Thursday, 19 November 2009

US businessman campaigns for Argentine marsh ecology

This US multi-millionaire and former businessman co-founded the North Face and Esprit clothing brands.

He is taking on farmers whom he accuses of polluting the nation's vast northern sweet-water marshes in Corrientes province, which is near the Paraguayan and Brazilian borders.

He bought 1,390 square kilometers (540 square miles) of land around these marshes in 1998 and is trying to persuade the authorities to turn the rich tropical ecosystem into a 13,000 square kilometer national park.

Tompkins spends six months of the year here, and the other six on his rural properties in Chile, yet is widely regarded with suspicion and resentment as a misguided interloper.

"We were told here in Corrientes, 'People say that you are here to steal water.' So I said: 'How am I gonna do it, to transport it and take it to somewhere else?'

"They said: 'By the Internet.' And I said: 'If I can do that, I don't need the water'," Tompkins said.

Doug, as the diminutive and trim 66-year-old is called by his employees, said he would not be dissuaded from his environmentalism, a passion he discovered while reading works by Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher.

He seeks to persuade opponents through defensive steps, deploying reason and philanthropic gestures.

Along with his wife Kristine, he has donated hundreds of thousands of protected hectares in southern Chile and Argentina.

But he also goes on the offensive: using his large fortune to buy up cattle farms where he lets nature and indigenous deer take over; reintroducing marsh deer, anteaters and species that had disappeared; and bringing legal cases against rice farmers, whom he says use chemicals that upset the local ecology.

"Corrientes is badly damaged, especially over grazing and big industrial rice operations," he said.

"You can see how people have abused the land. Common sense tells us that if you continue to abuse the landscapes, there will be negative and unpleasant repercussions."

Project Iberia, an organisation he funds, has won seven cases so far.

"Argentine laws protecting the water are very solid," explained Sofia Heinonen, the 41-year-old head of the project, sitting at a table covered with pamphlets that urge locals to saddle up their horses and celebrate the latest supreme court victory.

But the approach has earned Tompkins enemies.

"We don't believe in this myth of the billionaire philanthropist. Tompkins is face of the power of money - part of the rich and powerful who want to take the natural resources of Latin America," said Mabel Moulin, a spokeswoman for the Ibera Heritage Foundation for the Correntinos.

The green flag of her group flies at the entrance of several farms in the marshlands, a symbol of defiance.

Moulin charges that Tompkins is forcing poor rural workers off the land he buys with little concern for the human hardship he is causing.

"Before anteaters or deer, we should be defending the people," she said.

Nevertheless, Tompkins is convinced of his mission. "You must keep your position, do your thing, do it well, have results to show. And over time, you always win."

"Humans are part of a larger system, they are not living in a glass box above nature. They should take into consideration as we develop our economies and our cultures that we have to share our planet with other creatures," he added.

EU aims for greener buildings by 2020

The majority of new buildings constructed in the European Union and those undergoing significant renovation must prove their high energy efficiency as of December 31, 2020, the EU agreed Tuesday.

Buildings currently generate 36 percent of CO2 emissions in the EU and account for 40 percent of energy consumption in the union.

Representatives of the European parliament and European states decided to revise an existing European law set in 2002 on the energy performance of buildings as part of the EU's major plan to reduce pollution emissions.

Public buildings will lead by example in the new agreement, required to meet the higher standards two years earlier, from the end of 2018.

The new agreement implies a "very significant" recourse to renewable energies, including those produced directly on site.

Each country will set the precise standards of energy efficiency as the task of establishing general norms applicable to both Finland and Portugal, for example, would be too difficult for the EU to implement.

Depending on the materials and designs used, new buildings meeting the efficiency standards require just a fifth of the energy that existing buildings consume on average.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne takes top spot as Britain's greenest city

A city once wreathed in smoke and deafened by shipyard steel-hammers, has transformed itself into the greenest in Britain, according to the country's most comprehensive sustainability audit.

Millions of pounds and a communal push for cleaner, brighter surroundings have returned Newcastle upon Tyne – almost - to the days when Thomas Bewick made his countryside engravings in the city centre and commuted home through meadows.

"We hope this inspires other cities to redouble their efforts," said Peter Madden of Forum for the Future, whose annual rankings show the Geordies leap-frogging more "apparently green" cities such as Bristol, which came top last year, and the 2007 winner Brighton & Hove. For the second year running, Hull propped up the bottom of the table.

