Thursday, 26 November 2009

Barack Obama to attend Copenhagen climate summit

UN and campaign groups welcome Obama's decision, but critics say 'right city, wrong date'
John Vidal and David Adam, Wednesday 25 November 2009 18.38 GMT
President Barack Obama will travel to Copenhagen next month for the United Nations climate summit with a new offer to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 17% on 2005 figures by 2020.
But critics said the long-awaited White House initiative would do little to ensure a successful outcome to the talks, and that it came at the wrong time in the negotiations.
Obama will travel to Copenhagen on 10 December, on his way to collect the Nobel peace prize in Oslo the next day. But the White House gave no indication that the president was prepared to return to the city when Gordon Brown and 60 or more world leaders fly in to add impetus to the final deal one week later on 18 December - the last day of the talks.
The Observer revealed this week that the US administration was poised to announce a specific figure for cuts ahead of the Copenhagen talks.
Obama's commitment to attend the talks was welcomed by the UN and many environment groups but dismissed by others as a photo opportunity designed to upstage the other 60 world leaders.
"I think it's critical that President Obama attend the climate change summit in Copenhagen. We have figures from all industrialised countries, with the exception of the United States. This is the first thing we need, and this is critical," said Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief.
Lord Stern, the former head of the UK Government Economic Service and author of the influential Stern review on the economics of climate change, said: "It is important that President Obama and all the leaders of the major nations attend the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen next month. Only leaders can take the decisions on the broad range of issues, such as finance, technology and trade, that are necessary to reach a strong framework agreement on climate change. Strong action and inspirational leadership will be required in Copenhagen."
But others dismissed Obama's appearance. "The Copenhagen climate summit is not about a photo opportunity, it's about getting a global agreement to stop climate chaos," said a Greenpeace international spokesperson. "President Obama needs to be there at the same time as all the other world leaders. This is when he is needed to get the right agreement. It's the right city, but the wrong date. It seems that he's just not taking this issue seriously."
"The new US offer to cut emissions 17% on 2005 figures equates to 6% at 1990 levels and will not help the climate summit reach a strong deal to stop climate chaos," Greenpeace added. The 17% figure is the same as the emission cut in energy legislation passed by the US House of Representatives earlier this year.
By comparison, the EU has pledged to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 on 1990 levels – or 30% if there is a global deal.
The White House also laid out possible future emissions cuts: 30% by 2025, 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050, but these are all on 2005 levels. The figures are drawn from pledges in existing planned US domestic cap and trade legislation.
Observers close to the negotiations questioned whether the US target for 2020 would be enough to draw large developing nations such as China into a global deal. The US may have to promise massive financial assistance as a sweetener, they said. The White House statement did not mention finance.
The US move comescomes ahead of a press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning in Beijing, where Chinese officials are expected to announce China's planned target to reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 2020, perhaps by 40-45%.
Hu Jintao, president of China, had been expected to announce the figure at a high-level summit in New York in September, but instead pledged only a cut by a "notable margin".
US officials have been anxious about the timing of the Chinese announcement, which follows significant pledges to reduce emissions from nations such as Brazil, Russia and South Korea in recent weeks.
Obama had previously said he would only attend the conference if negotiators were "on the brink of a meaningful agreement and my presence in Copenhagen will make a difference in tipping us over the edge".
Others urged Obama to prepare to return to Copenhagen. "If his presence during the latter days of the meeting becomes necessary to secure the right commitments, we hope the president will be willing to return to Copenhagen with the rest of the world's leaders during the final stages of the negotiations," said WWF-US climate programme director, Keya Chatterjee.
De Boer acknowledged, however, that industrialised countries' emission cut pledges, estimated to total between 16 and 23%, fall far short of what scientists say is needed to head off serious impacts from global warming. Scientists say that reductions of between 25-40% are necessary compared with a 1990 baseline.
The UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, confirmed he would be at the Copenhagen talks earlier this month, along with other world leaders including the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

Yes he can: Obama finally decides to spend a day at the climate change talks

Tim Reid in Washington

President Obama will travel to Copenhagen next month to attend the climate change conference, the White House announced yesterday, ending weeks of uncertainty over whether he would go, and intense pressure from Europe for him to do so.
Mr Obama will take to the summit a US commitment to make substantial cuts in greenhouse gas pollution over the next two decades, removing one of the greatest obstacles to a deal in Copenhagen. But he will attend only the first day of the summit, so he is likely to miss the key decision-making phase, and opposition to emissions legislation in the US Senate is likely to make it difficult for him to enforce the promised targets.
Mr Obama will offer to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, by 30 per cent before 2025 and by 42 per cent before 2030. The White House said that the targets represented a “pathway” to Mr Obama’s goal of cutting American emissions by 83 per cent by 2050. Until yesterday the US, the world’s biggest polluter after China, had been the only developed nation not to announce emissions targets before the conference.
Mr Obama’s intended presence and the targets were welcomed in Europe after weeks of lobbying by governments, including Britain, for him to attend. “It’s critical that President Obama attend,” said Yvo de Boer, the United Nations climate chief.

