Monday, 7 December 2009

Obama, in Shift, Expects Climate Deal at Summit

President Changes Schedule to Join Other Leaders, Signaling Revived Effort
WASHINGTON -- The White House said late Friday that President Barack Obama now expects a "meaningful" climate deal at a United Nations summit in Copenhagen, possibly involving a commitment for rich nations to provide $10 billion a year by 2012 to help developing countries fight climate change.
The White House said the U.S. is prepared to pay its "fair share" of the $10 billion.

The U.S. and some European governments have played down expectations for the Copenhagen conference over the past few weeks, saying it won't yield a legally binding accord. But in a statement Friday that cited signs of "progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord" the White House said Mr. Obama has decided to change his plans for attending the summit so that he can be in Copenhagen Dec. 18 when other world leaders are expected to be there, the White House said.
Mr. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon finalize a proposed legal finding that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger human health -- the legal trigger for regulating them under the Clean Air Act. Such a move, if announced ahead of Mr. Obama's visit to Copenhagen, could give the U.S. more leverage at the summit. It could also pressure members of the U.S. Senate to speed up work on legislation to cap U.S. emissions.
Many business leaders have said they would rather accept a system adopted by Congress that would allow them to buy and sell pollution credits to offset the cost of cleaner-energy technology, than be forced by EPA rules to install expensive hardware with no offsetting credits.

Mr. Obama had earlier said he would stop briefly at the summit on Dec. 9, on his way to collecting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. Some environmental groups had complained that meant Mr. Obama didn't expect to achieve any substantive agreements at the U.N. summit because most other leaders were scheduled to arrive the following week.
The White House said Mr. Obama discussed the status of the climate talks this week with the leaders of Australia, Germany, France and Britain and concluded that there "appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012" to help developing countries adapt to the potential impact of climate change.
How much the U.S. would be willing to contribute as its share of such a financial deal isn't clear. European officials have laid out specific estimates of how much the developed world will have to contribute over the next decade to help poor nations tackle climate change. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has said that by 2020 anywhere from €22 billion ($33 billion) to €50 billion will have to come directly from the public budgets of rich nations each year to help developing nations.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, said the Obama administration is "not focusing on a 2020 number," but rather is trying to determine what "an aggregate number should be from developed countries" over the next two or three years.
U.N. officials have previously said they expect international negotiators may agree to a $10 billion-a-year short-term financing package in Copenhagen -- an expectation that becomes more likely with Mr. Obama's fresh commitment.
European Pressphoto Agency
Nepal's top politicians held a cabinet meeting on Mount Everest to highlight the dangers of climate change ahead of international talks.
The White House also cited progress on a proposal to reach "an immediate, operational accord" on climate issues. But it remains unclear whether Mr. Obama and other world leaders can reach a deal to limit greenhouse-gas emissions that is more than a voluntary set of goals.
Mr. Obama's decision to invest more of his time and prestige in the Copenhagen summit raises the stakes for him and the Democratic Party at home. Mr. Obama had earlier said he would propose that the U.S. by 2020 would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels, consistent with pending climate legislation now stalled in the U.S. Senate. The concept of capping and cutting emissions is similar to proposals offered by the EU.
China and India, separately, have proposed cuts in the amount of greenhouse gases their economies produce per unit of gross domestic product. Climate diplomats refer to this as "carbon intensity." The key difference is that the U.S. and the EU are proposing cuts in overall emissions, while China and India are proposing slowing the growth in their overall emissions. The concern among many business leaders and members of Congress is that adopting a cap could put U.S. industry at a disadvantage.
In any event, Mr. Obama can't agree to a binding deal to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions without the approval of Congress. For now, appetite on Capitol Hill for dealing with climate issues appears limited. The Senate is embroiled in a debate over health-care reform, and has put off debate on a climate bill until spring.
Mr. Stern, the climate negotiator, also said developing countries will have to make their emissions pledges "transparent" to outsiders. He said the Obama administration isn't ready to follow Europe's lead in specifying how much money rich nations should contribute over the next decade to help poor countries respond to climate change.—Guy Chazan contributed to this article.
Write to Stephen Power at