"Anywhere with an industrial heritage faces genuine challenges, but Newcastle's success shows how it is possible to overcome the legacy of the past. In all our categories – environment, quality of life and future-proofing, the city scores really well," said Madden.

Tyneside's triumph drew on improvements in air quality, biodiversity in public parks and open spaces and the best salmon run on a English river. The audit shows the city performing well on waste collection, extending green space, life expectancy and the local strategy for tackling climate change.

Its ratings took it from fourth place last year after a similar climb from eighth in 2007. The accolade follows plaudits for the local universities and hospitals, and a year as unofficial European City of Culture; pipped by Liverpool for the actual title, Newcastle and its neighbour Gateshead went ahead with a marathon arts programme as if they had won.

The council's Liberal Democrat leader John Shipley picked out transport innovation as one of the city's distinctive green projects, with curbs on cars and emission cuts on public transport. The Tyneside Metro is also one of the biggest underground services outside London.

"We reckon to be leading the way in transport which reduces CO2 emissions and helps to prepare us for a low carbon economy," he said. "Economic growth must not be achieved at the expense of the environment. Sustainability is at the heart of our vision for a socially just future.

"The city has also become the electric car capital in a government-backed experiment, which will see 1,000 charging points installed in Newcastle and Gateshead over the next two years."

The silver and bronze in the Forum for the Future audit went to Bristol and Brighton & Hove, with organisers saying that the final figures were "very close". Bristol came first in the quality of life and Brighton had the strongest economy, but slipped back on environmental performance.

Fourth place went to a newcomer in the top five, Leicester, which scored best in future-proofing thanks to climate change measures, recycling progress and a very high number of allotments. London was fifth while another northern contender, Leeds, shot up from 13th to sixth place.

Hull's lowly place at the bottom of the league for the second year running followed a collapse of conservation management on the 97 local biodiversity sites, and a slip down the economic table because of job losses. But the Yorkshire port scored its best-ever rating on future-proofing. Glasgow fell back badly in the same category, with a fall in recycling to only 14.5%of waste.

Madden said that the jostle for top positions showed how almost all the country's major cities were raising their green game, with performances so good in many sectors that a slight lapse could forfeit half-a-dozen points. A third northern city with a major legacy of heavy industry, Bradford, drops to 16th place this year, after winning the environment section in 2007, largely because of a fall in local recycling.

The report is a "detailed snapshot" rather than a comprehensive analysis according to the forum, which uses 13 indicators to reach the results. Cities are chosen rather than more mixed areas, largely because of the greater power of their local authorities to affect "green" statistics.

Newcastle's victory was the greater because of the city's continuing prosperity, Madden said, with the data placing it ninth in economic performance. He said: "Our findings vindicate the council's sustainable community strategy for 2008-2011, which commits Newcastle to 'economic growth but not at the expense of the environment'."

The city's victory may come as more of a surprise outside the region than on Tyneside itself, where the quality of life – and landscape – has been a given for years. Newcastle has some of Britain's finest Georgian architecture and the Town Moor, within easy walking distance of the centre, is an "urban lung" bigger than Hampstead Heath and Hyde Park combined.

Bewick, whose work is in the highest canon of portrayals of the English countryside, had no doubts himself. After a spell in the capital in 1776 he wrote with relief on returning home: "The numerous shows to be seen in London may give a momentary satisfaction, but cannot afford me half the pleasure which I always feel in my excursions through the pleasant woods to Eltringham."

Barratt hopes eco-village will lay the foundations for all new homes

Construction work begins today on Britain’s first official zero-carbon housing development.

The 200 Barratt-built homes at Hanham Hall, a former hospital site in South Gloucestershire, are expected to create the blueprint for future new-build properties, which must all be carbon zero by 2016.

Residents will have allotments and greenhouses, a farm shop selling locally sourced groceries and an on-site biomass boiler. Existing buildings will be adapted for community use and hedgerows, meadows and orchards will be extended.

Involved in the project alongside Barratt are Arup, David Wilson Retirement Homes, HTA Architects, Kingspan Off-Site, GVA Grimley, Sovereign Housing Group and the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA), the quango. Barratt, which was offered the land by the agency at a nominal value, said that it did not yet have an estimated cost for the development, or for the houses when they are built, because such a scheme has not been carried out before. It would not comment on the financial arrangements made with the HCA for the land.
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The Government’s energy efficiency targets have been criticised for putting housebuilders under further cost pressures at a time when they are still reeling from the after-effects of the recession. The industry is obliged to meet only level three of the Government’s code for sustainable homes; the Home Builders Federation has warned that the total extra cost of level six homes — the highest specification, as planned at Hanham Hall — will be £30,000 more than existing new-build prices.

