Saturday, 14 November 2009

Gordon Brown must overcome public scepticism before Copenhagen

Ben Webster, Environment Editor: Commentary

With the most important meeting on man-made climate change starting in about three weeks, the last thing the Government needs is a survey showing that more the half the population is reluctant to believe that there is a problem.
Gordon Brown will go to Copenhagen next month and make painful pledges on our behalf. He will promise to give an extra £1 billion a year to poor countries to help them to cope with climate change. He will also commit Britain to making savage cuts in carbon emissions, which will inflate our energy bills, push us into smaller, more efficient cars, and make flying much more expensive.
He might have had a chance to persuade us that these sacrifices were necessary if most believed the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, who say that our activities are causing a dangerous increase in global temperatures.
The Government is likely to respond to scepticism by underplaying the implications of legally binding commitments to cut carbon emissions by 34 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.

It is too easy for the sceptics, armed with a handful of misleading facts, to sow seeds of doubt. It is true that global temperatures have not yet returned to the peak of 1998. The Arctic summer ice has grown substantially in the past two years and some scientists are revising upwards their estimates of polar bear numbers.
None of these facts counters the strong evidence of a long-term warming trend, yet there is a tendency to cling to the faintest glimmers of hope when confronted with overwhelming gloom.
Persuading the public of the need to act may become harder because some scientists predict a decade of cooling before the warming trend re-emerges.
The recession has not only pushed climate change down the agenda but also given the impression we are winning the battle. The Economic and Social Research Council estimates that global greenhouse gas emissions will be 9 per cent below what they were expected to be in 2012 because of the recession. Yet it also says that this will delay by only 21 months the moment when temperatures rise to a dangerously high level.
The crumb of comfort for Mr Brown is that Britons are less sceptical than Americans. A survey by the Pew Centre last month found that only 36 per cent of Americans believed that human activity was causing global warming. The proportion believing that warming was happening, from man-made or natural causes, fell from 77 per cent in 2007 to 57 per cent.

