Thursday, 3 December 2009

Climate scientist James Hansen hopes summit will fail

James Bone in New York

A leading scientist acclaimed as the grandfather of global warming has denounced the Copenhagen summit on climate change next week as a farce.
James Hansen, the director of Nasa’s Goddard Insitute for Space Studies, told The Times that he planned to boycott the UN conference because it was seeking a counter-productive agreement to limit emissions through a “cap and trade” system.
“They are selling indulgences there. The developed nations want to continue basically business as usual so they are expected to purchase indulgences to give some small amount of money to developing countries. They do that in the form of offsets and adaptation funds.” he said.
Dr Hansen, 68, the fifth of seven children of an Iowa farmer, joined Nasa after taking his PhD to study Venus but changed course when he realised that man-made emissions were choking the atmosphere on his own planet.

He was one of the first voices to raise the alarm about rising global temperatures in the early 1980s, forecasting correctly that the planet would warm in the coming decades.
Next week he publishes his first book, entitled Storms of my Grandchildren, warning that “our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing” and declaring, “It is our last chance”.
He decries the cap and trade system envisaged by governments trying to “seal the deal” at Copenhagen as ineffective in stemming carbon emissions. Under such systems, governments set limits on overall emissions and polluters trade quotas among themselves.
“The fundamental problem is that fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy. As long as they are, they are going to be used,” he said. “It’s remarkable. They refuse to recognise and address the fundamental problem and the obvious solution.”
He dismisses government announcements of national targets for greenhouse gas emissions as promises that will not be kept, noting that even Japan missed its goals under the Kyoto Protocol. He said that it would be better for the summit to fail rather than reach the type of cap and trade-based system envisaged.
“If they sign on to anything like they are talking about then it’s definitely counter-productive. Any time you start down that path, it’s time wasted. We would do better taking a year time-out and figuring out a better path.”
Dr Hansen, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, argued that the only effective way to control global warming was to institute an increasing “carbon tax”, not “cap and trade”.
“We are going to have to move beyond fossil fuels at some point. Why continue to stretch it out longer?” he said. “The only way we can do that is by putting a price on carbon emissions. The business community and the public need to understand that there will be a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions.”
He proposes that the “carbon tax” start at the equivalent of about $1 per gallon of petrol but rise in future years. The tax revenues should be returned directly to the public in the form a dividend, he said.
He added that the world must be prepared to abandon coal unless its emissions are captured and embrace a new generation of nuclear power.
Dr Hansen, who was a young post-doctoral student at Columbia University at the time of student unrest against the Vietnam War on the campus in the late 1960s, said that government inaction on global warming called for similar “civil resistance” now. He said: “That is the kind of activism we need.”

Scotland can play key energy role, EU boss told

Rory Watson, Brussels

Alex Salmond used a visit to Brussels to emphasise the contribution that Scotland could make towards the Continent’s energy needs.
In a meeting with José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, the First Minister said that it was vital to press ahead with an electricity super-grid across the North Sea. “It could offer the Continent many answers to questions of security of supply and green energy,” Mr Salmond said.
The First Minister suggested that a combination of Scotland’s North Sea resources, offshore wind and wave and tidal power, coupled with Norwegian hydro-generated electricity, would in time be sufficient to meet Germany’s energy needs. He also noted that the commission, as part of the EU economic recovery plan, was investing in Scotland’s energy potential through an offshore transmission hub.
He said it was ironic that despite having legislated for ambitious anti-global warming measures, Scotland could not represent itself at the Copenhagen climate summit.

Climate science: Inconvenient truths

The Guardian, Thursday 3 December 2009

Blinded or at least baffled by science, the uninitiated majority imagine it as the sort of impersonal process a robot might carry out. Days before the Copenhagen climate conference – where scientific reasoning will make strenuous demands on everyday life – we have all been reminded that the frontiers of technical knowledge are not in fact advanced by automatons, but by fallible human beings.
The emails hacked out of East Anglia University's Climatic Research Unit did not undermine the evidence that mankind is remaking the weather, but some of those who uncover the facts have adopted tribal attitudes. The effect is already evident – "The Big Climate Change 'Fraud'" was splashed on yesterday's Daily Express. The aftermath may also have helped persuade Tory David Davis to break the cross-party climate consensus by railing against the imposition of "hairshirt policies". The research unit's head, Professor Phil Jones, was right to belatedly recognise on Tuesday that he had to stand down while an inquiry got underway.
Of course it is true that private correspondence rarely looks great when thrust into full public glare. Perhaps Prof Jones felt initially, too, that his suggestion of "redefining" the peer-review process to prevent a particular paper attracting international attention was an obvious joke. And it is true that another scientist's suggestion of applying "tricks" to the data could have been a shorthand for processing it in a wizardly way, rather than manipulating it to mislead. But like politicians before them, climate scientists are learning the hard way that sticking to the rules is not enough – they must also to be seen to be sticking to them.
Data is often viewed through a tribal prism – think of the slant newspapers give to opinion polls, or the way financiers grab on to particular numbers. And climatologists confront particular pressures that encourage tribal thinking. For one thing, as well as the proper scepticism of the inquisitive mind, which all scientists face, they must tackle the talk-show brand of bastardised scepticism that is borne of wilful ignorance. Furthermore, the lessons of social science give reason to fear that raw climate science will not be taken sufficiently seriously. Climate projections are surrounded by margins of error, a vulnerability when humans are poor at grappling with risk and prone to letting self-interest cloud their thinking.
Another rule of public life, however, is that the cover-up does more harm than the scandal. Any suggestion that scientists are being less than frank will shred their credibility. The leaked emails are thus profoundly inconvenient for all of us who are concerned to make the world wake up to an inconvenient truth.

Government gives go-ahead to smart meters

Multibillion-pound programme will go to all 26m homes in UK and lay the foundations for a 'smart grid' – but who will pay?

