Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Divisions Persist On Core Questions As Leaders Arrive

Sharp Disagreements on Reductions, Aid
COPENHAGEN -- The United Nations' effort to muster global action against climate change appeared to move backward Tuesday, as the world's leading economies traded barbs over the most basic questions about how to divide responsibility for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Environmental reporter Jeffrey Ball reports from the Copenhagen climate conference where tensions are flaring between developed nations and emerging countries over interpretations of arcane details.
World leaders began arriving Tuesday for the climax of the two-week U.N. climate conference in the Danish capital as disagreements deepened among negotiators for the U.S., the European Union and a bloc of developing nations led by China.
Several leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, have begun calling their counterparts in various countries in an attempt to salvage a deal by the Friday deadline, according to people familiar with the calls.
The disagreements involve fundamental issues: the size of emission reductions that individual countries should take on, the amount of money rich countries should pay poor countries to help fund a cleanup, and the extent of monitoring that countries should have to accept so other nations can verify they actually are implementing whatever environmental steps they promise to take.
"This is not a climate-change negotiation," said Janos Pasztor, director of the U.N. secretary-general's climate-change support team. "It's about something much more fundamental. It's about economic strength." Countries, he added, "just have to slug it out."
As the wrangling continued, a new draft agreement circulated Tuesday moved backward from an earlier proposal, lacking any targets for carbon cuts and financing.
The new draft stipulated that developed countries were historically responsible for most global emissions of greenhouse gases and so "must take the lead in combating climate change" by abating their carbon emissions and providing money and technology to poorer nations. That was a bow to developing nations, following a protest Monday by members of the Group of 77, which includes poor countries as well as large emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, whose representatives briefly walked out of the talks.
The anger and distrust spilling into the open in Copenhagen have been building over more than a decade of climate diplomacy.
An existing climate-change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, requires developed countries that ratified it to cut their emissions by a collective 5% from 1990 levels by 2012. But that accord doesn't curb greenhouse gases from the world's two biggest emitters, which together account for 40% of greenhouse-gas emissions. China, as a developing country, isn't required to cut its emissions, and the U.S. didn't ratify the treaty. The basic purpose of the Copenhagen conference was to come up with some way to rein in emissions world-wide.
The U.S. and China each announced specific pledges to address greenhouse-gas emissions before the conference started. But the two have been locked in a standoff over the U.S.'s insistence that China commit to a legally binding agreement -- a step China has resisted -- and the degree to which China's actions should be open to international review.

Text of Draft Document
Developing countries argue that wealthy nations have reneged on past pledges to address climate change. In particular, China suggests the U.S. has failed to honor its agreement under a broad document called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to constrain U.S. emissions and to provide money for developing countries to curb their own greenhouse-gas output. The U.S. was a party to the 1992 accord, even though the U.S. didn't ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which grew out of the framework.
Wealthy countries are "not willing to take any real action," said Xie Zhenhua, the head of China's delegation at the talks.
China also doesn't want to submit to international verification of whether it is meeting emissions targets that it funds on its own.
U.S. officials say they are only asking Chinese officials to give substance to a joint statement issued by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Mr. Obama when the U.S. president visited China last month.
Amid the bickering, one arcane detail has taken on great symbolic importance: the fact that the U.S. wants to use 2005 as the "baseline" year for cutting emissions, instead of 1990 as called for in earlier agreements.
Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, said that change was justified, allowed and not very important.
"The reality is we didn't become part of Kyoto, and the framework convention has a 1990 baseline. But it was in a nonbinding, aspirational context," he said.
European leaders are concerned the U.S. and China will try to opt out of any binding deal by blaming each other for not offering ambitious proposals.
The EU has said it will cut its emissions 20% by 2020, and by 30% if a strong global deal is reached. The EU doesn't want to "sell [its] targets cheap," said Andreas Carlgren, environment minister of Sweden.
But U.S. officials say they are being unfairly criticized. Europe's proposed emissions cuts are measured against 1990 -- which was before the Soviet Union's breakup sent Eastern Europe's economy, and its emissions, plummeting.
Measured against 2005, said Mr. Stern, the EU's target for 2020 amounts to an emissions cut of only 13%. And that, he said, isn't as aggressive as the 17% cut from 2005 that the U.S. has promised.—Alessandro Torello and Jing Yang contributed to this article.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at, Stephen Power at and Alessandro Torello at

