Sunday, 31 January 2010

Climate change study was ‘misused’

Jonathan Leake

LORD STERN’S report on climate change, which underpins government policy, has come under fire from a disaster analyst who says the research he contributed was misused.
Robert Muir-Wood, head of research at Risk Management Solutions, a US-based consultancy, said the Stern report misquoted his work to suggest a firm link between global warming and the frequency and severity of disasters such as floods and hurricanes.
The Stern report, citing Muir-Wood, said: “New analysis based on insurance industry data has shown that weather-related catastrophe losses have increased by 2% each year since the 1970s over and above changes in wealth, inflation and population growth/movement.
“If this trend continued or intensified with rising global temperatures, losses from extreme weather could reach 0.5%-1% of world GDP by the middle of the century.”

Muir-Wood said his research showed no such thing and accused Stern of “going far beyond what was an acceptable extrapolation of the evidence”.
The criticism is among the strongest made of the Stern report, which, since its publication in 2006, has influenced policy, including green taxes.
Muir-Wood’s study did show an association between global warming and the impact and frequency of disasters. But he said this was caused by exceptionally strong hurricanes in the final two years of his study.
A spokesman for Stern said: “Muir-Wood may have been deceived by his own observations.”

UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim

Jonathan Leake

A STARTLING report by the United Nations climate watchdog that global warming might wipe out 40% of the Amazon rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its 2007 benchmark report that even a slight change in rainfall could see swathes of the rainforest rapidly replaced by savanna grassland.
The source for its claim was a report from WWF, an environmental pressure group, which was authored by two green activists. They had based their “research” on a study published in Nature, the science journal, which did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning. This weekend WWF said it was launching an internal inquiry into the study.
This is the third time in as many weeks that serious doubts have been raised over the IPCC’s conclusions on climate change. Two weeks ago, after reports in The Sunday Times, it was forced to retract a warning that climate change was likely to melt the Himalayan glaciers by 2035. That warning was also based on claims in a WWF report.

The IPCC has been put on the defensive as well over its claims that climate change may be increasing the severity and frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.
This weekend Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, was fighting to keep his job after a barrage of criticism.
Scientists fear the controversies will be used by climate change sceptics to sway public opinion to ignore global warming — even though the fundamental science, that greenhouse gases can heat the world, remains strong.
The latest controversy originates in a report called A Global Review of Forest Fires, which WWF published in 2000. It was commissioned from Andrew Rowell, a freelance journalist and green campaigner who has worked for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and anti-smoking organisations. The second author was Peter Moore, a campaigner and policy analyst with WWF.
In their report they suggested that “up to 40% of Brazilian rainforest was extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall” but made clear that this was because drier forests were more likely to catch fire.
The IPCC report picked up this reference but expanded it to cover the whole Amazon. It also suggested that a slight reduction in rainfall would kill many trees directly, not just by contributing to more fires.
It said: “Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state. It is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas.”
Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at Leeds University who specialises in tropical forest ecology, described the section of Rowell and Moore’s report predicting the potential destruction of large swathes of rainforest as “a mess”.
“The Nature paper is about the interactions of logging damage, fire and periodic droughts, all extremely important in understanding the vulnerability of Amazon forest to drought, but is not related to the vulnerability of these forests to reductions in rainfall,” he said.
“In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited; it contains no primary research data.”
WWF said it prided itself on the accuracy of its reports and was investigating the latest concerns. “We have a team of people looking at this internationally,” said Keith Allott, its climate change campaigner.
Scientists such as Lewis are demanding that the IPCC ban the use of reports from pressure groups. They fear that environmental campaign groups are bound to cherry-pick the scientific literature that confirms their beliefs and ignore the rest.
It was exactly this process that lay behind the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers were likely to melt by 2035 — a suggestion that got into another WWF report and was then used by the IPCC.
Georg Kaser, a glaciologist who was a lead author on the last IPCC report, said: “Groups like WWF are not scientists and they are not professionally trained to manage data. They may have good intentions but it opens the way to mistakes.”
Research by Richard North

Bye bye black sheep thanks to climate change

Mark Macaskill

The oldest flock of native sheep in Scotland are changing colour because of global warming, claim scientists.
The Soay sheep of Hirta — which have been found in the Hebridean islands for more than 4,000 years — have succumbed to climate change and are shedding their dark coats, a new study suggests.
The darker-coloured animals used to have a better chance of survival than the smaller sandy-coloured sheep on the island, as their wool helped them absorb the sun’s warmth to maintain their body heat in harsh Hebridean winters.
However, as temperatures have risen, the sandy-coloured Soays are gaining the upper hand because they need less food to survive and have stronger reproductive genes.
Scientists in Western Australia and South Africa found the proportion of sheep with dark fleeces fell by nine percentage points between 1985 and 2005 as average temperatures rose by about 1C. The findings, published in Biology Letters, a Royal Society journal, suggest sheep with dark coats could disappear altogether. “We suggest that while in the past a dark coat has offset the metabolic costs of thermo-regulation by absorbing solar radiation, the selective advantage of a dark coat may be waning as the climate warms in the North Atlantic,” the study states.
“If environmental effects are the cause of the decline, then we can expect the proportion of dark-coloured Soay sheep to decrease further.”
Scientists from the University of Western Australia and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, compared Met Office temperatures at Stornoway airport on Lewis, about 50 miles east of the St Kilda archipelago, with population statistics for dark Soay sheep.
They found that the proportion of dark Soay sheep had fallen from 77% to 68%.
Shane Maloney, lead author of the study, said: “Taking the extrapolation to its logical conclusion, if the climate there keeps warming, the sheep will keep getting lighter.”
Soay sheep are one of the most primitive forms of domestic sheep in the world. Before a flock was moved to Hirta in 1932, they were found only on Soay. They are classified as “vulnerable” on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watch list.
Jacqui Tucker, chair of the Soay Sheep Society, said the number of dark sheep regularly fluctuated and they were being more closely monitored.

Bad science needs good scrutiny

Science and public policy can be uncomfortable bedfellows, as we saw last year with the sacking of Professor David Nutt, the government’s chief drugs adviser. Politicians, we know, can play fast and loose with “expert” evidence. But scientists, too, are neither infallible nor always pure of heart. Their findings must be open to scrutiny and challenge.
There have been two recent developments in which this newspaper has had a pivotal role. One concerned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
As is now conceded by the IPCC, a claim made in its influential fourth assessment report in 2007 that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 “or perhaps sooner”, was wrong. The claim, based on an eight-year-old magazine report subsequently picked up by environmental pressure groups, had been challenged by scientists commissioned by the Indian government but their views were dismissed by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, as “voodoo science”.
If this was an isolated example, perhaps the matter could rest. But other sections of the IPCC’s report dealing with the impact of climate change are also in doubt. The scientific basis is thin for claims that global warming is responsible for a rise in the number or severity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and was not based on peer-reviewed research, as we reported last week. Alarm bells should have rung much sooner when the IPCC began drawing on such “grey” science and claims by pressure groups to support its case.