Barack Obama's trip to China expected to set the tone for talks in Copenhagen

China unlikely to show its hand during president's visit while US climate legislation stalls in Senate
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Friday 13 November 2009 18.04 GMT
The leaders of the world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters – Barack Obama and Hu Jintao – are to meet on Tuesday in Beijing, in one of the most significant moments leading up to the world summit on climate change in Copenhagen next month.
Agreement between the US and China on key issues would breathe new life into the moribund negotiations towards a global climate deal. But sources are downplaying the chances of a breakthrough, suggesting another blow to the talks.
Instead, modest progress may be announced in the fields of technology co-operation and private sector initiatives to move towards a low-carbon economy.
In the run-up to Copenhagen, the US negotiator Todd Stern had hoped for a series of bilateral steps that might lead the world's major polluters into an international deal. These two nations, which together account for 40% of global emissions, will make or break the summit.
China is moving towards setting its first "carbon intensity" target, which would curb – but not cut – the pollution emitted as its economy grows. The target is thought to be about a 40-45% reduction relative to economic growth by 2020. But China is unlikely to declare its hand yet.
There remains a big gap in the demands made by each nation.
The US wants China to sign up to specific emissions commitments; China insists they should be voluntary, as they are under the current Kyoto climate change treaty.
China's public position is that rich nations should cut emissions by 40% by 2020. Privately, negotiators acknowledge this is unrealistic, but they want the US to go much further than the 17% cut approved by the House but blocked in the Senate.
If the US president says he is prepared to push for a higher target, some observers believe Hu may give him a political "gift" to take back.
"China understands the political system in the US. We know it's difficult for Obama. If he wants the Senate to do more, he needs to be able to say China will do more than people expect," said Yang Fuqiang, the director of global climate change solutions at the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
Yang identified several possible cards that China might play either during Obama's visit or at Copenhagen. Earlier this year, it withheld a planned announcement on a higher renewable energy target so that this could be used at a more politically opportune moment. Other major shifts in its energy mix are the likely doubling or tripling of nuclear power generation, greater use of natural gas – China has recently discovered some major fields inside its territory – and in the most optimistic scenario, a pledge to improve its energy or carbon efficiency by 20% for each of its five-year plans until 2020.
"All these measure together add up to emissions reduction of 4-4.5 gigatonnes over the period 2005 to 2020," said Yang. "This is the opportunity. But the condition is that Obama uses the power of the presidency to persuade Congress to do more."
Others believe this is overly optimistic. "Obama's dream scenario would be to come to China and make it look like he saves the world from China so that he could go back and convince his Congress to back him up in Copenhagen. But why should China go along with that scenario. The US target is pathetic," said another Chinese observer, who declined to be identified.
With dim prospects of a legally binding deal at Copenhagen or a US climate bill passing the Senate, others say Hu has little incentive to make concessions during Obama's visit.
But the meeting itself will be significant.
"There will be a lot of public stuff about cooperation and in private they will get to understand each other better. It will be an opportunity to show that China is doing a lot. That will help in the Senate," said Deborah Seligsohn, a principal advisor to the World Resources Institute's Climate and Energy Programme in Beijing. "Fundamentally, the objective is for Obama and Hu to speak face to face. Given that the specific issue is trust, that will help a lot."
China's emissions have grown rapidly in recent years along with the economy, but it has one of the world's most ambitious renewable energy programmes and is on course to meet a self-set target to improve energy efficiency by 20% between 2005 and 2010.
The world's number one emitter is adamant that it should not have to take actions that restrict economic growth because rich nations have a far greater historical and per capita responsibility for the carbon in the atmosphere. It wants wealthy countries like the US to provide technology and finance that will help developing nations to ease the impact of climate change and move towards a low-carbon economy.
The two governments signed a memorandum of understanding in July that identified possible areas of collaboration on research and technology. But efforts to flesh out that agreement have proved tougher than expected.
There have been wrangles over how much each nation should pay for a proposed joint research centre on clean energy. The US energy secretary, Steven Chu, who is travelling with Obama, is expected to sign an agreement next week, but it is unclear if the countries will split the costs down the middle.
While business deals and joint projects may be announced to develop green buildings, electric cars and smart power grids, there is less confidence that a deal can be struck in the key area of "clean" coal technology. The US has proposed closer collaboration in this field, which is vital given the heavy reliance of both economies on coal. But China has been cautious about such overtures, perhaps because it is poised to move ahead of the United States in several key processes, including integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) in power stattions and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
If these two key players are unable to resolve their differences, there is a danger that the Copenhagen talks will suffer the same fate as the Kyoto protocol, which was handicapped by the absence of a clear commitment by China and rejection by the US Congress.
There is scope for more progress this time. During the UN climate summit in September, Hu said China was prepared to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by a "notable margin" by 2020. Beijing has a figure up its sleeve. Government-related thinktanks are proposing targets of 40-45% by 2020 and 78-80% by 2050.
"I think they will announce something soon," said a source in the Energy Research Institute. "The upper end of our recommendation is 44%. But whether they will adopt it depends on their assessment of how fast the economy will grow."
Whether this figure will be high enough and announced early enough to shake the rust from the Senate is uncertain.
"At some point, China must produce a number. Assuming its good enough, then it should be recorded in an international agreement," said Charlie McElwee, a Shanghai-based American lawyer specialising in environmental issues. "Without that, I think there will be a pushback from the Senate."
For the moment, it is unclear even if the two leaders will attend Copenhagen. Expectations have been pushed down so far recently that leaders appear reluctant to invest political capital in the talks. Whether Obama's charisma and Hu's drive for "scientific development" can salvage at least a political agreement will be much clearer after next week.

Can Barack Obama kill the climate pirates?

It was surprising to find on Capitol Hill this week that Obama has a good chance eventually of getting a climate bill, writes Geoffrey Lean.