Obama is snubbing the rest of the world in order to suit his own travel diary
Ben Webster

The White House has spent weeks vacillating over whether Mr Obama should attend the conference, but an aide said it was decided that he should go to give the talks momentum. After he attends the summit on December 9, he will fly to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.
At least 75 world leaders, including Gordon Brown, will attend the summit. Unlike Mr Obama, most are expected to gather for the final days of the conference, which runs until December 18.
Mr Obama conceded during his trip to China this month that a binding climate change treaty with firm emissions targets to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol — the very purpose of the Copenhagen summit — was beyond reach, despite two years of negotiations.
The most that can be salvaged is a “political agreement”, with individual nations setting their own targets, which Mr Obama said on Tuesday night he hoped would lay the groundwork for a binding treaty next year. Hopes of a meaningful deal in Copenhagen look far from assured because China has signalled that it is unlikely to cut emissions for now. It has also so far failed to offer a reduction target before the conference.
Yu Qingtai, China’s special envoy to the summit, accused developed nations of failing to fulfil pledges made under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and defended his Government’s refusal to accept mandatory emissions cuts at the meeting. “When a nation is in a period of fast-paced industrialisation and urbanisation, energy consumption and total emissions go up rapidly,” he said.
Mr Obama’s initial target of a 17 per cent cut by 2020 is in line with legislation before the US Congress. Yet it is stalled in the US Senate with little hope of passage, casting serious doubt on the President’s ability to enforce reduction targets back home.
Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate claim that Mr Obama’s cap-and-trade legislation will be costly to US business at a time of expanding deficits and high unemployment.
Mr Obama had hoped that he could attend the Copenhagen conference with climate change legislation already passed. China’s reluctance to make significant concessions will further complicate those efforts, because many senators will argue that China — a rapidly rising economic rival to the US — is failing to do its part.
The White House hopes that Mr Obama’s Copenhagen visit will strengthen the US Government’s shift on climate change policy after eight years of the Bush Administration, which opposed broad mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.
Cabinet officials including Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary, and Gary Locke, the Commerce Secretary, will also go to Copenhagen in the most senior contingent of American officials to take part in international climate talks.

'Copenhagen Diagnosis' offers a grim update to the IPCC's climate science

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received a kick in the pants today from members who say the climate situation is much worse than the IPCC has so far reported.
From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 25 November 2009 12.02 GMT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the world's foremost body for weighing and assessing climate science—received a kick in the pants today from members who say the climate situation is much worse than the IPCC has so far reported.
Twenty-six climatologists—including 14 IPCC members—have released a startling update to the panel's work, reporting that sea levels could rise and methane-laden arctic permafrost could melt much sooner than the panel had anticipated.
"The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science" is not an official IPCC report; it's a summary of the hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers that have been published since the IPCC's last assessment. It was released now to fill the long gap in between official IPCC reports—the last was released in 2007, but the drafting text is more than three years old, and the next isn't scheduled until 2013. It was also timed to the Copenhagen climate talks, of course.
The essence of the new report is that things are grimmer than the IPCC has reported. And it's not like the panel has been painting a rosy picture—its 2007 report concluded that the warming-induced melting of the Greenland ice sheet could create significant sea-level rise in this century. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at the time, "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment."
The new diagnosis finds that arctic sea ice is melting 40 percent faster than the panel estimated just a few years ago. Another startling finding: Satellites have found that the global average for rising sea levels was 3.4 millimeters per year from 1993-2008. The IPCC estimated it would be 1.9 mm for that period—short by 80 percent.
The report's authors (who include the preeminent Stephen Schneider) write that "if global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly." If you're keeping score, 2015 is just over five years away—somewhat less comforting than the distant "2050" you used to hear so much about.
In a time when the correspondence of scientists is hacked and stolen and as a matter of political strategy, some will no doubt dismiss the group's research entirely. And even IPCC fans may question whether its decision-making process is swift enough to remain relevant. It certainly seems that events are outpacing the political system's ability to deal with them.
Below are the key findings from the report:
Surging greenhouse gas emissions: Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were nearly 40 percent higher than those in 1990. Even if global emission rates are stabilized at present-day levels, just 20 more years of emissions would give a 25 percent probability that warming exceeds 2°C, even with zero emissions after 2030. Every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding 2°C warming.
Recent global temperatures demonstrate human-induced warming: Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.19°C per decade, in very good agreement with predictions based on greenhouse gas increases. Even over the past ten years, despite a decrease in solar forcing, the trend continues to be one of warming. Natural, short-term fluctuations are occurring as usual, but there have been no significant changes in the underlying warming trend.
Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990.
Rapid Arctic sea-ice decline: Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models. The area of sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40 percent greater than the average prediction from IPCC AR4 climate models.
Current sea-level rise underestimated: Satellites show recent global average sea-level rise (3.4 mm/yr over the past 15 years) to be ~80 percent above past IPCC predictions. This acceleration in sea-level rise is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice-sheets
Sea-level predictions revised: By 2100, global sea-level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by Working Group 1 of the IPCC AR4; for unmitigated emissions it may well exceed 1 meter. The upper limit has been estimated as ~ 2 meters sea level rise by 2100. Sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilized, and several meters of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.
Delay in action risks irreversible damage: Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (e.g. continental icesheets, Amazon rainforest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming continues in a business-as-usual way throughout this century. The risk of transgressing critical thresholds ("tipping points") increases strongly with ongoing climate change. Thus waiting for higher levels of scientific certainty could mean that some tipping points will be crossed before they are recognized.
The turning point must come soon: If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2 °C above pre-industrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society—with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases—needs to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80-95% below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.
• This article was shared by our content partner Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Copenhagen climate change conference 2009: climate contrarians

A vocal band of climate change sceptics - with powerful supporters in politics and business - question the science behind the calls for urgent and drastic international action on carbon emissions.

In March 2001, the Bush administration announced that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol that would require nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, claiming that ratifying the treaty would create economic setbacks in the US and did not put enough pressure to limit emissions from developing nations.