We are not seeking to rubbish every claim by the IPCC or destroy the underlying arguments about climate change. The IPCC’s evidence on the physical science is extensively peer-reviewed and remains largely intact. But when scientists allow claims from pressure groups into the public arena, without checking the evidence, they let themselves and everybody else down.
That is also true of the case of Dr Andrew Wakefield and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. For parents of children with autism, the idea that this was caused by the vaccine provided succour and the prospect of compensation. Many other parents refused to have their children vaccinated with MMR.
Dr Wakefield exploited these concerns ruthlessly, taking money from the parents’ lawyers for his researches, developing his own patented single measles vaccine and recruiting children for £5 a time at his son’s birthday party for experiments with, as the General Medical Council put it, “callous disregard” for their distress and pain. Some sections of the media have been criticised for spreading his claims but we should remember that they were first published in The Lancet after being peer-reviewed by scientists. Conversely, it was Brian Deer’s reporting for The Sunday Times which exposed this wrongdoing.
Dr Wakefield is finished in this country, thanks to the GMC, whatever his followers may think. Dr Pachauri is still head of the IPCC, although he presided over the use of dodgy science in its reports and ignored legitimate criticism of that science. He should go.

Ed Miliband declares war on climate change sceptics

Climate secretary Ed Miliband warns against listening to 'siren voices', in an interview with the Observer
Juliette Jowit, environment editor
The Observer, Sunday 31 January 2010
The climate secretary, Ed Miliband, last night warned of the danger of a public backlash against the science of global warming in the face of continuing claims that experts have manipulated data.
In an exclusive interview with the Observer, Miliband spoke out for the first time about last month's revelations that climate scientists had withheld and covered up information and the apology made by the influential UN climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which admitted it had exaggerated claims about the melting of Himalayan glaciers.
The perceived failure of global talks on combating climate change in Copenhagen last month has also been blamed for undermining public support. But in the government's first high-level recognition of the growing pressure on public opinion, Miliband declared a "battle" against the "siren voices" who denied global warming was real or caused by humans, or that there was a need to cut carbon emissions to tackle it.
"It's right that there's rigour applied to all the reports about climate change, but I think it would be wrong that when a mistake is made it's somehow used to undermine the overwhelming picture that's there," he said.
"We know there's a physical effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to higher temperatures, that's a question of physics; we know CO2 concentrations are at their highest for 6,000 years; we know there are observed increases in temperatures; and we know there are observed effects that point to the existence of human-made climate change. That's what the vast majority of scientists tell us."
Mistakes and attempts to hide contradictory data had to be seen in the light of the thousands of pages of evidence in the IPCC's four-volume report in 2007, said Miliband. The most recent accusation about the panel's work is that its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, may have known before the Copenhagen summit that its assessment report had seriously exaggerated the rate of melting of the Himalayan glaciers.
However, Miliband was adamant that the IPCC was on the right track. "It's worth saying that no doubt when the next report comes out it will suggest there have been areas where things have been happening more dramatically than the 2007 report implied," he said.
The danger of climate scepticism was that it would undermine public support for unpopular decisions needed to curb carbon emissions, including the likelihood of higher energy bills for households, and issues such as the visual impact of wind turbines, said Miliband, who is also energy secretary.
If the UK did not invest in renewable, clean energy, it would lose jobs and investment to other countries, have less energy security because of the dependence on oil and gas imports and contribute to damaging temperature rises for future generations. "There are a whole variety of people who are sceptical, but who they are is less important than what they are saying, and what they are saying is profoundly dangerous," he said. "Every­thing we know about life is that we should obey the precautionary principle; to take what the sceptics say seriously would be a profound risk."
The Copenhagen conference in December ended with no formal agreement to make deep cuts in global emissions, or even set a timetable, but Miliband warned activists against "despair".
The UN conference was a "disappointment", he said, but there were important achievements, including the agreement by countries responsible for 80% of emissions to set domestic carbon targets by today. "There's a message for people who take these things seriously: don't mourn, organise," said Miliband, who has previously called for a Make Poverty History-style mass public campaign to pressure politicians into cutting emissions.
Lord Smith, the Environment Agency chairman, said: "The [Himalayan] glaciers may not melt by 2035, but they are melting and there's a serious problem that's going to affect substantial parts of Asia over the course of the next 100 or more years."

Stern report was changed after being published

Information was quietly removed from an influential government report on the cost of climate change after its initial publication because supporting scientific evidence could not be found.

By Richard Gray, Science CorrespondentPublished: 9:00PM GMT 30 Jan 2010

Claims that eucalyptus and savannah habitats in Australia would also become more common were also deleted from the report
The Stern Review on the economics of climate change, which was commissioned by the Treasury, was greeted with headlines worldwide when it was published in October 2006
It contained dire predictions about the impact of climate change in different parts of the world.

But it can be revealed that when the report was printed by Cambridge University Press in January 2007, some of these predictions had been watered down because the scientific evidence on which they were based could not be verified.
Among the claims that were removed in the later version of the report, which is now also available in its altered form online, were claims that North West Australia has been hit by stronger tropical typhoons in the past 30 years.
Another claim that southern regions in Australia have lost rainfall due to rising ocean temperatures and air currents pushing rain further south was also removed.
Claims that eucalyptus and savannah habitats in Australia would also become more common were also deleted.
The claims were highlighted in several Australian newspapers when the report was initially published, but the changes were never publicly announced.
A figure on the cost of US Hurricanes was also changed after a typographical error was spotted in the original report. The original stated in a table the cost of hurricanes in the US would rise from 0.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 1.3%.
The later report corrected the error so the increase was from 0.06% to 0.13%. A statement about the correction appeared in a postscript of the report and on the Treasury website.
The Stern Review has been instrumental in helping the UK government draw up its climate change policies while it has also been cited by leading organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its assessment reports on climate change.
Details of the changes, which have not been publicly detailed before, have emerged as the IPCC is under fire for errors on the melting of Himalayan glaciers that appeared in their most recent assessment report because of a failure to check the sources of the information.
A spokesman for Lord Stern, who headed the review and is now chair of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said that the changes to the statements about Australia were made following a quality control check before the report was printed by Cambridge University Press.
He said: "Statements were identified in the section on Australia for which the relevant scientific references could not be located.
They were therefore, as a precaution, omitted from the version published by Cambridge University Press and they were deleted from the electronic version on the HM Treasure website.
"These changes to the text had no implications for any other parts of the report.
"It is perhaps not surprising that in a report of more than 700 pages a few typographic errors and minor but necessary clarifications to the text were identified in November and December 2006 after its launch.
"However, none of these corrections and changes affected the analysis or conclusions in the Stern Review, which is rightly regarded as an important contribution on the economics of climate change."
Professor Roger Pielke, from the centre of Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado who has been a long term critic of the Stern Review, described the changes to the report as "remarkable".
He said: "In any academic publication changes to published text to correct errors or to clarify require the subsequent publication of a formal erratum or corrigendum.
"This is to ensure the integrity of the literature and a paper trail, otherwise confusion would result if past work could be quietly rewritten.
"Such a practice is very much a whitewash of the historical record.
"One would assume – and expect – that studies designed to inform government (and international) policy would be held to at least these same standards if not higher standards."

