Friday, 4 December 2009

Copenhagen targets not tough enough, says Al Gore

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

Even if a deal is reached at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen next week it will only be the first step towards the far more radical cuts that are needed in global carbon emissions, Al Gore, the former US Vice-President, told The Times last night.
Mr Gore said that to avoid the worst ravages of climate change world leaders would have to come together again to set more drastic reductions than those now planned.
“Even a final treaty will have to set the stage for other tougher reductions at a later date,” he said. “We have already overshot the safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.”
He insisted that the present goal set for Copenhagen of stabilising world emissions of carbon dioxide at or below 450 parts per million — enough to prevent a rise in average global temperatures of no more than 2C — was insufficient and a safer target would be 350 parts per million.

“Are we doing enough? The answer is obviously no — 450 is not the right target. But it is presently seen as beyond the capacity of governments around the world. We are stretching the capacity of governments even to hit a 450 target.”
“We are gambling with the future of human civilisation in accepting odds that by any definition make our present course reckless . . . But it’s still the most likely path to success.”
Speaking from San Francisco, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and veteran climate campaigner also raised the pressure on President Obama to offer more stringent cuts in US emissions than the present offer of a 17 per cent reduction by 2020.
Mr Gore said that figure from the US, the world’s second-biggest carbon polluter, was “weaker than it should be” although he expressed sympathy for the challenges that Mr Obama faces in driving tough carbon regulation through a resistant House of Representatives. He said: “I’m glad that he is putting reduction targets on the table. I wish that they were stronger but I recognise the difficulties he faces in the Senate.”
Mr Gore also threw his weight behind calls for a system of international carbon taxes in order to slash fossil-fuel consumption although he warned that huge political obstacles existed to this which meant that it would be many years before such a system could be applied globally.
He said that a system of carbon emissions trading was a more realistic first step on this path and rejected criticism from James Hansen, the pioneering climate change scientist at Nasa, who has condemned both Mr Gore and the Copenhagen meeting for their focus on carbon markets as a solution to climate change.
Mr Gore said: “The correct policy response will include both of these powerful tools. But the degree of political difficulty associated with a carbon tax is a degree of difficulty much higher than the cap and trade approach.”
He also brushed aside questions over the reliability of climate science that have followed the publication last month of leaked e-mails between climate experts. He claimed that the scientific consensus around climate change “continues to grow from strength to strength”. He added: “The naysayers are in a sunset phase with a spectacular climax just before they subside from view. This is a race between common sense and unreality.”

Copenhagen summit: Denmark rushes in laws to stop carbon trading scam

Climate change summit host embarrassed as criminals make most of lax laws to pocket VAT on emissions trading

Ashley Seager, Thursday 3 December 2009 19.52 GMT
Europe's flagship carbon trading scheme suffered a blow today as the Danish government was forced to rush an emergency law through parliament to clamp down on a virulent form of VAT fraud.
On the eve of the Copenhagen climate talks, which will attract world attention to emissions trading schemes, police and tax investigators across Europe are believed to be investigating hundreds of millions of euros worth of fraud involving carbon quotas originating in Denmark.
Since British, French and Dutch governments took similar action in the summer, much of the "carousel" fraud involving carbon credits moved to Denmark, where registration of carbon quotas for the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is easy and a VAT rate of 25% makes the fraud attractive to international criminals.
Experts said today that Copenhagen had long been an accident waiting to happen in terms of carousel fraud.
Richard Ainsworth, professor of VAT policy at Boston University in the US said: "It is extremely surprising that after the French, British and Dutch had to move against this fraud in the summer that the Danes did not act more quickly, especially with the climate summit about to start."
The Danish government today said it did not know how much money it had lost to the fraud but the number is likely to run into hundreds of millions – if not billions – of kroner.
A spokesman for the Danish Energy and Climate Ministry, which supervises Denmark's carbon quota registry, said the rules for registration were being immediately tightened so anyone applying to trade carbon would face stringent checks.
The fraud occurs when a trader of carbon credits in one EU country buys some from another country free of VAT, then sells them on, charging the VAT to the buyer. The seller then disappears without handing the VAT to the taxman.
Some criminals re-export the credits, reclaiming VAT as they do so, then re-import them. They can do this repeatedly, reclaiming VAT many times, hence the "carousel" label.
Britain lost billions of pounds to carousel fraud, mainly on mobile phones, in 2006 and 2007 before the government changed the mobile trade so that tax was levied only on the final buyer.
The Danes have now introduced similar reforms – a day after a meeting of European financial officials rubber stamped a European Commission decision from September recommending that member states do so.
The news is an embarrassment for the European ETS and for carbon trading generally, which is attracting a growing number of critics.
Europe's carbon market is worth about €90bn a year. It is a combination of futures and spot trading and it is the largely unregulated spot market that was targeted this summer by the fraudsters.
Recent figures from consultants New Energy Finance showed that the ETS suffered its first ever drop in trading volumes in the third quarter of this year because the second quarter had been hugely inflated by fraudulent trades going across France's Bluenext exchange. French VAT rules have now changed.
The European Commission has estimated in the past that EU governments were losing more money to carousel fraud each year than they spent on the Common Agricultural Policy.

Climate change Russian roulette

We need to avoid a global hangover the day after the summit in Copenhagen. A breakthrough is possible, but only with sacrifices

Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Likhotal, Thursday 3 December 2009 18.00 GMT

