. For example, the introduction of electric cars between now and 2050 will have an important impact in helping achieve the 80pc reduction, but charging them will have a huge impact on power requirements — so what will that look like? We’re a society where you can’t just charge up at night.
One has also got to look at trying to model the implications for electricity transmission and distribution networks. There will be a change in the electricity production mix. At present, the UK gets about 30pc of its power from coal, just under 20pc from nuclear energy, 45pc from gas and just 5pc from renewables. That mix will change, but the lead time to get the new nuclear is on stream and the Government has made important decisions that I don’t think the market itself would have come up with.
If you had one message to fellow business leaders on building a lowcarbon business, what would it be?
Start with energy efficiency; I think it’s that simple. There’s a danger that you can get too esoteric about this. If you take the mine-head power stations that we have at Anglo American, they capture methane which would otherwise escape - but we’re also capturing a free fuel to create the power. So, it’s sustainability and energy, it’s energy efficiency, and it’s reduction of carbon capture. It’s a lovely three-way hit, but it’s driven by energy sustainability in its wider sense.

Australia to Invest $50 Million More in Joint Fund

NEW DELHI -- Australia will invest an additional $50 million in an Australia-India strategic research fund, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Thursday, underscoring the country's initiative to collaborate to combat climate change issues.
The fund will be spent over a five-year period from the fiscal year that began April 1, Mr. Rudd said while speaking at Tata Energy Research Institute.
The investment toward the joint research initiative seeks to support more applied research and greater participation of industry partners to help address some of the climate change challenges, according to an Australian government statement.
"Climate change is a fundamental change to us all," Mr. Rudd said. "There is a need for a collaboration, unprecedented in human history."
Australia has already invested $20 million in the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund -- its largest bilateral research fund -- since 2006 to enable Australian scientists engage in collaborative research with Indian counterparts.
Australia will also invest $1 million in a joint solar cooling research project and an additional $20 million in dryland farming research, according to the statement.
The solar cooling project aims to develop a zero emissions cooling system targeted at remote rural communities in non-electrified areas and the fund allotted toward dryland farming will be staggered over five years.
"Of course there is a group of people who deny the reality of climate change. They are the enemies of us all," Mr. Rudd said.
Write to Sunil Raghu at

Obama attempts climate-change deal with China and India

As the Copenhagen climate summit approaches, Barack Obama will try to make a deal by meeting the leaders of China and India.

By Shaun Tandon, in WashingtonPublished: 11:59AM GMT 12 Nov 2009

This Sunday Obama will make his first trip to China. A week later, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes to Washington in the first fully fledged state visit of Obama's presidency.
The United States is also dispatching its energy secretary, Steven Chu, to both emerging powers in the hope of making headway before the December 7 to18 summit in the Danish capital.
The world's three most populous nations have all promised action on climate change but are deeply at odds over the shape of a Copenhagen deal, which was meant to be a new global treaty but now looks likely to offer a framework at best.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has even threatened to boycott Copenhagen unless the three nations move forward on their positions.
"A failure of the world climate conference in Copenhagen in December would set international environmental efforts back by years. We cannot afford this," Merkel said.
Obama has sharply changed US climate policy but, like his predecessor George W Bush, has joined the Europeans, Japan and other rich nations in demanding that China and India act.
"No country holds the fate of the Earth in its hands more than China," Todd Stern, the US climate envoy, told a recent congressional hearing.
Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, held out hope that compromise was possible in Singapore before joining Obama in China.
"If we all exert maximum effort and embrace the right blend of pragmatism and principle, I believe we can secure a strong outcome at Copenhagen," Clinton said.
China and India argue that rich nations bear historic responsibility for climate change and that developing nations therefore should not be legally bound to cut carbon emissions blamed for rising temperatures - which UN scientists say will put entire species at risk if unchecked.
China has overtaken the United States as the world's most prolific carbon emitter and India by most measures ranks fourth. Both nations appear eager not to be labelled the spoilers in Copenhagen.
President Hu Jintao told a September summit at the United Nations that China would reduce the intensity of its carbon emissions.
Singh has said that India will never produce more carbon per capita than developed nations. The average Indian is responsible for only one-seventeenth of the emissions of the average American, according to US government figures.
Some experts and policymakers are hopeful that climate change will emerge not as an obstacle but as a catalyst for closer US relations with China and India - a priority for Obama.
In a recent study, the Asia Society and the left-leaning Center for American Progress proposed that China and the United States team up on carbon capture - the largely untested concept of preventing emissions being released into the atmosphere.
The think tanks said that the initiative would create green jobs and control emissions from coal, a necessity in any serious global effort to arrest climate change.
"We are at a tipping point, I think, both in the quest for remedies to climate change and also in Sino-US policy," said Orville Schell, a prominent author and director of the Asia Society's Center on US-China Relations.
"We are at a moment when there could be a dramatic shift in how the two countries relate to each other and I think the most likely catalytic agent in such a relationship will be whether we can cooperate on climate change," he said.
Serious US cooperation with developing nations may also ease another roadblock - opposition in the US congress to imposing legal caps on carbon emissions.
The Senate is unlikely to approve legislation in time for Copenhagen, although Senator John Kerry has promised to provide at least an outline of the eventual US system to fight global warming.