Greenhouse effects: dishwasher tablets

Consumers need to take action themselves as cleaning agents for dishwashers often have a high phosphate content

Tony Juniper

One of the most damaging long-term environmental trends worldwide is the build-up of plant nutrients. Sewage works, transport emissions and farming all play their part — and so do the products we use in our homes.
One cause is the use of phosphates in detergents. As a result of these getting into water via sewage treatment plants, rapid growth in algae can occur. This leads to reduced oxygen levels, which can kill fish and wildlife. It can also promote blooms of algae, which are toxic to dogs, and indeed humans. Two-thirds of lakes and rivers in England are thought be below the “good ecological standard” set by EU law due to phosphate contamination.
There are plans to ban phosphates from laundry detergents, but not from dishwasher tablets, where they are used as a water softener and to improve cleaning. Most liquid detergents sold for washing dishes by hand are phosphate-free, but cleaning agents for dishwashers often have a high phosphate content; most UK detergents contain more than 30% phosphate.
While Sweden is taking steps to ban phosphates from dishwasher detergents, manufacturers in this country are still reluctant to consider alternatives; for now, consumers need to take action themselves. In part, the Swedish leadership on the issue is down to the soft water there, but that is not the whole story.
The performance of some of the low-phosphate tablets available in the UK has been favourably compared with the normal ones (even in hard-water areas), but you might need to use salt and rinse aid as well; most tablets sold these days are combined.
Low- and zero-phosphate brands you can find in the shops include Ecover ( and BioD ( Most supermarket chains also have their own brands — look on the box.
Thinking of household stuff getting into water, I saw photos last week that show what discarded plastics do to sea birds. Visit and click on the Midway selection.
Be prepared for a shock.
Tony Juniper is an environmental campaigner and former director of Friends of the Earth;

Green energy firms fear new feed-in tariffs will be too low

Campaigners fear government's cashback offer for microgeneration will not be enough to stimulate renewables industry

Ashley Seager
The Observer, Sunday 31 January 2010

The government will tomorrow publish the long-awaited levels of remuneration it will offer for renewable energy generated by households and communities and fed back into the national grid.
It hopes the new tariff will boost the growth of "micro-generation" by small-scale wind turbines, solar panels or hydro power. But there are fears in the renewable energy industry that the Department of Energy and Climate Change will make little or no upward adjustment to the tariff levels for clean electricity it proposed last year.
The DECC has been heavily lobbied by the big energy firms, and tomorrow's announcement has been delayed several times. The Clean Energy Cashback, or feed-in tariff, will reward households, businesses or communities by paying above-market rates for the electricity they produce and feed into the grid.
When the tariffs were unveiled last year, they were criticised for offering rates of return too low to encourage people to install micro-generation plants. Germany introduced feed-in tariffs a decade ago offering double-digit rates of return and sparked a green revolution.
But Alan Simpson, special adviser to energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband, fears the battle to get higher tariffs has been lost and believes the DECC will stick to its aim of getting just 2% of the UK's electricity from smaller scale renewables by 2020. He says three times that would be easily achievable at an additional cost per household energy bill of £1.20 a year.
"Germany needed starting rates that gave a 10% return on investment to kickstart their leap to the top of the renewables league. Britain needs to do the same," he wrote in a letter to Gordon Brown last week. "At the moment, we don't have a renewables industry. We have survivors; firms that exist despite government policy rather than because of it.
"A coalition of groups – from farmers to the fuel-poor, environmental NGOs to eco-builders, ethical bankers to engineers and installers – has been lobbying DECC officials for all they are worth. But little seems to be working."
Andrew Melchior, head of the EIC Partnership, which is setting up the Horizon energy co-operative in Manchester, said his business was only viable because of an EU grant. The feed-in tariff would not be enough, he warned.
"The Germans created an efficient industry that is able to provide solar installations at competitive prices. The UK does not have this industry, more a collection of enthusiasts experimenting with new technologies or proponents well versed in the pragmatics and dark arts of exploiting pots of grant funding.
"We must provide a decent incentive so that the public begin to accept the concept of economically viable solar energy in the UK."

Second wave of funding for Aquamarine Power

New investment will allow the company to develop the second phase of its Oyster turbine
Jane Bradley

Wave energy developer Aquamarine Power is on the verge of completing a new funding round that will allow it to develop the second phase of its Oyster turbine.
By March, the Edinburgh-based firm expects to have generated £6m of investment, after successfully holding a £10m funding round in September last year. The news comes as the company announced the appointment of a chief financial officer, Richard Round, from renewable energy generator Novera.
Chief executive Martin McAdam said Round would take up his post in March.
“This is a key appointment for Aquamarine and it is great news that Richard, with his wealth of financial expertise combined with his knowledge of the energy sector, has agreed to join the team,” he said.
Aquamarine has grown rapidly in the past year, increasing its headcount from 8 to 45. Its new Oyster 2 device is made up of a 2.5-megawatt “pod” of three linked waveenergy devices powering a single onshore generator.
The firm, which hopes to deply its first Oyster 2 turbines by 2013, estimates that a commercial farm holding 20 of the devices would provide energy for 9,000 three-bedroom family homes and offset carbon emissions of up to 20,000 tonnes.

Scottish Water taps into demand for electricity

The company is poised to become an energy provider using turbines in its pipes

Mark Horne

Scottish Water is to generate green electricity by fitting turbines in mains water pipes, in a revolutionary scheme that it claims could slash bills and provide energy for thousands of homes.
The publicly owned utility is to launch a pilot scheme in Fife later this year, which will produce renewable energy by harnessing the power of water flowing at high pressure underground.
The aqua-turbine system, which was developed by Norwegian scientists to power offshore oil and gas rigs, will be fitted at one of its plants in Glenrothes. The device will generate enough electricity to power about 50 homes.
Although the Difgen turbine will cost around £100,000 to install, it is expected to produce £20,000 worth of energy every year.
If the trial is a success, Scottish Water intends to install the turbines at its water treatment plants across the country. Larger individual turbines could potentially produce enough electricity to power more than 200 homes.
“The first trial will demonstrate whether the reality meets the theory, and we will use the data to look at further opportunities across the rest of our network,” said Grant Nairn, Scottish Water’s director of technology and innovation.
“The device that we intend to fit at Glenrothes promises to generate around 60kW of power — enough to power around 50 homes — which we could either feed into our own plant or hook back into the grid.”
Nairn said the turbines would also reduce leaks and lower operating costs, which would be passed on to consumers in the form of lower bills.
“The device has the dual benefits of generating electricity from the flow of water in our mains pipes as well as allowing us to control the pressure in those pipes,” said Nairn.
“This is a very useful feature in our ongoing battle against leakage and wastage. In the long term, this promises to benefit customers through lower bills, and it also contributes towards Scotland meeting its carbon reduction commitments.”
Ash Gupta, who is promoting the technology in the UK for the Norwegian manufacturer Zeropex, said the science behind the scheme was simple.
“Water can travel underground at the sort of pressure that would blast the taps off,” he said. “This device has a brake which steps that pressure down and is connected to a turbine which spins and generates power. It kicks out at least 60kW of clean, green energy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
The Stavanger-based firm showcased the technology at an oil industry exhibition in Aberdeen last year.
“Scottish Water are going to be the first out of the blocks to use it this way,” said Gupta.
“But we are also now talking to a number of other utility firms, including Severn Trent and Northumbrian Water in England.”
The UK government-funded Carbon Trust, which helps and advises companies on cutting energy waste, confirmed that it is interested in the Difgen scheme.

Solarcentury considers listing

By Mark Leftly
Sunday, 31 January 2010
Solarcentury, a renewable energy company founded by green campaigner Jeremy Leggett, is mulling a flotation on the London Stock Exchange.
A listing could value the company at up to £100m, according to an estimate by an industry expert.
Solarcentury, which employs more than 110 people and provides solar technology across Europe, has a £35m turnover and is one of the country's fastest growing clean technology firms. A source close to the company said that while a decision has not been made, it was "an option [because] the company is doing well".
Solarcentury is believed to be considering the flotation for later this year, taking advantage of "feed-in tariffs", which will be detailed in a government announcement next week. From April, people who install photovoltaic cells will be able to sell surplus energy to the National Grid, creating an incentive to buy the kit.
Mr Leggett, who was a leading campaigner for Greenpeace International on climate change in the 1990s, declined to comment.

