Sunday, 15 November 2009

Barack Obama will make or break deal on climate change

Irwin Stelzer

In a few weeks some 20,000 United Nations bureaucrats, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), world leaders and accompanying experts from 192 nations will descend on Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They aim to devise a substitute for the expiring Kyoto Protocol, the agreement among several nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming — and at the same time redistribute some of the world’s wealth from richer to poorer nations, a UN goal long before anyone ever heard of climate change.
“Human survival itself is at risk,” contends scientist/activist James Lovelock, expressing a belief so strongly held that British courts this month gave some greens all the rights the law contains for practitioners of any religion.
The delegates are to consider a 181-page draft that calls for developed countries to pay an “adaptation debt” to developing countries to the tune of somewhere between $70 billion and $150 billion a year. The European Union has endorsed the $150 billion estimate, and Germany’s Angela Merkel says the EU should contribute 30% of needed funds, or close to $50 billion, leaving about $100 billion for other developed nations to cough up. Gordon Brown, seemingly unaware that Britain is broke, has offered to throw $1.5 billion into the pot. But neither Merkel nor her peers can agree how the EU’s 27 members should share the balance of the funding burden.
There is agreement on at least one thing: the stumbling block to a final treaty is the US. “We expect American leadership. President Obama has created great expectations around the world. Now we expect the US to contribute,” says Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s environment minister, speaking on behalf of the EU presidency.
The reluctance of Congress to pass expensive environmental legislation is no excuse, adds Connie Hedegaard, his Danish counterpart. “I remind the US that it is not the only country in the world that has to have discussions with its domestic parliament. The expectation out there worldwide and among populations and the young [is for] the US to deliver.” John Bruton, EU ambassador to the US, adds: “The world cannot wait on the Senate’s timetable.” Oh?
Meanwhile, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has agreed only to cut its “carbon intensity”. It will reduce its emissions per unit of increased GDP — and since its GDP is growing, its emissions will continue to increase. (When George W Bush made a similar proposal it was greeted with disdain.) Obama hopes to use his visit to Beijing this week to get the Chinese to sign up to several specific actions, in lieu of specific targets: more renewable energy and research into clean coal technology are high on the list. India is also refusing to accept firm emissions-reduction targets. As the developing world sees it, the industrialised world created the warming problem and so is poorly placed to ask emerging economies to slow the growth that is raising the living standards of their masses.
Which brings the delegates right back to America. They contend that only American leadership-by-example — acceptance of tight curbs on its own emissions, and willingness to fund a substantial portion of the wealth and technology transfers developing countries are demanding — can produce a meaningful treaty. Which is why the delegates are so pleased with Obama’s belated decision to stroll across the Skagerrak Strait to Copenhagen immediately after accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10. Surely, the man who promised that his election would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” can bring agreement out of discord.
No summary of the positions being taken would be complete without mention of the bunch with the most chutzpah, although that is a word they would reject for many reasons. The Opec oil cartel contends that since the goal of the Copenhagen summit is to reduce the use of oil, its members should be reimbursed for any reduction in their revenues. Ridiculous, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Although recent climate data suggest that the herd-like response of environmental absolutists might be plain wrong, low-probability risks with high-magnitude consequences of the sort predicted by some scientists cannot be ignored. But is the approach taking shape in Copenhagen the only one available? The Netherlands’ Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief who presides over a staff of 200 and an annual budget of $30m, believes that only a supranational agency can manage the galaxy of measures needed to produce the needed cut in emissions. The UN is eager to acquire the power to tax to fund its vision, and to take such steps as are necessary to enforce the agreed emission-reduction limits, including the imposition of intrusive controls on the production processes of member nations. Which means the conference might be on a hiding to nothing, as the US Senate is unlikely to approve any such scheme.
Deutsche Asset Management, in a report with Columbia University’s Climate Center, estimates $3 trillion will be needed by 2020 even to approach the Copenhagen targets. The bureaucrats, regulators, NGOs and national leaders in Denmark might usefully spend some time figuring out what incentives will be necessary to get investors to put up that much cash without stifling growth or inviting government control of ordinary citizens and industries.
They will have time enough to reflect: failure to agree on the scale of payments to developing countries, how that cost will be divided, and what to do if the US Senate fails to pass cap-and-trade have scaled down the greens’ ambitions for Copenhagen. It is now seen as merely a step on the road to a new treaty — the so-called “political deal” that will be the basis for a yet-to-be drafted treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol. So it’s back to the drawing board.
Irwin Stelzer is a business adviser and director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute

The staggering cost of crazed quangocrats

The Climate Change Act will present us all with a bill of mind-boggling proportions, says Christopher Booker.

By Christopher BookerPublished: 6:58PM GMT 14 Nov 2009
It is almost exactly a year since Parliament all but unanimously approved by far the most expensive piece of legislation ever put before it. The Climate Change Act, according to our Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, is due to cost us all £404bn, or £18bn every year until 2050, to reduce our carbon emissions by well over 80 per cent. Just what this will mean in practice we have lately been hearing from that galaxy of quangocrats who have clustered round the new Act like wasps round a honeypot.
Lord (Adair) Turner, chairman of the Government's Climate Change Committee (also chairman of the Financial Services Authority), tells us that we will all have to spend between £10,000 and £15,000 on making "a whole house approach to carbon efficiency". He also proposes that a "carbon tax" of £3,300 should be imposed on every new car, an idea coming from the Green Fiscal Commission, chaired by the former green activist Robert Napier, who is also chairman of the Met Office, one of the leading promoters of the global warming scare.

Then there is Lord (Chris) Smith, former culture secretary, now chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority and of the Environment Agency, who looks forward to wind turbines "all over the countryside" and wants us all to be issued with our own "personal carbon allowances". We would each, in effect, have a CO2 ration book, to be used every time we pay for petrol, an electricity bill or an airline ticket. When we exceed our allowance we shall then have to buy carbon credits from those who don't drive cars or fly off on holiday to the sun.
Mr Miliband also tells us that we shall have to spend £9.5 billion through our electricity bills to pay for the CO2 from coal-fired power stations to be piped away and buried in holes in the ground (even though the technology to do this hasn't yet been properly developed). Not to mention the further £100bn we shall all have to pay, according to Gordon Brown, for his dream of building 7,000 new wind turbines.
Even if these could all be built (which in practical terms is out of the question), these machines would still only generate little more electricity on average than the single giant coal-fired power station at Drax. But then we shall never again be allowed to build one of those because Mr Miliband will not allow it unless it is fitted with the technology that doesn't yet exist.
All in all, it would be much easier to admit that the belief in manmade global warming arose just through a very unfortunate scientific blunder, and to redeploy all these crazed quangocrats in jobs where they can do us no more harm.
Christopher Booker's The Real Global Warming Disaster (Continuum £16.99) is available from Telegraph Books for £14.99 plus £1.25 p & p. To order, call 0844 871 1516 or go to

The way to climate change success

Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive and one of Britain's most prominent business leaders, sets out five requirements for world leaders to agree on at next month's Copenhagen summit.