Terry Macalister, Wednesday 2 December 2009 15.28 GMT
The government unveiled its vision of hi-tech homes last night with "smart" meters acting as a cornerstone of a more efficient, greener electricity grid system.
British Gas and other power suppliers have been given responsibility for installing meters in each of Britain's 26m homes by 2020, enabling them to read consumption levels remotely and end the use of estimated bills. The gadgets would also allow homeowners to monitor their own gas and electricity usage – and production if they have solar panels or wind turbines.
However, a row over the £8.5bn outlay for smart meters threatened to overshadow the announcement with critics warning that the energy companies might pocket the benefits.
The Department of Energy and Climate change (DECC) said the cost of the scheme would be dwarfed by the £14.5bn of expected savings as power companies reduce administrative costs and consumers benefit from lower bills.
Lord Hunt, the energy minister, said the international talks in Copenhagen next week on climate change underlined the importance of cutting carbon by changing lifestyles and energy usage.
"Smart meters will put power in people's hands, enabling us all to control how much energy we use, cut emissions and cut bills. Smart grids will help manage the massive shift to low carbon electricity such as wind, nuclear and clean fossil fuels," he said.
The smarter grid, outlined in a new DECC discussion document, entitled Smarter Grids: The Opportunity, sees new IT systems being used to provide much more information on demand flows and allow intermittent power, from wind, or inflexible power from nuclear, to be more easily integrated into Britain's wider electricity system.
The plans were welcomed by power companies and industry bodies. But consumer groups and energy consultants raised concerns that the smart meter rollout was being put in the hands of a sector that was already under fire for high charges and allegedly not passing on previous benefits to customers.
"We're concerned that consumers could be saddled with the entire multibillion pound bill for a project that's going to save the industry hundreds of millions of pounds a year," said Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? magazine.
Energy consultant, McKinnon and Clarke, also raised fears. "We are concerned that this is another example of smoke and mirrors by the energy industry who are clutching at straws to create a positive story, when the real scandal is that they are making a profit of approaching £200 on every home in the country," said analyst David Hunter.
But British Gas promised that savings from smart meters would be passed on to its customers and said there were good reasons for assuming that the 2% of energy-savings predicted by the government would turn out to be a major underestimate.
Petter Allison, director of smart metering at British Gas, said a company from Baltimore, in the United States, presenting at a conference in London was boasting of customers energy use was down by 20% per annum.
It further argued that the roll-out of smart meters would create 2,600 jobs in the company by 2012, including 2,100 experts in the field, 400 support staff and 100 managerial jobs.

Enough posturing politics. Time to let the experts lead

Copenhagen must mark the end of politician-dominated negotiation. The technical stuff has to come out of the shadows

Jeffrey Sachs, Wednesday 2 December 2009 21.00 GMT
We can only marvel at the disarray. Here we are, 17 years after the signing of the UN framework convention on climate change, two years after the decision in Bali to agree a new climate policy, one year after Barack Obama's election, and days out from the Copenhagen conference. Yet a real global strategy to avoid catastrophe remains elusive.
Yes, there is some progress. The Obama administration has now offered a 2020 and 2050 target on emissions reduction. China and India have stepped forward with commitments to slow the rise of emissions, and Mexico has tabled creative proposals for climate financing. New technologies offer the possibility of low-cost abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. Through the fog of policy speeches, international meetings and domestic debates, one can begin to see a path to a low-carbon economy.
The mayhem, however, is at least as great. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to mount, and will do so for years or decades to come. The Wall Street Journal, America's biggest circulation paper, rails each day against climate science. Backroom deals in the US Congress with industrial lobbies threaten to eviscerate already watered-down proposals for limiting carbon emissions. A vote on the US legislation has been postponed till next spring at the earliest, and a similar bill has just been defeated in Australia.
The truth is that even if we reach a political agreement, we're not yet on track to achieve practical, significant and sustained progress. Whether it's the US debate that ricochets among activists, deniers and lobbyists, or the global debate – which veers between empty agreements and bitter finger-pointing – we've somehow turned a life-and-death challenge into a scrum. After Copenhagen, which probably will be concluded with a patch-up accord, it will be vital to change paths from the one we've been on essentially since before Kyoto in 1997.
We've debated for years about who should control emissions, by how much, when, and according to binding or non-binding commitments. Yet we can't settle these issues without also getting into the details about the deployment of low-carbon technologies, social behaviours and the quantitative realities of energy systems, transport technologies, food production, water scarcity, and population trends. We will continue to go around in circles until we are much more systematic in bringing scientific and engineering realities to the table. Our negotiations need much greater grounding in our true options and their costs.
These issues are tough and complex. Each nation's plausible choices depend on what technologies will be available and when. It's pretty vacuous to spend a couple of years debating whether the emissions target for 2020 should fall by 20%, 30%, or 40% compared with 1990, or perhaps 2005, without knowing how and with what extra costs and disruptions such targets might be achievable.
We will need, in short, a lot more brainstorming than negotiation, at least until the world's plausible options and trade-offs come into view. When can low-carbon power plants truly be brought online? When will electric vehicles be ready for mass sales? Will carbon capture really work and if so, where? Which countries and regions within them have the right kind of geology to store carbon underground, and who is going to monitor it? Dare we advocate a massive revival of the nuclear power industry, in a world fraught with nuclear proliferation? During two years of lead-up to Copenhagen, the official negotiations never gave a place for such questions to be posed, much less answered.
Here, then, is a proposal for the post-Copenhagen attempt to square up national and global policies so they add up to something more than more years of empty promises. Let's start by recognising that most of the human-made crisis emerges from a few pivotal human activities: how and what we grow to eat; how we mobilise and distribute energy; how we transport ourselves and our freight; and how we build our buildings and lay out our cities. Each related sector requires its own intensive strategy – to identify the kind of research and development activities, public infrastructure investments and public policy to accompany a positive price on carbon emissions, through permits or taxes. Countries would have a lot to share – for instance in new technological options – and a lot that would distinguish them, according to geography, resource base, development level, and more.
We have spent a lot of time debating the merits of tradable permits versus taxation but have failed to understand that operational policies must go far beyond either instrument. The future of nuclear power, for instance, depends not so much on tradable permits as on issues of safety, reliability, and risks of proliferation or terrorism. Similarly emissions trading may eventually spur the use of carbon capture and sequestration, but only after several such plants have been tried on the public expense, to investigate the real engineering and costs of possible technologies, and the real feasibility of safe, long-term storage in geological sites. The scale-up of solar and wind power will depend on land use choices, the future of the power grid, and the ability to store power.
The costs of these approaches can only be judged after more thorough testing and analysis. Thus the side payments that rich countries will have to make to poor ones to adopt such technologies can't yet be determined precisely. When the EU or any country announces their contribution to the poorer countries in Copenhagen, the number will be pulled out of the hat, and probably far too low. It's past time to do any of the real financial homework.
Perhaps it's no surprise we are stuck. Climate change is the most complicated issue the world has faced. Complex – but not hopeless. It's time to put the expertise at the front table, not to supplant public debate and discussion but finally to inform it. Copenhagen should be the end of negotiation by politicians with technical issues kept in the shadows or ignored. Let's get scientists, engineers and ordinary citizens involved in a true discussion about our common future, and especially the tradeoffs, costs and choices. Together we can prove that our world is still capable of reaching long-range agreements when our children's lives and wellbeing hang in the balance.

Can we have faith in Copenhagen?