The recent publishing of thousands of emails and documents stolen from the University of East Anglia (UEA) claiming to show that researchers massaged figures to mask the fact that world temperatures have been declining in recent years, provided the perfect launch pad for the latest heavy-hitting climate change critic, Lord Lawson.
Lord Lawson, who served as chancellor for six years under Margaret Thatcher, plans to establish a think tank to challenge the consensus that drastic action is needed to combat global warming.
Bjørn Lomborg is the poster boy of the contrarian trend.
The Danish academic became internationally known for his best-selling and controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist, whose main thesis is that many of the most-publicised claims and predictions on environmental issues are wrong.
Lomborg campaigns for an unconventional position on climate change: he opposes the Kyoto Protocol and other measures to cut carbon emissions in the short-term, and argues that we should instead adapt to short-term temperature rises as they are inevitable, and spend money on research and development for longer-term environmental solutions, and on other important world problems such as AIDS, malaria and malnutrition.
After the publication of The Skeptical Environmentalist, complaints of deliberately misleading data and flawed conclusions. against Lomborg were made to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD).
The ruling was a mixed message, deciding the book to be scientifically dishonest, but Lomborg himself not guilty because of lack of expertise in the fields in question.
Ian Rutherford Plimer is an Australian geologist, academic and businessman. He is a critic of the scientific consensus that global warming is driven by anthropogenic CO2 .
He has published approximately 60 academic papers and six books, including his book on the global warming debate, Heaven and Earth — Global Warming: The Missing Science.
He is critical of greenhouse gas politics and argues that extreme environmental changes are inevitable.
Via his long-running column in the Sunday Telegraph , Christopher Booker has claimed that man-made global warming was "disproved" in 2008.
In his article Facts melted by 'global warming' he claimed that "Without explanation, a half million square kilometres of ice vanished overnight."
Siegfried Frederick Singer is an American atmospheric physicist.
In March 2007, Singer appeared in the controversial documentary film The Great Global Warming Swindle which asserted that the mainstream view on global warming was "a lie" and "the biggest scam of modern times".
Singer has been a consultant to various major corporations, including GE, Ford, GM, Exxon, Shell, Sun Oil, Lockheed Martin and IBM.
Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute is an outspoken opponent of global warming constituting a problem, and of government action that would require limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
It favours free-market environmentalism, stating that market institutions are more effective in protecting the environment than governments.
In recent years some sceptics have contradicted their contarianism. Ronald Bailey , author of Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths (published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute), stated in 2005, "Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up".

Pretending the climate email leak isn't a crisis won't make it go away

Climate sceptics have lied, obscured and cheated for years. That's why we climate rationalists must uphold the highest standards of science
I have seldom felt so alone. Confronted with crisis, most of the environmentalists I know have gone into denial. The emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, they say, are a storm in a tea cup, no big deal, exaggerated out of all recognition. It is true that climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can't possibly support (the end of global warming, the death of climate science). But it is also true that the emails are very damaging.
The response of the greens and most of the scientists I know is profoundly ironic, as we spend so much of our time confronting other people's denial. Pretending that this isn't a real crisis isn't going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We'll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.
It is true that much of what has been revealed could be explained as the usual cut and thrust of the peer review process, exacerbated by the extraordinary pressure the scientists were facing from a denial industry determined to crush them. One of the most damaging emails was sent by the head of the climatic research unit, Phil Jones. He wrote "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"
One of these papers which was published in the journal Climate Research turned out to be so badly flawed that the scandal resulted in the resignation of the editor-in-chief. Jones knew that any incorrect papers by sceptical scientists would be picked up and amplified by climate change deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry, who often – as I documented in my book Heat – use all sorts of dirty tricks to advance their cause.
Even so, his message looks awful. It gives the impression of confirming a potent meme circulated by those who campaign against taking action on climate change: that the IPCC process is biased. However good the detailed explanations may be, most people aren't going to follow or understand them. Jones's statement, on the other hand, is stark and easy to grasp.
In this case you could argue that technically he has done nothing wrong. But a fat lot of good that will do. Think of the MPs' expenses scandal: complaints about stolen data, denials and huffy responses achieved nothing at all. Most of the MPs could demonstrate that technically they were innocent: their expenses had been approved by the Commons office. It didn't change public perceptions one jot. The only responses that have helped to restore public trust in Parliament are humility, openness and promises of reform.
When it comes to his handling of Freedom of Information requests, Professor Jones might struggle even to use a technical defence. If you take the wording literally, in one case he appears to be suggesting that emails subject to a request be deleted, which means that he seems to be advocating potentially criminal activity. Even if no other message had been hacked, this would be sufficient to ensure his resignation as head of the unit.
I feel desperately sorry for him: he must be walking through hell. But there is no helping it; he has to go, and the longer he leaves it, the worse it will get. He has a few days left in which to make an honourable exit. Otherwise, like the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, he will linger on until his remaining credibility vanishes, inflicting continuing damage to climate science.
Some people say that I am romanticising science, that it is never as open and honest as the Popperian ideal. Perhaps. But I know that opaqueness and secrecy are the enemies of science. There is a word for the apparent repeated attempts to prevent disclosure revealed in these emails: unscientific.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the university's handling of it, which has been a total trainwreck: a textbook example of how not to respond. RealClimate reports that "We were made aware of the existence of this archive last Tuesday morning when the hackers attempted to upload it to RealClimate, and we notified CRU of their possible security breach later that day." In other words, the university knew what was coming three days before the story broke. As far as I can tell, it sat like a rabbit in the headlights, waiting for disaster to strike.
When the emails hit the news on Friday morning, the university appeared completely unprepared. There was no statement, no position, no one to interview. Reporters kept being fobbed off while CRU's opponents landed blow upon blow on it. When a journalist I know finally managed to track down Phil Jones, he snapped "no comment" and put down the phone. This response is generally taken by the media to mean "guilty as charged". When I got hold of him on Saturday, his answer was to send me a pdf called "WMO statement on the status of the global climate in 1999". Had I a couple of hours to spare I might have been able to work out what the heck this had to do with the current crisis, but he offered no explanation.
By then he should have been touring the TV studios for the past 36 hours, confronting his critics, making his case and apologising for his mistakes. Instead, he had disappeared off the face of the Earth. Now, far too late, he has given an interview to the Press Association, which has done nothing to change the story.
The handling of this crisis suggests that nothing has been learnt by climate scientists in this country from 20 years of assaults on their discipline. They appear to have no idea what they're up against or how to confront it. Their opponents might be scumbags, but their media strategy is exemplary.
The greatest tragedy here is that despite many years of outright fabrication, fraud and deceit on the part of the climate change denial industry, documented in James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore's brilliant new book Climate Cover-up, it is now the climate scientists who look bad. By comparison to his opponents, Phil Jones is pure as the driven snow. Hoggan and Littlemore have shown how fossil fuel industries have employed "experts" to lie, cheat and manipulate on their behalf. The revelations in their book (as well as in Heat and in Ross Gelbspan's book The Heat Is On) are 100 times graver than anything contained in these emails.
But the deniers' campaign of lies, grotesque as it is, does not justify secrecy and suppression on the part of climate scientists. Far from it: it means that they must distinguish themselves from their opponents in every way. No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that it is unimpeachable, not the last.