By Lord BrownePublished: 8:30PM GMT 14 Nov 2009
Global political leadership will be tested to its limit at next month's climate change conference in Copenhagen. Key players must negotiate and agree a new climate accord before the end of the conference or else face some very searching questions about their commitment to the future integrity of our environment.
What is unclear at this stage is whether our political leaders are, in fact, ready to lead.
Over two decades of well-intentioned policymaking has failed to make a positive impact on reducing emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. Verified carbon dioxide emissions from energy use have increased in every year since the Kyoto treaty was signed. Any predicted fall in 2009 will be as a result of the global recession. The trend is not sustainable, so governments need to seize the moment this summit offers.
As I talk to political and business leaders around the world, I sense Copenhagen will not be the total failure some cynics are suggesting. Yet nor do I have a real sense of the necessary political resolve to deliver a deal that will drive a sustainable change in behaviour.
We cannot afford another Kyoto conference where fine words are exchanged but behaviour continues as normal.
At Copenhagen it is vital that leaders keep in mind a core set of minimum requirements that, if agreed to, would represent a political breakthrough and step-change in tackling climate change.
First, adopt a flexible position on how emissions are reduced.
For starters, we should begin by talking more in terms of a Copenhagen Round than of a set-piece Copenhagen conference.
The task of leading that round falls to the developed nations. These countries are both wealthy and responsible for the majority of emissions in the atmosphere. It is time we faced up to our responsibilities. Of course, key polluting countries such as China and India must be pressed to take action to reduce emissions, but they are unlikely to do so unless leaders in the US, Europe and Japan can be sufficiently flexible in their demands.
The developed economies could also show more flexibility on the issue of technology transfer to the developing world. Maintaining national competitiveness is of course very important, but so too is maximising the opportunities associated with the transition towards a global low-carbon economy. "First mover" advantage can be very real for businesses – and indeed countries – prepared to take leadership positions.
Second, set a series of medium-term targets.
No company chief executive draws up a business plan to last until 2050; the approach to addressing climate change should be similar. We cannot realistically predict the impact of multiple variables over a long period of time. There may be technological breakthroughs which fundamentally change our perception of what is possible. Or we may fail to develop new technologies as quickly as hoped. The international community must guard against locking these uncertainties into a policy framework.
To drive change the summit needs to set a medium-term emissions target for no later than 2020, with some realistic yet stretching interim goals. This will allow two things: incorporate advances made possible by technological and economic change; and lock in a greater sense of accountability which focuses the minds of politicians on delivery.
Third, agree national targets and strengthen global offset mechanisms.
The global emissions target must be broken down into a series of national targets if it is to be enforceable. Every country must agree either to reduce emissions in total or against a business-as-usual projection, in line with the Kyoto principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities". Governments would then be free to trade their initial allocation of emission credits as long as they meet their targets by the end of the commitment period.
The ability to "offset" emissions by funding projects in other countries will also be very important in meeting global targets in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The Clean Development Mechanism established at Kyoto for this purpose has proved to be inadequate and difficult to scale up. Its focus must now be upgraded from individual projects to economy-wide targets for industrial sectors, plus additional provisions to reduce deforestation and encourage good land management.
Fourth, focus on building global capacity.
Delivery involves a lot more than articulating a vision and setting targets. It requires the capacity to identify opportunities and the capability to implement plans. While largely not a problem in the developed world, these elements are sorely lacking in developing countries. That is extremely important given that most of the low-cost opportunities to reduce emissions are located in the developing world – where as much as two thirds of the global potential to reduce emissions could be achieved with half the capital expenditure.
Improving governance in these countries will be the first step to realising this potential, not least from energy efficiency. There is little point in world leaders setting targets if some countries lack the infrastructure and the expertise to properly monitor emissions. Copenhagen should identify measures and allocate funds to build capacity, which, as a result of its unique position and experience, should be administered by the World Bank.
Fifth, and finally, invest in long-term research.
We must continue to invest in longer-term research and development, focusing in particular on energy use and alternative energy sources. At present many of these technologies cannot compete with fossil fuels as they suffer from high costs and technical issues. Resources must be carefully targeted towards applied research programmes to ensure that the high-cost energy sources of today can soon become the low-cost options of the future.
For many high-cost and high-priority technologies – such as carbon capture and storage systems for power plants – not enough is happening to stimulate research at the scale and pace required. Where research activity is not forthcoming from the bottom up, governments must be prepared to step in to ensure that it is driven from the top down, funding research programmes and demonstration projects. This needs to be agreed at Copenhagen and include joint investment research budgets and a mechanism to transfer the fruits of this research over time.
Taken together, these five policy areas, if included in any agreement, will make a positive impact. Not only do they make sense from a technical perspective, but they also combine key drivers to motivate political leaders who will not necessarily act out of benevolence but out of national, party or personal self-interest.
A Copenhagen treaty combining these elements – whether it emerges in December or following further talks in the "round" – must provide at the very least the architecture for future international co-operation on reducing emissions, such as trust, transparency and accountability. But we will not get there without strong political leadership.
We saw with Kyoto that a climate change settlement must be endorsed by political leaders from all major economies if it is to have a chance of success. Key leaders from major economies must lead from the front and attend the conference next month.
Whilst it is probably wrong to expect a revolutionary outcome from politicians, some of whom have built their careers on being risk-averse, we must hope that the plan they agree on reflects the sense of urgency and scale of the challenge. It is real political leadership that is required at Copenhagen – where careers will be defined by the decisions that are taken, but where ultimately much more than personal reputation is at stake.
Lord Browne of Madingley is managing director and managing partner (Europe) of Riverstone Holdings LLC and president of the Royal Academy of Engineering

Scientists hope to turn coal into clean energy

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Sunday 15 November 2009 00.06 GMT

Millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide could be prevented from entering the atmosphere following the discovery of a way to turn coal, grass or municipal waste more efficiently into clean fuels.
Scientists have adapted a process called "gasification" which is already used to clean up dirty materials before they are used to generate electricity or to make renewable fuels. The technique involves heating organic matter to produce a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, called syngas.
However gasification is very energy-intensive, requiring high-temperature air, steam or oxygen to react with the organic material. Heating this up leads to the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide. In addition, gasification is often inefficient, leaving behind significant amounts of solid waste.
To find out how to make the process more efficient, researchers led by Marco Castaldi, at Columbia University, tried varying the atmosphere in the gasifier. They found that, by adding CO2 to the steam atmosphere of a gasifier, significantly more of the biomass or coal was turned into useful syngas.
The technique has a double benefit for the environment: it provides a use for CO2 that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere and, after the hydrogen is siphoned off from the syngas, the remaining carbon monoxide can be buried safely underground.
Castaldi's results will be published this week in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology. His team calculated that using CO2 during gasification of a biomass fuel such as beechgrass, in order to make enough biofuel for a fifth of the world's transport demands, would use 437m tonnes of the greenhouse gas. Preventing that entering the atmosphere would equate to taking 308m vehicles off the road.
Replacing 30% of the steam atmosphere of a gasifier with CO2 ensured that all the solid fuel was turned into syngas. Castaldi's process reduces the amount of water that needs to be heated, thereby saving energy, and is 10 to 30% more efficient than standard gasification.
"If I operate at 1,000C and don't use CO2 I'll have some residual carbon left over, which could be a fuel – that's an efficiency penalty," said Castaldi. "Using about 30% CO2, for that same 1,000C you get the complete gasification of the carbon into the syngas."
Applied to a modern IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) power station, which gasifies coal, this can lead to an efficiency gain of up to 4%. "While that may not sound like much, for a power plant producing 500 megawatts of energy, it is significant," said Castaldi.

What British business wants from Copenhagen

The Sunday Times convened a panel of captains of industry to discover their opinions on the climate change summit

Three weeks from now the world’s eyes will be on Copenhagen. Ministers from 192 countries — and 20,000 hangers-on — will converge on the Danish capital for what is billed as the most important event yet in the drive to fight climate change.
They aim to produce a successor to the 1997 Kyoto treaty. If all goes well, the new agreement should create a consensus on how to tackle global warming, set concrete targets on curbing greenhouse gas emissions for rich and poor nations, and deliver a mechanism to raise and distribute the billions needed to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
The political obstacles to progress are daunting. No matter what the outcome, however, the Copenhagen event will have serious repercussions for business. Kyoto set the climate-change ball rolling. Next month’s summit will accelerate the pace of change, placing greater burdens on British companies but also creating new opportunities.
To take stock ahead of the summit, The Sunday Times brought together 11 top business people, including the chief executives of some of Britain’s biggest companies.