There's a lot at stake in Copenhagen, and faith groups should be throwing all of their weight behind efforts to make it work

Joel Edwards, Wednesday 2 December 2009 09.00 GMT
Let's face facts: many Christians have come late to the climate justice party, and those of us who live in rich countries must take responsibility for the problem that we now face.
And instead of arguing about whether we're preaching the "gospel of climate change", it's time the church looked back to its heritage of action on social justice and forward to the talks in Copenhagen and the implementation of decisions that world leaders need to take there.
In the 19th century, churches were part of the movement to abolish slavery and to end child labour and, while they must take responsibility for having contributed to some of the world's inequalities, faith communities are ideally placed to inspire attitudinal change and to bring a moral imperative to debates around social justice.
In fact, moments such as these force us to take responsibility for the part we have played in causing global inequalities, either because of the actions we have endorsed or encouraged or because of our sins of omission in avoiding opportunities to challenge injustice.
The thousands of Christians who are joining in the Stop Climate Chaos demonstration this weekend have already decided to answer their own personal call to be part of what could be one of the greatest contributions to justice we've seen.
The large ecumenical service which will bring together Christians from around the UK before joining the rally, as well as the events beforehand organised by Jewish and Muslim leaders, among others, show the importance of faith in the discourse of social change.
Many will feel that they have a spiritual reason for engaging with climate justice, and those of us who are Christians find a clear mandate from scripture to speak up for justice, to take responsibility for caring for the earth, and to tackle poverty and injustice practically.
Every now and then a pivotal moment comes along when it becomes crucial faith leaders put aside their differences and unite for a challenge which is common to and bigger than all of us. In this case, it's the future of our planet.
It gives us an opportunity to come together on an issue that affects everyone in the world, and particularly those who are poor, vulnerable and without resources. And we're able to recognise the work done around the world, often in the name of faith, to redress the balance and support people in developing countries who are already living with the effects of climate change.
In places like Bangladesh, Tearfund's local church partners support communities to prepare for and reduce the risk of flooding. Here communities are strongly influenced by faith leaders, as it's often the churches or mosques that are best placed to consult with and mobilise people to find solutions to a changing climate.
And it's these stories that provide a glimmer of hope in desperate times. If faith is, as the Bible says, being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, then the recent talking down of the Copenhagen summit shouldn't cause us to lose hope.
Because there is still a reason to have faith in a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal. If nothing else, it's because there's a restlessness among people of all faiths and none; a dissatisfaction with the selfishness and consumerism of western society; and a desire to be part of something that will change the world forever. This is the reason thousands of us will crowd the streets of central London on Saturday.

Copenhagan: On the climate change front line in Bangladesh

If the scientists are right, Bangladesh will be one of the countries to suffer most from global warming, reports Louise Gray.

By Louise GrayPublished: 7:32AM GMT 02 Dec 2009

Asma doesn't know much about global warming but she knows what it is like to burn her fingers every day making bangles for other people to wear. The 10-year-old was sent to work after flooding forced her family to move from a low-lying island on the Ganges to the slums of Dhaka.
Sosi hasn't heard of climate change either, but he can tell you what it is like to lose everything in a terrifying torrent of water. And Hasina, who is living on one meal a day after her home was destroyed in a cyclone, just wants to know that she will be able to feed her baby tomorrow.
These Bangladeshis are living on the margins, their aim not much more than survival, yet, in a week's time, they and others like them will be the centre of attention as world leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss climate change.
Chronic poverty, weak government and lack of resources are behind many of the problems of Bangladesh and other developing countries. On top of that, Bangladesh lies on the Ganges delta and has always suffered floods. But, according to scientists, charities and non-governmental organisations, global warming is set to make life significantly worse for millions of people in similar situations around the world.
In Bangladesh, aid workers describe climate change as a fact of everyday life, "like the traffic in London". The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the region is the most vulnerable to global warming and the World Bank has described Bangladesh as the most "climate vulnerable in the world".
This week, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) warned that by 2100, as polar ice melts, sea levels will rise by almost five feet (1.4m). This is more than double previous estimates, and for Bangladesh it could be catastrophic.
Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) has warned that a fifth of Bangladesh could disappear if sea levels rise by more than one metre. This would destroy crops and livestock, spread disease and leave an estimated 30 million people homeless.
The aftermath of Cyclone Aila, which hit Bangladesh in May, gives an idea of what this might look like. Four million people were affected by the storm and hundreds of thousands lost their homes. In the flooded delta south of the port of Khulna, thousands are still surviving on a narrow embankment that is the only high point for miles around. Their only help is from aid agencies such as Save the Children.
Sitting outside her makeshift bamboo hut, Hasina Begum, 23, says she survives on one meal of rice and vegetables a day and is worried for her two-year-old son, Mizan, who has already been to hospital with diarrhoea this year. Children are also in danger of dysentery, mumps and scabies because of the living conditions.
Sosi Bhuson, 52, a handsome man reduced to wearing a dirty blanket against the wind that whips off the sea, is the spokesman for the community. He says this used to be a "well-to-do" area, but the crops will fail this year and maybe even the year after that, because of the salinity in the soil.
The IPCC estimates that production of rice might drop by 8 per cent and of wheat by 32 per cent over the next 40 years, as temperatures rise in Bangladesh. Farming prawns for export to countries such as Britain is a possible alternative, but the farms destroy the environment and provide little income to the local community.
Inland, at the madrassa, the old men complain about the weather. But this is no small talk. They tell of a catastrophe: the weather has turned against them, the crops have failed and the cows have stopped giving milk.
Only Allah knows why. Their greatest fear now is that the community will die out; already, their grandchildren are leaving for the cities. Many of the families moving into the overcrowded streets of old Dhaka from flood-prone areas are forced to send their children to work in order to make enough to survive. Save the Children estimates that almost five million children, like Asma, are working in Bangladesh in balloon factories, aluminium plants and chocolate factories.
The British Government is taking a keen interest in the situation, not only for humanitarian reasons. After all, where will displaced people go in the future? In Bangladesh, there could be between 50 and 100 million people currently living in coastal zones who will need to move by 2080. While most will move within the region, some may go abroad.
Perhaps we should just accept that it is impossible for people to live comfortably on a massive flood plain that is gradually being overwhelmed by the sea. But the Netherlands is also well below sea level and Japan suffers a high number of natural disasters, yet both manage to thrive.
Bangladesh is never going to be like either of these countries, but its government is confident that it could become far more resilient to climate change. The British taxpayer is already spending £126 million a year in Bangladesh. On the remote Biswas char in the Patuakhali area, British aid has helped to rebuild hundreds of homes devastated by 2007's Cyclone Sidr.
The basic houses have mud floors and an outside latrine, but are a vast improvement on the temporary shelters people had been living in. Crucially, they are on raised plinths, meaning they will be protected if the sea returns. The lush paddy fields are a world away from the devastation in the Aila-affected zones: families in the area have been given seeds for more saline-resistant crops and ducks instead of hens; a cyclone shelter doubles as a school and children have lessons on what to do in another storm.
Saleemul Huq, a member of the IPCC and adviser on climate change to the Bangladeshi government, admits there is a danger that all the world's problems are blamed on climate change. But he asks the sceptics to look at what is happening in Bangladesh – and to consider the thorny problem of "global justice".
Bangladeshis have one of the lowest carbon footprints per head in the world, at 1.1 tons a year, compared with 29 tons for the average American and 15 tons for Britons, yet they are suffering the most from global warming.
"It is time for rich countries to accept their responsibilities in terms of reducing emissions and providing assistance to developing countries that did not cause the problem but are going to suffer the consequences," says Huq.
At Copenhagen, the rich world will be asked to provide support for countries such as Bangladesh to adapt to climate change. Poor countries have said they will need an annual fund of around £250billion to develop green technologies such as solar power, while also building sea defences and other infrastructure, but no rich country has yet been willing to come close to that figure.
Not only will there be problems persuading taxpayers to part with yet more cash during the recession, but questions will also be asked about how money will be distributed in countries still struggling with corruption.
Even in Bangladesh, where the government is considered to be leading the world in the fight against climate change, there are problems. Money put aside for adaptation has not been spent simply because the country does not yet have the capacity to mend infrastructure, such as the broken dam that caused the flooding of Sosi and Hasina's homes.
For Chris Austin, head of DFID in Bangladesh, Britain's position is clear. He says the Government has a duty to help poor countries develop, not only for humanitarian reasons but for strategic benefit. This is particularly true of Bangladesh, which is not only an important source of manufacturing and manpower but is nestled between two potential new superpowers, China and India.
"Even if you are sceptical about climate change, you have to admit that Bangladesh is in the front line in terms of vulnerability to weather patterns and poverty," he says. "We can do a lot to address this through reducing poverty and adaptation."
Mr Austin says that tackling climate change through a tough deal in Copenhagen is not only an opportunity to help countries like Bangladesh, but will benefit Britain by reducing poverty around the world. It would also reduce the chance of "climate change refugees" coming into our own country, as well as the risk of warfare and terrorism driven by food and water shortages.
"This is something we are going to have to deal with all the time in the future," he says. "We cannot just patch things up every time someone's house is destroyed and just wring our hands every time people die. We have to have a long-term permanent plan for dealing with climate change and we have that opportunity at Copenhagen."