French bank faces broadside on ‘greenwash’ ads

Crédit Agricole, France's biggest bank, is being attacked by the environmental lobby for its advertising campaign
Danny Fortson

ONE of the world’s biggest banks is to be referred to advertising watchdogs over a campaign fronted by Sir Sean Connery that highlights its green credentials.
Friends of the Earth, the campaigning group, called the marketing push from Crédit Agricole “the worst example of greenwash we’ve ever seen”.
The environmental group and a French organisation, France Nature Environnement (FNE), are compiling a dossier on the bank’s activities in the fossil-fuel and defence industries to submit to France’s advertising standards board.
The global campaign is the first from Crédit Agricole, which has grown from a network of regional mutuals to become France’s biggest bank. The campaign is part of the bank’s efforts to expand its business outside France and includes full-page advertisements in international newspapers such as the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.
It also includes television ads depicting dramatic scenes of planetary destruction. Scarred landscapes are blown away by wind turbines and give way to a gleaming Crédit Agricole skyscraper as Connery intones: “Back to common sense. It’s time for green banking.”
Calyon, Crédit Agricole’s investment-banking arm, is one of the primary funders of oil exploration in the developing world. Last year it led a syndicate of banks that lent $520m (£324m) to Trafigura, the Swiss oil giant that was caught dumping toxic waste off the Ivory Coast.
It is one of the main financiers of Tullow Oil, which is developing giant new oil projects in Ghana and Uganda, and recently led a $1 billion financing of Perenco, a private group that is developing oil fields in Iraq and the Amazon.
The bank has made a concerted push into Africa and shows no sign of pulling back, according to Philippe Vasset of Africa Energy Intelligence, a specialist publication. “They weren’t really a presence until three of four years ago when they had a big breakthrough — they gave some oil-backed loans to Sonangol [Angola’s state-owned oil firm],” he said. “It’s been hugely lucrative for them.”
Yann Louvel, of Friends of the Earth France, said: “We know what they invest in. This is absolutely the worst case of greenwash we’ve ever seen.” The Friends of the Earth dossier will shortly be sent to France’s advertising authority, the ARPP.
Crédit Agricole said the ad campaign was “not simply an environmental notion” but was meant to highlight a broader change in the bank’s approach to business, focusing on more “responsible and ethical” practices. It also pointed out that it was a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and a member of the FTSE4Good index. Given its activities, however, industry experts said the bank will have a tough time convincing consumers that its claims are not disingenuous.
AS banking emerges from the global financial crisis, a growing number of firms are claiming to be eco-friendly in an attempt to attract new customers. In most cases, though, it is little more than lip service, writes Tricia Holly Davis.
Bank Track, a green watchdog, will say in a report this week that climate change has influenced banks’ investment decisions only marginally, if at all. Its research has found that banks with green reputations — including Crédit Agricole, Standard Chartered and HSBC — finance environmentally destructive projects. Not one bank appears in the FTSE Environmental Opportunities index.
To make the index, companies must derive at least 20% of their revenues from green goods and services.

New laws to ensure batteries recycled

Published Date: 31 January 2010
By John Ross
RETAILERS have been forced to set up new collection points for used household batteries in an attempt to cut down on the hazardous chemicals sent for dumping.
Britons throw away around 600 million spent batteries in their rubbish every year, most ending up in landfill sites.But from tomorrow, shops which regularly sell batteries to the public will have to take them back free of charge or face legal sanctions.At present, only three per cent of batteries are recycled in the UK, one of the worst rates in western Europe. But an EU Batteries Directive requires that this increases to 25 per cent by 2012 and 45 per cent by 2016.While consumers cannot be forced to recycle, they are being encouraged to return all batteries from a range of household appliances – from remote controls to computers – to the shops with recycling points. The retailers involved are those who sell more than 32kg of portable batteries a year – about seven packs of AAs a week. They must then be delivered to recycling firms who extract components that can be reused and dispose of dangerous chemicals safely.The directive aims to stop harmful pollutants such as mercury and cadmium contained in batteries from leaking into the environment. In addition, thousands of tonnes of valuable metals, such as nickel, cobalt and silver, could be recovered if batteries did not go to landfills or incinerators.A spokeswoman for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency said: "Householders are encouraged to take advantage of the systems set up in their areas and return batteries so that they do not end up in landfill but are appropriately recycled or disposed of." Vince Armitage, divisional vice president of Varta Consumer Batteries, a major battery supplier, said all batteries should be recycled."Households need to be aware that next time the batteries run out in their remote control, alarm clock or smoke alarm they shouldn't just head straight for the bin," he said. "All batteries, regardless of size or purpose, should be recycled at specified drop-off points. "It may sound like more of a chore, but the directive has actually made it really easy for consumers. All retailers that sell reasonable quantities of batteries will have to provide a collection point, so when you buy a new pack just drop the old batteries off at the same time. There's really no excuse not to recycle."The UK's portable battery recycling rate is one of the lowest in western Europe. Belgium recycles 41.5 per cent of its portable batteries, Austria 38 per cent and the Netherlands 37 per cent, while the EU average is about 20 per cent.At present, facilities in the UK for recycling batteries are limited, but kerbside collections are made in Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll & Bute, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Orkney, Shetland and Perth & Kinross.A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "This directive is in line with what we are trying to do in terms of making Scotland a zero-waste country. "This puts responsibilities on everyone, including government, businesses and individuals, to do more to recycle and reduce the amount of material that goes to landfill." However, retailers say they cannot be expected to be solely responsible for recycling batteries. They argue that better and continuing information is needed to change consumer habits, along with improved facilities in schools, offices, community centres and kerbside collections.Bob Gordon, head of environment for the British Retail Consortium, said retailers support the aim of the directive and recognise their own responsibilities. But he added: "Informing customers isn't all down to retailers. We need a comprehensive and continuing information campaign."We need more local authorities to take used batteries from homes and a more consistent recycling regime for all materials."Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland chief executive, said more effort should be put into waste prevention."While we welcome that batteries have been banned from landfill, because they are toxic and damaging to people's health and the environment, banning individual products from the waste stream is not the most efficient way of reducing waste."It's much more efficient to prevent waste in the first place, and in terms of batteries we advise people to use rechargeable instead of disposable ones."

Saturday, 30 January 2010

US pledges to cut federal government emissions by 28% by 2020

Barack Obama will also propose a tripling of government funding for new nuclear reactors to more than $54bn
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Friday 29 January 2010 17.57 GMT
Barack Obama used his presidential authority to help advance his climate change agenda today, announcing that the US federal government and agencies would cut their giant carbon footprints by 28% by 2020.
The announcement was held up by administration officials as evidence of Obama's commitment to his climate and energy agenda, which has run into opposition in Congress and from coal, oil and manufacturing groups.
The White House said the targets – which are set against 2008 emissions levels – would reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions by 80m metric tons by 2020, and save the government between $8bn (£5bn) and $11bn in energy costs.
Obama will also propose a tripling of government loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors to more than $54bn, an administration official said, a move sure to win over some Republican lawmakers who want more nuclear power to be part of climate change legislation.
The loan guarantees, which follow Obama's pledge in his State of the Union address to work to expand nuclear power production, will be announced as part of his budget proposal on Monday, the official said.
The federal goverment is the largest single user of fuel and electricity in the country and is responsible for emissions to match. Including the department of defence, it owns nearly 500,000 buildings, more than 600,000 vehicles, and it purchases $500bn in goods and services every year.
"As the largest energy consumer in the US, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient," said President Obama. "Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy."
The White House ordered federal government departments last October to begin measuring their use of electricity and fuel, and make energy savings.
Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the effort was an important show of leadership. "It shows the commitment of federal government to lead by example and to take on its responsibility to reduce pollution and help stimulate clean energy economy," she said.
The cuts will come from across 35 government agencies and departments. The Treasury department pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33%. The department of Defence – which operates 300,000 of those government buildings – pledged to cut its emissions by 34%. However, that effort excludes combat operations, and would cover just 40% of DoD greenhouse gas emissions.
Sutley said government departments across the country were already taking action, installing solar panels and wind turbines. The National Renewable Energy Labs in Denver was aiming to reduce energy use of its data centre by 65%.
Today's announcement covers only direct emissions from electricity in government office buildings and military installations, and petrol for government cars. Departments are to report back in 2010 about other potential areas of energy savings, including workers' commutes. The order also does not cover government contractors, officials said.
The initiative comes at a time when the Obama administration is determined to demonstrate its commitment to action on climate change. Obama in his State of the Union address pledged to work to help build Republican support for climate change proposals now under discussion in the Senate. But most observers think getting a climate bill through Congress in 2010 still remains a long shot.