Their views provide an insight into how environmental issues are shaping the future of business, not only through more regulation, but through changes in consumer behaviour, which is in many cases running ahead of businesses’ and governments’ own appetite for change.
Our panel provided some alarming food for thought for the delegates going to Copenhagen, and for the British government in particular. They think the UK will miss its current, legally binding climate-change targets, and that much of the government’s education and advertising on the subject is ill-advised — it risks alienating the public and producing the opposite effect to that intended. But they also want the government to do much more — to remove some of the disincentives to green behaviour and to foster the kind of technology UK plc will need if it is to prosper from the upheaval that will be triggered by the move to a low-carbon economy.
Members of our panel
1: David Smith, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover The Midlands luxury-car maker employs 15,000 people in the UK. The group is working on a range of new hybrid cars, and has completed a prototype low-emission limousine.
2: Peter Long, chief executive of Tui Travel This is one of the world’s biggest travel companies, taking 30m people on holiday each year. Tui’s airline is a European launch customer for the Boeing 787, a new plane that will use 20% less fuel than current models.
3: Samir Brikho, chief executive of Amec This diversified engineering group provides services to oil and gas firms as well as renewable-energy groups. It will be the main contractor on the first new nuclear power stations to be built in Britain.
4: David Owens, chief executive of Thames Water Thames is the country’s biggest water company. It provides drinking water to 8.5m people and takes the waste water of 13.6m.
5: Francis Salway, chief executive of Land Securities The company is one of Britain’s biggest landlords. It owns and manages more than 2.7m square metres of property, including City office blocks and out-of-town retail centres.
6: Tessa Laws, corporate law partner at Rosenblatt Solicitors Laws has overseen the development and funding of a number of clean energy companies. She was behind the funding of Cyprus’s first wind farm and the stock-market flotation of New Britain Palm Oil and Clean Energy Brazil.
7: Tim Stone, chairman of the Global Infrastructure & Projects Group at KPMG Stone is a leading expert on public-private projects. At present he has been seconded to the government to act as a part-time senior adviser on new nuclear plants.
8: Simon Thomas, chief executive and co-founder of Trucost Trucost is a provider of environmental and economic data and specialises in advising companies and governments on what to do about green issues.
9: Andrew Torrance, chief executive of Allianz Insurance Besides his role at the insurance giant, Torrance is also the chairman of Climate Wise, a global group of insurers that looks at how to cut the risks of climate change.
10: Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher The company is one of the biggest DIY retailers in Europe and Asia. Cheshire was one of a group of businessmen who broke with CBI policy and came out against construction of a third runway at Heathrow.
11: Bruce Huber managing director of clean technology at Jefferies International The bank is one of the leading advisers on mergers and fundraising in the clean-technology sector.
Will the UK meet its 2020 target to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 34%? Put your hand up if you think it will.
(No hands go up.)
David Owens of Thames Water: As a country we won’t get there, but individual companies and organisations will.
Samir Brikho of Amec: Technology won’t get us there. Even if we do get the first new nuclear stations on time, that won’t make a big difference to the 2020 target. It’s not enough. If we get carbon capture on coal, that won’t change it either, or electric cars. There isn’t a breakthrough in technology that is going to get us there.
The only thing left for us to do is to cut down our consumption and improve the efficiency of existing technology. It’s in our hands. At the same time we can help to develop the technology we will need, whether it is nuclear, carbon capture, offshore wind farms, tidal energy, you name it. The 34% is achievable if we focus on conservation. We don’t need to wait until 2020 to get there.
What did the Kyoto treaty mean for your business?
Ian Cheshire of Kingfisher: It didn’t directly affect us, but it raised awareness of climate change. It triggered a process between the public, government and media that was self-reinforcing.
Tim Stone of KPMG: Kyoto was an awareness-raising exercise. There was no thinking about what the long-term cost to the economy would be.
And what do you expect from Copenhagen?
Andrew Torrance of Allianz: It is crucial we get some agreed world view on what level of carbon reductions we are shooting at, and over what periods. It’s only once you have that consensus view that you can talk about how you are going to tackle it.
One thing we have specifically called for is for each country to have an adaptation plan — a scheme for how they will deal with the consequences of climate change. I think there is a good chance that will come out.
Simon Thomas of Trucost: Everyone is talking about how Copenhagen isn’t going to come up with an agreement and America isn’t even going to arrive there with the right bargaining chips. But it’s like the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement that was made to cure the hole in the ozone layer. It took two years after the protocol was signed for someone to work out how to do it. It was actually Margaret Thatcher who put the bones on it and came up with the hard targets. I think Copenhagen will lead to a global cap-and-trade system for carbon by 2012.
Brikho: There are five things on the agenda for Copenhagen, but carbon trading isn’t one of them. That means while we in business are hoping that this discussion will answer many of the questions we want answered, unfortunately they will not even be discussing these points.
Bruce Huber of Jefferies International: At some point we are going to have to put a price on carbon. It may not be at Copenhagen this year and it may not happen for five or ten years, but there will be a price.
Cheshire: There is a sense that if we don’t get [a deal at] Copenhagen, we are all dead, but Copenhagen isn’t the be-all and end-all. Sure, it’s important. There are lots of other topics that are more important. Going back to the example of Kyoto, it was important, but it wasn’t the only thing.
Francis Salway of Land Securities: The danger of Copenhagen is all these enormous targets, and that it takes the focus off some quick and easy wins. We can take out 20%-30% of our buildings’ carbon emissions pretty easily — things like changing the heating controls to a degree warmer in summer and one degree colder in winter. In WH Smith’s new headquarters I am told you need to wear a jumper in winter — that proves the case.
Owens: Talking about quick wins, the quickest and easiest way to cut water consumption is to fit water meters. Many of my customers are completely indifferent about using more water because it doesn’t affect the price they pay.
Salway: All you need is a change in building regulations. If you are doing something to your house that costs a certain amount, you have to fit a water meter. People are spending £10,000 on a conservatory: a water meter is nothing.
Are your customers demanding more from you on environmental issues?
Peter Long of Tui Travel: There is a group of customers that is looking to us to be responsible. We have a programme that we offer — carbon offset of part of the emissions of your flight — and one-third of our passengers are taking part.
Cheshire: Customers don’t understand the concept of a tonne of carbon dioxide, or even carbon footprints. You get a total blank. What we find resonates much more is the general concept of sustainability — that we are using three planets worth of resources but last time we looked we had only one planet. That really engages people. They don’t like finger-wagging — people beating them up or telling them they have to change their lifestyles. They like to be positive, to be told there are things they can do.
This year we have seen an explosion in sales of grow-your-own products — it is something positive and tangible people can do. Another example is pig arks — shelters for domestic pigs. It is the most extraordinary niche product you can think of, but sales have taken off.
Salway: For the first time our tenants are choosing buildings based on the carbon footprint. For us it’s a risk issue, not a return one. With an environmentally friendly building we have much more chance of getting an occupier — not because the lower energy costs appeal to the tenant, but because they want to be able to recruit the best young graduates. It’s a swing factor when it comes to getting the top talent.
London is leading the way. We cannot let all the car parking spaces in our latest developments, because of the congestion charge. In a recent one we had 200 bicycle spaces and 40 for cars, and we are converting the car spaces to bike spaces. In our latest one we will have no car spaces at all. If other cities followed the lead of London, you would get a huge shift in consumer behaviour and in carbon emissions.
Owens: We have 8.5m customers for drinking water and 13.6m for waste water. They still think this stuff is free; it drops from the sky. We deliver one tonne of water to every person every week — and of course a fraction of that is for drinking. The rest goes down the drain — this wonderful, carbon-intensive water that we have treated and pumped all round. And the public uses seven times as much energy on our water — heating it, for example — than we do in supplying it to them. So demand management is the key.