Mounting scepticism and deadlocked negotiations have culminated in an announcement that the Copenhagen climate conference will not result in a comprehensive global climate deal. Disappointing? Certainly. But the summit was always meant to be a transitional step. The most important thing to consider is where we will go from here.
The phrase "the day after" is most commonly associated with the word "hangover". The absence of a binding agreement could mean a global hangover, and not just for a day. Fed up with apocalyptic predictions, people wanted a miracle in Copenhagen. So a perceived failure may cause a massive, perhaps irreversible, loss of confidence in our politicians. No surprise, then, that governments have sought to manage our expectations carefully.
Decision-makers have not faced up to just how close the world may be to the climate "tipping point". But, while a runaway climate remains a risk, runaway politics are already a fact. Official negotiations are removed from reality. According to the latest science, the current proposals under negotiation will result in warming of more than 4C during this century – double the 2C maximum endorsed by the G8 and other leaders. That leaves a higher than 50% probability of the world's climate moving past its tipping point.
An agreement based on the parameters that are now on the negotiating table would thus put us in a position more dangerous than a game of Russian roulette. To avoid both the global hangover of no deal and the self-deception of a weak deal, a breakthrough is needed – and can still be achieved in Copenhagen.
A two-step process is now our best bet. States should make a political commitment to a framework that includes overall objectives, an institutional framework and specific pledges of early action and financing. The declaration must stipulate that a legally binding agreement must be finalised by a second session, COP15-bis, in 2010. That would allow the US and other countries to enact the necessary legislation, and provide United Nations negotiators time to translate the COP15 declaration into an appropriate, workable legal structure. If this means a total reworking of the current document, so be it.
In addition, it might be necessary to have a review conference in 2015 to adjust our targets and plans to the new realities. Therefore, it is more important than ever that heads of state attend the Copenhagen conference, as this two-step solution will only work with strong, direct intervention by leaders.
In 1985 during the height of the cold war, when negotiations were bogged down at the US-Soviet Union Geneva summit, the negotiators were instructed by their leaders annoyed by lack of progress: "We do not want your explanations why this can't be done. Just do it!" And it was done by the morning. Today's leaders must come to Copenhagen and say: "We want this done!"
To move forward, the Copenhagen meeting must break the political deadlock between industrialised and developing states. Climate injustice must be redressed, as developing countries bear the brunt of the impact and face massive adaptation costs. Rich countries need to put serious money on the table. Claims that they lack the needed resources ring hollow, as trillions of dollars were found to bail out banks in the financial crisis.
Poor countries are aware of their power to block progress. Veto power is effectively shifting from the UN security council to G77 plus China. Who would have imagined in the west 10 years ago that the future and their children's wellbeing would depend upon decisions taken in Beijing or Delhi or Addis Ababa?
So the industrialised countries need to put a real financing offer on the table as soon as possible to allow time for a positive reaction and announcements of commitments from developing countries. In particular, commitment to an early-start fund – at least $20bn to immediately assist the least developed countries – is critical. This would help establish the trust that is now sorely lacking, and create conditions to restart productive negotiations.
Leaders must be honest about the scale of the challenge and recognise that a systemic and transformational change, not incremental gestures, is required. The official response to climate change must be recalibrated to the level and urgency of the threat. A new global agreement must be science-based, not a lowest-common-denominator compromise watered down by vested interests.
Sensible risk management today dictates that atmospheric carbon should be stabilised at 350 parts per million of CO2 equivalent (ppm CO2e), not the current pathway of 450-500ppm CO2e. This requires emission reductions of 45-50% in industrialised countries by 2020, and almost complete de-carbonisation by 2050, not the levels of 15-25% by 2020 and 60-80% by 2050 that are now on the table. Major developing countries must also commit to nationally appropriate mitigation actions. But the rich must move first. Their inaction over the last 20 years does not give them the right to point fingers.
Governments should not withhold the truth from their citizens. Everyone will have to make sacrifices. But do you want your home to be cheap, dirty, and dangerous or clean, decent, and safe? Are you ready to say, "OK, kids, I inherited this house, but I neglected to maintain it, so you will have to worry that the roof might collapse at any time"? That is not the type of legacy that any of us would want to leave our children.
• Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, is founding president of Green Cross International; Alexander Likhotal is president of Green Cross International and a member of the Climate Change Task Force (CCTF).
• Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009

Flying the flag for non-carbon energy

Five Times writers visit six countries with very different approaches to securing a clean, green energy supply

Every world leader travelling to Copenhagen knows that we need to cut carbon emissions. But there is no consensus on how to power our countries while we do it.
Heating and electricity needs add up to a quarter of the world’s emissions, but keeping the lights on while getting greener is going to be difficult. Energy use in the UK grew by 10 per cent from 1990 to 2006; China’s has almost doubled in the past 15 years.
While politicians prepare to talk tactics again, Eureka sent five Times writers to see how different countries are tackling the problem. From Europe’s nuclear power stations to Malaysia’s palm oil plantations, we examine the future of clean energy.
Some of the most innovative ideas hail from the developing world. Here they recognise that energy independence will offer environmental and economic benefits. Some use sugarcane, others prefer steam. But all are making a difference right now.

See articles below to discover the new generation of power brokers . . .
Nuclear: The French revelation
Biofuel: Brazil's sugar bonanza
Palm oil: Malaysia's fuel plantations
Geothermal: Kenya goes steaming in
Solar: India sees the light
Wind power: Chinese whispers

China and wind farms

China is investing heavily in clean wind power to stem its reliance on dirty coal. But it's getting ahead of itself
Jane Macartney

Sprouting from the monotony of the Gobi desert in northern China are dozens of towering wind turbines. This, the world’s largest project of its kind, has been dubbed “Three Gorges on Land” — and it will produce more power than the mighty Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.
Through a haze of sand, many of the turbines can be seen spinning, though others barely turn. That contrast is symptomatic of China’s rush to introduce clean energy and rely less on coal, which both fuelled its economic boom and made it the dirtiest country in the world.
So swiftly have communist party cadres rushed to embrace wind power that they have got ahead of themselves, and the state grid. Those turbines whose blades barely move have yet to be linked up to it. Officials say as many as half of China’s wind turbines stand impotently in the breeze, connected to nothing.
Neverthless, development in China’s wind power sector has been breathtaking, with generating capacity doubling in each of the past four years. The world’s second-largest energy user, China says that by 2020 it will bring total wind power capacity to 100GW, compared with 12GW today, with a view to generating 3 per cent of its electricity from non-hydro renewable energy. That gives China a lot to brag about when its delegates arrive in Copenhagen.

The wind farm at Jiuquan will yield 10GW. Its first phase will be completed next year, ahead of schedule. The second phase will double its capacity by 2020. By comparison, the massive Three Gorges dam will be able to produce 18.6GW.
“You could say that this is a very ambitious goal,” Wu Shengxue, of the National Development and Research Commission in Jiuquan, says. “At the same time it amounts to almost nothing when you look at China’s total demand.”
China wants to be more energy efficient and hopes to reduce its energy intensity — a measure of energy use in relation to the size of the economy — by 20 per cent by 2010. It also wants a greener mix of electricity.
Enormous state subsidies are helping to make wind part of that mix despite costing China’s grid 0.54 yuan (around 4.7 pence) per kilowatt-hour, double what it pays for power from fossil fuels. So it is no surprise China still relies on coal for 70 per cent of its electricity (last year the country overtook the US as the world’s biggest carbon emitter).
“We have to reduce our reliance on coal or China cannot develop,” Wu says. “The central government has set these targets and they must be met.”
China is already third in the world wind-power stakes, and the Gobi desert is ideal for wind farms. Here, the wind whistles down an almost perfectly flat corridor, where caravans once plied the Silk Road. And there are no herders or farmers to be moved out of the way.
The state subsidies have led to abuses, however. Many tenders have been won by huge state-owned companies that regard subsidies, rather than selling electricity, as their route to riches. Furthermore, China remains several steps behind the rest of the world in certain areas — particularly turbine control systems.
And there is another hurdle to overcome; the sheer separation between the wind farms of the interior and the major centres of power consumption in China’s coastal industrial heartland.
That means transmission is critical. China needs high-voltage transmission lines to move power over vast distances with minimal loss. Such systems are expensive, but China is already implementing new technology that has been allowed to languish on the drawing board in Europe and the US. Some 20 companies have been ordered to continue work on the cabling right through the freezing winter, when they would usually stop pouring cement because of the cold.
Of course, this is where China’s one-party government is able to bulldoze things through. “If the government decides this is a priority policy then officials pretty much have to fall into line,” Wu says. Besides, “green” has become a measure of individual performance and officials know failure to comply could jeopardise their promotion.
Zhao Jinquan is responsible for China’s largest solar-energy project in the ancient city of Dunhuang, due to open next year. He says it can’t afford to fall behind because, while solar power is more expensive now, coal could turn out to be even more costly. “We have to clean up the air, get rid of pollution and compensate workers who fall ill and miners killed in accidents,” he says.
With local governments and other vested interests still unsure if they want to pay more for clean power, that is an argument China’s leaders want to hear.