Andy Burnham: 'Climate change poses serious threat to health'

UK health secretary backs Lancet report that says reducing carbon emissions and home insulation will improve the country's health

Press Association, Wednesday 25 November 2009 12.40 GMT
The impacts of climate change on health are a "very real and present danger", the health secretary, Andy Burnham, warned today at the launch of a new report on how rising temperatures will affect the public.
The Lancet study, published ahead of UN talks on tackling climate change in Copenhagen, calls on health ministers and professionals around the world to recognise the danger global warming poses to health.
It says putting health at the centre of action on climate change could deliver the twin benefits of preventing illness and cutting emissions. Reducing carbon emissions from vehicles could reduce urban air pollution, which can cause heart and breathing problems, and insulating houses could prevent deaths from extremes of cold and hot weather, as well as making houses more energy efficient. The report also says reducing the amount of meat people eat will cut the impact of livestock on the climate while lowering the amount of saturated fat people eat.
Burnham said: "Climate change can seem a distant, impersonal threat – in fact the associated costs to health are a very real and present danger.
"Health ministers across the globe must act now to highlight the risk global warming poses to our communities. We need well-designed climate change policies that drive health benefits."
The energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said global warming was a serious threat to public health and an ambitious deal to cut climate emissions is needed from the crunch Copenhagen talks.
"To protect the world's health we must stop dangerous climate change happening and limit temperature increases to no more than 20C. An ambitious and fair deal in Copenhagen will not only have major benefits in terms of reducing the climate change-related spread of infectious diseases and risks to food supply, but will also result in immediate green benefits in terms of a healthier environment and lifestyle for a low-carbon Britain – and a low-carbon world," Miliband said.
This year a report in the Lancet warned climate change was the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century, with catastrophic effects such as insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spreading more easily.

Combat climate change – by planting a tree in your own backyard

Grab a spade and help lock-up greenhouse gas emissions

Leo Hickman
The Guardian, Thursday 26 November 2009
There is an ancient proverb – some claim it hails from China, others Africa – that says, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – the next best time is now." Whatever the proverb's origins, it's a universal truth that planting a tree, on so many levels, is a beneficial thing to do. Trees are good, full stop.
In fact, trees are so wonderful that an independent study, commissioned by the Forestry Commission, is calling for 23,000 hectares of trees a year — equivalent to about 30,000 football pitches – to be planted across the country over the next 40 years. This, it says, would help the UK "lock up" 10% of the nation's predicted greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
But do we need to plant all these trees in forest-sized tracts for maximum effect? Could we get the same benefit if every British homeowner planted a tree in their backyard instead? And what species of trees are up to the job? The study's authors state that trees take 50-100 years before they "prove their worth" and whatever tree species we plant now must be suited to the climactic realities they might face in coming decades.
Professor Sir David Read, the emeritus professor of plant sciences at Sheffield University, who led the study's panel of experts, says that we must start the hunt for species that could cope with a warmer, Mediterranean-type climate that might become typical in some parts of the country. "White and red oaks from America, for example. Or oaks from French genetic stock. Willow and popular will be good species, too."
But not all species are suited to a cramped backyard, where roots could damage foundations, or fast-growing trees could quickly cast shadows over neighbours. The Woodland Trust, which will be trying on December 5 to set a new world record for the most number of trees planted in an hour, says that hazel, hawthorn and silver birch are the most suitable for small spaces.
Beyond the backyard, Read says that "the larger the scale of planting the better" in terms of maximising any reduction of emissions. He acknowledges that the public will prefer "extensions to natural woodlands" rather than "terrifying blocks of conifers", even though the study found that a coniferous forest in Scotland can remove, on average, 24 tonnes of CO² per hectare per year, whereas an oak forest in southern England removes 15 tonnes of CO².
Read stresses, though, that we should all get involved: "I would never discourage anyone from planting a tree in their backyard. Any action is better than none."

Beijing Slams Europe Emissions Effort

Climate Envoy Decries 'Big Disparity' Between Commitments and Action on Warming, Taking Tough Stance as Summit Nears
BEIJING -- China's top climate envoy lashed out at Europe for failing to meet its previous greenhouse-gas commitments, and said reaching an agreement at the global warming summit in Copenhagen next month is essential.