The Copenhagen climate talks - Filthy lucre fouls the air

Dec 10th 2009 COPENHAGENFrom The Economist print edition
Arguments over money dampened the euphoria at the start of the Copenhagen climate talks
DESPITE the gloomy talk that preceded the UN climate conference, the opening was upbeat. Most big countries had vowed to cut or limit emissions during the previous few weeks. As delegates arrived, America’s Environmental Protection Agency announced that carbon-dioxide emissions were an “endangerment” to health. This allows Barack Obama to regulate them, whatever Congress does.
The happiness did not last. On December 8th a draft agreement which had been discussed some weeks ago was leaked to the Guardian, a British newspaper. It caused a furore. The “Danish text” had been circulated by the hosts, but not to all parties; and it seems to confirm the futility of moves towards the legally binding treaty that many still want.
It also seems to link any rich-to-poor transfers of money to specific actions taken by developing countries to curb emissions. Embarrassed Danes said the text was one of several unofficial papers that had been floated, not a basis for real bargaining. The lead negotiator for the “G77 plus China” group of developing countries, Lumumba Di-Aping, was unsoothed. “This text…is a major violation that threatens the success of the Copenhagen negotiations,” he fumed, saying two years’ work had been swept aside.
Can there still be a deal? The main obstacle may not be emissions cuts, which will not change much, but the closely linked issues of the shape of a deal and how much money it involves.
Everyone agrees that poorer countries, including India and China, need cash for climate “mitigation”—adopting green technology and new approaches to land use and forest conservation—and for “adaptation”: coping with the anticipated effects of climate change, some of which (like a degree of sea level rise) look unavoidable. America has joined the list of countries accepting such transfers, saying it will pay its “fair share”. Rich countries have talked of a “quick start” fund. The leaked Danish text has it starting in 2010-12 at a value to be determined; the UN has suggested $10 billion. To poor countries, this sounds paltry: responses range from “bribery” to “it will not even pay for the coffins”. Instead, the G77 has asked for 0.5% to 1% of the rich countries’ GDPs. That implies hundreds of billions of dollars on top of existing development aid. The idea that rich countries will hand over 1.2% to 1.7% of their wealth in perpetuity is not going to fly.
Some transfers occur already. Rich states meet emissions targets by paying poor countries to do the cutting, under Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism. This system is under fire in Copenhagen for being too choosy or too arbitrary in the projects it backs. It is also too small: it abates only 330m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and billions of tonnes must be cut.
On Thursday, George Soros, a philanthropist, proposed turning on a much bigger tap: he wants a new use of Special Drawing Rights, effectively the IMF’s in-house gold-backed “currency”, mainly held by the rich countries. The IMF extended an extra $153 billion to rich countries last year to help them with the financial crisis. Most of it was unused. Mr Soros wants rich countries to lend $100 billion-worth to poor ones, creating a “green fund” to jump-start mitigation. The IMF’s gold reserves could pay the (small) interest amounts that poor countries would otherwise owe.
Other proposals abound. The REDD initiative on forestry should move lots of money to countries which avoid felling trees. If emissions from ships and aircraft are cut, using a tax or an emissions market, that could provide cash. Less promisingly, France wants a levy on financial transactions. And the European Climate Foundation, a think-tank, says more could be taken from existing carbon markets: cash could be winkled from traders who arbitrage the price difference between green projects in poor places and the “allocation” paid by rich-world emitters.
The question of who gets paid what, and how, feeds back into the main issue in these and inevitable future talks: to what extent will obligations under the Kyoto protocol be extended beyond the developed countries to developing ones? Rich countries account for most of the past emissions that now fill the air, but less than half the world’s current emissions.
Settling this question will mean some differentiation between developing countries, a term that includes both industrial giants and hapless victims, whose interests are very different. Some people think this was the reason for the leaking of the Danish text. Those most offended by it are the smallest, weakest countries, which are vulnerable and emit very little. They are more interested in strong action than in who pays for it or who has to make the cuts. The calculus is different for the larger, more industrialised emerging markets, at least four of which—Brazil, India, South Africa and China—saw the text before it was leaked. They have more to gain from keeping the onus of action and payment on the developed world alone.
These countries have produced their own draft document, which would absorb any new agreement into the existing Kyoto framework. If the leak serves to firm up resistance to a deal that spreads the duties of reduction wider, China and other large developing states may be the gainers

Our future is in your hands, Prince of Wales tells Copenhagen summit

Philippe Naughton in Copenhagen

Financial institutions with more than $13 trillion in assets are relying on the summit in Copenhagen to give them the certainty that they need to invest in a low-carbon world, the Prince of Wales told delegates last night.
His address came as the summit began its final phase, which is due to end with the signing of an emissions agreement on Friday. That deal was far from secure, the Prince acknowledged, urging ministers: “The eyes of the world are upon you and it is no understatement to say that, with your signatures, you can write our future.”
The Prince pushed the need for corporate responsibility, saying: “We appear intent upon consuming the planet. It seems likely, on current patterns of use, that our global fisheries will collapse by 2050 and, already, fresh water is becoming scarcer, placing global food security at ever greater hazard.
“In the last 50 years we have degraded 30 per cent of global topsoil and destroyed 30 per cent of the world’s rainforests. All of these issues are linked to each other and to climate change — a truly vicious circle. However, it is these links, together with our common humanity and the unprecedented connections of today’s global community, which might, perhaps, provide us with a solution.”

On corporate involvement, he said: “The need fully to engage the private sector reflects not only the growing determination of business to act in a sustainable way but, crucially, its determination to listen to customers. And what customers are saying ever more loudly is that they want their investment choices to make a positive difference to climate change.”
The Prince took some credit for pension funds that are setting climate solutions at the centre of investments. “To ensure a large-scale deployment of capital, these pension funds need clear long-term policies to be agreed here this week,” he said. “This request is supported by the 191 financial institutions with assets of over $13 trillion which signed the international investor statement on climate change.”

Rich-poor deadlock in Copenhagen

Developed nations are trying to water down their emission commitments – no wonder the rest of the world is angry