India and solar power

India will soon become one of the world's top three energy users. It thinks solar power can plug the fossil fuel gaps

Rhys Blakely

The devotees who trudge hundreds of miles barefoot in the blazing sun to the pilgrimage town of Shirdi in Maharashtra, western India, are traditionally greeted by the aroma of fried spices and the welcome prospect of a good meal. This year, the thousands who have been arriving every day to pay their respects to Sai Baba, a 19th-century holy man said to have worked miracles, have found a new dish on the menu — solar-cooked rice.
In July, the Saibaba Sansthan Trust, the non-profit organisation that tends to the pilgrims’ needs, unveiled the world’s largest solar-powered kitchen. Paid for by the Indian Government, it is capable of feeding 20,000 devotees a day — and of washing the dishes when they are done.
The trust’s vast canteen, which seats 5,000 at a time, has 73 mirrored dishes on its roof. Each 16 square metres in area, the dishes track the sun, reflecting and concentrating its light on to a 25cm (1ft) steel dome and heating it to about 300C (572F). The system generates about 3,500kg of steam a day, funnelled down to the floor below and into a series of giant pressure cookers, each of which can cook 35kg of rice in 20 minutes. The system, which cost about £150,000 to install, saves more than 260kg of liquid petroleum gas a day. The food, I am pleased to report, is delicious.
The main drawback is a familiar one in the world of solar power; during the monsoon, when clouds block the sun, gas has to be used. No matter the weather, the 200,000 chapatis the devotees consume every day are still cooked using fossil fuels. “You just can’t make a good chapati with steam,” a chef explained. When it comes to energy, soggy bread is the least of India’s problems. The country’s economic rise is already outpacing its ability to provide power to its people, and estimates of future growth indicate a looming crisis. Demand for electricity is likely to increase more than five-fold, to 3,870 terawatt-hours a year by 2030, according to McKinsey, the consultancy firm. In the same period, the number of vehicles on India’s already congested roads is expected to rise seven-fold, to about 380 million.

India relies on modest coal reserves for the lion’s share of its power and already imports 70 per cent of the oil it uses. If these forecasts come to pass, within two decades India will be the world’s third largest consumer of energy, after the United States and China. In the process India’s share of world energy consumption will nearly double, and its CO2 emissions, at present among the lowest in the world per person, will likewise jump. Against this gloomy backdrop, a plethora of government-led pilot schemes have sprouted in the past year to showcase renewable energy initiatives. Shirdi’s solar-powered kitchen is among the government’s favourites, but there are also plans to distribute 200 million solar-powered lamps in the next few years, and to install solar panels on all government buildings by 2012.
Among the more eye-catching experiments is a novel bonus plan for banking executives. Those who enable villages to become “fully solar electrified” by lending them the funds to buy small photovoltaic systems, able to power portable TVs and street lighting, will get a 100,000 rupee (£1,300) cash prize.
Experts say such initiatives are a good start, but no more than that. For instance, bankers get no more bonuses once they’ve provided solar power to about 250,000 homes — a drop in the ocean.
A larger programme to subsidise solar farms suffers from a similar problem. The scheme will guarantee minimum prices for the power producers, but will be capped at ten billion rupees over ten years. That is not enough to offset the much greater cost of generating electricity from the sun compared to coal, according to analysts. Most seriously, perhaps, there are fears the grandest plan of all — a $19 billion (£11.5 billion) scheme to make India a global leader in solar power — is just wishful thinking.
The plans call for India to generate 200GW of power from solar sources by 2050 (the world can currently generate only 14GW), but where the money will come from remains unclear. “I fear this is bluster designed for international consumption,” said D. Raghunandan, of the Delhi Science Forum.

Kenya and geothermal energy

Just digging a hole in Hell's Gate produces steam. So is geothermal energy the solution to Kenya's growing power needs?

Tristan McConnell

Hundreds of pipelines snake across the petrified lava flows, scrub-covered hills and steep gorges of Hell’s Gate, a prehistoric landscape dotted with steel chimneys spewing columns of sulphurous white steam into the air.
This collision of stark natural beauty and industry is the birthplace of Africa’s green power revolution, nestling in the 3,500-mile Great Rift Valley. In the floor of the fissure, the Earth’s crust is thinner, the ground closer to its molten core.
Hell’s Gate is the African home of geothermal energy. Wells drilled two miles down pipe superheated water to three power plants where it turns into steam, spinning turbines to produce clean, green and renewable electricity. The cooled water is then injected back into the wells, producing more steam and more energy. The power stations here at Olkaria produce 163 megawatts, 13 per cent of Kenya’s total generating capacity. “You need water, heat and some cracks,” Peter Ouma, manager of the steam fields, says. “Here, if you dig a pit latrine you get steam.”
Kenya is an unusually green energy producer among African countries, which tend to rely on imported fossil fuels. Hydroelectricity accounts for 60 per cent of its power but drought, deforestation and silting of dams are squeezing capacity, leading to increased reliance on expensive diesel. Despite leasing diesel generators, East Africa’s biggest economy can barely keep the lights on; parts of the capital Nairobi have recently been in darkness every other day.

According to Peerke de Bakker, an energy expert at the Nairobi regional headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the time is ripe for geothermal energy in Kenya and other Rift Valley countries.
“The idea is that by 2018 Kenya alone will have developed over 1,000MW of geothermal. But the African Rift is much bigger than Kenya,” he says, adding that the entire valley could generate about 7,000MW. “It will mean indigenous power for the countries of the Rift Valley, increasing their own supply security, reducing the drain on foreign exchange and of course it has a [positive] environmental impact,” he says.
Tapping the Earth’s heat is not a new idea. Italy built its first geothermal power station (still running today) in 1904, and Iceland is powered almost entirely by geothermal energy. “Once the well is there the energy is basically free,” de Bakker says. But, he adds, “when you fail, it’s an expensive mistake, up to $5 million”.
Those upfront costs and uncertainties are being partly borne by the government’s newly formed Geothermal Development Company (GDC). Dr Silas Simiyu, the chief executive, is tasked with finding suitable geothermal sites as well as investors to exploit them.
“We are not going to wait for an investor to come and do the drilling,” he says. “We will do it ourselves and [undertake] the feasibility study that we can take to investors.”
Simiyu’s state-owned enterprise, like those of many African governments, is looking to China. Much of the GDC’s $75 million (£45 million) start-up cash will go on relatively cheap Chinese-made rigs to drill exploratory wells. Already, two leased rigs manned by Chinese are drilling in Hell’s Gate.
Elsewhere in the Rift, an $18 million fund put together by the World Bank and UNEP will pay for more high-tech exploration — in Kenya, as well as in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. The first well, to be drilled in Lake Assal, Djibouti, will be the start of a 50MW plant.
If Hell’s Gate is where Africa’s green energy revolution began, an important part of its future lies hundreds of miles to the north on a desert plain of rock and dust, framed by towering mountains, where the hot wind blasts day and night.
Three years from now, this inhospitable wilderness is set to become Africa’s biggest wind farm, with 365 turbines and a capacity of 300MW. The site is “a wind energy developer’s dream”, says Carlo van Wageningen, chairman of the Dutch-led Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium behind the plant.
That dream is backed by investors and loans from the African Development Bank and others, which is just as well as it won’t come cheap. The wind farm itself will cost $636 million, and another $260 million will be needed for 266 miles of high-voltage transmission lines to link it to Kenya’s national grid.
It should all be worth it. Under the terms of a 20-year deal with the Kenya Power and Lighting Company — the utility group responsible for electricity distribution — the consortium will be paid $0.10 for each kilowatt-hour of energy, roughly half what Kenya is shelling out for energy from emergency diesel generators. Kenya will also benefit from carbon credits worth around $14.5 million a year, Van Wageningen reckons.
Further advanced though rather less ambitious is Kenya’s first — and so far only — wind farm, strung along the rolling peaks of the Ngong Hills on the Rift Valley’s eastern escarpment.
The six 50m tall turbines began feeding 5.1MW of power into the national grid this summer, and Hezron Ng’iela, an engineer at the state power company KenGen, says it is proof Kenya can harness the wind. “We have a lot of wind potential, probably enough to sustain us for a number of years,” he says.
Wind farms in Egypt and Morocco generate most of the continent’s 563MW of wind power, although this is equivalent to less than a fifth of what Britain alone generates. That is set to change as governments across Africa begin to realise the green energy potential trapped beneath the earth and in the wind.