We are targeting kids in school — getting them to tell mum and dad to switch the tap off when cleaning their teeth, to fill the dishwasher properly.
Tessa Laws of Rosenblatt: My children seem to know about turning off the taps, but not about recycling or turning off the lights. The education isn’t there, whether it be at school or elsewhere. There are no incentives to go out and learn about what’s going on. We need to put pressure on government to do something about that. We have been trying to get companies to talk about what they need to do. They don’t want to know unless they are forced into a situation where pricing comes into play or they are going to get fined.
Long: In our industry it’s hard to see where the price point is at which people stop flying. Despite all the taxes the government has put on aviation, it hasn’t happened yet.
Air passenger duty [the UK levy on airline passengers that went up this week] has nothing to do with carbon emissions. It’s just a tax. What I’m concerned about is getting layered with taxes — the duty, the EU emissions trading scheme from 2012, a global trading scheme. If you want airlines to invest in new technology, you need to have an economically viable industry first.
Is the UK well-placed to develop and profit from green technology? Does the government need to intervene?
David Smith of Jaguar Land Rover: My worry as a UK manufacturer is the state of the UK supply chain. We have great scientists and our universities are really good on developing this technology but not at commercialising it. Jaguar Land Rover is spending £800m on environmental investments over the next five years and nearly all of that is going to go to non-UK firms because we simply don’t have the firms making this technology.
Batteries [for hybrid and electric vehicles] are an example. There is nobody in the UK producing lithium-ion batteries at the moment. They are being heavily subsidised by America, Germany and other countries. The hybrid drivetrains that cars will use are going to be built in Germany and France. There is nobody in Britain doing this.
Thomas: Governments are there to produce a level playing field, not to choose the technologies.
Smith: I would like some technologies to be available in the UK so we have more choice. The government will have to help, or else it won’t happen.
Huber: Germany, and increasingly China, are on the front foot in creating jobs around these industries. It concerns me, living here in Britain, with a vibrant financial market, to see a government that’s not forward-looking. We will probably lose share in the land grab to innovate and thrive. We have terrific engineers, technology, talent, but we are very much on the back foot.
The Germans began back in 1999 with some very forward-looking policies on electricity feed-in tariffs that supported consumer behaviour. They created a whole new industry with solar power that had a whole set of knock-on effects.
China will own the solar industry over the next five years. They have the industrial incentives and consumer incentives to develop and innovate. It will drive job creation as well as meeting the needs of a greener planet.
Thomas: We talk about the Germans subsidising their solar industry. We haven’t talked about the Germans withdrawing the subsidy, which collapsed that market. The same thing happened in Spain.
For an economist it’s really offensive to have to subsidise something in the first place. If conventional technology had to pay for its externalities, which you could make it do, then clean technology would have a level playing field.
Owens: I don’t think the government appreciates the consequences of its indecision. You need to set targets. In the competitive world, in our world, you certainly need some clarity, leadership, guidance and joined-up thinking between government and regulation.
Cheshire: I have been trying to get government to talk about taking Vat off a whole range of energy-efficiency goods and greener products. I think that would actually play fine with the public but it’s just a question of doing it.
Salway: There is an analogy for this. In Victorian times capitalists exploited labour. Today consumer society is exploiting the environment. The Victorians tackled labour exploitation first with private attempts to improve working conditions, and then government got behind it and legislated. We are in a similar situation. Pricing at the moment isn’t working. Government will have to intervene.
What threat does climate change pose to your business?
Owens: Sooner or later there is going to be another big flood, sooner or later there is going to be another big drought. What happened since the last big flood? Nothing. There’s been a government report.
Let me give you a prime example. We have a key piece of infrastructure, a water treatment works, on the Thames at Hampton. We need to build a wall round it to stop the river getting at it. One of our regulators has said if you build that wall, you will have to buy this piece of land over here because of the displaced water. And this is one of the most expensive areas in Britain.
Torrance: That’s a great example. In the floods of 2007 we were in danger of losing a lot of key infrastructure. All the climate modelling points to more severe weather. The insurance industry will be looking a lot harder at the flood risk on individual properties, and we will make underwriting decisions based on that. Insurance deals with the unforseeable, and if it’s forseeable that your property is going to flood every five years, you won’t get cover.
Stone: On infrastructure, we have spent the past 50 years pouring depreciation down the toilet. There is a complete neglect of infrastructure.
Owens: There is a complete neglect of infrastructure — we are blessed and cursed by the Victorian era. This is all coming home to roost. Someone needs to pay to refresh this ageing infrastructure, to adapt it to climate change, and unfortunately that will ultimately be customers. There has to be a political acceptance of that.
Cheshire: That raises the problem of democratic government. Those are very unfortunate messages to send to voters.
Smith: It doesn’t work over a political cycle of four or five years.
Cheshire: Exactly. There is a disconnect. How much can you get all this to happen through the current system of government? I’m not calling for a benign autocracy, but there needs to be some bipartisan thing where the two sides agree that certain things have to happen. One of the surprising things I find is how terrified politicians are of this stuff. The timidity about going anywhere near the voters with this is extraordinary.
Stone: The consequences for society as a whole are enormous. If we manage to meet the 2050 goal of an 89% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions, we will have decarbonised the whole of transport, except for aircraft, all power generation, had some radical energy-efficiency savings, and God knows what we will have done to coal and steel and big industries. We will have fixed 14m houses that needed cladding on the outside and replaced all the heating with heat pumps. It is a monumental challenge. At the moment we don’t have the mandate to do it.
Thomas: The Climate Change Act 2008 [the piece of legislation that set the targets] was a good move, because it set binding targets that went beyond the life of a parliament. But what you really need is an independent climate-change bank in the way we have the Bank of England, because a lot of this is politically unachievable.
It’s the West v the rest over emission cuts
The Treaty of Versailles. The end of the cold war. The formation of the European Union. None of the triumphs of the 20th century was achieved in 14 days. However, next month, that’s exactly how long world leaders will have to agree a plan to stop global warming.
The United Nations Copenhagen summit faces considerable political hurdles. The overriding one is the stand-off between the industrialised nations, whose emission levels were capped under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the developing economies, which were exempt.
The former want the latter to set firm targets to cut their emissions but nations such as China — the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases — want developed countries to commit themselves to higher carbon cuts first, since their industrialisation caused the climate change.
European Union nations say they are prepared to raise their targets but only if developing countries sign up to firm reductions at Copenhagen. So far, neither side has blinked.
“What we’re telling developing countries is ‘don’t do as we did, do as we say’,” Ed Miliband, the environment secretary, recently told the environmental audit committee.
The UK has made a commitment to slash a third of its emissions by 2020. The combined offer from developed countries with targets in place would cut emissions 15% by 2020 — half the level scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous temperature rises.
The big unknown is America, which pulled out of Kyoto under the Bush administration. President Barack Obama’s climate-change legislation, which calls for a modest cut in the nation’s emissions, is unlikely to become law before Copenhagen, so America won’t be bringing any firm commitments to the table.
Money is the other big barrier. The EU is willing to give developing nations €100 billion (£90 billion) a year to help grow their economies using low-carbon methods but the total cost is likely to be twice that amount. The world’s other wealthy nations have yet to open their coffers.