Martin Khor, Tuesday 15 December 2009 10.30 GMT

Entering its second week, just days before the arrival of the political leaders, the Copenhagen climate conference is in the grip of a serious deadlock.
Developing countries, led by the Africans, on Monday insisted that the conference place top priority on the developed countries' emission reduction commitments, and on the continuation of the Kyoto protocol (KP), which is the legally binding treaty under which the commitments are to be made.
For a whole morning, the work in several "contact groups" stopped while the developing countries' leaders met with the Danish climate change minister Connie Hedegaard, who apparently agreed that the KP track of the Copenhagen talks would be given due attention. She also tried to allay fears that the Danes would throw in their own new draft for the heads of governments to consider and adopt on 18 December.
Fears and suspicions abound in the conference, and the stakes are high. Many contentious issues are still far from resolution and no one knows how much the gaps can be closed in the next days.
The first issue is the shape and fate of the future global climate regime, which was at the heart of the developing countries' actions on Monday. The developing countries are outraged by the now clear attempt by developed countries that are members of the Kyoto protocol to desert it. There is wide misconception that the KP expires in 2012 and that a new agreement is being negotiated to replace it. In fact, the KP has a first "commitment period" under which developed countries are legally bound to cut emissions by 5.2% by 2012 compared with 1990 levels. The first period ends in 2012 and the protocol mandates members to enter a second period after that. In the past four years the countries have been negotiating emission reduction figures for this second period.
When Europe two months ago said that it wanted a new "single agreement", it was indicating it would join Australia, Japan and others to jump ship from KP to a new treaty in the UN climate convention, which would include the United States, a KP non-member.
The US in turn indicated that in the new climate system there would not be internationally binding emission commitments, but instead what NGOs term a "pledge and review" system. This involves countries stating what their parliaments or cabinets are able to undertake, and their performance being reviewed by other countries. This "bottom up" approach is contrary to the top-down KP system in which countries decide how deep a cut is needed in aggregate, and then negotiate what each country will have to do.
Movement towards agreement on the KP second period has been glacially slow despite four years of talks and the deadline for concluding the talks at the end of the Copenhagen conference. This, together with the now stated intention that several if not all the developed country parties don't want to continue with Kyoto, has angered the developing countries.
The danger of a "bottom up" approach of merely collecting what each country can do is shown by the extremely low level of commitments so far. According to a widely used estimate by the Aosis (alliance of small island states), the aggregate of the announced national targets of developed countries (including the US) is only a 13%-19% emissions cut by 2020 compared with 1990. After counting "offsets" and other mechanisms, the real domestic effort is significantly lower than this. This is far below the 40-plus per cent that developing countries are demanding, in line with recent scientific findings.
We thus face the shocking prospect of the developed countries downgrading their mitigation commitment both in terms of the legal status of the commitment and the rate of emission reduction, at a time when the world is so concerned about the need to act on climate change.
On top of this, the developed countries are attempting to shift the burden of adjustment to the developing countries and in ways not agreed to when the mandate of the present negotiations was agreed to in Bali two years ago.
In the most glaring example of this, the developed countries have proposed that Copenhagen adopts the goal of a 50% cut in global emissions by 2050 (compared with 1990) while they would themselves cut by 80%. This implies that developing countries have to cut their emissions by 20%. However, this would entail rich countries undertaking a 80% cut per capita while developing countries cut by 60% per capita (as their population will double in this period while the population in developed countries will be stable, according to UN projections).
In this scenario, developing countries would have to cap their emissions at very low levels, which would drastically constrain their economic performance at current technology levels. It is true that the climate convention promises financial and technology transfers to the developing countries but this has remained on paper so far. The way the talks are going in Copenhagen, the prospect for future technology transfer is not bright, while long-term finance is still a promise.
At Bali it was envisaged that there would be a three-part bargain on mitigation. First and most important, those developed countries that are members of the KP would take on new commitments for a second period with deep enough emission cuts. Second, the US would agree to a comparable effort. Third, the developing countries would for the first time take mitigation actions that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable", supported by finance and technology.
With the first leg of this bargain now facing collapse as the developed countries jump ship from the KP, and with the US taking on such weak tentative target (about a 4%-7% cut by 2020 from 1990 levels), the world faces the prospect of an almost unbelievably low target by the developed countries as a whole. "We will be the laughing stock of the world come 18 December if these numbers are not raised," predicts the chair of the group negotiating the KP.
The developing countries have the most to lose if Copenhagen does not come up with a credible conclusion. They are thus demanding that those countries that put most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that promised to take the lead in global actions to combat climate change live up to that promise in Copenhagen. This explains why they requested the survival of the Kyoto protocol, and the commitment to credible emission cuts by each country be top priorities at Copenhagen.
The next few days will tell if Copenhagen ends as a partial success, with enough progress to propel another year of talks to success, or as an utter failure, with the unravelling of the global climate regime amid a finger pointing blame game.

Geothermal Prospects Are Improving

Companies that tap underground heat to generate geothermal power in the U.S. are poised to grow as the sector receives increased support from the federal government.
Growing renewable-energy markets, driven by requirements in California, Nevada and other Western states, have lured additional players to an area once dominated by longtime producers Ormat Technologies Inc. and Calpine Corp. Stimulus funding via investment tax credits, federal loan guarantees and technology grants helps. Pending federal legislation requiring utilities to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and use more renewable energy would boost the sector. But the risks that accompany project development remain, from drilling a "dry" well to building a plant that doesn't perform as expected.
The more-visible wind- and solar-power industries often overshadow other renewable-energy technologies. Unlike the sun, which generates electricity only during daylight, and wind, which generally blows strongest at night, geothermal power is generated around the clock. San Francisco-based PG&E Corp.'s utility unit and Las Vegas-based NV Energy Inc. have said they favor geothermal power for its always-on reliability.
Geothermal exploration and development are restricted to areas of the West with higher underground temperatures, although new technology that works with lower temperatures could greatly expand access to the resource.
With several decades' experience on geothermal projects world-wide, industry leader Ormat builds projects for itself and other companies. It also licenses its technology to other developers. The company specializes in equipment that generates electricity from lower-temperature underground areas.
"We expect that with time, these lower-temperature resources will become more economic because the industry will learn how to exploit them better," said Chief Executive Dita Bronicki.
Ormat supplies enough geothermal power to Reno, Nev., to supply the city's entire residential population, Ms. Bronicki said.
The company recently signed an agreement to supply NV Energy with more geothermal power, from a portion of the 160 megawatts of generation under construction.
Geothermal-power companies recently shared $338 million in federal stimulus funds with universities and other institutions to improve drilling and other techniques. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he hoped the funding would "help jumpstart the geothermal industry across the United States" and create or save thousands of drilling, exploration and construction jobs.
He said the government wants to help developers reduce the upfront risk of project development—for example, spending $2 million to $3 million drilling a well that could end up being unproductive.
Ormat received nearly $14 million and Magma Energy Corp. $10 million. Smaller companies also were included: $10 million to Sierra Geothermal Power Corp.; $5 million to Ram Power Inc.; and about $3.5 million each to Nevada Geothermal Power Inc. and U.S. Geothermal Inc.
"There's a lot of potential resource out there," Piper Jaffray analyst Jesse Pichel said. "The problem is exploring and drilling—you don't know what you're actually going to get until you drill." "If we get some actual, tangible results from this initial grant, there could be more interest in devoting more resources toward geothermal."
Geothermal-power developer Raser Technologies Inc. knows production hazards—it is operating its 10-megawatt Thermo No. 1 plant in Utah at partial capacity because the water in production wells wasn't hot enough. Raser said it is fixing the problem and recently announced a new funding agreement with energy fund Evergreen Clean Energy LLC to help finance new projects.
Many of the states involved in geothermal have stringent requirements. California utilities must use renewable sources for a fifth of the power they sell by 2010, expanding to a third of their retail power by 2020.
Large Nevada and Oregon utilities have to use renewables for a quarter of the power they sell by 2025.
Geothermal power accounted for about 8% of total U.S. renewable power used in 2007, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration; by comparison, solar power accounted for less than 1%. Renewable energy research firm Emerging Energy Research predicted in a report earlier this year that U.S. geothermal capacity could more than double over the next five years.