Gordon Brown to attend climate change talks

Gordon Brown has confirmed that he will attend the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen next month after Danish prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen issued invitations to 191 world leaders.

Published: 6:47PM GMT 12 Nov 2009
Gordon Brown confirmed today that he will attend the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen next month after Danish prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen issued invitations to 191 world leaders.
Mr Brown was the first world leader to announce in September that he was ready to go to Copenhagen to help secure a deal. He will be hoping that other prime ministers and presidents - particularly the US's Barack Obama - follow his lead and go to the Danish capital.

The Prime Minister and other world leaders are expected to attend the final days of the two-week summit on December 17 and 18, when he hopes that political agreement will be reached on a post-Kyoto framework for reducing the carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
Mr Brown's spokesman announced today that he had accepted Mr Rasmussen's invitation, adding: "Although there is much to be done in the next 30 days, clearly this is one of the issues which is top of the Prime Minister's mind at the moment."
He said Britain has accepted that it will not get the legal treaty on carbon cuts which Mr Brown was initially hoping for at Copenhagen, but believes that a political agreement leading to a clear timetable on a legally-binding deal would be "from our point of view, a result".
Mr Obama said on Monday that he will attend the summit if he believed "we are on the brink of a meaningful agreement and my presence in Copenhagen will make a difference in tipping us over the edge".
In his letters, sent out to heads of state and government around the world by diplomatic channels today, Mr Rasmussen said their attendence "is a pivotal contribution to a successful outcome" to the December 7-18 conference.
At least 40 leaders have said they plan to attend the conference, including French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil has indicated he might come to the conference, and a spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel said she is keeping the date open.
Mr Brown wrote to President Lula today to congratulate him on announcing an ambitious target to cut Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions by 38%-42% by 2020.
The Prime Minister has been "hitting the phones" in recent days, speaking to Mr Rasmussen and leaders of a range of countries to push for agreement at Copenhagen, as well as meeting UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in Downing Street, said Downing Street.
Environment group Greenpeace said President Obama must now follow the lead of 40 heads of state - including Mr Brown - who have said they are going to the conference.
Greenpeace Denmark's Tove Ryding said: "Every head of state must turn up in Copenhagen and secure a ground-breaking agreement and stop climate chaos. The consequences of failure will be on their heads - now is the time to avert mass starvation, mass migration and mass extinction.
"By turning up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit and seizing the moment, world leaders can place the world on a sustainable pathway, saving hundreds of millions of lives, avoiding mass extinctions and stimulate a green economy creating millions of jobs.
"What possible excuse could they have to stay away?"