Mark Clare, chief executive of Barratt, said: “The biggest challenge isn’t building zero-carbon homes — it is the cost. They will be prohibitively expensive. The industry has to completely transform itself and invest in research and development. As an industry, we have not had to embrace technology in this way before, so it is a big change.”

The HCA said that it planned to turn a further 95 redundant hospital sites nationwide into 14,000 homes.

British business is ready for a low-carbon economy. Are our leaders?

Business people are not scientists or politicians. But they are paid to evaluate risk and to recognise opportunity. That’s why business has a strong interest in a successful conclusion to next month’s climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Either the world moves together in an orderly fashion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by way of the legally binding obligations of an international treaty, or it risks a disorderly transition, with countries moving at their own pace and making their own arrangements. At the extreme lies the risk of belated — and therefore very costly — reactions to sudden shifts in climate conditions around the world.

Globally co-ordinated actions are important for businesses based in Britain. The EU is committed to ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and to making polluters pay. If other regions do not follow, European industry would be at a serious competitive disadvantage, and manufacturers of commodities such as steel or cement would shift production elsewhere, risking many thousands of jobs. We would still need lots of cement in this country: shipping it in from distant ports would not help the planet.

So the big question for business is: what will success next month look like? We will not get a fully fledged treaty: there is too much unfinished business to complete the job. But the meeting can produce positive results, provided it hits five prime targets.

First, the momentum of negotiations must be maintained. That means presidents and prime ministers must attend in person and deliver a firm political agreement that will be the stepping stone to a treaty as soon as possible next year. Worthy declarations of intent will not be enough to drive investment in research and technology on the enormous scale required to build a new kind of economy.

So Barack Obama must, as a minimum, commit to delivering the provisions of the Waxman-Markey climate change Bill, and leaders from the developed and developing world must guarantee the promises they have already, or will shortly, make to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

The numbers will have to be clear: global emissions should peak around the year 2020, then decline steadily to a point where, by 2050, they are less than half today’s levels. Change on this scale will require carrots and sticks, best achieved by putting a price on emissions that rewards efficiency and punishes profligacy.

So the second big challenge will be to lay the foundations for a global market for carbon, by developing schemes that cap emissions and create a market for trading in carbon permits, suchas the EU’s Emission Trading System. The value of a global carbon market could be well over $2 trillion by 2020.

Next, Copenhagen must reach outline agreement about the scale of the resources that rich countries will pass to the developing economies to ease their transition. China is setting its financial demands too high, and the US has yet to put a realistic offer on the table. They will probably need to converge on about €100 billion a year by 2020, with roughly half of that coming from the proceeds of emissions trading. Negotiating how this bill will be carved up among the rich countries will be one of the trickiest tasks of the conference.

Technology resources will have to be transferred to the poorer countries, as well as cash. But businesses would strongly object if governments from the developed countries agreed simply to hand over intellectual property, which is not theirs to give away.

Establishing a cross-border regime to curb emissions from aviation and shipping is target No 4. A way will have to be found to include them in a global cap and trading scheme to provide incentives for fuel efficiency.

Challenge No 5 is particularly important for businesses in the UK. The EU has undertaken to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, or 30 per cent in the event of a successful global agreement. The higher figure would encourage others to be more ambitious, and would provide powerful incentives to develop new technologies and to drive energy efficiency.

But the big worry is that the higher target — coming on top of the EU’s costly renewable policies — could drive carbon-intensive industries out of Europe. So other countries would have to make strong commitments to contain emissions before British business agreed that this extra step was justified.

All this adds up to a very complex set of negotiations next month, and will call for political leadership of the highest order. Businesses in Britain are clear about the risks of failure and the rewards of success, and are developing products and services that will enable consumers everywhere to make the choices that will lead to a sustainable and rewarding future. Muddling through is not an option.

Most Scots back nuclear power to help meet energy need

A SURVEY has revealed that more than half of Scots support the use of nuclear power stations to provide Scotland's energy.
The YouGov poll showed that 61 per cent of those surveyed here thought nuclear power should be part of the energy mix.

The Scottish sample of the poll was 431 out of 1,000 people surveyed across the UK.