Emissions Cuts Would Cost India Dearly

The poor can't afford a big tax on energy usage, or a return to the License Raj of times past.
In the pre-iTunes, pre-MTV age, there was usually a multiyear lag before hit songs in the West reached India. Now India is experiencing a similar time-lag on global warming. Just when fresh doubts about the issue are emerging in the West, India is flirting with the idea of hopping on the global-warming bandwagon at the Copenhagen climate-change summit next week.
This is in large part a misguided attempt to bolster India's political standing in the world. In an October letter to the prime minister conveniently leaked to the press, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh expressed concern that India's intransigence on the issue was making it a pariah among developed countries, jeopardizing its bid for permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council. He counseled that India delink itself from the Group of 77 developing nations resisting forced emission cuts without compensation, and instead make common cause with the Group of 20 rich countries pushing for climate action.

Mr. Ramesh's letter is a significant change of tune, given he made headlines this summer when he bluntly told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that India was simply in no position to accept binding emissions cuts. It is widely regarded as a trial balloon by the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and has triggered a maelstrom of protest in parliament, forcing Mr. Ramesh to pledge not to accept legally binding emissions cuts. But the government is nevertheless trying to change India's current domestic global-warming policy more dramatically than it is letting on to better align it with global demands.
The current policy, called Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, in some ways is a declaration of India's independence on climate change. It essentially tells the world that India will undertake mitigation efforts if and when it is in its self-interest. The proposed new policy, dubbed Nationally Accountable Mitigation Outcomes, is something completely different. It would commit India to developing a mitigation plan right away. The plan would be enforced by domestic law but Mr. Ramesh—tellingly—wants to submit the emissions reports generated for international scrutiny every two years. This could well become a prelude to India eventually joining a global emissions regime.
Even worse, the new regime would unleash Byzantine new regulations on the country, from new energy efficiency standards in building codes to new fuel economy standards for vehicles. India would have to obtain 20% of its energy from renewable sources—wind, solar and small hydroelectric power—compared to 8% now. Given that these sources are typically far more expensive than fossil fuels, this would mean putting Indians, 40% of whom don't even have access to electricity, on an even stricter energy diet. The increased expense will put homes, air conditioning and cars out of reach of more Indians—all of which will make them, especially the poor, less able to withstand floods, heat waves and other dire effects of global warming should they ever materialize.
The resulting emission cuts won't even make a dent in global temperatures. India's per capita energy consumption is 15 times less than America's and half of China's—the two biggest polluters. To be sure, President Obama is poised to pledge to cut U.S. carbon emissions 80% below 2005 by 2050 at Copenhagen. But it's an empty promise because there is little to zero chance that he will be able to get Congress to go along. China too announced plans—modest by all accounts—to curb its emissions. So India will certainly face pressure at the conference to act, despite the fact that bigger polluters won't.
But as a developing country, India can least afford to give up its right to consume as much energy as is necessary to deliver all Indians a living standard comparable to the one that rich countries take for granted. There is every reason to believe that the new License Raj will damage India's economy every bit as much as the old one in the preliberalization days, when India's growth rate remained stuck at around 2%. This would be unfortunate at any time, but especially now, when the West itself is in the middle of a huge rethinking on this issue.
Front and center is the ClimateGate scandal that's erupting in Britain. Leaked emails out of the climate research center of Britain's University of East Anglia, unveiled last week, suggest scientists manipulated data, destroyed inconvenient evidence and tried to suppress opposing views. The scandal is prompting calls for a full-blown government inquiry into the science of global warming in both Britain and America. Cap-and-trade regimes in Washington and Canberra have stalled, and no one expects a climate deal of any substance at next week's Copenhagen meeting.
Meanwhile, global-warming fatigue is setting in everywhere. An October poll by Pew Center Research found that only 57% of Americans think there is solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer, down from 71% in April 2008. Only 36% now believe that the warming is caused by humans, compared to 47% in April 2008. Nor is America unique. The number of people rating climate change as the major issue they worry about has dropped to fourth place behind global economic stability in the last year, according to the HSBC Climate Confidence Monitor, a polling operation established by the bank and leading environmental outfits.
In the long run, India will gain more international respect if it remains focused on growing its economy instead of reshackling its people under a new, green License Raj. That's the real climate-change calculation Mr. Singh should be worrying about.
Ms. Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason Foundation and a Forbes columnist.