By Geoffrey LeanPublished: 5:30PM GMT 13 Nov 2009
Visiting the US Congress is like stepping back in time to 18th-century Poland, I was warned before mounting Capitol Hill this week. Even stranger, the advice went on, I would find this conflated with the all-too-familiar present-day experience of British party politics. And the combination of the two was bedevilling the world's attempt to get a new agreement to tackle climate change.
Let me explain.
Three centuries ago, the Polish parliament, the Sejm, was paralysed because every member had a veto: by shouting the resounding phrase "nie pozwalam" ("I do not allow"), he could halt proceedings. The practice sprang from the principle that all the nobles who made up the Sejm were equal and should be independent – and it had originally done much to constrain the powers of the monarch and bring in a degree of constitutional government. But, increasingly, competing outside interests bought up members to block laws they did not like.
Any US Senator can similarly frustrate legislation by filibustering (the term, engagingly, comes from the Spanish word for "pirate"). Indeed, these days he or she does not even have to talk for ever, but can achieve the same effect by simply announcing the intention to do so. The threat that hard-line climate-sceptic Republicans will do this is holding up the passage of a bill introducing measures to reduce carbon emissions. And that, in turn, is stalling international agreement on a treaty to combat global warming, scheduled for Copenhagen next month, because the bargain cannot be struck without the United States.
To European eyes, the threat should be idle, since – unlike in Polish history – a filibuster can be blocked by a vote of at least 60 senators. As Barack Obama has precisely that number of Democrats in the upper house, it would seem he should be home and dry. But that is to forget the other parallels. For each of those Democratic senators cherishes political independence as fiercely as did the Polish nobles. And – let's put it politely – many are beholden to outside interests; in this case the coal, oil and car industries.
Yet Washington is used to all this, and has long managed to put together deals to pass contentious legislation. What has made things really difficult is the partial introduction of rigid, British-style, party political practice.
Since 1993 – when their then Senate leader, Bob Dole, first persuaded them to do so – the Republicans have increasingly behaved like a disciplined block, voting ideologically, while the Democrats often operate like a swarm of pedigree cats. And, over climate, the Republican leadership has even begun to part company with some traditional business backers. The nuclear industry, and even some oil companies, want it to make a deal, but it is refusing to do so. And Republicans are prepared to turn viciously on any colleague that threatens to break ranks – providing the spit, perhaps, to go with the Polish.
All this makes it hard to play the old game of reconciling interests or to find Republicans who will vote for the bill in the place of oil- or coal-state Democrats who refuse. And it puts into perspective the cliched caricature of the President as the most powerful man in the world. ("It's true if he wants to bomb somebody," as one insider put it to me, "but not if he wants to get a bill through Congress.").
So it was all the more surprising to find on the Hill that Obama has a good chance eventually of getting a climate bill. The breakthrough has come from a brave Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, deciding to work with the Democrat John Kerry and the Independent Joe Lieberman to draw up a compromise bill, despite being subject to attack ads in his constituency.
Some 10 Republican senators – more than enough to make up for renegade Democrats – have expressed support for climate legislation in the past, and are thought to be persuadable, especially if the bill backs a big expansion of nuclear power.
No one expects this to be sorted out before the Copenhagen conference opens, but there are hopes that enough progress will be made for the US to be able to lay out a provisional offer in the Danish capital – dependent on passing legislation in the spring. And that could be enough to seal the international deal. Of course, it may well go wrong, either in Congress or Copenhagen or both. But it's worth remembering that Sejm's paralysis led to anarchy and the break-up of Poland – and that failure to control climate change would bring even greater disaster on a global scale.

‘Cool Globes’ offers climate change solutions for everyday life

Relax News
Friday, 13 November 2009
A month before world political leaders gather in Copenhagen for the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference, the "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet" art exhibit takes to the streets of the city. The traveling exhibit, which begins in Copenhagen on November 13, offers suggestions for what ordinary citizens can do to combat global climate change.
Cool Globes is a public art exhibition featuring more than 25 "Cool Globes," each seven feet tall and five feet in diameter and conveying an artist's personal message about climate change. In Copenhagen, the first European city to host the exhibit, the globes - created by world-renowned as well as local Danish artists - will be placed in the public square Kongens Nytorv and at tube stations throughout the city. The exhibit will stay in Copenhagen through December 31, after which five globes will remain on permanent display.
The aim of the Cool Globes project is to encourage individuals, businesses, and governments to adopt solutions against global climate change. The exhibit, which originated in Chicago, has traveled to Washington DC, San Francisco, and Houston, and will continue its tour in 2010 with a visit to Marseilles, France.
For those who won't see the exhibit in person, the project has gathered climate-change tips from around the world on its website.

How green could our cities be?