Copenhagen:UN leaders say agreement possible

By Geoffrey Lean Last updated: December 6th, 2009

So it is about to begin. There is still the sound of hammering echoing through the cavernous Bella centre at Copenhagen where tomorrow the climate summit will finally open after two years of negotiations. Though it will not produce a new treaty or legally binding agreement the top UN officials at the meeting are stressing that a breakthough political agreement – which would lead to a treaty next year – is, despite widespread suggestions to the contrary a few weeks ago, possible.
Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, says: “The world can reach an agreement that is positive, effective and compatible with the science. The next two weeks will go into the history books for good or ill. ”
The UN is drawing encouragement from the unexpected number of commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions (from rich countries) and to reduce their rate of growth (from the industrialising developing ones) that have come in over the last weeks. Even countries that were not expected to do so even months ago – like China,India and the United States – have put offers on the table. Yvo de Boer – who, as Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is in charge of the negotiations – notes that ” never before have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together” . He goes on – richly mixing his metaphors - “Copenhagen needs to be a turning point because of that window of opportunity.”

Is Russia behind the Climategate hackers?

Tony Halpin in Moscow

The Russian connection to the controversy over the leaked e-mails raises suspicions of a state-sanctioned attempt to discredit the Copenhagen summit involving secret service espionage. But it could as easily have been the work of freelance hackers hired by climate-change sceptics.
Hackers for hire are a common phenomenon in Russia, where programming skills are high and many under-employed computer experts are eager to make money. A shadowy organisation called the Russian Business Network is notorious as a provider of internet services for global cyber-crime.
Unscrupulous businesses hire hackers to attack the websites of rivals, while criminal gangs make use of their skills in credit card fraud and identity theft.
A third possibility is that disgruntled or mischievous students involved in the climate-change debate accessed the servers after a suggestion that the files hacked from the University of East Anglia had been uploaded from a server in Tomsk. The formerly closed Siberian city is now one of Russia’s leading centres for studying climate change and hosted an international conference on the subject last year for young scientists.

Tomsk students were involved in an attack on a website sympathetic to Chechen militants in 2002 that drew praise from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
The Kremlin was blamed when government websites in Estonia and Georgia were crippled by so-called distributed-denial-of- service attacks launched by computer hackers.
Security experts in Russia say that the FSB routinely makes use of “hacker-patriots” when it wants to break into computer systems or damage websites belonging to groups critical of the state. This allows it to deny the involvement of its own computer experts at the FSB’s Centre for Information Security.

On your marks, get set ... and prepare to go in the race to reach a new domain

Next year’s likely launch of .eco is causing great debate
Elizabeth Judge

Business is clamouring to be green. Companies boast of “low emissions”, “carbon neutrality” and “sustainability”. This week’s United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen will confirm eco-business as the world’s most fashionable cause.
And next year, the green bandwagon will pick up even greater momentum when the right to operate the website address “.eco” is expected to be made available.
Interest in the name is huge, even though Icann, the body that co-ordinates the internet’s address system, has yet to fire the starting gun in the race to acquire it. Al Gore, the former US Vice-President who has emerged as the spiritual leader of the climate change lobby, is among those jostling for it.
Yet .eco, at first glance such an obvious way to promote and encourage environmental concerns and credentials, is not without its problems, even now. Is it merely a route into an expensive legal quagmire of trademark violators and “cybersquatters”? And, bearing in mind that other domain names, such as .mobi, have disappeared without trace, is there any point in having it at all?