Water vapour caused one-third of global warming in 1990s, study reveals

Experts say their research does not undermine the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, but call for 'closer examination' of the way computer models consider water vapour

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 29 January 2010
Scientists have underestimated the role that water vapour plays in determining global temperature changes, according to a new study that could fuel further attacks on the science of climate change.
The research, led by one of the world's top climate scientists, suggests that almost one-third of the global warming recorded during the 1990s was due to an increase in water vapour in the high atmosphere, not human emissions of greenhouse gases. A subsequent decline in water vapour after 2000 could explain a recent slowdown in global temperature rise, the scientists add.
The experts say their research does not undermine the scientific consensus that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity drive global warming, but they call for "closer examination" of the way climate computer models consider water vapour.
The new research comes at a difficult time for climate scientists, who have been forced to defend their predictions in the face of an embarrassing mistake in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which included false claims that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035. There has also been heavy criticism over the way climate scientists at the University of East Anglia apparently tried to prevent the release of data requested under Freedom of Information laws.
The new research, led by Susan Solomon, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who co-chaired the 2007 IPCC report on the science of global warming, is published today in the journal Science, one of the most respected in the world.
Solomon said the new finding does not challenge the conclusion that human activity drives climate change. "Not to my mind it doesn't," she said. "It shows that we shouldn't over-interpret the results from a few years one way or another."
She would not comment on the mistake in the IPCC report - which was published in a separate section on likely impacts - or on calls for Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, to step down.
"What I will say, is that this [new study] shows there are climate scientists round the world who are trying very hard to understand and to explain to people openly and honestly what has happened over the last decade."
The new study analysed water vapour in the stratosphere, about 10 miles up, where it acts as a potent greenhouse gas and traps heat at the Earth's surface.
Satellite measurements were used to show that water vapour levels in the stratosphere have dropped about 10% since 2000. When the scientists fed this change into a climate model, they found it could have reduced, by about 25% over the last decade, the amount of warming expected to be caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
They conclude: "The decline in stratospheric water vapour after 2000 should be expected to have significantly contributed to the flattening of the global warming trend in the last decade."
Solomon said: "We call this the 10, 10, 10 problem. A 10% drop in water vapour, 10 miles up has had an effect on global warming over the last 10 years." Until now, scientists have struggled to explain the temperature slowdown in the years since 2000, a problem climate sceptics have exploited.
The scientists also looked at the earlier period, from 1980 to 2000, though cautioned this was based on observations of the atmosphere made by a single weather balloon. They found likely increases in water vapour in the stratosphere, enough to enhance the rate of global warming by about 30% above what would have been expected.
"These findings show that stratospheric water vapour represents an important driver of decadal global surface climate change," the scientists say. They say it should lead to a "closer examination of the representation of stratospheric water vapour changes in climate models".
Solomon said it was not clear why the water vapour levels had swung up and down, but suggested it could be down to changes in sea surface temperature, which drives convection currents and can move air around in the high atmosphere.
She said it was not clear if the water vapour decrease after 2000 reflects a natural shift, or if it was a consequence of a warming world. If the latter is true, then more warming could see greater decreases in water vapour, acting as a negative feedback to apply the brakes on future temperature rise.

Osama bin Laden lends unwelcome support in fight against climate change

Drudge, Fox News and other right-wing media seize on al-Qaida leader's taped comments reportedly sent to al-Jazeera
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Friday 29 January 2010 16.23 GMT
Climate science is under assault, progress towards a treaty to end global warming is shuddering to a halt, and Barack Obama is struggling to press on with his clean energy agenda.
This was the last conversion to the environmental cause that anybody would have wanted.
In a new audiotape that surfaced today on the al-Jazeera network, Osama bin Laden has pronounced himself a believer in climate change and blames America and other industrialised economies for failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the atmosphere.
"Speaking about climate change is not a matter of intellectual luxury — the phenomenon is an actual fact," the tape says according to al-Jazeera. "All of the industrialized countries, especially the big ones, bear responsibility for the global warming crisis."
The utterance immediately got star billing on the right-wing blog Drudge Report as well as a mention on Fox News - both repositories of opposition to action on global warming. And the Conservative RedState website asked, "What is the difference between Bin Laden and Al Gore?"
The tape whose authenticity has yet to be confirmed by intelligence agencies, is the second purported message from the al-Qaida leader in a week. In the latest recording, he calls out developed world economies for continuing to produce global warming pollution even after signing on to the Kyoto protocol. America stayed outside Kyoto, which Osama noted.
"George Bush junior, preceded by [the US] congress, dismissed the agreement to placate giant corporations. And they are themselves standing behind speculation, monopoly and soaring living costs."
"They are also behind 'globalisation and its tragic implications'. And whenever the perpetrators are found guilty, the heads of state rush to rescue them using public money."
The al-Qaida leaders also calls on the global economy to stop using the US dollar, and praises the political analysis of Noam Chomsky.
Osama's concern for the environment is not exactly new-found, but it is intermittent. In a 2002 letter to the American people, Bin Ladenwrote: "You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries."
His latest pronouncement comes at a time when the Obama administration might be compelled to retreat on its pledge to bring the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks to trial in a Manhattan courtroom, which has run into intense opposition.
The administration is also trying to find ways of moving ahead on its climate change and energy agenda despite paralysis in Congress.
Obama, in his state of the union address this week, promised to incorporate two cherished Republican energy options — expanding offshore drilling and building more nuclear plants — into his energy plan.
Meanwhile, the White House is doing what it can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — even if Congress fails to bring in climate change legislation.
The White House today announced that it had directed all federal government departments to reduce emissions by 28% over 2008 levels by 2020. That is a more ambitious target than America's official position in the global climate change negotiations — a reduction of 17% over 2005 levels by 2020.
The White House said the action would save 205 million barrels of oil and was the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road for one year.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is set to formally declare on Monday that it will take climate change into account in its long-term strategic thinking. The new focus on climate change comes as part of the quadrennial defence review, which is presented to Congress every four years.

Climate change: sailing through the perfect storm

Tomorrow is the deadline for countries to sign up to the Copenhagen Accord, says Geoffrey Lean

By Geoffrey Lean Published: 8:49PM GMT 29 Jan 2010

Yes, I know it has become a cliché, rightly discouraged by newspaper editors, but it seems so apposite that I am going to inflict it on you anyway. Climate change seems to have been hit by a perfect storm in the past two and a half months. And tomorrow we will get a first indication of how much damage has been done.
It came out of a relatively blue sky. Back in November, environmentalists could look forward to a forecast of increasing sun and favourable breezes. The science of global warming was not seriously challenged, though public concern had been falling off with the recession. Prospects for the Copenhagen climate summit looked bright: country after top polluting country was making pledges to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases". And there even seemed to be a reasonable prospect that the US Congress would pass a climate Bill.