Siemens CEO Says Asia Leads in 'Green' Investments

Asian countries, backed by giant economic-stimulus packages, are leading the world in investments in "green" technologies, the chief executive of Siemens AG said in Singapore Thursday.
Siemens CEO Peter Loescher said in an interview on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that countries such as China have moved more quickly than the U.S. to spend their stimulus packages, and are increasingly doing so on high-tech, low-pollution technologies such as high-speed trains.
"If you ask us where we sell the most advanced technologies" now, he said, "it's Asia and China." China's economic rebound and spending programs are turning out to be "stronger than one would have anticipated," he said.
The company also released the results of a study it sponsored suggesting the latest economic crisis may ultimately stimulate greater spending on green technologies. According to the study, based on a poll of academics, government employees and others in more than 40 countries, more than half of the respondents said they thought the crisis would aid their country's progress toward sustainable development, in some cases by encouraging spending on technologies that reduce energy consumption and pollution.
Some analysts have questioned whether spending from stimulus packages will generate as much long-term demand as expected for fuel-saving and other green technologies. Some countries, including the U.S., but also some Asian nations such as Thailand, have run into bureaucratic and other delays in implementing their spending plans.
With billions of dollars of money unused and signs of asset bubbles emerging in some parts of the world, some economists have suggested governments should begin reining in stimulus efforts and perhaps leave some expenditures unfinished, or risk crowding out private sector investment and whipping up inflation.
But Mr. Loescher said that Siemens, whose high-tech motors, power systems and other products make it a beneficiary of many stimulus packages, is sticking to earlier estimates of the windfall it could receive from government spending. He said the company is expecting about €15 billion ($22.5 billion) in orders for Siemens equipment from stimulus packages by 2012.
"I'm still very encouraged by how they're being rolled out globally," he said, though he added, "I've not heard anyone talking about additional programs" of stimulus spending.
Siemens announced earlier this week that the company generated €23 billion in revenue from products in its so-called "environmental portfolio" in fiscal 2009, an increase of 11% from the year before, despite the global recession. The portfolio of products includes wind power systems, gas turbines, energy-efficient lighting and other products.
Siemens has highlighted a number of energy-efficient projects it is collaborating with Chinese officials on, including a 1,400-kilometer power distribution "superhighway" that will transport 5,000 megawatts of power from the country's interior to its coastal cities, and building automation systems in Shanghai that Siemens said will cut energy costs and reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Mr. Loescher said he continues to believe the global economy will achieve a sustainable recovery. It "will definitely come back," he said. "The question is how fast it will get back to levels of 2007 and 2008."
Write to Patrick Barta at

Surf's up for Cornwall's Wave hub

Work to begin next week on undersea socket for Cornwall's pioneering marine energy test centre. From, part of the Guardian Environment Network

The PowerBuoy wave energy converter, which is to be used as part of the Wave Hub project, which will see a giant national grid-connected socket built on the seabed off the coast of Cornwall. Construction on the £42m Wave Hub project off the coast of Cornwall is to start next week with the goal of having the flagship facility up and running by the end of next year.
The Wave Hub, which will be based 10 miles off the north coast of Cornwall, will feature a large grid-connected "socket" on the seabed that will allow up to four different marine energy devices to connect to it at any one time. As a result, marine energy companies will be able to field-test devices for a number of years without the need to gain additional planning consent.
The Hub will be connected by an undersea cable to a new electricity sub-station on the site of a former power station.
Work on the sub-station will start in January and is expected to take six months to complete. The Wave Hub device will then be deployed and the sub-sea cable laid next summer, when the device is expected to become operational.
The announcement comes as the Wave Hub project announced that it has appointed Guy Lavender - formely a director for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games - as general manager for the project.
Stephen Peacock, executive director of enterprise and innovation at the South West Regional Development Agency, said he hopes the device will put the area at the forefront of marine energy development in the UK. "Our aim is to create an entirely new low carbon industry in the South West and hundreds of quality jobs, " he said.
The Wave Hub is being funded with £12.5m from the South West RDA, £20m from the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme and £9.5m from the UK government.
The South West development authority expect investment in local marine energy programmes to reach £100m over the next two years.
The Wave Hub project has been widely praised by the marine energy industry and three developers have already secured access to the berths – Fred Olsen Limited, Ocean Power Technologies and Orecon - with a number of developers reported to be in talks about using the fourth berth.
However, the latest stage of the project comes as industry group the BWEA last week warned that the government is failing to adequately support the sector and recommended greater funding is needed to help developers get from the concept stage to full commercial scale generators.
• This article was shared by our content partner, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Britain's renewable energy targets are 'physically impossible', says study