At present there are 21 “generic top-level domains”, the part that comes after the dot. Aside from the ones we tap routinely into our computers, such as .com and .gov, they include .net and .org. Icann, however, plans a “Big Bang” of the cyberworld, with an almost limitless number of names coming up for grabs. Its aim is to promote competition in the domain name marketplace, where .com, with 80 million users, dominates.
Not everybody is as keen. “The proliferation of top-level domain names has come as an unwelcome development to many businesses,” Adam Taylor, of Adlex Solicitors, the internet legal specialists, said. “Some feel they have no choice but to spend money buying up these new names just to stop someone else doing so. There is a strong argument that it is more of a headache than anything else.”
Mr Taylor’s finger is pointed at, among others, the cybersquatters, those who register a name identical or confusingly similar to somebody’s brand or trademark without their permission and try to profit from traffic that comes to it, for example by putting adverts up on their site.
The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (Cadna), a not-for-profit body that seeks to raise awareness of illegal and unethical infringement of brands on the internet, estimates that, globally, cybersquatting is costing brand owners more than $1 billion every year as a result of diverted traffic, loss of trust and goodwill and the expense of protecting consumers from internet-based fraud.
Fred Krueger, chief executive of Dot Eco, a group supported by Mr Gore that is seeking the right to operate .eco, insists that concerns about defensive registrations are based on “fear, not reality ... Brands, contrary to popular belief, do not register on every domain. If a brand wants to be all things to all people, then, yes, it will need to register on potentially more sites. But the reality is that brands are successful because they know how to focus.”
Mr Krueger believes that .eco will rank as a challenger to the most successful internet domain names. “A great number of businesses already have a part of their website dedicated to green information, like their carbon footprint. But there is no uniform approach to finding these. The .eco domain will let you create a standard by which you can find this information.”
The right to operate a top-level domain is big business, which comes with a $100,000-plus price-tag. To help its cause, Dot Eco has pledged to donate 50 per cent of the profits made from the domain, for which businesses ultimately are expected to pay between $10 and $40, to green groups such as Mr Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Another group seeking to secure the name — Big Room — has gone further, pledging to ensure that the domain name will be awarded only to groups that can provide proof of their green credentials.
In the meantime, Icann is seeking opinions about potential problems that could accompany the arrival of names such as .eco. Demand may yet prove to be among the biggest of them.
World wide web
• The most widely recognised generic top-level domain is .com. Since its introduction 20 years ago, it has amassed 80 million users
• There are 21 generic top-level domains
• There have already been two rounds of new top-level domains. In 2000 for ones including .biz, .museum and .info. In 2004 for ones including .asia .mobi and .tel
• There are more than 1.6 billion internet users worldwide
Sources: Icann/Dot Eco

The Summit of Ambition

A deal is possible in Copenhagen but it will require the developed world to recognise the claims of the growing economies. Even then, this is just the start

The political problem with climate change is that it veers from the apocalyptic to the trivial. Glaciers are melting, so turn off the red button on the television. It is still possible that discussion at the Copenhagen summit could produce the pragmatic deal that is the intermediate point between idealism and fatalism.
Success will require great ambition. Lord Stern, the author of the Government’s weightiest tome on climate change, has said that global greenhouse gas emissions, currently 47 gigatons, need to be at 44 gigatons by 2020 to get on course to hold the rise in global temperature this century to 2C. Hitting this target would require all the signatory nations to consent to the upper end of their professed targets.
Success will also require enough money on the table — perhaps as much as $100 billion a year by 2030 — to allow China and India to make good on the welcome offers of emissions reductions that they have already made. There is some understandable reluctance in the developing world to jeopardise the chance of prosperity to solve a problem they did not cause. Of course, it is true that if India, China, Brazil and Russia were to grow with the same disregard for the environment as Europe and the United States did, the resultant pollution would be disastrous for the climate. But Copenhagen needs to provide a deal that permits the developing world its ascent to prosperity. The main risk to success is that the developing world rejects the deal or that the mutual suspicion between the United States and China on the verification procedures scuppers the plan.
There is no chance of a treaty that is legally binding from Copenhagen, but it is realistic to expect the publication of a timetable to make it so. The central figure in all of this is the American President. The world is waiting on the United States passing its own domestic Bill, which will not happen until the spring of 2010 at the earliest. However, a legally enforceable agreement could follow within six months of Copenhagen.
Anything less than this set of aims would count as a failure, although it is worth distinguishing between a failure worth having and a complete disaster. That latter possibility is still alive. It is just about possible that no deal will be done at all. The presence of the world’s leaders in Copenhagen does augur well, not because leaders tend to do much at summits but because they tend not to go if a deal is not imminent. More likely than outright disaster is a deal at the lower end of the range of ambition, the collective upshot of which is to do little to reverse the upward trend in emissions and which fails to bind in, to any meaningful extent, the nations growing at the most rapid rates. It would be difficult for the Government to hail such an agreement as a success, but foolish to turn it away.
Of course, even if Copenhagen yields the best possible outcome, it is but the beginning of the rocky road. An agreement to cut emissions is not the same as doing so. But that does not mean a deal should be met with cynicism. International agreements of this kind are best seen as what the social psychologist Avna Offer calls a “commitment device”. It is the international treaty version of the note to self — remember to invent sustainable technologies. Copenhagen could be a signal that there is good money in clean technology. It can help to make the market.
Because, in the end, it is by doing things differently rather than by doing fewer things that we will reverse the trajectory of climate change. There is no good reason not to reduce domestic waste or to desist from lighting empty rooms, but better behaviour at home does not portend a sustainable future for the planet. A credible deal with India and China just might.