The findings come as a blow to SNP ministers who have said they will block any new or replacement nuclear power stations in Scotland. This is despite the UK government agreeing that ten new ones need to be built across Britain.

Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, which commissioned the study, said: "This latest poll demonstrates the significant increase in Scotland in support for low carbon, secure and affordable nuclear energy over the past four years and is a further indication of the wide consensus about the need for nuclear.

"Addressing climate change in ways which are most affordable for all energy consumers will be a key focus of the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit."

Opponents said that it showed the SNP is out of touch with public opinion.

Glasgow North West Labour MP John Robertson, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy, said: "Nuclear energy has to be part of the mix and it is good to see that a majority of Scots understand this.

A spokesman for finance secretary John Swinney said: "This government was elected on a policy of no new nuclear power stations, and Scotland's Parliament has since endorsed this position."

Green technology lights the way

Designing traffic lights to be more energy efficient may not seem the hardest thing to do. Change the energy-wasting incandescent bulbs for modern light sources and you're done, right? Not quite.

"We've reinvented the humble traffic light," says Matthew Vincent, deputy director of sales and marketing at Siemens Mobility Traffic Solutions. "Previously they used very energy-inefficient [50W] tungsten-halogen lights, which only have a lifespan of six months or so, which means you have lots of maintenance issues with people visiting site to replace them." The company replaced the bulbs with a cluster of modern LEDs, redesigned the electrical control systems from scratch and lowered the operating voltage from 240V to 48V.

The result is a new set of lights that uses less than a quarter of the electricity of standard traffic lights. There are around half a million tungsten-based traffic lights in operation around the UK and, considering the CO2 emissions saved by preventing fleets of vans driving around replacing blown tungsten lights, the cumulative benefits to the environment become apparent. Which is perhaps one of the reasons that the Siemens traffic lights won first prize this week in the energy and environment category of the inaugural iAwards.
Showcasing a shift-change

The iAwards, set up by the government's Business, Innovation and Skills department, are designed to help showcase British science and technology, in big and small companies: a Bafta-style award to give prominence to a field that is sometimes overlooked in the UK. Fighting it out for prizes in 10 categories, small startup firms were pitted directly against multinationals such as Unilever and Siemens.

And environment was a strong theme in the shortlist. "There is a huge amount of interest in sustainability and environment," says entrepreneur James Caan, chair of the iAwards judging panels and a star of BBC2's Dragon's Den. "We are seeing more and more people coming forward with business ideas, entrepreneurs developing that space. There is a shift-change in people recognising its value and importance."

At Solargorilla, which won the iAward for digital communication, chief executive Jerry Ranger says his company's invention is all about allowing people to use off-grid technology in everyday life.

The device has two solar panels, each the size of an A4 sheet. A proprietary circuit board stabilises the voltage coming in and a super-efficient battery stores the electrical power generated from the sun. In the northern hemisphere the Solargorilla will charge a standard laptop in around six hours or a mobile phone in under an hour. "We had a guy on Madagascar who ran a laptop for four weeks completely grid-free," says Ranger.

Other shortlisted companies included AMEE, a company aiming to track and connect the world's energy and consumption data, and map its environmental impact. AlertMe offered up a smart meter that it says could save consumers 25% of their energy bills, while the radical-looking QR5 wind turbine from Quiet Revolution is designed to fit discreetly to buildings, generating decentralised power in the urban environment. Diverse Energy had its PowerCube – a fuel cell that runs on ammonia and that could replace diesel generators to power mobile phone towers in developing countries – shortlisted for the "next big thing" category.

Paul Drayson, the UK science minister, and a technology-company entrepreneur himself with vaccine company Powderject, says that climate change is a massive market opportunity because the world has no choice but to respond to the problems. But, because it is such a new sector, there are many unknowns for small companies. "The industrial structures haven't settled down yet," he says. "In life sciences you have an established structure whereby a startup from university will form the biotech company and have a route to commercialisation, either through licensing or acquisition to a large pharmaceutical company. In clean tech, that route to market has not been well established. That's all being built and that what's makes this market area exciting."

And he says there is no better time for British companies to get moving on green technology. "We're coming out of a nasty recession; market shares change more rapidly at this stage in the economic cycle than any other time. It's the companies that are bold now and invest in new technologies that are going to win market share as the economy grows over the next five years."
Protect your investment

Building a company from scratch may not be the specific expertise of those coming up with ideas, but Drayson has some tips. Anyone thinking of starting up a business should ensure their technology idea is protected, he says. "You have patents and registered designs. Then go and talk to companies operating in that space; don't make the mistake of thinking you're unique, don't make the mistake of thinking you have no competition, you do."