Green Builders Awaiting the Green: Distribution of Billions of Dollars in Stimulus Aid Could Take Months Amid Long Lead Times

The nation's green-building industry is awaiting billions of dollars in economic-stimulus funding earmarked to make government buildings more energy efficient. But based on the slow pace of allocations thus far, it could take months or years for spending to trickle down to contractors.
The General Services Administration, which oversees the federal government's property, was allocated $5.5 billion as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in February, of which $2 billion should be allocated before Dec. 31. The initiative is designed to create jobs and to pioneer cutting-edge technology in construction that is environmentally friendly.
At a time when construction on private projects has stalled, advocates of green building hope the GSA, which is America's largest landlord with a 1,500-building portfolio, can use its purchasing power and nationwide reach to lower costs, test emerging products and educate the industry.
The value of having the government lead the industry on such projects "is priceless," said Jason Hartke, vice president of national policy for the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

But so far, the agency has allocated just $1.5 billion, or 75%, of the funds it was appropriated for 2009 and is racing to allot an additional $500 million by the end of the year, just two weeks away. The agency said bids for work are coming in under budget, a good thing, but one that slows them down from meeting its benchmark.
In addition, the GSA has paid out only $89 million. "What we've got now is a lot of architects working overtime to get the work done," said Bob Peck, the agency's commissioner of public buildings. Mr. Peck said the delay in spending reflects the long lead time required to draw up building plans, which can take a minimum of six to nine months.
Economists said the delays in putting the funds to work illustrate the challenges of trying to quickly create new jobs in an industry that traditionally moves slowly. And government planners tend to move more slowly than private industry, according to developers.
"Obviously, [the funds] would have to be outlaid for it to create jobs," said Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects. "But once [companies] feel that money is coming through the pipeline, it'll have a dramatic effect."
The projects that are furthest along are those that already were in the works, but on hold due to lack of funding. For example, the agency broke ground on a federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, in September. Planning began eight years ago.
Some projects also are complex, requiring long planning periods. The central federal office in Portland, Ore., the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Building, was allocated $133 million to modernize the 30-year-old, 510,000-square-foot building, including a daylight-adaptive lighting system that will reduce consumption 50%; and new mechanical, electrical and elevator systems. The GSA plans to hire a construction manager to begin drawing up blueprints in the next few weeks.
The design plan also calls for a new exterior "skin" that will have as many as 20,000 solar cells on the roof and a series of vegetation fins along the building's western side, which is meant to provide a natural solution to the problem of overheating from sunlight. The vegetation will grow lush in the summer, cooling the building. In the winter, the plants will shrink, allowing sun to filter in, Mr. Peck said. The technique has been used in Washington by the Finnish Embassy, he said.
Energy efficiency is in the spotlight this week as world leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss climate change. Meanwhile, local governments are tackling the issue as well. Last week, New York, with the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, passed rules requiring large commercial landlords to take steps to make existing buildings more energy efficient.
Green retrofits are gaining ground in the private sector as well, as companies realize they can save money long term. For example, Adobe Systems Inc. spent $1.4 million upgrading its San Jose, Calif., headquarters in 2006 and saved $1.2 million a year. Moreover, $400,000 in tax rebates allowed the company to make back its investment in just 9½ months, according to Buildings magazine. New York landlord Anthony Malkin, who is engaged in a retrofit of the Empire State Building, is set to give a presentation on energy efficiency in San Francisco next year.
A commercial retrofit should lower a building's energy costs by at least 15% in order to be financially viable for a landlord, some observers said. Typically, investors make back their money within four years, due to tax incentives and reduced maintenance costs. Commercial real estate accounts for about 30% of the nation's electricity usage.
Meanwhile, construction firms and architects suffering amid the dearth of private construction, hope to snag some of the government's business.
Emcor Group Inc., a $5.5 billion building-systems construction company, said it has managed to replace the roughly 15% to 30% of lost private construction business with public-sector spending on government buildings, transportation, schools and health care, according to Frank MacInnis, Emcor's chairman and chief executive.
Write to Christina S.N. Lewis at