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers' 'battle plan' for climate change includes geo-engineering and nuclear power

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 12 November 2009 18.38 GMT
It will be physically impossible for the UK to meet its renewable energy targets in both the short and long term, according to a group of engineering experts.
In a new study, they called for the government to adopt a "war-time" mentality in their approach to dealing with climate change and consider experimental approaches such as artificial trees that soak up carbon dioxide to buy the time needed to build the required level of low-carbon infrastructure in the UK.
The engineers, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), said the government should invest in geo-engineering technologies that would either bounce sunlight back into space or soak up CO2 in the atmosphere. Some of the more exotic ideas include launching orbiting mirrors in space or seeding artificial clouds over the oceans, but the report advocates more research on artificial trees; growing algae on the side of buildings to make renewable fuel; and painting the roofs of buildings white to reflect sunlight.
The government has committed to cutting the country's carbon emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, both relative to 1990 levels. To achieve this, ministers have outlined plans to build thousands of wind turbines by 2020 and, this week, gave the go-ahead for 10 new nuclear power stations, with the first coming on line in 2018.
But, according to the engineers, building the massive amounts of low-carbon infrastructure in time to meet the government's targets will be impossible. "Current predictions are that we will be unable to service the current plans for offshore windfarms by 2013 because we won't have the construction vessels to do it and, by 2018, we'll run out of manufacturing capacity," said Tim Fox, lead author of the report and head of environment and climate change at the IMechE.
In a report published tomorrow, the engineers instead outlined a "battle plan" for tackling global warming, which includes adapting to rising temperatures and investing in geo-engineering technologies, as well as current plans to invest in green energy technologies. "The institution believes it's time to go to war on climate change – the climate is about to attack us and it's time for us to fight back," said Fox.
He said that, even if the UK could cut its energy demand in half by 2050 through efficiency improvements, the country still needs 16 new nuclear power plants between now and 2030, and an additional 4 by 2050. Around 27,000 wind turbines would need to be built by 2030 and an additional 13,000 by 2050. That would be in addition to ramping up solar power, waste and biomass plants and developing a smart electricity grid and advanced energy-storage technologies.
To work out how this would be built, the IMechE assembled a team of engineers, economists and civil servants. "For the UK, if we want to decarbonise at the rate necessary for the climate change act between now and 2050, assuming a 2.5% annual increase in GDP, it will take a decarbonisation rate of 5% per annum to achieve that," said Fox. The best the UK has ever achieved was during the 1990s in the "dash for gas", when the UK was commercially-driven to change from coal-fired power stations to gas-fired power stations. Back then, the UK decarbonised at a rate 2.3% a year. Since then, the best has been around 1.3% a year.
"The ability to undertake the size of the task needed to meet the 80% target is not possible within a modern industrialised democracy," said Fox.
Kevin Anderson, head of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, welcomed the IMechE's proposals. "We are now in a situation of mitigation emergency and we do not have the luxury of the timeframes we had at Kyoto to bring about the changes necessary. In the wealthier parts of the world, we have a handful of years to turn our rising emissions around and bring them down at incredibly rapid rate. The UK has demonstrated a lead with the climate change act but this has not been accompanied by policies with teeth or a coherent strategy or roadmap."
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said the report was too negative. "The Institute of Mechanical Engineer's can't do, won't do attitude is sending out a defeatist message ahead of the crucial climate change talks in Copenhagen. The truth is that if we act now we can not only beat climate change but gain from the green benefits that will flow in terms of jobs and investment from going low carbon."
But Fox said that the government's assumptions were based on an unrealistic idea of the number of engineers available. "We're competing on an international stage and, if you look at the scale of engineering challenge worldwide, we're going to compete in the marketplace for the manufacturing of the wind turbines and the specialist vessels that are needed for their construction."
To manage the future response to climate change, the engineers proposed that the mitigation, adaptation and geo-engineering should be brought together in a beefed-up version of Decc. "It should bring together all the climate change activities from across all government departments into one new department called the Department for Energy and Climate Security. That department would be charged with appropriate powers to bring together all the necessary actions that are currently not being brought to bear on climate change," said Fox.