A new campaign by the government's city advisers to persuade local authorities to green their cities has produced some unique images of England's urban areas

You may never have seen Liverpool or Hackney look exactly like this. Instead of houses, there are gardens; instead of roads, there are parks.
The images – produced for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe) – show what happens when everything made of concrete, brick and tarmac is removed from an urban environment.
Published today, the not-to-scale aerial shots of Liverpool, Gloucester and the inner London boroughs of Hackney and Islington have been hand-coloured to show only their green infrastructure – gardens, parks and waterways. It is part of a campaign by Cabe as the government's advisers on urban design to persuade local authorities to focus more investment on green space.
"Normal maps encourage us to think of our cities as made of concrete and tarmac with some green punctuation," said Cabe's Matthew Bell. "We made these images to show another way of understanding the places where we live." Cabe argues that switching public spending to schemes such as trees, parks, green roofs and waterways would address climate change more effectively, improve public health and improve communities.
It says the £1.28bn budget for widening a 63-mile section of the M25 could pay for 3.2m trees or 5,000 miles of off-road routes for cyclists and pedestrians.
Bell said the maps showed "an abundance of green", but the Cabe report warns there is a chronic shortage of people in local authorities with the right skills to design and manage green infrastructure. As a result, said Bell, "we won't create healthier places adapted to climate change".

Rainforest money doesn't grow on trees

The fall in deforestation in Brazil is welcome, but our leaders must make a financial commitment to replicating this success

John Sauven, Friday 13 November 2009 18.30 GMT
My colleagues in the Amazon office of Greenpeace like to characterise deforestation as a lion, oscillating between periods of slumber and bouts of frenetic and violent activity. New figures released by Brazil's government yesterday suggest that over the past year the lion has slept a little more soundly than usual. This is very good news, but we must not take our eyes off him.
The reported fall in the rate of Amazon deforestation should be kept in perspective. Over the past year "just" 7,000 square kilometres of rainforest was destroyed – which means that an area just a little smaller than Puerto Rico was razed to the ground. Of course the Amazon is also only one of the world's ancient rainforests. The lions of deforestation are on the prowl in the paradise forests of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In the Congo basin, they are stretching their limbs for the very first time, eyeing up a tasty meal in the world's second largest rainforest.
The key questions we must answer are these: how do we maintain this progress in Brazil, and how can we replicate this success elsewhere in the world?
The fall in deforestation in Brazil can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the global economic recession. Civil society has played its part, by voicing public opposition to changes to the Brazilian forest code, which could have become a charter for industrial logging interests. A pioneering agreement banning deforestation for the production of soya beans also helped remove one of the key drivers of deforestation in the region.
Then, earlier this year, a Greenpeace campaign exposed the cattle industry as the biggest single cause of deforestation in the Amazon. Under pressure from high street brands like Nike, Adidas and Clarks, which were using Brazilian leather, as well as makers of tinned beef products like Princes, the four largest players in the global cattle sector have now committed to "zero deforestation in their supply chains".
These steps, although hugely significant, will not stand the test of time without an international agreement to remove the drivers of deforestation. The situation is urgent, and with a long-term deal on forests at Copenhagen hanging in the balance, a short-term fix must be found.
Earlier this year the Prince of Wales launched a project calling for an interim finance package to slow rates of deforestation in rainforest countries in the next few years. More than 40 countries signed on to the initiative, which has led to the establishment of an international working group which recently suggested that €15-25bn would be needed between 2010 and 2015 to fight deforestation. The UK's share of this would be a few hundred million pounds over a five-year timescale.
The proposals have received broad international support, but no official backing from the UK government in terms of money on the table to help stop deforestation. It's time for our leaders to commit a relatively small amount of financial support to protect an ecosystem that all of us rely on for our survival.