Gordon Brown says climate change deal must be legally binding in six months

• PM urges world to make historic agreement • Obama acts to cut US emissions

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Sunday 6 December 2009 22.26 GMT

Gordon Brown raises the bar for climate change negotiations , urging world leaders to give their promises at Copenhagen the full weight of international law within six months.
In an article in the Guardian, the prime minister underlines the historic nature of the summit, which has been described as the most important international gathering since the end of the second world war. "Sometimes history comes to turning points," he writes. "For all our sakes the turning point of 2009 must be real."
He calls on the 100 heads of government and state expected in Copenhagen on the final day of the talks to move quickly to reinforce an anticipated political deal with a full-fledged, legally binding treaty. "Our aim is a comprehensive and global agreement which is then converted to an internationally legally binding treaty in no more than six months," he writes.
The appeal comes amid fresh signs of momentum – in Copenhagen and Washington – in advance of the two-week meeting. In Washington, the Obama administration is poised to declare carbon dioxide a public danger, sending a powerful signal that America will act on global warming – with or without a law in Congress – by 2010.
The official declaration would allow Obama to use the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That would avoid waiting for action from Congress, where a proposed climate change law has stalled in the Senate.
The announcement of EPA action could also push Democrats from coal and manufacturing states to swing behind a proposed climate change law to avoid ceding such sweeping authority to the regulating agency. Administration officials and environmentalists said the announcement could come as early as today.
The reports bolstered a surge of last-minute optimism that the Copenhagen summit could deliver clear outlines for a climate change deal.
"Negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to craft solid proposals to implement rapid action," Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate change official told reporters in Copenhagen. "So whilst there will be more steps on the road to a safe climate future, Copenhagen is already a turning point in the international response to climate change."
A report by the United Nations environment programme suggested the action pledged by industrialised countries would fall just short of what is required to keep warming below the extremely dangerous 2C level. The report said commitments offered so far would put global emissions at 46bn tonnes a year by 2020. Scientists say emissions should be below 44bn tonnes to avoid the most severe sea level rises and temperature extremes of climate change.
"For those who claim a deal in Copenhagen is impossible, they are simply wrong," said Unep director Achim Steiner, releasing the report compiled by Lord Stern. Even so, there are fears that the controversy over hacked emails from the East Anglia climate research centre could throw Copenhagen off track.
"I think a lot of people are sceptical about this issue in any case," de Boer told the Associated Press. "And then when they have the feeling … that scientists are manipulating information in a certain direction then of course it causes concern in a number of people to say, 'you see I told you so, this is not a real issue'."
Brown, in his article, said leaders must deliver bigger cuts in emissions as well as funds to help poor countries adapt to climate change. "All countries need to reach for high level ambition in their commitments to reduce their emissions and their emissions growth," he writes. "So in Copenhagen we need to ensure that all countries move to the top of the range of their ambition, thereby enabling others to do so in a process of mutual reinforcement."
With stragglers Obama and India's Manmohan Singh confirming their attendance over the weekend, some 100 world leaders are now expected to be in Copenhagen, bolstering chances of emerging with an agreement by 18 December.
"They will only show up in Copenhagen because they think it is going to be a political success," Friis Petersen, the Danish ambassador to Washington, said. "They don't want to come to Copenhagen to be part of a failure."

Copenhagen climate summit: London should be hub of global carbon market, says CBI

World leaders meeting for climate talks in Copenhagen should form a global carbon market with London as its hub, the CBI has said.

By Heidi BlakePublished: 12:01AM GMT 07 Dec 2009
According to the business lobby group, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), under which companies can buy carbon permits and their emissions are capped, should be rolled out internationally.
The CBI believes London should position itself at the centre of any future global carbon market. The City currently houses 80pc of the world's carbon market broking companies and 75pc of all carbon trading desks.

However, the CBI also warned that UK business could lose out unless emission targets are agreed across the world.
"With the right deal at Copenhagen, there could be huge opportunities for the UK," John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said.
"But there needs to be a level playing field, or UK companies could find themselves at a serious disadvantage as manufacturers of commodities such as steel or cement shift production to countries where emissions targets aren't as tough."
The EU ETS, which was introduced in 2003, requires companies with a large carbon footprint to report their emissions annually, as well as subjecting them to a cap and allowing them to buy carbon permits.
Rolling the scheme out would enable a flow of funds and create a generation of "climate entrepreneurs" in the developing world, the CBI said.