That forecast proved to be as spot-on as the Met Office's recent predictions. First, the hacked emails from the University of East Anglia caused unprecedented public doubts about the climate science, which were later compounded by the discovery that the latest report of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained the wildly inaccurate prediction that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Copenhagen fell apart, only rescued from complete collapse by a hastily negotiated "accord" between key world leaders. And finally US legislation became hopelessly bogged down in the Senate – even before Barack Obama lost the majority needed to pass it in the snows of Massachusetts.
Tomorrow, however, marks a key moment, for it is the deadline for countries to sign up to the Copenhagen Accord and make their pledges official. So this may be a good time to assess the effects of the storm. And peering through the fog of hype and misinformation from parts of both sides of the debate suggests a surprising conclusion; so far, much less damage than might be expected has actually been done.
Despite the sceptics' best efforts, for example, the basic edifice of global- warming science remains intact. Nothing in the so-called Climategate emails damages it. The most quoted one – about using a "trick" to "hide the decline" – has been widely, but inaccurately, taken to refer to trying to cover up a supposed drop in temperatures since the anomalously hot year of 1998: in fact, it refers to a relatively technical issue over tree-ring measurements from Siberia in the 1960s which suggested the thermometer was falling when it was in fact going the other way.
The scientists' disgraceful failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and the Himalayan glacier debacle are much more serious. One was rightly condemned by the Information Commissioner last week; the other reveals sloppiness at the IPCC. But again, neither touches the basic science; the Himalayan howler concerns a predicted effect of global warming, rather than the climate change itself. The obituaries of the science proclaimed daily by sceptics so far are not even premature.
Tomorrow, furthermore, is likely to reveal remarkably little damage to international structures. The UN says it will not announce who has endorsed the Accord for some days, but all the main polluting countries – accounting for 80 per cent of emissions worldwide – are expected to do so. This is a surprise. Western governments thought that the big, rapidly industrialising countries would refuse to join, but they have.
The prospects for a new treaty are dimmer than before the storm broke: despite official optimism, there is little chance of one even by the end of this year. But action to reduce emissions – in the main developing countries, at least – is actually occurring faster than expected. In the few weeks since Copenhagen, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia have all taken important steps.
Even in the United States, more remains standing than at first appears. Obama's State of the Union speech actually elevated climate above health- care in his priorities, largely because of the job-creating potential of measures to improve energy efficiency and boost reneweable sources of power. He also promised to include an expansion of nuclear energy, which has infuriated environmentalists but increases the chances of some Republican support for a bill. True, any legislation is unlikely to contain its hitherto core measures for capping and trading emissions, but many environmentalists believe that more could be done by using existing powers under the US Clean Air Act.
So perhaps it wasn't a perfect storm after all. Or not yet. Either way, I promise, I won't inflict the phrase on you again.
Miliband must empower us all
Boy wonder Ed Miliband has attracted plaudits for saving the Copenhagen climate summit from total disaster (he got an adjournment just as the hopeless chairman – Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen – appeared to be about to concede failure, and when the proceedings restarted someone else had mysteriously been put in charge). This week will show whether he can do proactive as well as pre-emptive.
He is to announce details of schemes to allow householders and communities to generate their own electricity and heat from renewable energy. This has huge potential; one government report says a third of Britain’s electricity could be provided this way by 2020, giving families and the country energy security. But Mr Miliband’s plans so far aim for just two per cent and are correspondingly mean with the incentives to encourage it.
Britain has an appalling record on renewables, despite having Europe’s best resources. Only Malta produces a smaller proportion of its energy from them – zero.
And for decades,
officials have especially resisted encouraging families to install renewables, such as solar panels, preferring to control things themselves.
A YouGov poll now shows that two thirds of Britons think Mr Miliband’s plans are not ambitious enough, and that even more are ready to pay bigger power bills to improve them.
The Tories understand this, and promise to do better. Here’s hoping.
Will rhinos heed the call of the wild?
Conservationists will fight over just about anything, and lately a row has been rocking the small world of the northern white rhinoceros. It’s small because there are precious few of this
sub-species, the world’s most endangered mammal. They are thought to be extinct in the wild, with just eight in captivity: two in San Diego, California, and six in the Czech Republic’s Dvur Králové Zoo.
Or there were. Four of the European ones – two males and two females – have just been shipped back to Africa in the hope that a touch of the sun will stimulate their sex drives, and save the species. Their attempts at mating have been “abysmal”, according to experts, possibly because they were always being watched.
The “Last Chance to Survive” project – costing $300,000 – was mainly put up by the charities Flora and Fauna International and Back to Africa.
The animals are now settling in at the Ol Pejeta private reserve in the shadow of Mt Kenya, where it is hoped they will feel horny despite their prized appendages being removed to deter poachers.
Czech activists and the European Association of Zoos protested that the transfer endangered the rhinos by exposing them to the wild, but the Czech zoo said: “We must offer them the last chance.”
In addition, our own Prince William has lent his support to the project. As the product of centuries of arranged partnerings, he is presumably well qualified to pass an opinion.

U.S. electric carmaker Tesla files for IPO

Reuters, Saturday January 30 2010
* Files for IPO for up to $100 mln
* In '09 thru Sept, had $93.4 mln rev, $31.5 mln loss
* IPO timing capitalizes on environmental enthusiasm (Recasts with investor interest, paragraph 1; adds details of pay, private plane use, paragraphs 20-23)
By Poornima Gupta
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - U.S. electric sports car maker Tesla Motors filed for an initial public offering of up to $100 million, aiming to cash in on growing investor interest in battery-powered vehicles and green technology.
The IPO filing on Friday from the six-year-old start-up, best known for its $109,000 all-electric Roadster, marks the first public offering from a U.S. automaker since Henry Ford's Ford Motor Co made its share debut in 1956.
It also represents a landmark in the resurgence of electric car technology that most carmakers until recently had dismissed as impractical.
Tesla's IPO, with underwriters including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank Securities, should generate enthusiasm for IPOs generally, analysts said.
"People are going to be watching this one move through the pipeline," said Matt Therian, analyst with Connecticut-based IPO research firm Renaissance Capital. "It's probably a good sign for the IPO market."
Ben Holmes, founder of, said an IPO is sometimes the best form of advertising, especially if the deal is successful, for companies like Tesla.
"Venture-backed deals were kind of derailed and this might be what we call a bell cow -- a deal that's so steady and so well-done and so impressive it brings other deals to market that were waiting," he said.
Reuters reported in November that Tesla was preparing to file for an IPO. ID:nN20238220
In the nine months ended Sept. 30, Tesla said, it lost $31.5 million, down from a loss of $57.3 million in the same period a year earlier. Revenue jumped to $93.4 million from $580,000.
The company said it would continue to post losses until it begins making "significant" deliveries of the Model S, which is not expected to launch until 2012.
Tesla, in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, did not provide details on IPO pricing or its timing.
Tesla will compete with established carmakers such as Ford, General Motors and Nissan Motor Co Ltd, all of which are racing to launch electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Tesla is a small player with a high-end market and limited production, but hopes the Model S electric sedan will broaden its potential market.
It has received about 2,000 reservations for the car, which is being designed as a four-door, five-passenger premium sedan with an additional third row with two rear-facing child seats. It has a base price of $49,900.
The appetite for IPOs has picked up since mid-September this year, with a robust pace of new filings.
Tesla's IPO would follow the successful debut of lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems Inc, whose shares rallied 50 percent on their first day of trading on Sept. 25.
The company, named after scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, said in the filing it had sold 937 Roadsters in 18 countries since it was founded.
Chairman Elon Musk has often expressed a desire to take his company public and had previously targeted late 2008 or 2009, but financial market turmoil after Lehman Brothers collapsed in late 2008 virtually shut down the IPO market.
Musk, an entrepreneur who made hundreds of millions as co-founder of online payments service PayPal and whose current ventures include space exploration company SpaceX, makes a base salary of just $33,280 a year, according to the filing.
But he took $175,000 in reimbursements from Tesla for using his private jet.
Tensions between shareholders, regulators and company executives over perceptions of inflated salaries for managers have risen in the recession. But Tesla's filing showed that Musk had used his own plane without compensation since 2009's second quarter.
"From time to time, Elon Musk uses his private airplane for Tesla business travel. Beginning in the second quarter of 2009, we agreed to pay for certain third-party operation expenses incurred in connection with the use of Mr. Musk's private plane," the filing read.
"These operation expenses include fuel charges, landing fees and other related expenses. Through December 31, 2009, we paid approximately $175,000 for such expenses. Prior to the second quarter of 2009, Mr. Musk paid for such business travel expenses without reimbursement."
Tesla's investors include Google Inc founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Others include Daimler AG; Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments, which owns a Daimler stake; and venture capital funds Draper Fisher Jurvetson, DraperValor Equity Partners, Technology Partners, The Westly Group and Compass Venture Partners. (Additional reporting by Laura Isensee and Alexander Haislip in Los Angeles; editing by Leslie Gevirtz, Gary Hill)