For small business startups, even in the green technology space where Caan says specific investment funds are increasingly becoming available, would-be entrepreneurs also need to understand that the initial idea is only a part of the business. "The one thing I come across time and time again is that entrepreneurs believe the idea is 95% and execution is 5% and there lies the problem," says Caan. "Success lies in your ability to execute a journey – it is the development, patent, logistics, manufacturing, distribution, pricing, branding and marketing. People, for some reason, forget all those things."

EDP Renewables to put $4 bln into U.S. wind market

* Co is third-largest wind power producer in U.S.
* Currently has 2.5 gigawatts of capacity in U.S.
LOS ANGELES, Nov 18 (Reuters) - EPD Renewables will invest $4 billion into the U.S. wind market over the next three years, the company said on Thursday, citing the government's commitment to a clean energy economy.
EPDR, the wind energy unit of Portuguese Energias de Portugal , ranks as the third-largest wind energy producer in the United States with 2.5 gigawatts of capacity.
Wind power has been one of the fastest growing sources of power generation but the credit crisis has slowed its expansion. The U.S. wind power additions in 2008 pushed the country past Germany as the world's top wind power generator, but China is expected to become the leading producer in 2009.
The company said in a statement that the new investment will go toward new projects and manufacturing equipment.
Last month EDPR posted a 19-percent rise in nine-month profit and beat market expectations, with most of its new wind turbines installed in the United States. [ID:nLS620113]
Iberdrola Renewables, a unit of Spain's Iberdrola SA , said in September it plans to invest more than $6 billion in the U.S. renewable energy facilities through 2012. (Reporting by Laura Isensee; editing by Carol Bishopric)

Power plants sit on growing mountains of discount coal

Britain’s coal mountain has soared to its highest level in nearly 15 years as power station operators stock up on cheap supplies of the fuel.

Drax power station in North Yorkshire, E.ON’s plants at Kingsnorth, Kent, and Ratcliffe-on-Soar, in Nottinghamshire, as well as Scottish & Southern Energy’s plants at Fiddlers Ferry in Cheshire and Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire are among those that have been taking advantage of the collapse in coal prices from a peak of $224.30 a tonne in July 2008 to $69 yesterday.

One industry insider said you “could ski down” the coal pile at one plant in the Midlands.

Coal plants usually hold about 30 days’ worth of supplies on site, but many stations are understood to be holding much more. Latest government figures show that coal stocks stood at 23.9 million tonnes in August, up from 15.9 million a year earlier and the highest level since January 1995.

The surge in British coal stocks, news of which comes days before the start of the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen, raises questions about the effectiveness of government efforts to cut emissions and switch to low-carbon alternatives, such as wind and nuclear energy.

Nick Campbell, energy analyst at Inenco, said that lower prices were not the only reason for the stockpiles. “The recession has also cut electricity demand, so fewer coal units are running than normal, leading to a build-up of inventories,” he said.

While the price of coal has come down, gas prices have tumbled even further, amid talk of a global supply glut.

Coal is normally the cheapest fuel available and utilities burn it to produce “baseload” electricity, resorting to costlier gas and oil-fired plants to increase supply at peak times.

A spokesman for E.ON, which operates three coal-fired stations, said: “Coal is cheap right now so we have been taking advantage of that and stocking up . . . But the gas price has been even lower, so we haven’t been using as much of [the coal] as you would expect.”

A spokesman for Drax, Western Europe’s biggest coal-fired power station, declined to comment on the size of the group’s stockpile, but acknowledged that it was bigger than usual. Drax burns nine million tonnes of coal a year, or a trainload every 45 minutes when all six boilers are running at full pelt.

Another reason for the record UK coal levels is that coal for immediate delivery is cheaper than it is for delivery in 2011. As a result, some groups are buying coal now and selling it for delivery in a year. Profits are to be made because of the relatively low freight and storage costs.

Yesterday, in her annual speech to Parliament, the Queen announced plans for carbon-capture power plants, but it will take at least a decade for the experimental technology to be adopted.

Coal, which supplies about 35 per cent of UK electricity, is the most polluting conventional fuel.