Copenhagen climate summit: Ending deforestation key to stopping global warming

Protecting rainforests will be a central part of any climate change deal at Copenhagen.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 8:00AM GMT 06 Dec 2009

Deforestation causes around fifth of greenhouse gas emissions every year, more than all the forms of air and surface transport combined.
This is because trees suck up carbon dioxide as they grow, so every time forests are chopped down it reduces the Earth’s ability to absorb the greenhouse gas.

Therefore if the world wants to reduce emissions, it must stop deforestation.
It is also a relatively easy way to reduce carbon dioxide, compared to the effort required in asking the world to stop driving cars and running factories.
The big question is how do you stop poor people in rainforest nations like Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo chopping down trees to feed their families. Or indeed to produce beef, palm oil and timber to export to countries like Britain.
The answer lies in an innovative scheme that would pay the poor countries not to chop down trees.
REDD or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd) has been talked about for years but the summit at Copenhagen is the first opportunity to see it implemented on a global scale.
Richer countries would need to put forward money to set up the mechanisms such as a satellite monitoring service to ensure countries being paid not to chop down trees are keeping their promises. There will also need to be cash to help provide alternative incomes for people in and around the forests.
WWF is calling for funding of around £27 billion per year by 2020 to keep the forests standing.
The money could be raised by making forests part of the carbon markets. This would mean industries could pay to protect forests to offset some of their pollution. People could even buy ‘forest bonds’ that grow in value over time as polluting becomes more expensive.
However there are serious concerns. Many of the rainforest nations are dogged by corruption and there are fears that the could end up in the wrong hands. If the scheme is not set up correctly it is in danger of causing more deforestation because logging simply shifts elsewhere.
Indigenous people who rely on the forests need to have a say in how their homeland is managed but in many countries they are marginalised.
The Prince of Wales is leading the world in his fight to make sure trees are worth “more alive than dead”.
He points out that trees not only suck up carbon dioxide but provide ‘water services’ by regulating rainfall and ‘ecosystems services’ in maintaining wildlife.
“If we lose the battle against tropical deforestation, we lose the battle against climate change,” he warns.

Averting Disaster How Sainsbury's Is Trying to Limit the Environmental Impact of Palm Oil

It is the man-made ecological disaster that most people have never heard of. Although most shoppers don't know it, thousands of products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil -- it is the world's cheapest vegetable oil and appears in items ranging from ice cream to soap and from peanut butter to toothpaste.
Such is the high level of demand that farmers are clearing millions of hectares of virgin rainforests in the tropics, and especially in Southeast Asia, to make way for ever-expanding palm-oil plantations. In the process, some are destroying the habitat of endangered species. Orangutans, which are now limited to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, are among the species most threatened by the palm-oil trade.
The $26 billion-a-year industry is expected to grow 10% a year. As well as being used in about 50% of all packaged food products in supermarkets, according to the World Wildlife Fund, palm oil is also an important bio-fuel for "green" cars and power stations.
This year, Sainsbury's, the U.K. supermarket chain, topped the World Wildlife Fund's European palm-oil buyers scorecard, which ranks the purchasing practices of the largest European companies that produce or sell everyday consumer products.
Sainsbury's has committed to only use certified sustainable palm oil in its products by 2014. The company's sustainability manager, Fiona Wheatley, spoke to The Wall Street Journal about one of the world's least well-known environmental issues.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: What are the dangers of using non-sustainable palm oil?
MS. WHEATLEY: While well-managed plantations exist and serve as models of sustainable agriculture, there is concern that not all palm oil is being produced sustainably. The development of new oil-palm plantations has, in some cases, resulted in the destruction of forests with high conservation value, threatening the rich biodiversity in these ecosystems.
WSJ: What steps have been taken to lessen the environmental impact of palm-oil production?
MS. WHEATLEY: To meet global demand for vegetable oil, the oil-palm industry needs to increase production. However, it is imperative that the expansion must be done sustainably. It is necessary to develop a globally acceptable definition of sustainable palm-oil production and use. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was established to define and promote the sustainable production of palm oil.
WSJ: What characterizes sustainable palm oil?
MS. WHEATLEY: The mills that produce certified sustainable palm oil must prove valuable forests have not been destroyed in the development of new oil-palm plantations. Other criteria for certification control the way the oil-palm plants are grown and harvested, the environmental practices of the crushing mill, and the social conditions of the workers, smallholder growers and communities local to the mill.
WSJ: What are the main challenges to this initiative?
MS. WHEATLEY: An important challenge for the palm-oil industry is replacing commodity trading systems, which regard all palm oil as equal, with traceability systems that separate the certified sustainable palm oil from all other production.
Once the palm-oil mill has been certified as meeting the standards of the RSPO, every company that handles the palm oil also has to prove that they have systems in place to make sure that uncertified palm oil cannot be passed off as sustainable. This assures buyers that they are getting what they pay for and that their investment is being used to protect forests and biodiversity.
WSJ: What are the difficulties in sourcing sustainable palm oil?
MS. WHEATLEY: There are currently many plantations that have had RSPO audits and are waiting on the RSPO to confirm their certification. The RSPO has to be confident that audits have been rigorous and this is leading to a delay in issuing certificates.
Sustainable palm oil is more expensive. It requires separate storage and processing through the supply chain. Growers also have to invest to ensure their oil-palm growing practices meet the standards required to prove sustainability. Take-up has been slow.
If more companies started buying sustainable palm oil, it would stimulate the market and prompt more palm-oil producers and users to invest in the necessary infrastructure. This in turn would lead to a drop in prices, an increase in production and the all-important decrease in deforestation.
WSJ: How best can these difficulties be overcome?
MS. WHEATLEY: The RSPO is recruiting more people to speed up the certification process. This will release more palm oil that has been certified as sustainable to those markets that demand it.
Retailers like Sainsbury's are asking their suppliers to buy sustainable palm oil.
Write to Ben Wright at Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page R7