"Europe made a lot of commitments. But if you compare those commitments to actions, there is a big disparity," China's special envoy on climate change, Yu Qingtai, told reporters Wednesday. He said Europe had failed to meet its previous promises to cut greenhouse gases and deliver on technology transfer and aid to poor countries.
Mr. Yu's comments reinforce China's tough negotiating stance less than two weeks ahead of the Dec. 7 global climate summit in the Danish capital. China has repeatedly called for a global agreement on carbon emissions, but has been unwilling to commit to the kind of difficult sacrifices needed to reach one, saying the burden lies on wealthier nations.
Global climate negotiators had hoped to make Copenhagen a key turning point in two-year-long talks over the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012. That goal appears to be slipping as obstacles appear insurmountable in the coming days and negotiators are pointing fingers at each other.
Getting agreement between China and the U.S., which together account for 40% of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, is crucial to the success of climate talks.

China says the rich countries of the world have an obligation to clean up the carbon they produced, even though China has already surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest polluter. China has proposed that developed nations contribute 1% of gross domestic product to subsidize efforts by poorer nations to cut carbon emissions, a proposal rejected as unrealistic by the U.S.
China says accepting carbon caps would force it to accept poverty. "We cannot accept that Chinese people would have one-third the emissions of the developed countries," Mr. Yu said. He blamed the lack of progress in talks so far on developed countries. "Admittedly, we spent a lot of the past two years on marginal issues," he said. "Personally, I think it was because of the lack of faith by developed countries in the negotiations."
China has unilaterally taken measures to try to increase energy efficiency and energy security -- measures that have helped to slow the pace of growth of China's greenhouse-gas emissions. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, China's energy consumption targets would contribute a quarter of what needs to be done globally to limit carbon emission and slow global warming.
In September, President Hu Jintao promised a reduction in the amount of carbon emissions relative to economic output by a "notable margin." But China has declined to define that margin or make its targets part of an internationally binding treaty.
Mr. Yu said China "will work together with the international community to ensure that Copenhagen is a success."
Write to Shai Oster at

Copenhagen conference: Fears China may downgrade emissions target

Recent reports about China's likely target have generated fears that a climate deal could be hindered by cautious initial bid
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Wednesday 25 November 2009 11.35 GMT
Europe and the US are concerned that China may soon set a carbon target that marks a step back from its current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
With two weeks remaining until the Copenhagen climate talks, negotiators from developed nations were hoping the world's biggest emitter would unveil a sufficiently progressive goal to increase momentum in the US and developing nations.
But recent reports and recommendations about China's likely target have generated fears that a climate deal could be hampered by an overly cautious initial bid.
The government in Beijing has yet to announce a goal. The closest it has come was at the UN summit in September, when the president, Hu Jintao, promised to reduce the carbon intensity of China's economy by a "notable margin" between 2005 and 2020. Carbon intensity is the amount of emissions produced per dollar of economic activity.
Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea have recently put hard figures on the negotiating table. Speculation is mounting that China could do the same soon either this Friday, or at a summit with the EU on 30 November in Nanjing, which would then pave the way for Barack Obama to announce US targets soon after.
A successful domino effect would require a strong enough commitment by Beijing to convince wavering US senators that China was moving significantly beyond business as usual.
But most recent reports have suggested that China is considering a reduction in carbon relative to economic growth in the lower end of the range 40-50% between 2005 and 2020. This would mean investing more in solar, wind, nuclear and other low-carbon energy sources, as well as improving the efficiency of the coal-fired plants that provide most of China's electricity.
Sources at the Energy Research Institute, a government thinktank, have told the Guardian that they recommended a carbon intensity goal of 40-44%. "I expect there will be an announcement soon," said the source. "But there is big uncertainty about the figure. The top range we proposed was 44%, but this depends on a high GDP growth rate. The government may trim this down if it thinks growth will be slower."
Other proposed targets offer slightly more scope. Earlier this month, state media noted a senior government advisory body - the China Council of International Cooperation on Environment, made up of international experts - was recommending a target of 4-5% reductions a year until 2050.
Even if confirmed, these numbers are likely to represent only as an opening bid by China. Counterparts in developed nations say they fall short of the level that might spur other nations into action.
"Some of the numbers being banded around seem worryingly low given China's weight of economic growth but we remain confident that China will ultimately offer us an emissions reduction target that represents a significant reduction from business as usual," said a European diplomat.
The concern is that these goals do not represent much progress on the 1990-2005 period.
"Only really when it gets to be more than 50% then it starts to represent more hope than we have seen historically," noted the diplomat. US negotiators believe 40 per cent would be merely business as usual.
Yu Qingtai, China's special representative at climate talks, would not be drawn today on when a figure would be announced or how high it would be, but he said even the current energy efficiency drive had produced gains equivalent to 1.5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide.
He accused rich nations, which have greater historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, of bad faith in asking China to do more even though they had failed to deliver on the promises made at Kyoto.
"If we cannot do what we have pledged to do yet make more promises then I don't think we will see a bright future. Our expectation for Copenhagen is to do a good job in what we have already pledged to do."
Such claims and counter-claims are likely to intensify as the Copenhagen summit draws closer. Wu Changhua, China director of the Climate Group, said a 40% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020 would be a "huge commitment." Other analysts believe an annual target above 4.8%, equivalent to just over 50% over 15 years, would mark significant progress.
Li Yan of Greenpeace said all countries needed to be more ambitious. "It's fairly sure the government has a figure in its back pocket. Whether they announce it will depend on negotiations. It will also depend on whether other developing countries, like Brazil and India, are also ready to take their fair share of combating climate change."
Reports that the US would soon set a figure were welcomed by Chinese negotiators, but they said optimism was tempered by the problems of passing climate change legislation in Congress.
"I think the US have showed a positive posture," said the negotiator, who asked to remain annoymous. "But the point is what will the target be? They won't be able to announce a goal that exceeds that of the House of Representatives or it wouldn't be legal." The negotiator declined to mention when China might clarify its position.
More nations' negotiating positions are coming out into the open. Norway has led the way by promising a 40% cut of carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. The UK has pledged 34%. Japan impressively raised its commitment from 8% to 25%.
Developing countries are not legally obliged to reduce greenhouse gases, but several have recently stepped up with progressive targets, including Brazil, which aims to move 38% to 42% away from business as usual; Indonesia, which said it will reduce 26% from business as usual by 2020, or even more if it receives financial and technical assistants; and South Korea, which has set a target range of 21-30%.
More surprises may be in store. As well as a carbon intensity target, China could set a date when it expects its emissions to peak and increase its target for renewable energy.
"If it does that it would be very encouraging. For a developing country like China that would be leadership," said Wu of the Climate Group. "In China, if the president says it we know it will be done. In the US, it does not necessarily mean action."