White House Readying $5 Billion in Green Tax Credits

WASHINGTON -- The White House will announce plans Wednesday to provide another $5 billion in tax credits for manufacturers of wind, solar, electric vehicle and other renewable energy products, hoping to leverage at least $15 billion in private investment and create "tens of thousands" of jobs.
The expansion would increase three-fold the $2.3 billion available in the Section 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit program, part of the $787 billion stimulus package enacted in February. That program has been over-subscribed. The additional money could go to applicants turned down when the money ran out.
Vice President Joe Biden will make the announcement at a Wednesday meeting with business leaders to discuss the future of manufacturing.
The initiative is another facet of a plan to boost job growth unveiled by President Barack Obama in a speech last week in which he said he would focus on energy-efficient home retrofitting and expanding existing stimulus energy programs to quickly create green jobs. The president discussed the retrofitting program, dubbed "cash for caulkers," in an appearance at a suburban Washington Home Depot store Tuesday.
Under heavy pressure to lower the nation's 10% unemployment rate, the president, Mr. Biden and top economic advisers have focused on "green" programs tested elsewhere, like cash for caulkers, or expanding programs already in the stimulus as among the speediest ways to fuel job growth.
But the administration still needs to hammer out the details of its green energy initiatives with Congress, which will not craft legislation until January at the earliest, the White House and congressional leaders say.
"These investments plant the seed of a new domestic manufacturing industry in clean energy that will provide tens of thousands of good, middle class jobs in America," said White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein. The administration says programs like the business tax credit will help "tap the job creating potential of manufacturing in this country," Mr. Bernstein said.
Whether the retrofitting program would take the form of a grant, rebate, or tax credit is yet to be determined, and White House officials said it was too early in the planning process to estimate its cost.
Mike Thaman, chief executive of Owens Corning, an insulation and building materials at manufacturer, who was with the president at the Home Depot store Tuesday, said a successful program in Australia provided a $1,500 tax credit per home. By that measure, a program covering the 100 million homes in the U.S. could cost up to $15 billion.
"The Australian program is a pretty good benchmark," he said. "Certainly we've seen that as a very simple and focused program."
Write to Elizabeth Williamson at

MIT re-invents the wheel, for bicycles

MIT's Copenhagen Wheel is an electronic bike conversion that provides a KERS energy-saving system for smart bicycles. It can also track traffic via an iPhone connection

MIT researchers have unveiled the Copenhagen Wheel, which boosts power using a Formula One-style KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). It also provides a sort of Cycling 2.0 system by tracking friends, smog, traffic, and how fit you're getting.
The Wheel, shown at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, has a bright red hub stuffed with electronics. Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory and the Copenhagen Wheel project, says:
When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so that you can have it back to you when you need it. The bike wheel contains all you need so that no sensors or additional electronics need to be added to the frame and an existing bike can be retrofitted with the blink of an eye.
The wheel also has a Bluetooth connection to the user's iPhone, which can be mounted on the handlebars. The system can "monitor the bicycle's speed, direction and distance traveled, as well as collect data on air pollution and even the proximity of the rider's friends," says MIT. It can also send you an SMS message if the bike is stolen.
Christine Outram, the Wheel team project leader, says:
One of the applications that we have discussed with the City of Copenhagen is that of an incentive scheme whereby citizens collect Green Miles -- something similar to frequent flyer miles, but good for the environment.
The prototypes of the Copenhagen Wheel were developed with Ducati Energia and the Italian Ministry of the Environment, and the system should go into production next year.
The press release doesn't provide any data that I can see about the weight of the new wheel (it could be 5Kg or more), or the efficiency of its KERS system, including heat dissipation. As Formula One teams have already found, KERS sounds like a great idea but it may not provide a big enough advantage to be worth the extra weight. It's also not clear whether there are any plans to support other mobile phones beyond the iPhone, because that could also limit the potential market.
There's also no information on the possible price, but I'd guess it's likely to be £500 or more, based on a quick scan of UK Electric Bike & Trike prices.
Finally, there's the security aspect. As BernhardHofmann commented on Twitter: Sexiest "Steal me" bike sign I've ever seen
Given that electric bikes and ebike conversion kits have had limited success, it's not clear that the Copenhagen Wheel will change the world, but it's worthwhile research.

U.S., Europe at Odds Over Emissions

COPENHAGEN -- The top U.S. climate negotiator brushed back European calls for faster short-term reductions in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, saying that by many measures the U.S. already matches or surpasses the European Union in fighting climate change.

Environmental reporter Jeffrey Ball reports from the Copenhagen climate conference where tensions are flaring between developed nations and emerging countries over interpretations of arcane details.
The comments by Todd Stern, at a briefing by reporters, highlight an issue that continues to divide European and U.S. officials nine days into this month's United Nations summit: what baseline to use in measuring progress in cutting emissions.
While U.S. officials prefer to measure emissions cuts against the year 2005, the European Union prefers measuring cuts against the year 1990. A 1990 timeline greatly favors the EU because of economic and political developments since then that have reduced emissions, including the collapse of the Eastern Europe's economy following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Conversely, a 2005 baseline favors the Obama administration in international talks, partly because it leaves out the entire first term of George W. Bush. Mr. Bush, as president, resisted imposing economy-wide emissions caps on the grounds that it would damage the U.S. economy.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Stern said the U.S. would not revise its proposed emissions targets, despite calls by some European officials for faster cuts. President Obama has called for cutting U.S. emissions in the range of 17% beneath 2005 levels by 2020, or 3 to 4% beneath 1990 levels by 2020. The EU has offered to cut its emissions 20% beneath 1990 levels by 2020 and by 30% if other developed countries agree to do the same.
"It's only in the hermetically sealed world of global climate change negotiations that measuring your reduction from [a 1990 baseline] … would be treated as sacrosanct," Mr. Stern said. While saying he has the "greatest respect" for EU efforts to reduce its emissions, Mr. Stern said that by several measures -- such as carbon intensity -- the U.S. economy is near or ahead of the EU's in controlling its impact on the climate, and that the U.S. can make up for a relatively slow start with faster reductions in later years.
He added that Mr. Obama's long term goal is an 80% reduction in US emissions beneath 1990 levels by mid century, a reduction that is roughly consistent with what a U.N. scientific panel has said is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
"If you compare our reduction levels against a 2005 level, that's more relevant to what President Obama can do" to cut emissions, he added.
Mr. Stern began his news conference by listing a number of metrics in which the U.S. already matches European efforts to combat climate change, illustrating how long-festering disagreements between countries are complicating the push to forge a global treaty to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases.
At a press conference organized by EU officials on Monday, Jo Leinen, a member of the European Parliament from Germany called on the U.S. and China to set more aggressive targets for controlling their emissions, saying the two countries' offers aren't sufficient to stabilize the climate.
Write to Stephen Power at