In Search of Net Zero

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory wants to be the greenest office building in the country. Here's how.

GOLDEN, Colo.—It takes a certain ruthlessness to create the greenest office building in the nation.
The Journal Report
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a unit of the U.S. Department of Energy, is midway through construction of a $64 million project that lays claim to that title. The architects and engineers have spent hundreds of hours calculating the energy use of every aspect of the building, from the elevator to the exit signs. They have tweaked the design again and again with the aim of getting the 218,000-square-foot building to perform at net zero—meaning it will consume so little energy that it won't need to draw a single electron from the grid.
Building Green
The NREL's $64 million, 218,000-square-foot research campus is being built to the highest green standards.
The calculations leave little margin for error, however, so project manager Eric Telesmanich is girding for a new role as energy enforcer next summer, once the lab's 750 employees move into the building, located on NREL's campus in this Denver suburb. No personal mini-fridges or microwaves or space heaters.
If he has to, Mr. Telesmanich says, he will do an outlet audit and unplug any unauthorized energy hogs. "We have to be the police," he says. "We're introducing our occupants to the new energy culture."
Nationally, 191 commercial buildings meet the most stringent standards for sustainability laid out by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington nonprofit that promotes and certifies green building practices. The NREL building is designed to go well beyond the highest standard—a designation known as LEED platinum—to reach net zero. No other commercial building of its size has achieved that goal in the U.S., according to the U.S. Green Building Council; just a few have made it in Europe.
A Smart Building
NREL began the project by setting an energy budget for the building based on British thermal units, a standard measure of energy, in addition to a financial budget. NREL told designers bidding on the project that the new building could use no more than 32,000 BTUs per square foot a year. A typical office building in the Rocky Mountain region uses 65,000 BTUs per square foot a year, says the U.S. Green Building Council. If the building stays within its limits, all its energy use should be covered by a one-megawatt solar array being built on the NREL campus.
To achieve that goal, the winning design-build team—which included the international architectural firm RNL; Haselden Construction LLC of Centennial, Colo.; and Stantec Consulting, a North American engineering firm—assembled a crew of 180 to rethink the concept of an office building, from the outside in. "Traditional architecture is design first, then figure out how to make it work," says Rich von Luhrte, president of RNL, which has offices in Denver. "This project reverses that mindset: Energy drives the design."