India reveals carbon emission targets

Randeep Ramesh in Delhi, Wednesday 2 December 2009 21.29 GMT
India became the last of the "big four" polluters to reveal its opening hand in the negotiations today, ahead of the crucial climate change talks in Copenhagen next week.
Government sources revealed the country could curb the carbon emitted relative to the growth of its economy – its carbon intensity – by 24% by 2020.
The target would mean emissions would continue to rise as the government aims to lift millions out of poverty, but by less than currently predicted.
The leaked figure days after the announcement last week that China would cut its carbon intensity by more than 40% by 2020. The EU has already pledged a 20% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 – set to rise to 30% if other developed countries match the European target – while the US last month proposed cuts of 17%. These four are expected to emit almost two-thirds of the carbon between now and 2050.
Comparing the targets is complicated. India and China's target are for carbon intensity, but they at least use the same base year, 2005. The EU uses 1990 as a base year, while the US uses 2005. But observers see all the targets as below what scientists say are needed to give an even chance of keeping temperature rise below the dangerous limit of 2C.
"If India offers an emissions target, even if it's relative to their economic growth, it's a very welcome step," said Bryony Worthington, founder of campaign group Sandbag. "It's yet another sign that rapidly developing countries see the potential for green growth. Europe now needs to up its game and commit to targets which really get to grips with our apparently unshakeable addiction to carbon."
Sources told the Indian media that the reduction in carbon intensity could go up to 37% by 2030, compared with 2005. India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, is expected to make a statement in parliament tomorrow to announce the targets. To reduce emissions, India's national action plan on climate change sees increasing solar power generation and improving energy efficiency as a route to "greener growth". In August, India laid out an ambitious plan to generate 20GW of solar power by 2020, which could equate to 75% of the world's solar energy.
The country, which is the fourth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, has been under pressure from developed nations to announce its plan to control emissions.
The "voluntary reductions" were first floated by Ramesh last week during talks with the Chinese prime minister. He told journalists then that India could not afford to be seen as lagging behind in other nations in offering to act.
A senior government official, who declined to be named, told Reuters that India's final targets, likely to be presented in Copenhagen, could reflect a broad range rather than a specific figure.
The momentum generated by the succession of announcements on targets may throw attention on to the issue of funding for climate adaptation in poorer nations.
Delhi has been a hardliner in the negotiations saying it won't accept legally binding emission caps and offered only to keep per-capita output of carbon lower than that of richer nations. The average Indian's carbon footprint is eight times smaller than the average person in Britain.

Australian Senate defeats carbon trading bill

Defeat of carbon trading bill delivers blow to government that had hoped to set an example at international climate change talks in Copenhagen
Toni O'Loughlin in Sydney, Wednesday 2 December 2009 09.35 GMT

The Senate, where the government of the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, does not hold a majority, rejected 41-33 his administration's proposal for Australia to become one of the first countries to install a so-called cap-and-trade system to slash the amount of heat-trapping pollution that industries pump into the air.
It follows a tumultuous week in Australian politics, which saw the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader, after he had pledged to support the government's plans for the trading scheme.
The defeat further undermines Australia's already ailing credibility at the upcoming UN climate change talks in Copenhagen.
But parliamentarians from the Australian Greens party welcomed the demise of the Labor government's carbon emissions trading scheme, calling it "a dirty deal, an exercise in double think, and a deceit on the Australian people".
Australian Greens senator, Bob Brown, said the debate in Australia had been hijacked by big polluters, particularly in the coal industry. "Climate change minister, Penny Wong, has made a point of seeing all the coal lobbyists. They're very formidable in the impact they have on policy in Australia," Brown said.
If an international agreement is reached in Copenhagen, the scheme of the prime inister, Kevin Rudd, would have cut carbon emissions from 5% up to 25% by 2020, depending on whether there is a global deal in Copenhagen. The scheme, which would have paid big polluting industries $AUS30bn in compensation, did not require a reduction in domestic emissions to meet its targeted cuts, because Australia could have met the target by purchasing permits to pollute from overseas.
"If Rudd's scheme was adopted worldwide, we would be very unlikely to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2C," Andrew Macintosh, associate director of the Australian National University's centre for climate law and policy, said. Still, the deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, said the government would give the opposition, the Liberal-National coalition, "another chance" to act in "the national interest" by reintroducing the legislation when parliament resumes in February. "We all know the Liberal party is deeply divided on this question," Gillard said.
On Monday, after a week of angry exchanges the coalition dumped its leader, Malcolm Turnbull, who had brokered an agreement with Labor to support the emissions trading scheme.
His replacement, Tony Abbott, has previously described climate change as "crap" but this week claimed that he held a more "considered view". He wants the coalition to consider the introduction of nuclear power to cut Australia's emissions.
Political commentators are speculating the Rudd could call an early election to further divide the opposition which rejects the carbon trading scheme as a "massive tax" on Australians.

Carbon trading is not enough to tackle climate change

Unambitious emissions caps provide no incentive for businesses to cut CO2 output

Stuart Brady
The Guardian, Thursday 3 December 2009
Your article explaining how the global carbon market could be worth $3tn a year, but "enthusiasm to place it at the heart of the Copenhagen treaty is matched by growing criticism of the concept", elucidated the issues of the expanding yet unproven policy of emissions trading (Fear that $3tn market of future benefits few, 30 November).
Having worked advising British industry on international climate change policies, I would concur with many of the points made about the flaws of market-based mechanisms.
Shell's chief executive, Peter Voser, was quoted as calling on governments to introduce a carbon tax or a minimum price for CO2 because "the ETS [emissions trading scheme] was failing to deliver sufficient incentives to kickstart expensive technologies such as carbon capture and storage". This lack of incentive comes about because if industry surpasses expectations by cutting emissions far below the cap set within the ETS, or if the cap is unambitious, the price of carbon will be low and return on low-carbon investment reduced. This is exactly what has happened during this recession, where an economically induced reduction of emissions has caused the price of carbon to plummet.
Emissions caps have an advantage over a carbon tax as they should guarantee emission levels are reduced at a specified rate. But, without a minimum price for CO2, they provide very little incentive to industry as a whole. Policies should encourage industry to reduce emissions as much as possible, not just to the level of the cap – which, if achieved, would still leave a good chance of dangerous climate change.
Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, "warned of the dangers of a 'sub-prime' crisis inside the ETS if complex financial instruments were created by market participants". There could indeed be a crisis, not because of the complexity of the financial instruments, but rather because of the quality of the underlying carbon credits. The EU common agricultural policy (CAP) gives us a great example of how large regional policies can be abused.
The article also states that John Browne, "a former boss of BP and an early ETS promoter, has also expressed reservations about such schemes, saying it was 'wrong' to place all your faith in them". He is entirely correct. Globally, where the greatest strides have been made in climate and energy policy, carbon markets have not played a role. Instead, government intervention and planning (such as in the Danish and now Chinese energy sector), guaranteed return on investment (such as through "feed in tariffs" for renewables in Germany and elsewhere), and heavy regulation of the energy sector (as in California's energy efficiency improvements) have been key. My experience with UK industry was that any substantive decarbonisation was as a result of high energy costs and more direct policies such as the Renewables Obligation.
Copenhagen will undoubtedly envisage a role for emissions trading. However, its shortcomings must be addressed and its limitations acknowledged through a commitment from all countries to a broad range of other policy measures.