Malaysia and palm oil plantations

Malaysia is cleaning up its wasteful palm oil industry in an effort to position itself as a world leader in biofuels
Leo Lewis

The rolling lanes above the small town of Kota Tinggi are flanked by heavy industry at its most lush. All around is something coldly commercial, given a sweltering jungle disguise. Every mile offers a strange new glimpse of Malaysia’s palm oil industry — immense, controversial and an irresistible contributor to GDP. The big question is just where Asia’s great biofuel gambit stands in the quest for cleaner energy.
Palm oil production is riddled with contradictions and waste. Along one road sit palm trunks piled in a stack the size of a substantial block of flats. Now rotting, they were felled last year when they reached the end of their 21-year useful life. Down another path sprawls a stagnant lagoon of POME — palm oil mill effluent — silently exuding methane and stinking of decay.
In places, it is easy to spot the abrupt lines where plantations have encroached, in some cases illegally, on protected strips of rainforest. Every so often, a choking plume of smoke from burning palm kernels hits the back of the throat. “Could have used it to feed animals,” says a worker prodding the blaze with a hoe, “but there was too much to handle.”
There is, of course, nothing new about all this. The palm oil industry has been at the heart of the Malaysian and Indonesian economies for decades, and its inefficiencies regularly shock the outside world. But much is changing. Scale has followed the potential rewards, and both have soared in line with the breathless growth of China and the lucrative global fundamentals of energy. Banking on the price of crude palm oil surging another 15 per cent in the coming months, IOI, Malaysia’s second biggest palm oil producer, has recently unveiled plans for a huge expansion of its refinery capacity in Pasir Gudang, close to Singapore.

At the summit in Copenhagen, biofuels are certain to feature prominently, promoted as the literal growing of energy on trees. That perception is tightly bound up with palm oil, largely because it is the most economical edible oil to produce. When crude oil prices surged, palm oil seemed the ideal alternative. But a United Nations Environment Programme report published earlier this year shows that the numbers do not add up. Peatlands, which naturally sequester carbon, are often drained to make way for new palm plantations: when the peat is burned, it generates several times more CO2 than the burning of the same weight of coal.
While many at Copenhagen will be talking about nuclear, wind or solar, South-East Asia will want to make biofuels a centrepiece. Delegates at the climate change talks will be presented with bullish forecasts, including the prediction that global use of biofuels will double by 2015. Mixed with petrol, ethanol will represent 12 to 14 per cent of the global supply of vehicle fuel in five years, Hart Energy Consulting declared in a recent report. Palm oil biodiesel, it added, will dominate.
Proponents of biofuels may also strongly play down the many objections to palm oil as raw material for biofuel. Not least of these is the argument that palm oil, being edible and indeed widely consumed, is too valuable a commodity to burn alongside diesel in fuel tanks as the world works out how to feed its billions. The resource competition between stomachs and combustion engines, especially over palm oil, has already profoundly distorted world food and fuel markets. When subsidies are stirred into the mix, entire food systems can be destabilised.
In anticipation of this, and to counter longstanding criticism of both the way palm oil is produced and emission statistics that suggest it is far from clean, Asia’s biofuel industry is humming with talk of innovation. If all the inedible offcuts of palm oil — those logs, kernels and effluent ponds — could be harnessed to productive ends, then the whole proposition might make more sense.
Perhaps, but don’t count on it, says Oliver Mauss, the Singapore-based director of Asia Resource Partners and a developer of many “alternative” biofuels. “Of course there are many things you could do to make palm oil less wasteful, and even to exploit that waste as new sources of biofuel,” he says. But with the price of crude oil constantly fluctuating and the corruption that surrounds a lot of the palm oil supply chain between plantation and refinery, “even if you make it all sustainable, it doesn’t solve everything”, he adds.
That view has not dented the biofuel ambitions of either the South-East Asian countries or interested companies around the world. In Singapore, a few kilometres south of IOI’s new facility, a Finnish company will open the world’s biggest biofuel refinery next year. It is plants like this, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said last month, that will define the region as the global biofuel hub.
Asked if palm oil could make Malaysia the Saudi Arabia of biofuels, as the more excitable proponents suggest, the plantation worker in Kota Tinggi shrugs, then continues shovelling palm kernels on to a fire.

Brazil and biofuels

Brazil has become the world's biggest producer of bioethanol derived from sugarcane. But at what cost?

Robin Pagnamenta

The odour of molasses hangs in the air as a vast truck, groaning with thick green stalks of sugarcane, pulls up and tips its load into a metal pit. Here at the Santelisa Vale sugar mill in São Paulo state, Brazil is processing sugar cane into ethanol, which now provides about half the country’s transport fuel.
Brazil may not be famous for its environmental stewardship, but it has gone farther in breaking its reliance on fossil fuels than any other major world economy. The oil crisis in the 1970s forced Brazil, almost wholly dependent on imported oil and with little hard currency to pay for it, to examine radical options for its energy security. As a result, the country embraced new policies that are now paying off.
One of these was a huge expansion of hydroelectric power: around 600 dams now supply more than 90 per cent of electricity. The other was to encourage its well-established sugarcane sector to diversify into ethanol production.
On many levels, the programme has been a huge success. Now gasoline is the alternative fuel for light vehicles in Brazil, says Joel Velasco of UNICA, the association of the Brazilian sugarcane industry. Last year, the country produced 27 billion litres of bioethanol, making a huge contribution to its energy independence. In the Ribeirão Preto section of São Paulo state — heartland of Brazil’s sugarcane industry — the smart new cars and glitzy barbecue restaurants attest to the wealth that flows from the sector, worth £10 billion annually.

Although it was not the primary motivation at the time, the policy has also brought environmental benefits; Brazilian bioethanol emits 80 to 90 per cent less carbon than petrol.
But the industry is now being transformed as soaring global demand for bioethanol and a hunt for alternatives to petrol has unleashed billions of dollars’ worth of foreign investment. Oil giants such as BP, Shell and funds linked to George Soros have all invested in Brazilian biofuels in recent years and UNICA expects the country’s ethanol production to nearly double by 2015. Nearly eight million hectares of sugarcane are under cultivation but this is set to increase to 14 million by 2020.
This blistering pace of expansion has prompted concerns about the knock-on impact of Brazil’s bioethanol industry, in terms of deforestation of the Amazon and the exploitation of vulnerable workers. Other critics have claimed the industry has led to a rise in global sugar prices and hence the cost of food.
Marcos Jank, UNICA’s president, says major areas of sugarcane production are at least 1,000km (620 miles) from the Amazon region. However, the latest figures show production of ethanol in the two jungle states of Amazonas and Rondonia trebled to 15 million litres between 2006 and 2008.
That is small beer compared to Brazil’s total production, and soya and cattle ranching remain more powerful drivers of deforestation — but the trend is significant. If global demand for biofuels continues to soar, who knows what the long-term impact will be?
Meanwhile, about one million people are employed by the industry directly, up to half of whom cut cane by hand, using methods little changed since the crop was introduced here in 1532. Tales of exploitation and abuse have been trickling out in recent years.
Much of the industry’s growth will be driven by exports to the US and Europe, which have imposed legal requirements to include blended biofuels in petrol. To prepare for this, Brazil is planning a huge network of pipelines to transport bioethanol from cane mills in the interior to coastal ports.
But a curious irony surrounds this explosive growth in bioethanol production. It is unfolding just as another discovery promises to transform Brazil’s energy sector — the finding of vast oil reserves beneath the deep waters off Rio de Janeiro. Having built up its sugarcane industry to cut its reliance on oil imports, Brazil is set to become a major exporter of oil. One step forward, two back?