Instead of a blockish tower, Philip A. Macey, a senior associate at RNL, drafted plans for two long, narrow wings of office space positioned along an east-west axis to catch maximum light. A mirrored louver built into the building's south-facing windows will bounce that daylight toward the ceiling, where it should diffuse, creating a natural overhead light that Mr. Macey says will be adequate on all but the darkest days.
It had better be: Though employees will have 10-watt LED lamps on their desks, they will have no way to turn on overhead lights. The building will switch them on automatically when the daylight recedes.
The building, in fact, will control a good deal of the working environment. Some windows will open and close automatically as outdoor air warms and cools throughout the day. Other windows will be left to employees to operate—but the building will ping occupants with reminders, flashing alerts on their laptops (desktops use too much energy) when it is time to open or close particular panes.
Some windows will be shrouded to minimize glare and heat. Others will be coated with a reflective film developed by RavenBrick LLC of Denver. The glass darkens automatically as the temperature rises, so it reflects the sun's heat away from the building while still allowing daylight to penetrate.

"It's a smart building that knows what it needs," says Brian Livingston, a project executive with Haselden Construction.
Culture Shock
It's also an office building without, well, offices.
Putting up walls and ceilings to create individual work spaces impedes the flow of daylight and ventilation. So architects banned the traditional office. They did include a few semi-private rooms with walls that reach about halfway toward the exposed struts and girders that pass for a ceiling. Most employees, however, will work in cubicles with low dividing walls.
The cubicles were engineered to save energy down to the smallest detail; even the phones, for instance, are special models that use 2.8 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, compared with 10.8 kilowatt-hours for standard models.
The lack of privacy—not to mention the shortage of storage space, since the cubicle walls are too low to hold shelves—has been a bit of a culture shock for NREL employees who reviewed the plans, says John Andary, a principal at Stantec Consulting. "It's hard to get people out of the mindset, 'I need an office with walls up to here,' " he says.
Another striking feature of the NREL building: It will have no central air or heat and no fixed thermostat. The temperature will fluctuate during the day, though it shouldn't go below 68 degrees or above 80.

Temperature is regulated through an age-old concept known as "thermal mass," which involves sheathing the building in concrete panels nearly a foot thick. In summer, the panels will absorb the sun's heat, keeping the interior of the building comfortable, much the way an old stone cathedral remains cool inside even on the warmest days.
In winter, the building relies on thin sheets of perforated metal that hang down south-facing walls. The metal is painted black, so it heats up quickly in the intense Denver sunshine. Air flowing through holes in the hot sheet metal is also warmed. A fan then sucks the warm air into an underground labyrinth—a crawl space crowded with a maze of concrete blocks. The labyrinth stores the warm air until it is needed elsewhere in the building.
A backup system of 42 miles of radiant piping runs through the building's hollow floors, using hot and cold water to keep work space comfortable even in the most extreme weather.
Higher Construction Costs
All of these techniques cost a premium. A run-of-the-mill office tower in Denver costs about $140 per square foot to design and build, according to an analysis by RSMeans, a unit of Reed Construction Data.

The NREL building costs about twice that, almost $280 a square foot unfurnished, according to Haselden Construction. But NREL says its building meets federal guidelines for government construction costs—federal buildings generally cost more because of added safety and security requirements—and is, in fact, no more expensive than a standard government office building that has fewer energy-efficiency features.
Though the building's energy use has been extensively modeled—the computer analysis fills 1,000 gigabytes of storage space—outside experts caution that few projects perform as advertised right off the bat. "It takes a lot of complex massaging," says Scot Horst, a senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council.
NREL plans to report on its setbacks, as well as its successes, in scientific journals and presentations to developers, architects and engineers. Office buildings account for 18% of U.S. energy consumption, so any lessons about efficiency learned here could "have a huge impact on our nation's energy security," says Jeffrey Baker, director of the Energy Department's local field office.
The federal government also plans to continue studying—and tweaking—the building's energy use long after construction is complete. "That is critically important," says Bob Fox, a partner at the New York firm Cook + Fox Architects, which focuses on green building. "We need more projects like this to push the envelope."— Ms. Simon is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal's Dallas bureau. She can be reached at