Low-CO2 engine research

An ultra-efficient car engine with massively reduced CO2 emissions is the aim of a major two-year research project announced this week.

By David Williams Published: 4:25PM GMT 02 Dec 2009

Funding boost for low-emissions family transport
Known as HyBoost, the Government-backed collaboration aims to develop a petrol engine that delivers the performance of a 2.0-litre motor while reducing emissions by up to 40 per cent, to below 100g/km. It will have to be capable of efficient mass-production for use in family cars.
"HyBoost aims to demonstrate the very significant benefits that can be achieved using an intelligent combination of innovative technologies to deliver low carbon transport solutions," said Neville Jackson, Ricardo group technology director.

"The targets of this research would enable a consumer-attractive 'average car' to be offered with CO2 emissions well below the mandated future target set for the European fleet average without compromising vehicle performance."
The project is being led by Ricardo in partnership with Controlled Power Technologies, the European Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium, Ford, Imperial College London and industrial group Valeo. The project is supported by investment from the Government-backed Technology Strategy Board.
The HyBoost engine will call on a range of technologies including exhaust gas energy recovery, stop/start, regenerative braking, torque assist, exhaust gas energy recovery and what is claimed to be a "novel energy storage technology".
Its backers believe that elements of the new engine – or even the entire unit – could make it into production within three years

China Wind-Power Plans Pose Carbon-Credit Issues

International climate-change officials have raised questions about the economics behind about two dozen Chinese wind-power projects, underscoring the complications involved in putting a price tag on global-warming emissions ahead of a new round of environmental talks in Copenhagen.
A United Nations committee is in various stages of reviewing about 25 wind-power projects that applied to receive carbon credits. The credits, which can be sold and traded and are used by companies to offset their own emissions, are meant to pay for projects that wouldn't have received investment otherwise.

The question is whether the projects need the credits to be economically feasible, said Lex de Jonge, chairman of the executive board of what is known as the U.N.'s Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM. The committee is specifically looking at the tariffs they received from grid operators.
"The suspicion of the board is that in some cases the tariffs may have deliberately been set lower to make the project eligible," he said, adding that the 25 projects represent about half the China projects submitted. "It's not about China," he said.
Chinese officials said project operators applied for the credits in good faith, before national tariffs on wind electricity were set.
The projects represent about 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each on average, Mr. de Jonge said. The reviews were reported Wednesday by the Financial Times.
Coming just ahead of the next round of talks in Copenhagen next week, the carbon-credit tussle underscores how hard it will be to convince nations like the U.S. that China needs extra money to pay for reducing greenhouse gases. China, which has overtaken the U.S. as the world's top greenhouse emitter, has pledged to slow down the pace of its growing carbon emissions. But it wants rich nations to help offset the costs for poor countries' carbon-abatement projects.
China has been the beneficiary of 48% of global CDM carbon credits, which allow economically advanced nations to meet part of their carbon emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol by investing in clean-energy projects in developing nations.
As China's wind-power market matures and with the CDM set to expire in 2012 along with the Kyoto Protocol, the probability that the nation's wind-power projects will be eligible for additional post-Kyoto funding is diminishing, said Lin Na, a project manager of the EU-China CDM Facilitation Project.—Jing Yang and Carlos Tejada

Wind Power Winds Up China's Competitors

Beijing has big plans for wind power as a renewable energy of the future, but China may already have too much of a good thing.
At home, China's power-transmission infrastructure can't handle the intermittent electricity supply already being generated from wind. It is estimated that 30% of last year's wind-power supply went unused.

Despite that bottleneck, Beijing wants more. The government hopes to see 100 gigawatts of wind-power capacity installed in China by 2020, a more-than-eightfold increase from 2008, making wind the third most important source of power in China behind coal and hydroelectric. Even by next year, the amount of wind-power equipment being made will be twice what the nation can install, according to the central government.
That has implications abroad. Foreign rivals are raising concerns that Chinese producers will export their excess capacity at cheap prices. Wind power was one of the industries cited last week by the European Chamber of Commerce in China as likely to stir trade tensions.
The Chinese companies have already proven to be formidable competitors. Domestic producers have seen their Chinese market share blossom to nearly 60% collectively. That's largely at the expense of foreign players like Vestas Wind Systems, Gamesa and General Electric, which were dominant there just five years ago.
Critics suggest an implicit "Buy China" policy has helped the domestic players, but it's clear, too, that they have competed strongly on price. Data from analysts IHS CERA show Chinese equipment suppliers sell their turbines for almost two-thirds of the price of foreign competitors.
Not surprisingly, the number of players in the wind-power equipment sector has mushroomed, drawn to the sector by talk of greater reliance on renewable energy. Four companies accounted for more than 90% of the wind-turbine-manufacturing market in 2004. Now, 12 industry leaders account for about the same proportion, according to IHS CERA. Around 70 smaller firms are also active.
As local players duke it out, consolidation is likely in the near term. That will likely benefit the domestic industry leaders: Sinovel Wind, Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology and Dongfang Electric.
All this is happening in a market that is already uncertain as governments debate climate-change initiatives. Potential problems have already marred a United Nations wind-power credit program, for example.
The world may want China to commit to a greener future, but it's rapidly finding out that the push can come with some unwanted side effects.
Write to Andrew Peaple at

Global gas glut threatens green energy

Robin Pagnamenta

A glut in global supplies of natural gas threatens to undermine British investment in low-carbon sources of electricity, including nuclear and wind power, according to the chief executive of Britain’s biggest energy supplier.
Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said that an expected surplus of global gas supplies over the next five years could force down wholesale prices to a level where energy companies may be discouraged from investing in more costly alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear reactors and offshore wind farms — particularly if this was accompanied by continued weakness in the price of carbon emissions permits.
“If you have a low gas price and a low carbon price, then the investment signals [for nuclear and wind] won’t be there,” Mr Laidlaw said, adding that it was essential that UN climate talks in Copenhagen next week led to the creation of a robust international price for carbon to bolster the investment case for low-carbon energy. “That is why Copenhagen is so important. The answer comes back to the carbon price.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said this month that rising production of so-called unconventional gas in the United States and Canada, using new technology, was creating an oversupply.