Incentivise people to help the environment

Telegraph View: The Tories are to be commended for incentivising people to do more to help the environment, rather than penalising them if they do not.

Telegraph View Published: 7:56PM GMT 25 Nov 2009
The Conservatives have shown this week just how sure-footed they have become on green issues, with plans to reward householders with cash vouchers for recycling waste and to offer grants for people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes (which remains by far the most cost-effective way of conserving fossil fuels). Commendably, the Tories appreciate the importance of incentivising people to do more to help the environment, rather than penalising them if they do not. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, argues that "carrots are better than sticks" – which, as our environment columnist Geoffrey Lean has pointed out, even donkeys know to be true, though it seems to be beyond the comprehension of ministers.
Such incentives also chime with the public mood. The amount of household waste that is recycled has increased five-fold in little more than a decade. Most readers of this newspaper are keen recyclers and will welcome the fact that the Tories would reward them for their thrift, rather than punish them with new taxes. Contrast this approach with yesterday's launch by Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, of a report saying that we should cut the number of animals bred for the table by a third. Reducing livestock, it claims, will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but will also mean fewer heart attacks, because of the cut in saturated fat consumption.
Brilliant. Why has no one thought of this before? Perhaps because, while there are many sensible ways to go green, wiping out the livestock industry is not one of them. As well as being ruinous for farmers and the landscape, it would be utterly impractical. The number of livestock is dictated by the market for the meat. Arbitrarily cutting the domestic supply by a third will not make people greener – just angrier

Home insulation and cycling 'can save lives as well as the planet'

As well as reducing meat consumption the Lancet series also recommends home improvements and extra activity as two ways to reduce emissions an premature deaths.

By Kate Devlin, Medical CorrespondentPublished: 4:33PM GMT 25 Nov 2009

Upgrade insulation
Upgrading the insulation within and energy supply to every home in the country could save thousands of lives, the report warns.

However, such improvements do not come cheap.
The researchers estimate the cost of such changes to be in the region of between £3,000 and £30,000 per house.
Improvements including better insulation of walls, windows and floors and reducing the average temperature of homes could save around 5,500 premature deaths a year they estimate.
Although the costs are substantial the experts estimate that they could be offset by significant fuel cost savings.
Walk or cycle more
Walking or cycling instead of driving could save lives as well as the planet, researchers said.
They estimate that up to 7,000 lives a year could be saved in London alone if more people left their cars at home on journeys.
The main benefits were reductions in deaths from heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer and depression.
However, the report warned that there could be more accidents and injuries on the roads if tens of thousands of people suddenly took up walking or cycling.
Despite that risk the researchers call on the Government to increase the number of pedestrian spaces and cycle paths and to restrict the rights of heavy goods vehicles in built up areas to protect cyclists.

Novera Energy up after rival raises its hostile bid

Novera Energy, the renewable energy business, added 10.5p to 76p following news that Infinis Energy, backed by Guy Hands' private equity group Terra Firma, had raised its hostile bid form 62.5p to 75p and bought 5.6m shares to take its stake to 46.7%. Novera quickly rejected the new offer, saying it still undervalued the business. Analyst Andrew Shepherd-Barron at KBC Peel Hunt agreed:
An improved 75p cash offer is still too cheap. Infinis can afford 98p in our view. Our target price of 80p-85p is a minimum reflecting a lack of competitive tension. Shareholders should hold out for more.

Superglass boss Alex McLeod calls for clarity on future of Cert energy scheme

Published Date: 26 November 2009
By Hamish Rutherford
NEW Superglass chief executive Alex McLeod has called for clarification of the future of a government scheme to improve home energy efficiency.
The Stirling-based insulation company gained almost half its turnover in the year to 31 August from the Carbon Emission Reduction Target (Cert) scheme, which forces utilities to assist customers to improve their efficiency.McLeod, who joined the firm at the start of the month, said there was no clarity over how the government planned to encourage home energy efficiency from 2012. While the scheme has seen an increase in the retro-fitting of insulation, McLeod said "a sizeable chunk" of Britain's housing stock would still not be properly insulated by 2012.He warned the London listed group's outlook remained uncertain because of the lack of clarity over the Cert scheme, as well as uncertainty over the market for new houses.Increased sales of insulation from Cert helped Superglass offset a sharp decline from sales to the construction industry, as house building slowed. Revenue fell by £3 million to £38.1m, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation sliding 44 per cent to £6.6m.Chief financial officer Tony Kirkbright said the performance was "creditable" given the slump in the housing sector.McLeod said he would carry out a strategic review of the business in the coming months, but warned that measures to improve the efficiency of its manufacturing may require capital investment.Superglass cut capital investment to maximise cash flow, allowing it to reduce its borrowings by £2.4m. The company is to pay a reduced final dividend of 0.5p, which it said should leave scope for investment.Shares in Superglass dived 8p or 22.5 per cent to 27.5p.