Courting Change - China

Environmental groups in China now have the ability to sue polluters. But will they?
China's courts have opened a new front in the country's long-running battle against polluters.
The Journal Report
In late July, two of the country's provincial environmental courts agreed to proceed with cases brought by a Beijing-based group known as the All-China Environmental Federation, or ACEF. Previously, only individual citizens could sue polluters.
It's a potentially big step for the environmental movement in China. Very few citizens actually bring suits against polluters, because of the cost, difficulty and potential for retaliation by local authorities or companies. "Often, in a small or rural county, the locals won't know anything about law, and they won't necessarily be able or willing to use the courts for the case," says Alex Wang, the Beijing-based director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's China Environmental Law Project.
But advocacy groups like the ACEF don't face those pressures. Now that the groups are allowed to sue, they may start to take a larger role on the front lines of environmental defense. Advocates hope that the increased threat of lawsuits might put more teeth into regulations targeting companies that foul the country's air, land and water.
Whether those hopes pan out is another matter. Some legal observers aren't sure that change will come fast enough to keep pace with the torrid rate of China's industrial growth. "My sense is that things are getting better in China. They're just getting better at a fairly slow pace," says Charles R. McElwee, the Shanghai-based counsel of law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP. "And we're unlikely to see any dramatic changes. Things will continue to get better, but at the same pace."
Make Haste
China began offering legal remedies against polluters two years ago, when it established environmental courts in the provinces of Guizhou, Jiangsu, Yunnan and Shandong. The main motivation: pollution in lakes and reservoirs, according to a 2008 report from the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. The two courts in Jiangsu are near Lake Tai, considered one of the three most polluted lakes in China; in 2007, it saw a toxic-algae bloom that made headlines around the world.
The courts were intended as a bulwark against polluters, since government enforcement of laws on the books remains difficult. Unlike the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection doesn't have enough authority or resources to intervene in local enforcement actions. So, the ministry depends on local environmental bureaus to enforce legislation—and those bureaus are beholden to local governments. In many instances, local bureaus are loath to shut down or penalize the manufacturers and industrial plants that are often a large source of revenue for a region.

Thus, lawsuits are often the only way to challenge polluters. But so far, the environmental courts have seen mixed results. They've been aggressive about accepting cases, but citizens haven't been aggressive about bringing cases. And when they do, the cases often don't tackle big environmental problems. For instance, the courts have yet to take on a significant water-pollution case; most of the litigation they see involves minor disputes over forestland, according to a presentation by Li Zhiping, a law professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou.
The result of all this isn't just unchecked pollution; it's civil unrest. Because it's so troublesome for individuals to bring lawsuits, environmental disputes are often settled in the streets instead of courtrooms.
Consider a recent incident in Liuyang City, in central China's Hunan Province. In late July, 1,000 people rioted to protest waste dumping at a local plant that sickened 509 people. According to Chinese state media, villagers said they had petitioned for a government investigation since 2007, to no avail. Only after the riots were three government officials prosecuted for their role in the scandal.
"The overall hope with environmental litigation is that we need a reliable way for these inevitable disputes to be resolved," says Mr. Wang of the China Environmental Law Project. "Otherwise there's the chance that it will spill out to protests or riots in the streets."
An Important Step
Though progress has been slow, environmental advocates see the courts as a positive step. "The specialized courts are useful and helpful in [developing] the environmental-protection legal system," says Wang Canfa, the head of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims in Beijing and one of China's most celebrated environmental advocates. "I believe there will be more courts in the future."
And environmentalists and lawyers are heartened by the recent court decisions allowing the ACEF to pursue its pollution lawsuits against a local government and an industrial company.
"What is interesting and hopeful about these environmental-court experiments is that it's a big step forward for the courts and the role of lawyers in environmental disputes," says Mr. Wang of the Environmental Law Project. "It will save the country a lot of costs in the long run because they will start addressing [environmental] problems earlier."
Another potentially positive move: A new tort law, which was released in early November for comment by the National People's Government, includes an environmental section. Though the torts are mostly covered by existing statutes, the new law may help raise the profile of the environmental courts among the Chinese people, says Mr. McElwee of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. And that may encourage them to take action against polluters.
Work Ahead
Environmentalists and lawyers acknowledge that significant work remains. China's legal system is still young, rebuilding itself in the past 30 years after decades of neglect during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. And the actions of the newly empowered advocacy groups like the ACEF can be quickly reversed. Though they act independently of government ministries, ultimately they operate under governmental supervision and use government funds. If Beijing decides that these experiments in advocacy aren't working, it can easily throw up a wall to head off reforms.
For now, though, the attention of the courts means that more work will be done, says Mr. Wang of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims.
"It's good for the development of the law, because [the courts] and their employees are wholly focused on environmental issues," he says. "Also, when lawyers are sent to these newly established environmental courts, they need to find things to do to justify their job, which gives them an incentive to hear more pollution cases."— Mr. Shieber is a reporter for Dow Jones Clean Technology Insight in Shanghai. He can be reached at Lin Bai contributed to this article.