Global unconventional gas output will rise to 629 billion cubic metres in 2030 from 367 billion cubic metres in 2007, or to 15 per cent of worldwide supply from 12 per cent, the Paris-based adviser to 28 countries said in its annual World Energy Outlook. Gas supply capacity is set to outstrip annual demand growth of 2.5 per cent between 2010 and 2015, the IEA said.

India: World Bank Likely to Give $1 Billion for Cleaning Ganga River

NEW DELHI -- India is close to securing a $1 billion loan from the World Bank to fund a recently-launched program to clean and conserve the Ganga river, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said Wednesday.
This loan will be part of the $4 billion that India plans to spend to stop all discharges of untreated sewage and industrial effluents into the river by 2020, Mr. Ramesh told reporters on the sidelines of a conference.
The loan will be spread over five to seven years.
"This is a start, there may be more (money)," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said.
Write to Mukesh Jagota at

Thai Court Keeps Projects Frozen on Environmental Concerns

BANGKOK -- A Thai court ruled that dozens of industrial projects in the country's east must remain suspended because of environmental concerns, a decision that disappointed markets and may weigh on economic growth and the earnings of two of Thailand's largest conglomerates next year.
The ruling comes after the government appealed a decision by the Administrative Court in late September to issue an injunction to suspend 76 projects valued at 400 billion baht ($12.06 billion) in the Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong province after environmentalists argued that the permits approved by the government violated the constitution.
The Supreme Administrative Court on Wednesday approved 11 projects to proceed, but said that 65 others must remain halted.
The court said all projects being developed by Siam Cement PCL will remain on hold.
The company, Thailand's largest industrial conglomerate in terms of sales, has previously said that along with its partners, it has 106 billion baht worth of projects under suspension at the estate.
A major gas separation plant being developed by Thailand's largest energy conglomerate, PTT PCL, was among those approved by the court, company spokesman Attaphol Lertpiboon said. A Euro 4 emission standard project by PTT Aromatics & Refining PCL will also go ahead, he said.
However, the court ordered most of the PTT Group's projects to remain shuttered.
PTT has 25 projects at the estate valued at 120 billion baht.
The Thai stock market sank after digesting the news, with initial confusion over which projects were to remain suspended. The SET Index closed down 2.3% at 693.51, with PTT shares losing 5.1% to 225 baht and Siam Cement falling 5.1% to 223 baht.
"The ruling is definitely disappointing to the market as well as us," said a senior dealer with a local brokerage firm.
The court said the 65 projects that will remain suspended must comply with Article 67 of Thailand's constitution, which is related to the environment.
They must also seek a health impact assessment, an environmental impact assessment and approval from an independent body.
Both the PTT Group and Siam Cement warned earlier that the suspension will weigh on their 2010 earnings. In late October, the Bank of Thailand said the suspension of the projects could cut 0.5 percentage point off the country's economic growth rate next year.
The court's decision also hurt foreign investor confidence. That prompted the government to establish a special committee to seek a solution.
Write to Oranan Paweewun at and Leigh Murray at

Green and confused: Is olive oil production harming the environment?

Kieran Cooke

It seems we’re all in love with olive oil but I wonder about the environmental impact of its mass production. In southern Spain I’ve watched harvesting machines shaking the trunks of trees on vast plantations. It didn’t look pleasant. Am I being over sensitive?
Thanks to Jamie, Nigella and the rest of the cooking crowd, we are drizzling olive oil on our food in ever increasing quantities, with UK sales rising by nearly 50 per cent over the past ten years. While olive oil has a pleasant taste and is apparently beneficial to our overall health it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also good for the environment.
In Spain there is an environmental disaster in the making brought about by growing demand and mistaken EU policies. Mediterranean countries produce about 90 per cent of the world’s olive oil. In the 1980s and 90s Brussels, under the Common Agricultural Policy, encouraged enormous increases in production. Traditional farming methods based on terraced smallholdings were phased out in favour of giant plantations similar to the one you saw in Spain.
Terraced trees are fed by natural water flow: animals graze on surrounding land, and bird and plant life flourish. The new plantations are soulless places. Stretching over hundreds of hectares, the trees are sprayed with chemicals and water is piped in, often from hundreds of kilometres away. A lack of ground cover means that parts of Andalusia in Spain and Puglia in Italy are turning to desert. The EU now encourages more balanced production methods but the damage has been done: it’s likely that the rate of desertification will increase as rainfall patterns change and drought hits more areas of the Mediterranean.
An added problem is the disposal of the waste associated with the olive oil production process. If the waste is not properly treated it can poison land and water courses: the careless disposal of it caused serious damage to the environment in Syria and Morocco, both big olive oil producers.
Then there is the transport issue. Most of the olive oil in your local supermarket will be labelled “Made in Italy” or “Bottled in Italy” or say it is “100 per cent Italian oil”. Yet Italy does not produce enough oil to satisfy even its own needs.
Italy specialises in marketing: it imports vast amounts of olive oil to be packaged up and re-exported. Spain now accounts for more than 40 per cent of global olive oil production. Day and night tankers en route from Spain to Italy thunder along the Côte D’Azur highway in southern France. After bottling and labelling, the oil is once again transported, at a considerable cost to the environment in the form of carbon emissions, to markets in Northern Europe, including the UK.
Maybe it’s time to cut back on the drizzling.
Kieran Cooke Send your eco-dilemmas to

Stopping deforestation with a Tobin tax

Money is needed to preserve a vital part of the carbon cycle. It's there even in a recession, if only we sort out our priorities