We need energy entrepreneurs to fill the power void

The approval of new nuclear sites is good news for Britain's energy supply, says Jo Butlin, but the Government should do more to harness the power of smaller, independent projects.

Published: 8:14AM GMT 12 Nov 2009

This week’s announcement to approve ten sites for nuclear power stations is a welcome long-term measure for our energy supply. However, we should not rely on this alone to meet our long-term low-carbon targets. For that we will need true diversity and decentralisation of supply and ownership.
The recent reports from Ofgem and the Committee on Climate Change provided stark evidence that our reliance on a small handful of utilities has failed to meet our current low-carbon targets. There is no evidence to suggest that the same handful of suppliers will do any better in the future.
If we are serious about meeting our energy and climate targets we need to make sure that the market is fully opened up to support the legions of independent project developers, or energy entrepreneurs, who can seize this opportunity and help fill the void.
The main problems with relying only on utilities to build the low-carbon solutions of the future are related to size, speed, cost and diversity.
In the case of renewables, utility companies are only really interested in investing in or developing projects of a particular size to achieve an economy of scale. These are very slow to get off the ground, take a long time for any decision to be reached within the organisation, and then a long time again to get through planning, and ordering the necessary equipment, etc. Large projects also carry a significant financial risk which, especially during a recession, even the most solid of utilities tend to be unwilling to carry.
Without a much higher price placed on carbon emissions or increased renewable subsidies, utilities argue they cannot make the investment necessary to meet renewable targets. We are already seeing large utilities deferring or even cancelling projects for this reason.
By contrast, the independent developers are mostly focused on smaller projects, with lower financial risks, which are quicker to get through planning and buy the necessary equipment for. Each project may be smaller in output, but with a far higher number of potential developers, the aggregate results can plug a vital gap in our energy supplies – and do so far quicker than any company could build a nuclear power station.
This brings us to the final point about the independent sector: diversity. Over the past year alone we have signed contracts linking power purchasers with developers covering wind, anaerobic digestion on agricultural sites, energy from waste, and small hydro, as well as corporate developers building on-site renewable generation.
Each one of these project developers acts as an entrepreneur or small business outfit, generating not just electricity, but income and jobs too. They are a multiplier in the wider economy, helping to address two of the crises of our current age: recession and climate change.
This decentralised model has the potential to grow exponentially if the UK corporate sector is also given the right incentives and motivation to invest in their own generation capacity. While the government talks of providing these incentives, in reality policy and approach are still focused on the large utilities and centralised solutions, as the nuclear announcement shows. Many UK companies want to invest in their own generation assets, but it has to make economic sense.
Larger utilities have dictated and monopolised the debate over energy policy for too long. No single company, developer or sector can tackle this energy gap alone. It will take a variety of solutions, including nuclear, from a variety of outlets, delivered simultaneously.
However, to accelerate the decentralisation and decarbonisation of our energy supply, we will have to accelerate the decentralisation of ownership and generation first.
Jo Butlin is Vice President for Retail, SmartestEnergy Ltd