A green call to arms

To jump-start the green economy, Obama should encourage co-operation between US and Chinese businesses

Joshua Wickerham, Saturday 14 November 2009 17.00 GMT

Barack Obama can use his inaugural China visit to jump-start the transformation to a global low-carbon economy. The US and China must both cut carbon emissions as quickly as possible, but business-sector action remains overlooked in deepening the relationship between both countries and securing fast low-carbon growth. Obama should call on American and Chinese companies, with partners in Europe and elsewhere, to step up the development of market mechanisms and sound policies that reward low-carbon investments.
With outcomes at the UN Copenhagen climate change conference increasingly uncertain, setting bilateral, regional and sector strategies is crucial. Calls from Obama to increase technical co-operation could accelerate low-carbon preparedness and reduce fears that either side will be disadvantaged in coming low-carbon markets. Obama needs to reassure Chinese leaders hovering over 25% of US foreign debt that the US will make necessary domestic changes without retreating into protectionism.
Obama also needs to convince Americans that China is part of the solution and that only further partnership will ensure common prosperity. China has committed vast political, social and business resources to promoting the technology and "corporate social responsibility" agenda that will underpin low-carbon markets. It is scaling up company use of international sustainability standards and reporting techniques, increasing investments in green laboratories and issuing laws and guidelines that spur companies to "compete up" for recognition in setting and meeting common environmental goals. China now produces more electric vehicles, solar panels and renewable energy than any other country, but, like the US, still depends heavily on dirty coal. China and the US should pursue opportunities for joint research and sharing intellectual property.
Time is running out on a global climate deal. If Obama takes a "business as usual" approach in Beijing, it will seem out of step. His state visit comes just two weeks before the EU-China business summit, which is supported by the EU presidency and the Chinese state, and is the last major state-level summit before Copenhagen to focus entirely on the green business agenda. With landmark support from the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs and the Chinese ministry of commerce, global non-profit research organisation AccountAbility, with Chinese partner WTO Tribune, will present findings from a joint report on responsible competitiveness in China. This report suggests that China is becoming a major enforcer of intellectual property, that its companies are "doing more and saying less" on low-carbon – in short, that Chinese businesses are well on their way to a green transformation, but cannot do so alone.
Obama's key messages in Beijing should not ignore governments or citizens, but should target corporate leaders. He should encourage corporations to invest more in efforts like IBM's collaborative laboratories programme, GM's Shanghai partnerships, China's new $1.5bn Texas wind farm and Warrant Buffet's stake in automaker BYD. Companies should increase mutual learning and engagement with local stakeholders. They can improve the transparency and accountability of their environmental governance systems, critical while operating internationally under varying local legal settings, economic demands and social expectations. While universal action is unlikely, unilateral action is insufficient.
This is Obama's chance to gear up a low-carbon economy that ensures decades of common prosperity between emerging markets, established players and a stronger China. In addition to improving prospects of a global deal in Copenhagen, Obama's business call to arms should lead to concrete action. Obama can ensure that the next Sino-US strategic economic dialogue is more than a discussion about exchange rates and trade policy, but a true platform for companies and officials, including wider stakeholders, to set the collaborative rules for jump-starting the economy and saving the planet.

Green jobs: Meet the movers and shakers at the vanguard of the eco revolution

Three years ago, the Government's Stern Review proclaimed that tackling climate change would be a big business opportunity. But where are all those promised jobs? And has the economy really been stimulated? Robin Barton asks the dynamic go-getters at the vanguard of the new eco society how they have fared
Sunday, 15 November 2009