France and the nuclear option

France generates 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power. But is its vision of an atomic-fuelled future flawed?

Robin Pagnamenta

Inside a cavernous hall at the La Hague nuclear plant, Lionel Gaiffe holds up a 20 cent coin and lets it glint in the sallow glow of the arc lights strung high above.
“This is the amount of high-level radioactive waste produced by every French citizen in a year — about 5 grams,” he says. Gaiffe — one of the plant’s directors — knows better than most. Beneath him lie circular plates concealing the world’s largest stockpile of high-level nuclear waste. Stacked in concrete chutes are 8,500 one-tonne steel canisters containing all the high-level waste produced during the 50 years of France’s civil nuclear programme. Inside a mixture of glass and sugar lies a black sludge of lethal isotopes; the by-products of nuclear fission. The stockpile is growing by two and a half canisters every day. Each one is so radioactive it would kill a human in seconds. They will remain toxic for 100,000 years.
This far-flung corner of Normandy offers a vivid glimpse into our energy future. France, where 58 nuclear reactors generate 78 per cent of all electricity, has squeezed more carbon from its economy than any G8 nation. At 6.4 tonnes per person per year, the average Frenchman emits less than a third of the carbon dioxide produced by an American and more than 30 per cent less than a Briton. So is the nuclear-powered Gallic model to cutting carbon a blueprint for others? Is La Hague the answer to our low-carbon dreams or a throwback to a 1960s atomic nightmare? First, the positives.
Just a few miles from La Hague, a forest of red cranes are towering above a sprawling construction site by the Channel. Here, at Flamanville, thousands of workers are building a vast concrete shell that will one day contain the world’s most powerful nuclear reactor. France has positioned its new Evolutionary Power Reactor, or EPR, as the most potent weapon in the battle against climate change. Designed to withstand a direct hit from a 747 jet, it will operate for 60 years and churn out 1,600 megawatts — enough electricity to power Manchester.

Flamanville is not due to enter service until 2012 but it is already the cornerstone of a grand project to export French nuclear technology. Amid concerns about climate change and energy security, France is at the vanguard of a nuclear revival. After years of post-Chernobyl stagnation, the number of reactors is set to grow from 435 in 31 countries now to 568 in 42 countries by 2020 — equivalent to one new reactor per month for the next decade. France wants to build at least a third of them. Britain plans to build ten by 2025 to increase nuclear generation from 13 to 25 per cent. It is possible they will all be the same design as Flamanville.
“We have a lot of experience, a lot of competence in the nuclear business,” says Bernard Salha, of EDF, the state-controlled company that owns a quarter of the UK’s power stations and plans to build four reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk.
Luc Oursel, France’s premier reactor salesman, is unsurprisingly upbeat. “We see more and more countries coming to us,” says the president of Areva NP, the world’s biggest nuclear reactor maker and developer of the EPR. “If Copenhagen is really ambitious then there will certainly be a big acceleration of nuclear power.” He says he has 23 provisional orders from Britain, Finland, the US and China, each worth more than four billion euros. With global energy demand set to grow by up to 50 per cent by 2030, opportunities are staggering. China alone wants a 10-fold increase in nuclear capacity — equivalent to 150 EPRs. India plans a 12-fold rise.
Bertrand Barre, one of the founders of state-run Areva, adds a short history of the French nuclear programme. In 1973, France was producing just 8 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, with the bulk coming from oil. Its limited natural resources meant it was overwhelmingly reliant on imports from the Middle East — a situation that became untenable when the oil shock hit that year. “Overnight, oil prices quadrupled. There was a public outcry for us to do something,” says Barre. The following year, France embarked on the boldest drive into nuclear power in history, with plans to open six reactors a year. While the programme was hugely expensive, it was an engineering success. By the late 1990s, France was producing nearly 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear — a level that continues today. With hydroelectric plants adding another 12 per cent, about 90 per cent of France’s electricity is carbon-free. It ranks 10th out of 149 in Columbia University’s Environmental Performance Index, while thanks to state subsidies, consumers’ electricity bills are among the lowest in Europe. “Nuclear is not the solution,” says Barre. “But I don’t think there is a solution that doesn’t include nuclear.” But this glossy spin on the French atomic miracle obscures some important facts.
On the wooded shores of Western Finland lies a site that Areva would sooner the world forgot. This is Olkiluoto island, where the world’s first EPR and the forerunner to Flamanville was due to enter service early this year. Instead, this remote outcrop is the scene of a bitter battle over costs and delays. It has seriously damaged France’s reputation and a multibillion-euro lawsuit is now pending against Areva. Building is three years late while costs have soared 75 per cent to 5.3 billion euros. Oursel blames the Finns’ poor “attitude”, a failure to collaborate and the fact Olkiluoto was the first of a kind. But for Yves Marignac, director of campaign group WISE-Paris, the debacle is symptomatic of a deeper malaise that runs to the heart of the French nuclear industry.
“On virtually every issue the programme has failed to deliver on its promises,” he says, stressing that UK policymakers are in the grip of a “dangerous and costly illusion” if they think France is a model for how nuclear power should be implemented. Certainly, calculating the financial cost to France of building its own nuclear fleet is not easy. While consumers do pay relatively modest electricity bills, they have also funded the billions of euros worth of subsidies that have been pumped into the industry for decades, says Duncan Sinclair, a consultant at Redpoint Energy.
“It’s impossible to know what the real costs were or whether it was any more economic than alternatives,” he says. Meanwhile, France’s claims of being a “low-carbon” economy are also debatable. It’s true relatively little carbon dioxide is emitted from electricity generation and its consumption of the dirtiest fuel, coal, is negligible. But the notion that nuclear has allowed France to break its reliance on imported fossil fuels is false.
After a low of 74 million tonnes in 1985, France now imports about the same amount of oil as in 1974 — 94 million tonnes a year, while gas imports have quadrupled over the same period.