Green and confused: The office offenders

Offices that leave their lights on are eco-unfriendly
Kieran Cooke

You recently said that we should use energy-efficient light bulbs at home, but what about the huge office blocks that leave their lights on? Why is the householder the target of the eco-lobbyists and not the commercial sector?
You’re right, of course. While some companies have caught the habit of energy saving, it is remarkable how many want to boast of their profligacy by lighting up buildings like Christmas trees 24 hours a day. Perhaps they think that burning the midnight oil — even when the only people in the building are the watchman and cleaners — is a mark of success. It is a sign of corporate stupidity.
The UK is far behind many countries when it comes to saving on lighting energy: the reason Berlin or Frankfurt are darker cities than London or Birmingham is not because the Germans stop work earlier or enjoy dim places: it’s just that they’re far more sensible about how they use their energy.
Lighting accounts for about 20 per cent of energy in the average office. Turning off the lights at night — or reducing their glow to a minimum — saves energy and lowers bills. But take a good look around: the actual working area of an office usually represents well under half of the total floor space. And even in the working areas, not everyone is present all the time.
One calculation by office designers bdp ( is that approximately 70 sq m of the UK office space is lit up unnecessarily, at a cost of £300 million a year. If that energy wasn’t used for needless lighting, offices could prevent about 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 going into the atmosphere and make a big contribution to emissions reduction targets.
The Carbon Trust (, which gives interest-free loans to companies intent on energy savings, has information on how to cut back on lighting. Using energy-efficient bulbs is important but other simple adjustments can result in substantial savings: fitting motion or occupancy detectors to turn lights off and on in infrequently used spaces and cleaning light fittings regularly can make a considerable impact. Carrying out a carbon audit is a good starting point too.
In daylight hours more should be done about maximising natural light: it is criminal that offices are still being built with little or no regard to using the Sun to help to brighten them up. Equipment that can regulate lighting, dependent on the degree of natural light, is available.
Besides lighting, there’s the energy that often goes on the wasteful use of air conditioning, the sheaves of waste paper and the computers left on round the clock. A single computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day can run up an energy bill of £45 a year: switch it off out of hours or put it on standby and the bill could be reduced to £10 a year — little adjustments can make a big difference.
Send your eco-dilemmas to

Sputtering breakthrough for Shell’s new superclean fuel

Carl Mortished: World business briefing

Two cheers for Royal Dutch Shell, which has solved the emissions problem with a novel fuel that is superclean. Next year, in a giant refining complex in the Gulf, the oil company will begin producing a colourless, odourless diesel with almost zero atmospheric pollutants.
It solves every emissions problem except the one that begins with the letter “C”. Shell’s fuel, a liquid synthesised from natural gas, will make the air cleaner, but it will not save the world from climate change. On a well-to-wheels basis, GTL from Pearl, Shell’s fuel factory in Qatar, emits as much carbon dioxide as conventional diesel, the company admits. Some critics claim that GTL emits even more carbon than the stuff sold at garages today.
This is no marketing stunt; it is an enormous financial gamble. Shell will have spent almost $19 billion (£11.4 billion) when the first cargo of posh diesel is shipped out of Qatar late next year. Originally budgeted in 2002 at about $5 billion, Pearl has ballooned into a whale of a project, the world’s largest construction site, employing 48,000 workers. Its operations room, launched last week, has 179 computer servers using 5,850km of cables to handle the data from the plant.
It is a colossal effort to produce a product for solving “yesterday’s problem”. A product that climate activists would argue is redundant even before the first drops emerge at the end of a pipe in Qatar.
If that were true, Shell would have stopped signing cheques in Qatar years ago; Pearl’s output of 120,000 barrels a day of synthetic diesel will be marketed as an additive, a quick way of lowering the sulphur and particulate content of ordinary diesel, jet fuel or marine bunker fuel. If the environmental story that dominates the news is climate change, the other story — atmospheric pollution — has not gone away and is a more pressing problem, particularly in developing countries. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 600,000 people die every year in China from disease triggered by high levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Acidic rainfall from SO2 damages forests, lakes and rivers.
Shell’s gambit is to spike ordinary diesel with GTL, just as ethanol is added to petrol to make it cleaner. There have been test flights on Qatar airways with GTL replacing kerosene, but Pearl’s product is probably too expensive to use on its own. According to Wood Mackenzie, the consultant, GTL needs an oil price of $45 a barrel to make economic sense, and the process is hugely energy-intensive.
Pearl’s jungle of pipes and pots will suck in 1.4 billion cu ft a day of gas from Qatar’s vast offshore North field, the equivalent of 240,000 barrels of crude oil, to produce its product. Of that huge daily gas feed, as much as 40 per cent is lost in the energy demand of the plant, according to Deutsche Bank analysts. Compare that with the energy loss of 11 per cent in the process of liquefying gas for transport in ships as LNG and the 4 per cent energy loss in a refinery that makes conventional diesel.
Were it not for a dramatic fall in the price of natural gas, GTL would probably make little sense, even at today’s high oil price. In Qatar, Shell is sitting on one of the world’s largest gas resources but, thanks to recession, there is weak demand for the fuel. By converting natural gas into diesel, Shell more than doubles its worth, given today’s crude oil price. But if GTL can turn useless gas into liquid money, it is no solution to carbon emissions and could even at the margin increase CO2 emissions. Shell argues that its plant is configured to capture its CO2 for storage at some future date. However, if carbon-capture were economically feasible, one could assume that the oil company would have launched the plant with the equipment already in place.
But consider the equipment that Shell has installed in Qatar — a 2 million tonne, gas-guzzling, state-of-the-art chemistry set. The steel forest in a sandpit is the end of a scientific journey that began in the 1920s when Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, the German scientists, discovered how to make synthetic fuel using catalysts to combine carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The technology was used to turn coal into fuel for the Wehrmacht during the Second World War and by South Africa during apartheid, both regimes being unable to secure oil.
Coal-to-liquids worked only in a siege economy, but Shell’s scientists looked again at the technology during the Arab oil boycotts and found a better catalyst. A pilot plant built in Malaysia to make diesel from natural gas struggled with high costs during low oil prices, but the economics have turned and the cashflow from GTL looks good.
But Pearl has cost a mint and the near-century-long development time of GTL technology tells a cautionary tale for those who carp at oil companies for their failure to cut carbon from fuel. The climate change lobby wants carbon captured from every power station, car and home, with punitive fines and levies for malefactors.
Instead of the usual earnest platitudes, big oil should get tough in Copenhagen. They should shout about prices, construction costs, ask bankrupt governments for credit references. It took almost 100 years to make a pint of clean diesel fuel, and now we want it carbon-free.