Compliance Checks Prove a Big Hurdle

WASHINGTON -- If the Copenhagen climate summit produces an agreement among nations to cut their carbon-dioxide emissions, a contentious issue will remain: How to catch countries that cheat.
Climate diplomats prefer words such as "transparency" to blunt terms like "cheat." Either way, the concern in developed countries is that projects designed to cut carbon-dioxide emissions in poor nations aren't really generating the promised reductions.
Debate has flared in Copenhagen. A United Nations panel has claimed that China has been manipulating a system under which rich countries can invest in carbon-abatement projects in poor countries and get carbon credits that can be traded. Chinese officials have called the U.N. panel's process of reviewing such projects opaque and unfair.
Senior Obama administration officials Tuesday said that climate negotiations in Copenhagen were in "a difficult state" and that clashes over verification of emission reductions and other fundamental issues could stymie a final agreement.
But the officials, who spoke in a news briefing, said they continued to have "very constructive" dialogue with their counterparts from China, a linchpin for a successful conference.
Lack of a robust system for monitoring countries' emissions could hurt efforts to forge a climate treaty in two ways, says U.S. government scientist Pieter Tans: Some countries might sign on hoping to exploit the system's opacity. Others might refuse to sign on, fearing the system will be gamed.
Governments that do agree to cut their emissions "don't want to be seen as having failed, so they'll be inclined to slant their emissions numbers somewhat," Mr. Tans says.
As greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide tend to be distributed fairly evenly in the atmosphere, any inspection regime must be able to detect small differences in countries' emissions levels. Many scientists say existing instruments and methods for measuring emissions aren't adequate to ensure compliance.
Verifying compliance with a climate treaty is likely to be "orders of magnitude more difficult" than verifying other international agreements, such as arms-control treaties, says Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
For China, he adds, "the main concern is sovereignty, and a desire not to allow others to dictate what they see, and the conditions on which they see it."
Although China is a party to the Montreal Protocol -- a treaty to eliminate chemicals that contribute to ozone depletion -- its willingness to comply with a treaty involving greenhouse-gases is viewed with suspicion by some in Congress.
U.S. officials note a statement by Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Obama last month said any pact should "provide for full transparency with respect to the implementation of mitigation measures and provision of financial, technology and capacity building support." Raising transparency in Copenhagen, a U.S. official said Tuesday, is "about giving meaning and substance to those provisions that [Chinese officials have] already agreed to."
Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries, including the U.S., are expected to report emissions levels to the U.N. But such reporting isn't required for all countries, and while power plants and other CO2 emitters in the U.S. and Europe generally have equipment to monitor emissions, that's often not the case in developing countries.
"You can do all the accounting you want from the bottom up, but you also need someone standing back and examining whether you're getting results," says James Butler, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
Write to Stephen Power at

If Obama signs anything at Copenhagen it should be seen as a bonus

Giles Whittell: Analysis

Belching carbon but laden with good intentions, Air Force One will take off tomorrow night for Copenhagen on one of the most delicate and daunting missions of President Obama’s first year in office.
His tasks divide into essentials and desirables. He must be able to argue on his return that the trip was worth it, and he must resist committing America to emissions targets that prove impossible to enforce. Those are the essentials. He would like to be hailed as a world leader on climate change, and the signs are that he would also, on a personal level, like to do what he can to stop global warming. Those are the desirables.
In the Obama bubble American politics comes first and the state of the planet second. That is not how he or most of the 20,000 delegates would wish it, but it is his — and their — reality.
It is a truth that Britain recognises. The deal being brokered by the British delegation would accept Mr Obama’s pledge to cut US emissions by 17 per cent relative to 2005 levels even though it is much less ambitious than European targets, but it is about much more than numbers: it recognises that if the President cannot turn his undertakings into law they are worth nothing.

By committing the US at Kyoto in 1997 to a carbon reduction scheme to which the US Congress was opposed, Al Gore raised expectations that were then dashed when the Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The UN climate change talks have taken 12 years to recover.
Mr Obama may already be promising more than he can deliver. Three powerful senators — John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — have put their names to a proposal that could lead to a grand bargain between environmentalists and industry, and US participation in a global cap-and-trade scheme.
However, their proposal is not yet a Bill. When it becomes one, it will struggle mightily to win the 60 votes that it needs to pass.
A growing majority of Americans are sceptical about climate change science. An even larger number consider their floundering economy a far more urgent priority than atmospheric carbon levels, especially as they dig out of an historic snowstorm.
Mr Obama deserves credit for showing up in Copenhagen. If he signs anything, the world will have to regard it as a bonus.