If France’s oil-hungry transport sector is taken into account, more than 70 per cent of France’s energy consumption is still supplied from fossil fuels, with oil accounting for 49 per cent of the total in 2007 — the figure in the UK is 41 per cent. In fact, the average citizen in France consumes more oil per person — 1.46 tonnes per year — than in Germany or Britain, at 1.33 tonnes. While French carbon emissions are lower than most developed countries, they are too high for its nuclear industry to be celebrated as a “solution” to climate change.
In 2007, France emitted 405 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making it the 16th biggest carbon polluter in the world. That is better than the UK’s 564 million tonnes (8th place) or coal-dependent Germany’s 835 million (6th) but, at 6.4 tonnes per head, French emissions are more than three times the level thought necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. It’s worth noting that Switzerland and Sweden use less nuclear energy but have lower per capita emissions, of 5.8 and 6.3 tonnes respectively.
Marignac claims France’s relentless focus on nuclear power has crowded out viable alternatives. “We need a much greater focus on energy efficiency and renewables but nuclear power prevents effective development of these,” he says. One problem, he says, is the subtler state support the industry receives besides mere subsidies. A clique of elite technocrats — most are graduates of the prestigious Ecole des Corps des Mines in Paris — has doggedly advanced the nuclear cause for decades. This has brought obvious advantages, but there is no doubt the so-called Corps des Mines has pursued nuclear power at the expense of alternatives. Its monopoly over decision-making has also stifled debate, even in parliament.
The country’s heavy reliance on nuclear has caused other difficulties. Fourteen of France’s 19 nuclear power stations are inland and use river rather than seawater for cooling. When water temperatures rise, EDF is forced to shut down reactors to prevent them over-heating. This has led to a succession of summer power shortages. In June, EDF warned France might need to import up to 8,000MW of electricity — enough to power Paris — because of the combined impact of hot weather, a strike by workers and ongoing repairs. By the end of October, almost 30 per cent of the country’s nuclear power generating capacity was offline because of industrial action or repairs.

It is a weakness that, while intermittent, undermines France’s much vaunted claims of energy independence, which itself hinges on imported uranium from Canada, Niger and elsewhere. France’s oft-cited boast to have achieved “50 per cent energy independence” ignores this.
There are other areas where the French nuclear “myth” deserves close scrutiny. While the country prides itself on a good safety record, it is not unblemished. The number of level one nuclear incidents (on an international scale of zero to seven) increased by about a third last year to 72, up from 56 in 2007. And two months ago, the French Government demanded to know how a nuclear research facility near Marseilles lost track of its plutonium stocks after several previously undeclared kilograms of the material were found — enough to make five nuclear bombs.
Then there is the issue of where to put the nuclear waste, which remains unresolved — as in Britain. Unlike in countries such as Sweden and Finland, no long-term solution has been determined for France’s waste, although a provisional plan exists to bury it in a “deep geological repository” in Alsace.
With no decision due before 2015, the future of this growing waste stockpile is likely to remain an awkward issue — especially since the facility at La Hague is three-quarters full. It is one of many issues France needs to address if it is to live up to its aim of being a showcase for nuclear power.
For Britain, where the challenges are more immediate — about a quarter of the country’s power plants are due to close down by 2015 — France offers important lessons on the benefits of a more strategic approach to energy policy. But the idea that it also offers a panacea for our carbon concerns would be to stretch the truth.

Greenwash: The last chance to stop global warming...until next time

The Copenhagen summit is part of a never-ending circus that is about so much more than just climate change

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

When politicians say there is no Plan B, it usually means that they have given up on Plan A and are unsure what to do next.
The UN climate summit in Copenhagen has been portrayed as the last chance to save the planet by those keen to bounce the world into agreeing a treaty on cutting greenhouse gases. Copenhagen is, of course, merely the last chance until the next chance. The key players are already preparing for another summit next November, when the real deal may be signed.
To give it its formal title, Copenhagen is the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — often abbreviated to COP15. Mexico will probably host COP16 and the UN has begun planning COP17, likely to be in South Africa in 2011, and COP18 in Asia in 2012. This is an unstoppable global bandwagon that will just keep rolling, regardless of what is agreed on emissions.
COPs usually attract about 5,000 delegates, observers and journalists, but the sense of the world being on the edge of an abyss means that about double that number will be in Copenhagen. The same number of activists are expected to travel to the city, many staying in the hippy commune of Christiania where they will plot various stunts and blockades.

Most will arrive by plane, generating an enormous carbon footprint, though a special climate express will carry 400 delegates on a 13-hour train ride from Brussels to Copenhagen. Yet when the conference ends and no one is watching, many of the rail martyrs will quietly fly home.
The delegates may come from 192 countries but they all belong to the same travelling circus and they greet each other like old friends. Many going to Copenhagen are veterans of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. And in addition to the annual COPs, these delegates attend smaller meetings several times a year. Last month they met for five days in Barcelona at the final UN climate talks before Copenhagen. They spent a week in Bangkok in October. In recent years, the circus has also been to Buenos Aires, Marrakesh, Milan, Montreal, Nairobi and Bali.
Spending so much time away from home gives delegates plenty of opportunity to continue their discussions in a more intimate manner outside the conference hall. This is known in COP circles as carbon dating. Bill Hare, an Australian climate scientist and COP veteran, met his wife, one of the German Government’s climate change negotiators, at the Kyoto summit in 1997. “I’m aware of several other couples who met at these climate meetings. It’s not surprising given how much time we spend together,” Hare says. “People refer to us as the dinosaurs because we have been attending the talks for so long.”
The sense of attending a travelling circus is heightened by the various costumes worn by activists seeking publicity. In Barcelona, a group of aliens wandered around the conference centre asking delegates to “take me to your leader”. They were trying to highlight the absence of world leaders from the talks and the doubts over whether President Obama would be in Copenhagen. Meanwhile, Bolivian peasants in ponchos and black bowler hats strolled around aimlessly because their President had decided that “real people” should attend the talks on his behalf.
The main change that Hare has noticed in the past decade is the gradual disappearance of organisations that are sceptical about man-made climate change. They used to set up stall alongside environmental groups in the exhibition spaces outside conference halls. Now that space is monopolised by the green lobby, which also controls most of the fringe events.
There was almost no debate at the Barcelona conference about the causes of climate change or how quickly temperatures would rise. The delegates spent the whole time arguing over how to share the burden of dealing with the problem.
Even the delegation from the US, a country which has spent two decades dodging any commitment to cut emissions, joined in the chorus of calls for global action to save the planet. The Americans’ chief negotiator is a climate scientist, Dr Jonathan Pershing, who has dedicated himself for more than a decade to saving the world from global warming.
Only 36 per cent of Americans believe that human activity is causing climate change, according to a Pew Research Centre survey in October. But despite this and polls in other countries showing high degrees of scepticism, no one at the conference displayed any doubt that man-made climate change was a real and present danger.
There were no questions about the science of climate change at any of the dozens of press conferences in Barcelona. Nor were the negotiators called upon to justify their proposals for draconian emissions cuts or staggering sums of “climate finance” for poor countries. Any question that sounded even vaguely sceptical was greeted with looks of contempt from both the platform and audience.
Even the activists get an easy ride. In the wake of an announcement by two young climate activists that they were starting an indefinite hunger strike, I was criticised by other journalists for asking how we could be sure that this wasn’t just another publicity stunt and whether they could prove that they really would be drinking only water.
The UN security guards were remarkably tolerant of the daily stunts pulled by activists. They allowed Greenpeace to park two big lorries outside the conference centre and create a fake storm by spraying water and thousands of leaves at arriving delegates. The irony was that Greenpeace diverted attention from the real evidence of global warming: it was 21C in early November and the leaves were still on the trees as autumn had yet to arrive in Catalonia.
The role of environmental groups at these events extends far beyond a few demonstrations. They work very closely with the 130 developing countries that are members of the so-called Group of 77, advising them on their negotiating positions and even providing personal assistants to help with paperwork and errands.
This goes a little way towards ameliorating the serious mismatch between the armies of negotiators from the rich countries and the tiny teams from the poorest nations. The US had 60 people in Barcelona and will send more than 100 to Copenhagen. In contrast, each developing country can send two delegates at the UN’s expense. They are given an economy-class flight and €219 a day for accommodation, food and local travel.
The Gambia, where the average income is less than £1 a day, had a team of three in Barcelona after itself funding one delegate. Ousman Jarju, its lead negotiator, is also head of the country’s water supply and had to deal with problems back home as soon as the day’s negotiations were over. The US and European teams had no other responsibilities and headed off to nice restaurants.
One key episode in Barcelona illustrates how Copenhagen will not really be about carbon but about money. The African group of nations walked out of Barcelona in protest at the paltry level of emissions cuts being offered by developed countries. However, they soon lost their nerve and returned after realising that they could lose billions in aid by delaying a deal.
When developing countries demand that rich countries cut their emissions by at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020, what they are really doing is raising the stakes in the poker game over the size of the aid budget. The EU has proposed a global fund of €100 billion a year to help developing countries to adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon growth. The developing countries want much more than that and are deeply suspicious of the EU’s proposal that at least half the money should come from the private sector.
Their language is increasingly strident: polite appeals for charitable donations from the West have been replaced by aggressive demands for compensation for the damage done by our high-carbon lifestyles. The aggression often turns to anger when negotiators from developing countries are asked to spell out what they are willing to do to reduce the rate of growth of their emissions. Asked about this in Barcelona, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, spokesman for the Group of 77, railed against the West: “It is unfair for developed countries to ask the poorest and most vulnerable countries to subsidise their standards of living.”
Developing countries take every opportunity to point out that the West is responsible for the vast majority of the man-made CO2 in the atmosphere. They are less keen to discuss projections showing that they will account for 90 per cent of the future growth in emissions.
The concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” lies at the heart of the Copenhagen negotiations. This is a coded way of saying that only developed countries are expected to cut their CO2. China, India and other developing countries can go on increasing their emissions as long as these grow at less than the “business-as-usual” rate.
With the planet-saving efforts of 190 countries being measured in two such different ways, there is boundless opportunity for accusations that some are not pulling their weight. When the circus rolls out of Copenhagen on December 18, the only certainty is that the big top will soon be re-erected in another city.