Green jobs. They sound good, don't they? First off, any job in a recession is welcome. Then you get the satisfaction of, well, let's not be shy about it, getting paid to save the planet. And finally there's the prospect of meeting all sorts of like-minded people and comparing tips on composting. Reality, of course, hits like a blast of biomass.
"We are on the edge of a low-carbon industrial revolution," claimed the Business Secretary Peter Mandelson in March – although he did scale back Gordon Brown's promise of 100,000 recession-busting "Green New Deal" jobs to just "tens of thousands" of new jobs in the approaching low- carbon economy. The definition of a "green job" is equally nebulous. At the executive end of the spectrum, they are jobs in sustainability and corporate responsibility. "Such jobs transcend all sectors of the economy," explains Andy Cartland, founder of leading recruitment agency Acre Resources. But a broader sweep might include cycle ' instructors and furniture restorers alongside hydrologists and climatologists. Indeed, you may already have a green tinge to your collar already without realising it.
As well as jobs in renewable energy, from installers of photovoltaic panels (or maybe you know them as solar panels) and wind turbines to scientists developing biofuel from algae (a technology in which the UK leads the world), there are green jobs in facilities management – has everyone switched off the lights for the night? – and the waste industry. In 20 years, chemical engineers currently employed to get oil out of the ground will be paid by governments to clean up after the oil companies. In the next 50 years, some believe many green jobs will be in climate-change mitigation, such as flood defences and carbon sequestration.
But that's all some way off. This summer, the green jobs revolution stalled on the runway when the Danish firm Vestas, the only major wind-turbine manufacturer in the UK, pulled out of the Isle of Wight. Citing the absence of a viable market in the UK and a growing market in the US, Vestas and its business logic can't be faulted: 425 jobs were lost in Britain but Vestas created 5,000 more in the US and China. The company decided it made greater economic and environmental sense to build its turbines close to where they would be used. Dan Ledger, a wind-turbine installer in the UK, explains further: "The irony is that the British public will be swamped with wind farms in the next five years and the seas off Cornwall will be covered in them, but they won't be made here. If the government had introduced new regulations five years ago during the building boom, it would have been different."
Legislation, says Cartland, drives much of the worldwide green jobs boom, from the £300m for green-jobs training provided by Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of February to the 285,000 jobs in Germany's clean-energy sector. Munich-based Siemens, Europe's biggest employer, expects to reap an additional £13bn worldwide over the next three years from assorted stimulus programmes, with green tech accounting for 40 per cent of ' the order book. But they see only 500 new skilled jobs in the UK's green sector. Instead, their factories will be in the Midwest of America, where the financial incentives are greatest.
There are lessons to be learnt from across the Atlantic. In a tale of two cities, Professor Joan Fitzgerald, an expert in green economic development from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, compares the fortunes of Austin in Texas, a high-tech city with a supportive political leadership and an educated workforce, with Ohio's Toledo, an old-fashioned, blue-collar manufacturing city. Which city is thriving today? After updating its industrial base, especially its glass manufacturing, Toledo now has 6,000 new jobs in 15 businesses in the solar-energy sector. Progressive Austin, a city that passed a renewable energy resolution a decade ago, is struggling. Expensively funded high-tech enterprises have delivered hundreds rather than thousands of jobs.
Back in Britain, Paul Cowley of Bristol's Sustainable Energy Installations is complaining how hard it is to find qualified workmen to fit photovoltaic panels: "They're few and far between, so most travel big distances." Yet, despite the recession and the botched introduction of a feed-in tariff, due next April, for home owners with wind turbines and solar panels to sell clean energy back to the national grid, Cowley believes the prospects for installers are good. By 2016, all new homes in Britain will have to be carbon- neutral, so, says Cowley, "the bread-and-butter work for electricians and roofers will change in the next few years."
Are we ready for the green industrial revolution? Although innovative companies such as Elektromotive (see box, page 9) manufacture in the UK, these sorts of stable, long-term jobs and their valuable hands-on skills are thin on the ground. "We are good at finance but aren't performing so well in manufacturing," agrees Cartland. And installers of green technology like Ledger complain they are wrapped up in red tape before they set foot on a ladder. But, with world energy consumption set to double by 2030 according to the International Energy Agency, perhaps it's time to brush off the CV and start swotting up on biofuels. n
The sustainability consultant
Imogen Martineau, 33, is a member of the UN Environment Programme's sustainability team, based in Paris. Her first job was in development at the Red Cross. She has also worked at car-sharing scheme Liftshare and sustainable development organisation Forum for the Future
"This year, for the first time, the UN will be publishing the carbon emissions of all its agencies. That's across 50 agencies and 513 buildings around the world plus all the flying that gets done. Next year the agencies will have to develop an emissions reduction plan; my team does the reductions bit.
"It's critical that the UN is seen to be practising what it preaches, so we ensure we get the greenest new buildings and that we use energy efficiently in both hot and cold climates. But you have to reconcile the need to be carbon-efficient without affecting the effectiveness of the organisation. You can't ask people to sit in a freezing office.
"I specialise in sustainability; I always wanted to do something useful and practical. Climate change is the biggest issue we need to deal with and it affects everyone, rich or poor. The shift to green lifestyles won't hamper economic growth anything like as much as climate change.
"There are many more job opportunities now, because there is more pressure from governments, voters and investors to be green. Public and private organisations are cleaning up their act; look at how corporations' branding has changed. Environmental responsibility is a source of competition now. The next challenge is to get sustainability embedded in mainstream disciplines. Architecture is there, but what about healthcare or finance?
"The older I get and the more organisations I move through, the more I see that younger people are much more literate, passionate and energetic about the issues than the older generation. People get fired up about it, which is such a good thing to be around and very stimulating. The green movement was started by volunteeers wearing hairshirts. Now there's a department at the UN dedicated to it. That's progress."
The entrepreneur
Calvey Taylor-Haw, 52, is managing director of Brighton's Elektromotive, which he founded in 2003 to provide charging stations for electric cars. Its charging station, the Elektrobay, was designed by technical director Greg Simmons, 35
"I was looking for a career change," says Taylor-Haw. "I liked mechanical things and I also had an interest in green things. We started the research and development in 2003 and in 2005 we sold the Elektrobay into Westminster City Council, which was the first authority in the UK to offer electric-car charging stations. There are now 100 in London and more than 200 in the UK.
"Because the stations are designed and built around Brighton, their carbon footprint is very small. Being locally manufactured also gives us control and enables us to respond quickly.
"The skills we use, from civil engineering to manufacturing, are well established in the UK and we believe there is a future in innovative manufacturing here – just look at how many Formula One teams are based here. The recession hit the automotive industry hard, so we're helping to fill the gap in a small way.
"Our future is linked to the availability of electric vehicles, but we're having to order more materials than before and our orders are getting bigger. When companies as big as Nissan have invested huge amounts in battery plants, you know the technology is here to stay. Now we're exporting to five European countries and have a shipment of 150 stations on their way to Saudi Arabia. There's a massive drive to change pool cars over to electric vehicles and sell charging stations into big companies. But to see what could be possible, you have to look at the US. The kind of funding available to clean-tech companies in the US makes the UK's support look like a token gesture. I know several British companies that think they'll find it easier to get funding in the US."
The farmer
Guy Smith farms the driest land in Britain, in St Osyth in Essex. He is a member of Natural England's Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, which subsidises farmers for managing their land in an environmentally friendly way
"About 10 per cent of our 1,200 acres is conserved for habitat and food for wildlife and birds. We plant certain varieties to provide food to the countryside during the leanest months, leave margins around fields to keep pollutants from waterways and encourage wild flowers.
"We have 12 post boxes for barn owls, which have bounced back since the 1980s, largely as a result of conservation work done by farmers, and we are in the process of launching our own, 'Skylark', bread flour.
"I believe in smart conservation; it's not enough to just let land go wild. Now we get 130 species of bird visiting the farm. With the HLS grants from Natural England, we get remunerated to a fair level and there's the sheer joy, which shouldn't be underestimated, of sharing what we do with the public.
"We crop conventionally but because we're in a dry part of the country, we concentrate on autumn cropping – the deeper roots are less dependent on rainfall. We don't irrigate because I can't see it being cost-effective or environmentally responsible.
"My father was of the post-war generation that was encouraged to intensify farming because the country was short of food. In my generation, we've managed to blend production with conservation. Our baby-boomer generation is more switched on to the conservation agenda, although there are obviously late adopters.
"At this time of year, I tend to get up at about 7.30am. The first job in the morning is making sure the wood pigeons aren't devouring my oil-seed rape. Their numbers have gone up fivefold in recent years, so more birdlife can sometimes be a mixed blessing."
The recruiter
Andy Cartland co-founded Acre Resources, a leading recruiter for mid- to senior-level environmental jobs, in 2003 after graduating with a degree in zoology. Turnover has increased by 20 per cent this financial year and Acre now employs 17 people
"The green-job market is just as diverse as the non-green job market, with roles for salespeople, strategists, managers, marketers. It is also changing rapidly. Look at the FTSE 250 companies – all will have a director of corporate responsibility now, which wasn't the case when we started.
We made our mark in corporate responsibility, which means something different to everyone. The ethical obligations of an oil and gas company will be to the environment, while those of a clothes manufacturer will be about social responsibility, such as not employing underage workers.
"The recession has caused a couple of changes: candidates are more hesitant and companies are working harder to retain their best people. But candidates have also changed – we're being approached by many more senior people, CEOs, people with business backgrounds looking to transfer into the green space. We're seeing more entrepreneurial, innovative start-ups. One reason for this is that the green sector has become legislated; where climate change becomes a fundamental issue of compliance, jobs will be created and there will be a huge amount of innovation.
"There are two types of green jobber. The 'dark green' will have a degree in sustainability and will be working in climate change or energy. The 'pale green' is the larger market: the CEO who is not a green expert but their job prospects are underlined in green: environmental lawyers; sales; human resources. There's potentially massive expansion here. Five years ago we were placing green specialists; now we're placing people with law degrees. That's a big shift."
The businesswoman
Bukky Adegbeyeni, 31, was appointed Tesco's head of environmental, property services, earlier this year. She has a degree in mechanical engineering and a MSc in built environment
"I look after the team responsible for Tesco's climate-change strategy, which includes halving our carbon footprint across our 2,300 stores, distribution centres and offices by 2020; [The Tesco chief executive] Terry Leahy wants us to be a carbon-zero business by 2050 – no offsets allowed.
"All the ideas for reducing emissions come through us; we assess how good they are for Tesco and the customer and how they'd work for the estate, then we research and develop the best, from low-energy technologies to sustainable building materials and methods. We spent the past 12 months developing a bespoke natural refrigeration system.
"When I first talked to Tesco it was clear they were committed to sustainability, which is what attracted me to the role. We're one of the few departments that doesn't have to argue for things to be done; the pressure to do things comes from above.
"The high point of my job has been working on the zero-carbon store in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, which generates as much energy as it uses. We halved the materials used in signage and installed the UK's first LED-lit car park.
"Understanding the physics of buildings and the efficient use of resources is key to my job: why spend more time, money and energy doing something than you have to? My family call me an eco-warrior but I'm not, although I can't help working out my water usage while I'm brushing my teeth."
The installation engineer
Daniel Ledger is self-employed and has been installing small-scale wind turbines in Cornwall for almost three years. The most popular turbine he installs is a 6kw model, suitable for home use
"I come from a farming background but I got into turbine installation because it brings together the mechanical and the electrical. I've always tinkered with things; as a kid I'd have dismantled my Christmas presents by Boxing Day. I thought it would be a growth industry. And it is... but much more slowly than I expected. It's been a struggle.
"I'm a one-man band, so I don't have the economies of scale of larger companies and I am on the cusp of either investing more money to be accredited or getting out. The accreditation will cost £1,000 in membership a year plus a £700 fee, on top of my electrician certificates. This year I've shifted three turbines; I'd need to sell 10 a year to make it worthwhile.
"My typical customer is in their early fifties, has retired early, paid off their mortgage and has money and time to play with. They can be quite nerdy about it. At the other end, you've got organisations such as schools that have been given a grant to go green and just know they want a turbine without understanding why they may not work. You get there and they're sitting at the bottom of a valley...
"Money will drive renewable energy. When one billion Chinese start driving cars, the cost of oil will rocket. A home turbine can be profitable somewhere that's windy, such as Cornwall. You'll cover the cost in four years and then make £2,000 to £3,000 a year on top of the energy savings.
"But the government has introduced uncertainty with the switchover from a grant to a feed-in tariff [the money earned by selling power back to the national grid]. The bureaucracy is unnecessarily complicated: it took longer to work my way around that than learn how to put the things up. For every green job in the south-west, there must be five public-sector jobs administering red tape.
"There's a satisfaction in installing a whole system and knowing I've done a good job – although I've come to realise that small wind turbines won't save the planet."