Brown warns of failure as US refuses to raise target

Ben Webster Environment Editor, in Copenhagen, and Sam Coates

Gordon Brown last night raised the possibility of the Copenhagen summit failing to reach a deal as the US said that it would not improve its weak offer on cutting emissions.
President Obama is expected to make a significant financial commitment to a global climate protection fund when he joins the conference on Friday rather than improve on his provisional offer of cutting emissions by 4 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020. The EU has committed to cutting its emissions by 20 per cent over the same period and to raise that to 30 per cent if other countries make comparable efforts.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, endorsed the deal yesterday and suggested that it was the best outcome that could be expected given the difficulties that Mr Obama faced in persuading Congress to accept climate change legislation.
Mr Miliband said: “Countries have to do what they are able to. I think we have to judge what everyone has to offer in the round. For developed countries, both the [carbon reduction] and the finance they provide is crucial.”
However, the compromise will anger many because it will allow the US, which is responsible for more of the carbon in the atmosphere than any other country, to avoid the swift and painful transition to a low-carbon economy being proposed by the EU.
The Prime Minister last night sought to play down expectations and warned that there may not be any deal reached in Copenhagen.
“It is possible that we will not get an agreement,” he said. “This is also true of many issues to be sorted out but I am determined with the conversations I have had already today to do everything I can to bring the world together.”
Mr Brown, who arrived in Copenhagen last night, will hold private meetings with other leaders today to seek support for his proposal for a $100billion annual fund to help poor countries to convert to renewable energy.
He will propose that the UN establish a working group to recommend possible sources of finance for the climate fund, including a global financial transactions tax and a tax on aviation and shipping. He said: “We are at a critical moment. These are momentous decisions.”
Daryl Hannah, the actress and environmental campaigner, launched an outspoken attack on Mr Obama at the conference, where she was speaking on behalf of the Tck Tck Tck coalition of green groups yesterday. She said that Mr Obama was protecting corporate interests.
“At the moment Obama is being a politician,” she added. “He needs to be a leader and step up to the plate and address what the public is demanding, which is a route to a future that doesn’t kill us.
“He was elected on a wave of hope for real change and this is his golden opportunity to show he actually means what he is saying.”
Todd Stern, the US climate change envoy, earlier made clear that Mr Obama would not be improving on last month’s 4 per cent offer.
He said: “I don’t think there is going to be any change in that commitment. Our commitment is tied to our anticipated legislation.”
Climate bills considered by Congress contain proposals for about $7billion (£4.3billion) of public finance in 2020 to protect rainforests and to help poor countries to adapt to climate change and convert to renewable energy.
Mr Miliband hinted that a significant pledge on finance from Mr Obama would be sufficient for the EU to commit to a 30 per cent cut.
Meanwhile, plans by up to 10,000 activists to storm the conference centre today suffered a setback when Danish police arrested several of their leaders. An activist sqaut was also raided and 36 people, including 13 Britons, were arrested outside Klima Forum, an alternative “people’s conference”.
Climate culprits
Per capita carbon emissions from consumption of energy
Metric tonnes of C02 (2007)
World 4.52
United States 19.94
Britain 9.28
Europe 7.88
China 4.75
Brazil 2.05
Nigeria 0.72
Per capita energy consumption
Million btu per person (2008)
World 73.1
United States 337.1
Britain 155.7
Europe 143.7
China 58.9
Brazil 52.2
Nigeria 7.3
Total petrol consumption
Thousand barrels per day (2008)
World 85,772
United States 19,497
Britain 1,709
Europe 16,146
China 7,831
Brazil 2,485
Nigeria 286
Gross Domestic Product
Millions of US dollars (2008)
World 61,070,000
United States 14,260,000
Britain 2,674,000
Europe 18,140,000
China 4,402,000
Brazil 1,665,000
Nigeria 220,300
Sources: Energy Information Administration, CIA World Factbook, UN: The State of the World's Forests 2007

Copenhagen loopholes could mean rise in emissions, report warns

Climate summit must close loopholes or greenhouse gases may increase by 10% in 2020 compared with 1990 levels, says Friends of the Earth

John Vidal in Copenhagen, Tuesday 15 December 2009 10.27 GMT

Four major loopholes in the Copenhagen draft texts could see carbon emissions increase by 2020, rather than plunge as scientists say must happen to avert dangerous global warming. That is the conclusion of a new analysis by Friends of the Earth, who argue the loopholes would cause greenhouse gases to rise by 10% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, if they are not closed in the final four days of negotiations at the UN summit.
The most serious loophole is known as "hot air". Countries such as Russia and Ukraine were set targets to reduce emissions in 1997 when the Kyoto treaty was signed. They were also awarded carbon pollution permits for some of their expected emissions, to trade with nation that could cut carbon more cheaply. But since then their heavy industries have crashed, meaning their targets have been surpassed and they have billions of unused carbon credits which they want to carry over into the next round of targets.
"Russia could be allowed to emit more than 30% more than today, Ukraine over 50%, and they could still meet their targets. In addition, they can sell the surplus credits to another country, allowing the country that buys them to emit more," says the report. In the worst case, it says, this loophole could result in more than 15% more greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.
The second loophole allows rich countries to "creatively account" for emissions from forestry and land use changes. If a country can show that its forestry activities emit more carbon than they store away, UN rules allow it not to account for these emissions. But if their forestry activities do store away carbon, they can account for this sequestration and receive carbon credits. "It's like claiming that building a new coal-fired power plant every year was a planned development and that the resulting emissions increases should not be accounted for," said the report.
The third loophole identified is carbon offsetting. This allows rich countries to emit more greenhouse gases than their target by paying for emission reductions in other countries. Friends of the Earth estimates that the use of offsets would lead to up to 9 per cent of cuts on 1990 emissions being wiped out from the cuts offered by rich countries.
A further 5% of emission cuts could be avoided if no agreement can be reached on aviation and shipping which account for as much as 5% of all global emissions. Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Rich countries must realise that these loopholes are making a mockery of the targets they have put on the table. We need cuts in line with what the science demands – cuts of at least 40 per cent by 2020. Unless rich countries plug these gaping holes, any agreement in Copenhagen will be as leaky as a sieve."

Fishermen to get bigger quotas if they carry CCTV

Home staff

Britain’s fishermen are to be offered extra catches next year if they agree to fit “big brother” closed-circuit television cameras on to their boats to monitor conservation measures.
The plan was part of an EU deal struck last night on fisheries cutbacks amid continued warnings that dwindling stocks of species need more time to recover.
All fleets face reductions in catch quotas next year, but those accepting cameras — three per vessel — can add 5 per cent to their share.
The EU-wide move was proposed by the UK, Denmark and Germany and accepted by the European Commission.

The onboard CCTV is regarded as having a double benefit — a check on the reliability of the science on the state of fish stocks and a witness when fishermen illegally dump unwanted fish back into the sea in an attempt to keep within quota limits.
Huw Irranca-Davies, the UK Fisheries Minister, hailed the scheme as a breakthrough.“Sound science is essential in helping to conserve fish stocks while also allowing the industry to thrive,” he said.

Bizarre new corals found in ocean off Hawaii

Scientists say dramatic new species of corals and sponges have been found in the Pacific during deep-sea dives northwest of Hawaii.

Published: 7:00AM GMT 15 Dec 2009
They were discovered at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in early December by submersibles operated by the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory during dives nearly a mile deep.
Christopher Kelley is the lab's program biologist. On Monday, he called sponges found at dive sites off Middle Bank, some 120 miles northwest of Hawaii, "absolutely bizarre."