Friday, 29 January 2010

Slowdown in Warming Linked to Water Vapor

Climatologists have puzzled over why global average temperatures have stayed roughly flat in the past decade, despite a long-term warming trend. New research suggests that lower levels of water vapor in the stratosphere may partly explain the anomaly.
The study, appearing in the journal Science, points out that the concentration of water vapor in the stratosphere has dropped about 10% in the past decade, triggered by unexplained cooler temperatures at certain high altitudes above the tropics. The study concludes that in the last decade the decline in water vapor slowed the rate of rising temperatures by about 25%, thus partly negating the heat-trapping effect of increasing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
The recent fluctuation—the flattening of temperatures since the year 2000—isn't merely of academic interest. Those skeptical of man-made global warming say the temperature anomaly supports their case. Others say it is merely a blip, and that warming remains the long-term trend.
"There is slow warming that has taken place over the last 100 years," says Susan Solomon, lead author of the study and a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo. "But from one decade to another, there can be fluctuations in the warming trend," such as those caused by water vapor and other factors.
Separate findings suggest that fleeting changes in ocean currents and alterations in solar activity may partly explain the recent flat-temperature trend. The study in Science uses fresh and more-accurate satellite data to conclude that water vapor also likely contributed to the flattening of the global warming trend since 2000.
Not only is water vapor the planet's most abundant greenhouse gas, it also is known to amplify the warming effect of other such gases, including carbon dioxide. Scientists refer to the process as a positive feedback loop: Higher temperatures lead to higher concentrations of water vapor, which then absorbs more thermal energy radiated from the Earth, which further warms the atmosphere.
Water vapor is formed through evaporation from the Earth's bodies of water. A key factor that affects how much water vapor enters the stratosphere is the coldest temperature that air encounters as it rises from the Earth.
Most of this upward movement occurs in the tropics—a region where "cold point" temperatures have dropped in the past decade.
As a result of these lower temperatures, less water vapor ended up in the stratosphere. That, in turn, helped lower the warming rate, the study concludes.
The overall picture is still far from complete. Water vapor's role may be important, but "it doesn't rule out other contributing factors," such as changes in ocean currents and solar activity, says Dr. Solomon.
Nor do current warming models fully account for all the complexities of water-vapor shifts in the stratosphere. And scientists have yet to pin down why cold point temperatures in the tropics fell in the past decade.

Words alone are not enough

David Wighton: Business Editor’s Commentary

Davos has an image problem. Outside the international economic elite, it is widely seen as a glitzy talking shop where corporate bosses can spend a few days posturing about improving the state of the world before going straight back to improving the state of their profits.
For many outside observers, the financial crisis was the last straw. Investment bank bosses had spent years talking about corporate social responsibility at Davos, only for their employees to act with such extraordinary social irresponsibility that they brought the financial world to its knees.
Some Davos insiders believe this illustrates the more general gulf between corporate rhetoric and corporate behaviour.
As Maurice Levy, head of the media giant Publicis, said yesterday, there often seems to be a big gap between what companies do and what they say about ethics and the environment in their annual reports. Enraged by the financial crisis, the public is now demanding change and Mr Levy warned that if companies did not respond, they would pay a heavy price. He was referring particularly to companies’ commitment to sustainability. But many of his fellow chief executives believe it extends to companies’ wider role in society.

To be fair, many companies are taking their responsibilities seriously and are challenging the Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy about the pursuit of shareholder value. Many chief executives would agree with Unilever’s Paul Polman about the need to resist pressure from short-term shareholders, even if they would not have the nerve to express it so forcefully.
Critics of Davos claim that most of the promises made here are never kept. Insiders admit there is some truth to this, which is why many of the Davos initiatives — such as the sustainability programme in which Unilever is involved — are now focused on turning words into actions.
That is essential not only for the future of Davos but for public confidence in business as a whole.

Davos: Funding switch threatens aid to developing world, campaigner warns

Larry Elliott in Davos, Thursday 28 January 2010 15.58 GMT
Rich countries are raiding their aid budgets to bankroll a new global fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change, one of the world's leading development campaign groups warned today.
Jamie Drummond, executive director of the One group co-founded by the rock stars Bono and Bob Geldof, said the west was being "dishonest" about the $30bn (£18bn) of fast-track finance proposed in Copenhagen last month to persuade developing countries to agree a deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Drummond said the proposal to spend $10bn a year over the next three years involved no additional money, but was instead being diverted from existing budgets.
The impact, he said, would be to divert funds from health and education spending in Africa to infrastructure projects in Asia and Latin America.
"Development promises are under threat. There is double counting going on. The $30bn is not new money and nor is the $100bn promised for 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change."
Speaking in Davos, Drummond said One was lobbying world leaders to "come clean" about what they were doing. Similar concerns were expressed earlier this week by Bill Gates, who has used part of his personal fortune to fund health programmes in Africa.
Drummond admitted that it was hard for rich countries to stump up more money during a tough recession, but said the solution was to explore innovative ways of raising finance – including a transaction tax, a levy on aviation travel and selling part of the International Monetary Fund's gold reserve.
Poor countries, he added, would not be prepared to sign up to a climate change deal unless there was additional money for adaptation and mitigation.
Many countries, including Britain, have pledged to raise aid budgets to 0.7% of GDP, but Drummond said that "we may need to look at new goals and proposals like Sir Nicholas Stern's proposal for 1%, incorporating both development and climate finance".