Global emissions only 'few billion tonnes' short of targets, says Stern

Leading economist says world leaders are more than halfway towards pledges needed for effective deal at Copenhagen

Press Association, Thursday 3 December 2009 10.58 GMT
Offers on the table ahead of the Copenhagen climate change talks are only "a few billion tonnes" short of the scale of annual CO2 emission cuts required to meet 2020 environment targets, Lord Stern said today.
He acknowledged there was a "significant way to go" but insisted: "It is possible to get there."
The economist and global warming expert was speaking in Brussels after breakfast talks with European commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Yesterday in London he said world leaders were more than halfway towards the kind of promises needed to save the planet at Copenhagen.
His latest report says global emissions are currently 47bn tonnes of greenhouses gases a year, and could rise to 58bn tonnes in 2020.
To keep global warming to no more than a 2C, says his report, emissions should be held at about 44bn tonnes in 2020.
Today, stopping off in Brussels on the way to Copenhagen, he praised the "vital lead" taken by the EU, and went on: "If you look at the kind of offers that are now on the table we are just a few billion tonnes short per annum of the kind of emission cuts we need to get on target for 2020.
"That means there is a significant way to go but it is possible to get there."
Lord Stern said a "strong, outline, political agreement" at Copenhagen could lead to a dynamic industrial revolution. He said the "extra bit" that needed to be done would require increased commitments from some countries which had already made emissions-cutting offers, as well as a bigger fight against deforestation. "Both those things could take us there and I trust they are both possible."
Dr Pachauri said: "If we are serious about taking action then 2020 is clearly the date by which we must commit ourselves to reduce emissions substantially."
President Barroso repeated the EU's pledge to increase to 30% its current commitment to cut CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 - but only when there are significant equivalent commitments from the rest of the developed world and "adequate" responses from poorer countries."We have set a unilateral, unconditional target of 20%: we cannot commit to more if others do not do so as well," he said.
In the last fortnight, India revealed a carbon intensity cut of 24% by 2020, China pledged an intensity reduction of 40-45% by 2020 and the US offered to cut total greenhouse emissions 17% by 2020. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic growth.

Contraception to combat climate change

Contraception is to be provided by consumers in the developed world to poorer countries in an attempt to curb the rapidly growing global population and combat climate change.

By Chris IrvinePublished: 1:26PM GMT 03 Dec 2009

The Optimum Population Trust, backed by Sir David Attenborough, believes that contraception is the cheapest means of preventing climate change, arguing that every £4 spent on family planning over the next four decades would reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by more than a tonne. Comparatively it would cost £8 for tree planting, £15 for wind power, £31 for solar power or £56 for hybrid vehicle technology before a tonne was saved, according to a cost-benefit analysis done for the group.
The group, also backed by Sir Crispin Tickell, the former diplomat, and environmental campaigners Jonathon Porritt and James Lovelock, believes that 80 million pregnancies each year are unwanted, and the use of contraception would help cut this figure. It is offering people donate through their website, in an attempt to offset their carbon footprint.
Roger Martin, the trust director said the birth control scheme, called PopOffset, "offers a practical and sensible response."
“It has been acknowledged for many years the current level of human population growth is unsustainable and places acute pressure on global resources," he said. "Human activity is exacerbating global warming, and higher population levels inevitably mean higher emissions and more climate change victims.”
The trust claims that in order to reduce carbon dioxide by 34 gigatons, roughly what the world emits in a year, the family planning scheme would cost about $220 billion, but low carbon technologies would cost more than $1 trillion. They say that by cutting the projected global population by 500 million in 2050, they could achieve this goal. The world's population is currently 6.8 billion but is expected to peak at about nine billion by 2050.
"The current level of human population growth is unsustainable and places acute pressure on global resources. Human activity is exacerbating global warming, and higher population levels inevitably mean higher emissions and more climate change victims," said Mr Martin.

Canada doesn't deserve this criticism of its green record

We're committed to fighting climate change, and are responsibly managing our oil sands

Jim Prentice
The Guardian, Friday 4 December 2009
In response to George Monbiot's commentary, I would like to assure your readers that Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to fight climate change (Canada's image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling, 30 November). The government of Canada remains committed to achieving deep, economy-wide reductions in Canada's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. All sectors will contribute to emission reductions, including the oil sands, which today account for approximately 5% of Canada's GHG emissions. The Canadian government, along with provincial governments, and industry, is committed to managing this key strategic resource in an environmentally responsible way. This includes developing a progressive regulatory regime, investing in new environmental technologies (including $3.5bn for carbon capture and storage) and engaging our partners in the international community.
Canada's emission reduction targets are in line, and will remain aligned, with those recently proposed by the Obama administration. Canada is committed to a harmonised North American approach. This approach is being advanced in several areas, including: the Canada-US Clean Energy Dialogue; collaboration with the provinces and territories to develop a continental cap-and-trade system; and implementing a North American standard for GHG emissions and fuel economy from passenger vehicles.
I would also like to clarify the facts regarding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Bangkok. Monbiot claims that "almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking". At the talks in October, an informal discussion was convened among interested parties on the possible legal outcome of the negotiations. Since 2008 Canada has called for the outcome of the UN climate talks to be a single legal undertaking, building on the Kyoto protocol – with GHG commitments for all major emitters, including the US, China and India. Canada's position in this regard is widely shared by other developed countries, including the US, the EU, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
During that discussion, some developing country representatives indicated that they were not prepared to discuss this subject and chose to leave the meeting. Their decision was taken before Canada spoke. It is important to note that many African countries, South American countries and members of the Alliance of Small Island States did not leave the meeting. All parties returned to the negotiations the following day.
To say, as Mr Monbiot does, that Canada has launched "a campaign against multilateralism" is wrong and nothing less than scurrilous. Canada will continue to play an active and constructive role at Copenhagen with a view to achieving a comprehensive and ambitious agreement that balances environmental protection and economic prosperity, has a long-term focus, supports the development and deployment of clean technologies, supports constructive and ambitious global action, and includes commitments from all major economies.