Nissan's Ghosn embraces push to go green

Soon after Carlos Ghosn took over as chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Corp., he took a gamble by building a factory in Mississippi to produce big pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Now, a decade later, he's steering in the opposite direction, ramping up production of small electric cars.

Mr. Ghosn appeared in Washington on Monday, along with FedEx Corp. Chairman Fred Smith and other CEOs banded together as the Electrification Coalition, to call on the government to adopt policies that would help put millions of all-electric or partially electric vehicles on the roads.

By 2040, 75% of the driving done in the U.S. should be done using electric power instead of petroleum combustion, the group said.

Mr. Ghosn, chief executive of both Nissan and its French alliance partner, Renault SA, says in an interview the companies will launch four electric vehicles globally, with three of them coming to the U.S., including the Nissan Leaf compact, a light commercial vehicle suitable for use by companies such as FedEx, and eventually an electric car to be marketed under the Infiniti luxury brand.

"Our forecast is that sales of electric vehicles will be 10% of the total market…by 2020," he says.

Once again, Mr. Ghosn is responding to demand.

The difference is that when he invested in big SUVs and pickups for the U.S. market, he was following consumers—in fact, Nissan was playing catch-up in segments Detroit's auto makers had pioneered and prospered from through much of the 1990s.

This time, Mr. Ghosn is responding to a market created and sustained in large measure by government policy.

In Western Europe, Japan and the U.S., leaders concerned about the effects of automotive emissions on the global climate, and uneasy about the volatility of the price of oil, are offering billions to consumers and manufacturers to spur demand for electric vehicles.

They're throwing in regulatory favors for the manufacturers, as well. Nissan and Renault are determined to get a piece of that action.

In the U.S., the government is offering $7,500 tax credits to buyers of electric vehicles, and is spreading around billions in loans and stimulus program grants to launch electric-vehicle production.

Nissan got approved for a $1.6 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to retool part of its Smyrna, Tenn., factory complex to build electric cars.

The company will also get a boost from a $100 million Energy Department loan to ECOTotality Inc., an Arizona company that plans to develop the charging stations and related hardware to support a fleet of 4,700 Nissan Leaf electric cars.

Government policy is critical to these investments.

"We aren't putting electric cars in markets where they don't have an incentive for consumers" to buy them, Mr. Ghosn says. That means an electric Nissan for China will have to wait, even though China could be Nissan's largest market by 2011 or 2012, he says.

The risks associated with a market created by government policy are many.

Tax breaks and loans for electric vehicles are here today, but they could be gone tomorrow if cutting the deficit becomes a more important priority than subsidizing the car business.

President Barack Obama and some Democratic leaders in Congress favor strong action to curtail consumption of fossil fuels as part of a strategy to cut U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change. Caps on U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions could boost electric-vehicle demand in the long term.

But it appears unlikely that Congress will soon enact a strong climate bill that would raise the cost of gasoline enough to cause a consumer stampede toward fuel-efficient alternatives, cars that often cost more.

At a global level, a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen next month probably won't produce a new binding global agreement to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

"You're disappointed if you had any expectations" for Copenhagen, Mr. Ghosn says. But businesses will need clarity as to what the rules will be. "What we'd like is something to be set," he says.

Mass acceptance of electric vehicles will also require a big change in consumer attitudes toward cars—attitudes the auto industry has spent decades inculcating through advertising and product design.

In the U.S., drivers like versatile, low-maintenance vehicles that can travel 500 to 600 kilometers or more between refueling stops. Even with improved battery technology, electric vehicles offer a quarter to a half that range.

A report released Monday by the Electrification Coalition mapped out the problem.

People in the average household take about six trips in their car a day, to work or someplace else. Those trips average just under 15 kilometers each.

Nearly any conventional gasoline-fueled vehicle that starts a day with a full tank can easily manage that without another refueling stop.

But electric vehicles don't have the same margin for error—especially since there are, by the coalition's count, just 1,000 public electric-vehicle recharging stations available.

As the coalition study notes, "a profitable business model for public charging infrastructure has not been reliably demonstrated." That's why the coalition calls for tax credits equal to 75% of the cost of installing charging stations.

Mr. Ghosn isn't betting the company solely on electric cars. Nissan and Renault are focused on the opportunities to put huge populations on wheels in China and India.

And for now, electric vehicles will be additions to Renault and Nissan's lineups, Mr. Ghosn says, not substitutes for mainstream vehicle models.

"Electric cars will move up slowly," he says. "It's not taking the market by storm."