Tony Juniper, Wednesday 2 December 2009 15.01 GMT
Every day, the Amazon basin rainforests pump about 20bn tonnes of moisture into the Earth's atmosphere. This forms clouds that create rain and is just one of the vital environmental services provided by the vast shimmering forest that stretches from the Atlantic to the Andes. The creation of the rain clouds is one vivid reminder of how the human economy is really a wholly owned subsidiary of nature.
The rain waters crops on farmland across South America, including the globally important grain baskets of southern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay. The rain also fills the rivers that power the hydroelectric dams, which in turn supply some 80% of the electricity that sustains Brazil's fast-growing economy.
The forests are also a vital part of the carbon cycle. As these and other tropical forests are cleared and burned they contribute some 20% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. The forests also soak up about 10% of our emissions, as the trunks of giant forest trees grow thicker and organic matter accumulates in peat. Saving these forests must be a vital component in our efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.
If we are to have any chance at all of reducing our emissions to about 20bn tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050 (going down from about 50bn tonnes now), deforestation needs to be quickly slowed down, stopped and then reversed.
Realising this, a group of governments recently produced a report setting out how it would be possible to reduce tropical deforestation by about 25% between 2010 and 2015. They set out a proposed new scheme that would provide financial rewards to countries in relation to their performance in cutting forest loss, or not starting it in the first place. Securing this level of reduction, as a first step on a more ambitious plan, would cost, the report estimates, about €20bn.
The recession poses something of a problem, however. Many of the developed countries face tight budgets and public spending constraints. So there has not been a rush of offers to pay the bill. While some, including Norway and the US, have put money on the table to make such a scheme work, there is still nowhere near enough yet pledged to make the difference needed.
This is, however, odd. For there is apparently not a shortage of money in the world, it is more a matter of how it is distributed. One example of how we have got our priorities out of line comes in the form of this year's bonus packages for Goldman Sachs employees – worth about $21bn.
So while the forests continue to fall, and in the process imperil our economic prospects in the decades ahead, societies continue to allow obscene rewards for behaviour that recently brought on the recession that now prevents us from paying to save vital environmental assets. I think it's time we changed our priorities, and got our economics the right way around, protecting those key services that have enabled human civilisations to flourish (including rainforests) and to move money in order to do that. But how?
One way of beginning to correct this particular imbalance would be through a so-called Tobin tax. This widely supported measure would work through a levy on international currency transactions, which now amount to about £560tn annually. Proposals from some development groups for a tax on this activity of 0.005% would net around £28bn a year.
Such a tax would thus divert money from a part of the economy that serves little social function, other than to enrich risk-taking currency speculators, and deliver it to saving the economy through bolstering some of nature's vital functions. So in the five years to 2015, and through this measure alone, about £140bn could be raised. In addition to saving the rainforests, this kind of money could make a serious difference for climate change adaptation, poverty alleviation, education and technology transfer. It would have the added fringe benefit of damping down some of the risk-taking behaviour that recently brought economic ruin.
I wonder if any world leaders will mention this idea during their meeting in Copenhagen, and if they don't, then why not?

RBS: How public money went into environmentally damaging investments

Treasury accused of writing a 'blank cheque' with taxpayers' money for bank to make environmentally damaging investments.
The Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 2 December 2009 13.29 GMT
The full extent of unsustainable investments made by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) were revealed this week in a report published by a coalition of organisations.
Since being bailed out by the taxpayer in October 2008, RBS has financed a host of environmentally-damaging projects, including open cast mining in Bangladesh, tar sands exploration in Canada and a heavily criticised mining company in India.
The coalition of groups, including Platform and the World Development Movement said the investments paid for by the taxpayer put the UK to 'shame'.
'We're paying for some of the most damaging mining and fossil fuel projects around the world,' said Julian Oram, head of policy at the World Development Movement.Sustainable investments
The report, 'Royal Bank of Sustainability', has called on the body set up to manage the public investments in RBS, UK Financial Investments (UKFI), to re-focus the bank towards sustainable investments both within the UK and the rest of the world.
RBS should also sign up to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), says the report, enabling UKFI to assess the climate risk of every investment the bank makes.
'RBS could be a global leader in low carbon financing,' said People & Planet director Ian Leggett.
'But to build that business two things need to happen. First, social and environmental criteria have to be a key part of RBS's investment decisions.
'Second, RBS needs to stop funding unconventional and controversial fossil projects immediately,' he said.
An RBS spokesperson said they fully supported the transition towards a low carbon economy but continued to lend to all sectors of business.
'Over recent years we have been a leading arranger of finance to the renewable energy sector and take our responsibility to play our part in this seriously.
'As a leading corporate and commercial bank, RBS has customers in almost all sectors of business. We only provide finance to projects which meet the environmental and social standards specified by the Equator Principles.'
UKFI said it would not get involved RBS investment decisions. 'Whilst we expect our investee banks to operate ethically and sensibly,operational decisions including on individual products or corporatefinancial arrangements remain the responsibility of the banks' boards,' said a UKFI spokesperson.
Unsustainable investments made by RBS in the past year include:
Bangladesh - open cast coal mine
RBS subsidiary, ABN Amro Bank NV has a 4.75% share of GCM Resources, the UK company pushing for an open cast mine in Bangladesh. There has been fervent local opposition as it would displace approximately 40, 000 people and impact on access to clean water for approximately 100, 000 people.
Wales - open cast coal mineRBS has taken part in loaning £115m to Hargreaves Services, the coal operator. Hargreaves has plans to extract 7m tonnes of coal by developing one of the largest open cast coal mines in the country at Tower Colliery, near the coal-mine-cum-protest-site Ffos-y-fran in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales.
This type of mining has been likened to a financial hit-and-run, bringing a few jobs for a couple of years and potentially leaving widespread asthma and other public health and environmental effects in the community for years to come.
India - Vedanta miningRBS was the lead financial adviser to Sterlite, which is 60% owned by Vedanta, in a recent takeover bid. The bank and its ABN Amro subsidiary gave letters of credit worth $100m (£60m) to Sterlite, which is India's biggest copper producer.[i] Vedanta is very controversial and has an appalling record on human rights.
Canada - tar sandsResearch from the Rainforest Action Network indicates that since Oct. 13, 2008 - when HM Treasury announced its recapitalisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group - RBS has extended at least $2.7 billion in debt/equity issuance underwritings to companies that own and/or are actively building tar sands extraction infrastructure and/or tar sands oil pipelines in Alberta, Canada.
Uganda/ Democratic Republic of Congo - oil explorationIn March 2009, RBS was part of a consortium of 14 banks that lent $1,890 million to the Irish company Tullow Oil - providing in the region of $100 million itself. The bank had already helped raise £402 million by placing shares for Tullow in January 2009.
In early 2009, the company announced a major discovery of 400-1000 million barrels by Lake Albert in Uganda, just on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Tullow also holds oil exploration rights across the border in North Kivu in the DRC, which continues to be torn by strife after more than a decade of resource-driven civil war.
The border area has seen some of the fiercest fighting take place as rival armies and militias have struggled for control. An additional 30,000 refugees were displaced in North Kivu during two weeks of fighting in March, adding to the existing 1.4 million internally displaced people in the region.