Power of osmosis used to deliver eco-friendly energy

A Norwegian firm is testing a renewable and emission-free source of energy that harnesses the power of water through osmosis
Gwladys Fouché, Wednesday 25 November 2009 17.45 GMT
The world's first test plant to harness osmotic power, a new emission-free source of energy, opened on Tuesday, in Norway. Nestled amid pine-covered hills on the banks of the Oslo fjord, 60km south of the Norwegian capital, the facility will exploit the energy produced when fresh water meets seawater.
Statkraft, the Norwegian energy firm behind the test plant, says osmotic power could produce up to 1,600–1,700 terawatt hours worldwide – the equivalent of half of the energy generated in the EU today.
"Osmotic power has great potential," says Arild Skedsmo, head of climate and energy at WWF Norway. "In theory the power is available and it's an emission-free way of producing energy."
He adds: "This is an immature technology. But like all renewables, we need a whole range of technologies to be available. Osmotic power can definitely be part of the solution."
The right site
Statkraft says osmotic power would be especially suited for generating electricity for large cities. "Many are situated at the point where large rivers flow into the sea," says Sverre Gotaas, senior vice-president for innovation and growth at Statkraft. "So you would not need to transport the electricity over long distances."
Another advantage, argues Gotaas, is that a commercial plant would be modest in size, but still produce a significant amount of energy. "A facility the size of a football field could generate 25 megawatts – enough to supply 30,000 households," he says.
However, Skedsmo at WWF Norway sounds a note of caution, explaining that an osmotic plant could have the same environmental impact as a hydropower facility. "The infrastructure built can have an impact on the biodiversity of the area … so it's important to choose the right location," he says. "It should not be built in unspoilt river deltas or protected areas."
Could osmotic power plants appear in the UK? "Certainly," says Gotaas. "Any area where river flows into the ocean could be suitable … Another important aspect is that the rivers can't be too polluted. If it's muddy, we would have to clean the water [before using it]. But you have clean rivers in the UK."
The new technology is based on the principle of osmosis, the diffusion of water through a semi-permeable membrane, which is how plants draw water from the soil.
At the test facility, fresh water and salt water is guided into separate chambers, divided by an artificial membrane. When the fresh and seawater meet on either side of the membrane, the fresh water is drawn towards the seawater. The flow puts pressure on the seawater side, and that pressure can be used to drive a turbine, producing electricity.
The two-storey, tennis-court-size plant, situated next to a pulp mill, will generate little power. "It will produce two to four kilowatts. You might be able to run a coffee machine on it, if you are lucky," says Gotaas.
There is no river at the site, situated outside the village of Tofte, so Statkraft will use the water from a nearby lake piped by the pulp mill.
Statkraft has invested 100m crowns (£10.7m) in the project since 1997, in addition to 50m crowns it received from Norwegian and EU funds. The company hopes to launch the first commercial plant between 2015 and 2020 – if everything goes to plan.
Cost of change
The challenges are many. First is the price. As with many renewables, and since it is a new technology, osmotic power is expensive to run. Statkraft says the company can break even if the electricity price reaches between €70 (£63) and €100 a megawatt hour. But current electricity prices in Norway are lower, hovering between €30 and €40 a megawatt hour.
Another challenge is technical. The key to the technology is the membrane, but Statkraft says it needs to be made five times more efficient than it is today. Yet another issue is developing the business, with Statkraft looking to find business partners, such as membrane manufacturers and utility companies.
Statkraft is not the only company trying to harness osmotic power: the Dutch firm Redstack is commercialising a similar technology and is planning to develop a pilot plant in the north of the Netherlands. However, the plan appears to have run into problems. Dutch utility firm Eneco, which had previously said it would help finance the plant, pulled out of the project in October. "We could not agree with the other partners," says Cor de Ruijter, a press officer at Eneco. Executives at Redstack were unavailable for comment.
Nasa is also looking into osmotic power. Researchers at the US space agency are looking to the technology as a possible way to provide enough water for long-term manned missions to the moon or Mars. The idea is a system using osmotic power could separate salt and water from wastewater and purifies human liquid wastes, such as urine and non-potable water, into water that is safe to drink.