A breath of fresh air

Ownership of a small wind turbine is one of the few things I have in common with David Cameron. Mine supplies the relatively modest electrical needs of a sailing boat's auxiliary engine and navigational gear, rather than the more onerous requirements of the Tory Leader's Notting Hill home.
Without pretending to understand the science, I had supposed wind and solar power would never replace oil and coal for domestic use; at least when financial facts are more important than making a political point. So, Government proposals to build 10 new nuclear power stations, announced on Monday, seemed sadly inevitable if we are to meet rising requirements for energy while keeping pollution caused by fossil fuels to a minimum.
Not a bit of it, says sustainable energy expert Clare Brook, who tells me that Britain's windpower capacity has already reached four gigawatts, or enough to power 2.3 million homes. With experience in the sector stretching back to her stewardship of Jupiter's Ecology Fund in 1990, she has demonstrated you can do well by doing good, but is unwilling to be labelled with the "ethical investor" tag.
More recently, Ms Brook managed Morley's Sustainable Future range of funds when they raised £1bn in six years. Along with Nicola Donnelly, she now runs the WHEB Asset Management Sustainability Fund, which sets out to "provide solutions to some of the key challenges of the 21st century". Specifically, they cite pollution, shortage of natural resources and ageing populations in developed countries.
The mix of themes may provide a less bumpy ride than pure ecology funds, while Brook and Donnelly make a refreshing change from the usual run of testosterone-fuelled fund managers. Perhaps the answer to our energy needs really is blowing in the wind. But, as this summer's closure of Vestas Wind Systems turbine factory on the Isle of Wight showed, it will not be plain sailing.

New Zealand was a friend to Middle Earth, but it's no friend of the earth

Lord of the Rings country trades on its natural beauty, but emissions have risen 22% since it signed up to Kyoto

Fred Pearce, Thursday 12 November 2009 10.28 GMT
As the world prepares for the Copenhagen climate negotiations next month, it is worth checking out the greenwash that has followed the promises made 12 years ago when the Kyoto protocol was signed.
A surprising number of countries have succeeded in raising their emissions from 1990 levels despite signing up to reduce them. They include a bundle of countries in the European Union, which collectively agreed to let some nations increase their emissions while others (mainly Britain and Germany) cut theirs. Step forward Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece — all with emissions up by more than a quarter.
Then there are the US and Australia, which both reneged on the protocol after signing it. And Canada, which never reneged but still has emissions up by a quarter (worse than the US) and shows no sign of contrition or of being called to account by the other signatories.
But my prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as "clean and green".
New Zealand secured a generous Kyoto target, which simply required it not to increase its emissions between 1990 and 2010. But the latest UN statistics show its emissions of greenhouse gases up by 22%, or a whopping 39% if you look at emissions from fuel burning alone.
Some countries with big emissions growth started from a low figure in 1990. Arguably, they were playing catchup. There is no such excuse for New Zealand. Its emissions started high and went higher.
They are today 60% higher than those of Britain, per head of population. Among industrialised nations, they are only exceeded by Canada, the US, Australia and Luxembourg. In recent years a lot of Brits have headed for Christchurch and Wellington in the hope of a green life in a country where they filmed the Lord of the Rings. But it's a green mirage.
To rub our noses in it, last year New Zealand signed up to the UN's Climate Neutral Network, a list of nations that are "laying out strategies to become carbon neutral".
But if you read the small print of what New Zealand has actually promised, it is a measly 50% in emissions by 2050 – something even the US can trump.
Where do all these emissions come from? New Zealand turns out to be mining ever more filthy brown coal to burn in its power stations. It has the world's third highest rate of car ownership. And, with more cows than people, the country's increasingly intensive agricultural sector is responsible for approaching half the greenhouse gas emissions.
You might expect the UN Environment Programme to throw New Zealand off its list of countries supposedly pledged to head for climate neutrality. Sadly no. These steely guardians of the environment meekly say that the network "will not be policed... nor will UNEP verify claims".
Indeed, it seems to go to great lengths to deny reality. Check the UNEP website and you will find an excruciating hagiography about a "climate neutral journey to Middle Earth", in which everything from the local wines to air conditioning and Air New Zealand get the greenwash treatment.
After extolling the country's green credentials, it asks: "Have you landed in a dreamland?" Well, UNEP's reporter certainly has. He cheers New Zealand's "global leadership in tackling climate change", when the country's minister in charge of climate negotiations, Tim Groser, has been busy reassuring his compatriots that "we would not try to be 'leaders' in climate change."
This is not just political spin. It is also commercial greenwash. New Zealand trades on its greenness to promote its two big industries: tourism and dairy exports. Groser says his country's access to American markets for its produce is based on its positive environmental image. The government's national marketing strategy is underpinned by a survey showing that tourism would be reduced by 68% if the country lost its prized "clean, green image", and even international purchases of its dairy products could halve.
The trouble is, on the climate change front at least, that green image increasingly defies reality.