Rollout of smart meters could turn Britain into a nation of power stations

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

Rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and other home energy-production devices could generate almost one sixth of Britain’s electricity supplies within ten years, according to the chief executive of National Grid.
Steve Holliday, who runs the UK’s largest utility company, said that 15 per cent of the country’s electricity production would come from so called “embedded generation” in homes and offices by 2020. “That is an enormous part of the mix,” he said ahead of a speech on the future of Britain’s energy system at Imperial College next week.
Mr Holliday said that home based “micro generation” would become an increasingly viable proposition after the £9 billion rollout of “smart meters” in Britain’s 26 million homes, which was announced by the Government this week.
As well as saving consumers money, making consumption more efficient and allowing power companies to take readings remotely, the new devices could allow for two-way flows into the national grid. That would allow millions of householders to sell the electricity they generate back into the system. Other sources of home based power production include “micro-CHP plants” — a new type of domestic boiler that generates electricity as well as heat.

Mr Holliday warned, however, that homeowners could end up spending billions of pounds on redundant smart metering technology if their rollout was rushed through. He said that there was a risk that if the rollout was forced through too quickly, the devices would not be sophisticated enough to be able to communicate adequately with new and emerging “smart grid” technologies that promise to cut energy wastage dramatically across the wider UK power network.
“I worry that if we don’t have a careful plan then we will invest too much too soon,” he said. “These are not insubstantial sums of money and we do not want to look back and regret making the investments that we did.”
National Grid, the operator of the high-voltage transmission and gas distribution networks, has a market value of £16 billion.
Mr Holliday said that a key benefit of the meters would be their ability to communicate with a national “smart grid”, which should pave the way to a lower carbon future by tying in vast wind farms, electric vehicles and more efficient heating systems.
The Government claims the meters, which provide real-time information about energy consumption, and smart grids, which give real-time data about power demand and generation across the network, are both essential if Britain is to hit its targets of cutting emissions by one third by 2020.
Mr Holliday said: “We are very enthusiastic about smart meters but we need to make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves. We don’t want to build it piecemeal. The meters are a crucial piece of the jigsaw — they are the interplay device between the home and the grid.”
Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, cited the case of Italy, which was the first large country to introduce a national smart meter programme. However, it is now having to scrap the technology and introduce new meters because the old ones are out of date.
Mr Holliday also estimated that Britain could improve its total energy efficiency levels by 25 per cent by 2050 through the use of improved insulation and smarter technology.

Bertrand Piccard's Solar Impulse aircraft makes inaugural flight

Charles Bremner in Zurich

Hopes that aircraft could one day be kept in the air by solar energy were boosted yesterday when a giant sun-powered plane left the ground in Switzerland on a brief maiden flight.
The Solar Impulse, which is designed to soar across oceans using four solar-driven electric propellers, flew 350m (1,150ft) about a metre above the runway at a military aerodrome near Zurich with a German test pilot at the controls.
Several experimental aircraft have flown with pilots using solar power since the late 1970s but Solar Impulse is the first designed to fly indefinitely — staying aloft at night using batteries recharged by solar-panelled wings during the day.
Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss aeronautical pioneer behind the £80 million project, was thrilled by the flight of the spindly, ultra-light machine, which has a wingspan as wide as that of a commercial airliner.

“It is a very strong emotion. It has been a dream for ten years, and now we have got to this point,” he told The Times. “I am elated that we managed this a week before the Copenhagen climate summit.That sends a strong message that there can be sustainable powered flight with no pollution."
After perfecting the single-seater, which weighs only as much as a car and flies at about 55km/h (35mph), Mr Piccard, 51, and Andre Borschberg, 57, his partner, aim to fly the Solar Impulse across the Atlantic and then around the world. They will land every five days to exchange pilots.
The team developing the prototype at Dubendorf airbase said that they were thrilled by how well the pioneering technology was working. "It has behaved even better than expected. It is a very new flight domain," said Mr Borschberg, an engineer-businessman as well as a pilot.
Mr Piccard set out to blaze the way for future low-polluting flight after he and Brian Jones of Britain made the first non-stop flight around the world in a hot-air balloon in 1999. After expanding test flights, Mr Piccard and his partner aim to fly for a day and a night by the end of next spring over Europe. All going well, they will set off around the world with the Solar Impulse in 2012.

Peugeot and Mitsubishi head for £2bn electric car alliance

Leo Lewis

Peugeot Citroën is poised to plunge 300 billion yen (£2 billion) into Mitsubishi Motors to forge an alliance designed to rescue the Japanese company from financial calamity and create a European powerhouse for electric vehicles.
Negotiations have begun amid rising concern over Japan’s motor sector and its ability to compete in the emerging market for electric cars. Some industry analysts believe that Japanese companies may not be able to retain their technical superiority as demand for the combustion engine fades, leaving the new field of electric vehicles open to newer and nimbler players.
The Peugeot-Mitsubishi alliance would effectively make it the world’s sixth-biggest carmaker. The deal could allow Peugeot access to the state-of-the-art plant of GS Yuasa, the Japanese company that leads the fledgeling lithium car battery industry. GS Yuasa has been producing batteries as part of a joint venture with Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Corporation, the trading company. It was unclear how much of the factory’s output would be sold to companies other than Mitsubishi.
If the deal proceeds, the alliance is expected to focus on designing cars to suit first-time buyers in emerging Asian economies. It would also deepen its partnership on a joint production facility in Russia.

The French group’s investment would also allow Mitsubishi to continue developing its i-MiEV electric vehicle — the first in its class to be mass produced but still too expensive to appeal to consumers and in need of further development. The i-MiEV went on sale in July, but, at 3.2 million yen, is more than twice as expensive as the petrol-driven minicar on which it is based. Sales, so far, have been disappointing.
The deal would make the French carmaker the largest single shareholder in Mitsubishi Motors and would allow other companies in the Mitsubishi group to effect longdesired exits from the troubled carmaker that bears their brand. Shares in other Mitsubishi companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, soared yesterday on the news.
Peugeot’s stake is likely to be bought in a single chunk as a block of privately issued shares, possibly representing as much as 50 per cent of Mitsubishi. Officials of the Japanese company said that such a percentage “would make sense”.
• Word of the talks emerged on a spectacularly good day for Japanese stocks. A fall in the yen and the possibility that the Government might be serious about tackling deflation propelled Tokyo’s shares to a five-week high. The Nikkei 225 closed 368.73 points up at 9,977.67.