Ethiopia opens 300 MW dam, starts producing 80 MW

Reuters, Saturday November 14 2009
* Six hydropower projects being built
* Government says will spend $12 billion over 25 years
ADDIS ABABA, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Ethiopia opened a dam on Saturday that it says will produce 300 MW of hydropower as part of efforts to overcome chronic energy shortages and become one of Africa's only power exporters, state media said.
Power shortages are common in Africa and have hindered investment, even though the continent has abundant potential resources of solar, hydro, oil, gas, coal and geothermal power.
The Tekeze Dam has started producing 80 MW and that will rise to 300 MW, state-run Ethiopian Television said. It did not say when the dam would reach full capacity.
The dam is on the country's Tekeze river and its $356 million cost was financed by the China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation.
At 185 metres, it is the tallest hydroelectric dam on the world's poorest continent.
Outages have been common in Ethiopia for five years. The country rationed power for over five months this year with lights going off every second day, closing factories, hampering exports and fuelling a shortage of hard currency.
Ethiopia has six other hydropower dam projects being built, some funded by the World Bank. Government officials say the Horn of Africa nation will become a net power exporter within 10 years, exporting to Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti.
The country in September agreed deals with another two Chinese firms, China Gezhouba Group Company and Sinohydro Corporation, to build two huge hydropower projects.
EEPCo has also signed a preliminary agreement with the Hydrochina company for the construction of two wind farms to be reserved for emergency power shortages.
China has displaced many western countries as the major investor in Africa, where it has pumped billions of dollars into securing access to Africa's commodities. Ethiopia says it will spend $12 billion over 25 years to improve its power supply. (Reporting by Barry Malone; Editing by Charles Dick)

Is it possible to avoid unsustainable palm oil?

Palm oil is decimating the world's forests, yet producers are shirking their responsibility to move to sustainable sources

Lucy Siegle
The Observer, Sunday 15 November 2009
A couple of years ago I met a nonplussed father whose eight-year-old daughter refused to allow him to eat mayonnaise because of the orangutans. As he was struggling to make the connection, I explained how orangutan habitats in Sumatra and Borneo were being clear-felled at an incredible rate for conversion to oil palm plantations.
I wonder if his now-10-year-old is on a permanent protest rota between the kitchen and the bathroom, refusing to let her poor dad chew gum, use shampoo or make toast. Because just as palm-oil monocultures have swept across Southeast Asia, charged with the catastrophic destruction of wildlife, forest habitats and pollution, the results are ubiquitous in our shopping basket. An investigation last year found that palm oil – often obliquely labelled as "vegetable oil" – was found in 40% of bestselling groceries.
If you attach more importance to the planet's biodiversity than the creaminess of a shampoo, go palm-oil free. Lush Cosmetics, acknowledging that the cosmetics industry uses 6-7% of the global supply of palm oil, decided to stop using it altogether.
But really, why should we be driven to niche non-palm-oil products when sustainable palm oil is readily available? Yes, palm oil can be and is being grown sustainably. The global initiative that aims to bring together processors, manufacturers and NGOs known, as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), had certified enough plantations to produce 1.75m tonnes of sustainable palm oil midway through this year. The tragedy is that less than 15% of this sustainable oil has actually been sold.
All of this is laid bare in the Palm Oil Buyers' Scorecard, recently published by the WWF. Sainsbury's, M&S and Unilever (which alone accounts for 6-8% of total world production of palm oil) are sitting relatively prettily in the top five. Morrisons, Waitrose, Nestlé and Boots appear in ugly positions much, much further down.
Brands often claim they source sustainably wherever possible. In this instance it is possible, yet the majority of the 59 companies investigated had elected not to use sustainable palm oil.
It is important that we put pressure on them to change immediately. As Sean Whyte of puts it: "Palm oil companies are grabbing what forests they can, while they can. Countless documentaries have shown thousands of hectares of bare land, where palm oil companies have bought licences to log forests and convert them to plantations."
And it will get worse. Output of crude palm oil (CPO) has increased 400% since 1990, and 89% of it comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. There is huge demand from bioenergy projects as well as for consumer goods – and according to the WWF, most of the remaining areas earmarked for plantation are forest.
There's no time for any more greasy excuses.★