During radio transmissions between the submersible Pisces IV and its support ship, Kelley said one observer remarked after seeing the sponges, "It looks like something out of Dr. Seuss."
Mr Kelley will be working with other scientists to identify the sponges.
"There are lots of things down there that are just brand new," he said. "We don't know what they are, and this is a fantastic opportunity to try and help the monument and determine what some of the deep water resources are."
The expedition marked the first time the lab used high definition video cameras to capture images of its deep ocean work.
The quality of the HD video is so good, scientists expect to be able to identify some animals from the video alone, rather than having to collect actual specimens, Kelley said.
In addition to its research value, HD brings the deep sea experience to the general public, he said.
"It's really the type of quality we see out the windows of the submersible," Mr Kelley said. "People are going to be seeing what we're seeing. People are going to see why we're so excited about these deep water environments, because these animals are spectacular."

Young people negotiate Copenhagen deal using Google Wave

The Global Youth Panel is a team of more than 1,000 young people from 140 countries analysing events in Copenhagen

Among the millions of people scrutinising the final week of Copenhagen, more than a thousand of them will be analysing events using an particularly innovative online approach. The Global Youth Panel is a team of more than 1,000 young people from 140 countries who are using Google's much-hyped communication tool Wave to virtually collaborate on a climate change debate.
Access didn't come easy to some of those participating in the online debate between 15 to 25 year olds around the world. The Global Youth Panel has some inspiring stories from Iranian debaters who bypassed web censoring software and a Bhutan who team persuaded their ISP to offer extra bandwidth. Meanwhile a coordinator in Cambodia gave IT training to 30 kids from "some of the poorest, most destitute families in Cambodia" so they could take part.
Last night, the young panellists were discussing whether protests, such as those at the weekend when more than 1,000 people were arrested, would have any effect on the negotiations. Debate was split from participants who said "if we want to see real meaningful change, we need people to organise, and engage in direct actions" to those who countered that "the immense demonstrations against the Iraq war are, despite their size, an example of protests having very little effect."
In the past week, they've also used Wave to discuss the likelihood of a successful deal (60% thought there would be) to whether the hacking of climate scientists' emails would influence the talks (a surprising 64% said yes, despite feeling elsewhere online that Copenhagen had pushed the email story off the agenda).
With its global reach, the scale of the project is of a magnitude larger than a recent web project by the UK government to create a "people's manifesto" for Copenhagen, in which online users cooperated in creating a set of demands to politicians at Copenhagen. The final text involved 32 people and 41 editing versions.
But why use Wave rather than, say, email or Wiki-style software? David Crane of Debatewise, which organised the youth panel, says "there's no way we could get this many people debating in real-time otherwise." He also points to Wave's real-time typing feature as being useful for such a fast-changing event as Copenhagen, because it makes it easy to answer a question before it's fully typed.
Google Wave's co-founder Lars Rasmussen is unsurprisingly "delighted" at this use of his service, and says he hopes Wave can continue to help "tackle important global issues like climate change across geographies and cultures."
Of course, what would be truly innovative is if delegates, governments and the UN started adopting some of these web tools. Such virtual collaboration might go some way to countering criticism that the climate talks are excessive over-peopled jollies, not to mention trimming Copenhagen's estimated 41,000 tonne carbon footprint.

BBC's climate change maverick Justin Webb strikes again on Radio 4

After an unquestioning interview with Ian Plimer, radio presenter now queries 'dissent among scientists' with David King
Justin Webb has only been in his new job as a presenter of Radio 4's flagship Today programme for a few months and he's already building himself a reputation for being something of a climate change maverick.
First came Webb's now-notorious interview with Ian Plimer last month in which he failed to adequately challenge any of the feted climate sceptic's claims. Had Webb just not done his homework, one wondered, or did he simply accept Plimer's now widely debunked views at face value?
But this morning Webb moved it up a gear during his interview with Sir David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser who is currently the director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University. King was on the programme arguing that a climate scientist should be given a seat on the Bank of England's monetary policy committee (MPC). King said he believes that the Bank of England and Treasury display "no or little attention on the business of lowering our carbon footprint", and that it's a "massive disappoint" that "very little" of the stimulus packages have been used to promote a low-carbon economy.
And then Webb interjected…
Webb: So, it's someone being there constantly lobbying? King: Well, it's rather like the fact that there is a labour market economist on the MPC itself designed to stop monetarists ridding roughshod over the jobless people. In other words, that person has a particular hat to wear and I'm saying what about putting somebody on there who understands energy, energy technology, low carbon moves, and wears that hat and can express it right there when policies are being decided on… Webb: …you look at the University of East Anglia emails, though, and you do wonder actually whether [laughs] putting someone there would make them a target, quite apart from anyone else, from their own colleagues. It's not settled enough, is it, to have someone doing the job and everyone accepting that they were doing the right job? King: Good heavens! What are you saying is not settled enough? The science of climate change? Webb: No, not the science, but the arguments, the flurries of discussion and dissent among the scientists themselves and to have someone there… King: …there is very little discussion and dissent among the scientists. That is a total misreading of the theft of the UEA emails. Webb: Well, you can see it in the emails, can't you? King: I'm sorry, that is an interpretation of the emails. The scientific community is at one voice on the issue. Is the planet warming up at the moment? That was the issue around the emails and our Met Office, not involved in the issue, has published its own set of data this week demonstrating that, of course, we know that icebergs are melting, we're losing ice around the planet. Every single piece of evidence from satellites, from temperature measurements is showing that the temperature has risen by 0.75C… Webb: OK, and you want that information to be there at the top table in the Treasury and the Bank of England. Sir David, thank you very much.
(You can hear the whole interview on iPlayer. Go to 1:53.30.)
It's a pity really that the Today Programme editors didn't get Justin Webb to interview Peter Hill, the editor of the Daily Express, this morning and ask him to explain the paper's frontpage story: Climate Change is Natural: 100 reasons why.