Nissan Kicks Off U.S. Tour of Electric Car

LOS ANGELES — Nissan Motor Co. chief executive Carlos Ghosn kicked off a U.S. tour of his company's electric car Friday, an attempt to convince consumers that the vehicle, called the Leaf, is a real option.
Nissan, Japan's third-biggest car company by sales volume, plans to sell the Leaf in the U.S., Europe and Japan by the end of next year. The release comes as more consumers search for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and escape fluctuating gas prices.
With a Leaf prototype—a four-door powder blue hatchback-- parked nearby, and flanked by a panel of prominent California environmentalists, Mr. Ghosn told a crowd of journalists gathered in the parking lot of Dodger's Stadium that he wants the public to see the Leaf is "not a golf cart, it's a real car."
The Leaf will have plenty of competition. Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co. this year released revamped versions of their popular gas- electric hybrids. Meanwhile, U.S. automaker General Motors Co. is preparing to launch its battery-powered Chevrolet Volt next year.
Mr. Ghosn said the Leaf will not be the first electric car—those already exist—but it will be the "first affordable electric car," Mr. Ghosn said. "Who's going to buy an electric car at $50,000 or $100,000?"
Nissan has not revealed what the price of the Leaf will be, but Mr. Ghosn said it will be up to 2% more expensive than a gas-powered Nissan of comparable size.
Nissan is entering the field with an all-electric car that is expected to have a range of 100 miles, and will not produce any carbon emissions. A key to the vehicle's success, Nissan officials said Friday, is establishing a network of charging stations. The car would be plugged into garages at night, when demand for electricity is down. It could also be plugged in at public charging stations.
Right now, infrastructure to support electric cars is scant—a major challenge for automakers like Nissan. A few progressive cities, like Santa Monica, do offer public plugging stations.
Nissan said Friday that it has signed memorandums of agreement with 33 local governments and energy companies worldwide to develop plugging stations. On Friday, Nissan announced it had signed its latest agreement with Houston-based Reliant Energy, a subsidiary of NRG Energy Inc., to develop charging infrastructure. Nissan has signed similar agreements with Phoenix, Vancouver and Mexico City.
Unlike other car companies, Nissan is developing its own battery to power the car. Mr. Ghosn said the company plans to lease the battery to buyers. That way, the company can retain control over the battery, allowing it to recycle the batteries or potentially upgrade them as the technology improves. Still, Mr. Ghosn said the cost of leasing and charging the battery will be lower than the cost of gas.
Write to Tamara Audi at

Carbon dioxide emissions 'cut by recession'

Global greenhouse gas emissions will be 9 per cent below what they were expected to be in 2012 as a result of the recession, researchers said today.

Published: 11:24AM GMT 13 Nov 2009
But the lower levels will delay by just 21 months the moment the world reaches the temperature rises predicted to cause ''dangerous'' climate change if ''business as usual'' emissions resume after economic recovery, they warned.
The researchers at the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) centre for climate change economics and policy said that if the downturn deteriorates into a depression as bad as the one seen in the 1930s, emissions will be 23 per cent lower than they would have been without the recession.

But that crisis would only delay by five years the point at which global temperatures rise by more than 2C above pre-industrial levels - a threshold beyond which many scientists believe the impacts of climate change will be much more severe.
Until the recession, global emissions had been relentlessly rising and have been increasing at a higher rate in the past decade than previously.
The report from the centre, hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics (LSE), also shows that UK emissions will be 9% lower in 2012 than they would have been without the recession.
But the 9 per cent lower level of greenhouse gases will only be delivered if the downward trend in emissions per unit of economic output continues as a result of policies and investment in energy efficiency, the report said.
A reduction in investments in energy efficiency as a result of the financial crisis by British businesses would limit the extent of the environmental silver lining provided by the recession.
Professor Andy Gouldson, co-author of the report at the University of Leeds, said: ''Our results show that although the downturn is likely to cause a measurable decrease in global emissions, it will only delay temporarily the relentless rise in emissions that we have seen over the past few decades.
''If we return to 'business as usual' emissions after the economic crisis is over, the profound and severe risks of climate change impacts will continue to grow.
''So the global downturn does not remove the urgent need for a strong agreement to be reached at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.''
The research was published as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned next month's international summit was not likely to produce a legally-binding treaty to cut the greenhouse gases which cause climate change.
She insisted the US, which has been blamed in some quarters for holding up progress on a new climate deal, is committed to creating a framework agreement at the talks which will lead to a full legal treaty.
Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd is the latest in a string of world leaders who have agreed to attend the talks in Copenhagen in a bid to get the best possible outcome from the conference.