Brazil celebrates 45% reduction in Amazon deforestation

A police offensive and the global economic crisis have combined to produce the largest fall in more than 20 years
Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, Friday 13 November 2009
The Brazilian government yesterday announced a "historic" drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, weeks before world leaders meet in Copenhagen for climate change talks.
Brazilian authorities said that between August 2008 and July this year, deforestation in the world's largest tropical rainforest fell by the largest amount in more than 20 years, dropping by 45% from nearly 13,000 square kilometres to around 7,000 square kilometres (5,000 square miles to 2,700 square miles).
"It is an excellent figure – a historic result," the environment minister, Carlos Minc, said in the capital, Brasilia.
"It is a substantial drop," said the head of Brazil's Space Institute, Gilberto Câmara, according to the government news provider Agência Brasil. He claimed it was the most significant cut in deforestation since his institute started monitoring rainforest destruction with satellite technology in 1988.
"This is a very happy moment – to note that the efforts of Brazilian society to contain the deforestation of the Amazon have reached a very satisfactory level."
The new figures, reportedly rushed out before the Copenhagen talks, come days after Brazil announced ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions by 2020, partly by continuing to battle illegal deforestation.
This week, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, said her country would take proposals for voluntary reductions of 38-42% by 2020 to the Copenhagen summit. Britain's prime-minister, Gordon Brown, wrote to Brazil's president this week to congratulate him on the move.
Environmentalists welcomed the news of a drop in rainforest destruction, with Greenpeace's Amazon director, Paulo Adario, claiming that, "whenever the government followed the law, deforestation fell". But he warned: "We must stay alert so that this falling trend becomes consolidated and allows us to achieve the dream of zero deforestation in the Amazon. It is an important drop – but a lot of forest is still coming down."
Rousseff said the figures showed the government had "done its homework" in order to combat illegal rainforest destruction. She pointed to federal police raids on illegal logging operations across the Amazon region, and government attempts to provide economic alternatives to destruction. Since February 2008 the government has been waging an "unprecedented" campaign against the loggers, dispatching hundreds of heavily armed agents to remote rainforest towns where destruction was out of control.
But, in a statement, Greenpeace activists in Brazil said the world financial crisis had also played a part in silencing the chainsaws. "The crisis … has contributed to helping put the breaks on the rhythm of destruction, with a fall in the demand for Amazon products linked to deforestation such as meat, soy and timber," Greenpeace said.
Tellingly, Mato Grosso, a soy producing Amazonian state that has seen its forests ravished in recent years largely as a result of the Chinese demand for soy, saw a 65% drop in deforestation.