Keeping climate change alive

In his state of the union address, Obama seemed willing to trade nuclear power and offshore drilling for climate bill votes

A guest blog by Suzanne Goldenberg, the Guardian's US environment correspondent
Greens probably didn't reckon the "change you can believe in" would mean building more nuclear power plants when Barack Obama was first elected. But that is what they are going to get – in return for getting a climate change bill through Congress.
Last night Obama delivered the signal Congress – and much of the world – had been watching for that the White House is ready to throw itself into the effort to get a climate change bill through the Senate.
But what kind of bill? One deliberately crafted to prise off at least a handful of Republican votes – which means expanding nuclear power, offshore drilling, and money for clean coal technology."That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies," Obama said in his state of the union address.
That is not a recipe to make the enviros happy. But Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham who are trying to craft a compromise bill are going to be relieved.
The two told reporters earlier today there was no hope of getting a bill through the Senate without getting a few Republicans on side and in their wake – hopefully – a few of those Democrats from coal, oil and old industrial states.
The appeal to conservaties is probably why Obama only once uttered the words "climate change", let alone "global warming". But there were enough references to "clean energy jobs" to remove any doubts that Obama still sees green investment as key to America's economic future.
The president also endorsed a "comprehensive energy and climate bill" – code in Washington for a broad set of proposals that would also include establishment of a cap and trade programme.
"And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America."
And he said he wanted a bill through the Senate in 2010 – timing that is seen as crucial both for the prospects of energy reform in America and for getting a global change deal.
"This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate," he said."
Before the speech, Hill rats had put the chances of getting a bill through the Senate at between 0 and 40%. Maybe it went up a tick tonight.

Barack Obama commits to climate change bill

President Obama pledges to help pass 'comprehensive' climate change law, but also backed nuclear power and drilling
Suzanne Goldenberg, Thursday 28 January 2010 05.50 GMT
Barack Obama put himself firmly behind the effort to get a climate change bill through Congress last night – but said it must include a new generation of nuclear power.
The brief passage on energy and climate in Obama's state of the union address did deliver the signal Congress and much of the world had been seeking that the White House is ready to throw itself into the effort to pass legislation.
"This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate," he said.
But Obama made it clear that he supported a "bipartisan" effort which would incorporate energy policies that are popular among Republicans – and fiercely opposed by the liberal wing of his own party."That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies," Obama said.
The endorsement for nuclear power and especially offshore drilling will be difficult for some Democratic voters to swallow.
Most of the instant reaction to the speech from environmental groups was positive – though few commented directly on Obama's support for nuclear power or drilling.
However, the Centre for Biological Diversity was scathing. "A clean energy economy does not include continued reliance on dirty coal and further risky drilling for oil in fragile offshore areas," the centre's director, Kieran Suckling said in a statement."The president failed tonight, as he failed over the past twelve months, to use his bully pulpit to advocate a bright line goal for greenhouse gas reductions. "
Obama's endorsement of a nuclear renaissance – 30 years since the last new nuclear plant – was calculated to help the efforts of Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Lindsey Graham craft a compromise bill that could get broad support in the Senate.
The house narrowly passed a climate change bill last June, but the effort has bogged down in the Senate.
The two Senators told reporters earlier Wednesday that they were closely focused on pulling in Republican support, and damping down fears among Democratic senators from oil, coal and heavy manufacturing states that energy reform would hurt local economies.
Obama hewed closely to the same strategy, peppering his speech with references to new "clean energy" jobs and the "profitable kind of energy". He uttered the words "climate change" precisely once, referring to America assuming a leadership role in the negotiations to get a global deal to halt warming.
But the president did voice support for a "comprehensive" Senate bill – code in Washington for a broad set of proposals that would also include establishment of a cap and trade programme.The nod for a "comprehensive" bill could help head off attempts to get the Senate to scale back its ambitions, and pass a narrowly focused energy bill that would not attempt to establish a carbon market.
And he said he wanted a bill through the Senate in 2010 – timing that is seen as crucial both for the prospects of energy reform in America and for getting a global change deal.
Obama also took a shot at climate change deniers, which brought some mutterings from Republicans.
"I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change," he said. "But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future."

Barack Obama pledges $8bn to upgrade aged US rail network

US president and Amtrak devotee Joe Biden take jobs pledge to Florida

Suzanne Goldenberg, Thursday 28 January 2010 22.46 GMT
Barack Obama announced $8bn in grants to upgrade America's slow and aged passenger rail network today, taking his state of the union promise to build America's clean energy economy to Florida.
Obama was touting his efforts to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and less polluting technology.
He was accompanied by his vice-president, Joe Biden, an Amtrak devotee, who told the audience that over his years in Washington he had made more than 7,900 round trips by rail to his home state of Delaware.
Obama said the 13 projects in 31 states would help create jobs as well as transform the way Americans travel.
"We are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the interstate highway system was created," he said. "There's no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains, when we can build them right here in America."
But the funds, authorised nearly a year ago under Obama's $787bn recovery act, will not quite bring America into the age of hi-speed rail. Most of the projects are for faster but still not necessarily hi-speed — trains.
More than a quarter of the funds, some $2.25bn, will help California move ahead with its plans to build a genuinely high speed rail project, which would convey passengers at 220mph between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
California has already raised $10bn for the estimated $42bn project.
The White House said the funds would be used for purchasing rights of way, and building track, signalling systems and stations on four segments of the 800-mile corridor.
In Florida, the funds would go to building just 84 miles between Tampa and Orlando. The project, which will receive $1.25bn, will feature trains that travel as fast as 168mph.
Routes connecting Chicago to St Louis will also get funds. There was also $112m to help speed service on the most highly travelled line, between New York and Washington.
The awards make good on Obama's promises to help America catch up with European and Japanese rail travel. During a visit to Strasbourg a year ago, the president confessed to a secret hankering after the TGV and other fast trains. But rail experts — and Obama and Biden today — admit that the $8bn represents only a start to the estimated cost of building a truly modern network. The administration has also committed another $5bn for rail under last year's recovery plan.
Apart from California, none of the routes announced today truly qualify as high speed rail. But the initial $8bn should help to win over Americans to giving up their cars for relatively short journeys between cities.
It also allows Obama to help drive home the connection made in his state of the union address between job creation and clean energy.
"We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow," he said.

Using biofuel in cars 'may accelerate loss of rainforest'

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Using biofuel in vehicles may be accelerating the destruction of rainforest and resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions than burning pure petrol and diesel, a watchdog said yesterday.
The Renewable Fuels Agency also warned that pump prices could rise in April because of the Government’s policy of requiring fuel companies to add biofuel to petrol and diesel. More than 1.3 million hectares of land — twice the area of Devon — was used to grow the 2.7 per cent of Britain’s transport fuel that came from crops last year.
Under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, a growing proportion of biofuel must be added to diesel and petrol. This year fuel must be at least 3.25 per cent biofuel on average. By 2020 the proportion will be 13 per cent.
The agency’s first annual report revealed that fuel companies had exploited a loophole to avoid reporting the origin of almost half the biofuel they supplied to filling stations last year. The origin of fuel from land recently cleared can be described as “unknown”. Last year Esso reported the source of only 6 per cent of its biofuel and BP reported 27 per cent. Shell was the best-performing of the main oil companies but still failed to report the origin of a third of its biofuel.

The agency said: “The large proportion of unknown previous land use is of concern. If even a small proportion of this was carbon-rich grassland or forestland, it could have substantially reduced the carbon savings resulting from the renewable transport fuels obligation as a whole, or even resulted in a net release of carbon.”
Most companies met part of their biofuel obligation by buying palm oil, one of the cheapest fuels but potentially the most damaging to the environment because of the carbon released when forest is burnt down to create plantations.
Expansion of the industry has made Indonesia the third-largest CO2 emitter after China and the US. A litre of palm oil produced on land converted from Indonesian forest produces roughly three times as much CO2 as ordinary diesel.
The agency said oil companies had failed to invest in slightly more expensive certified sustainable palm oil. Only 0.5 per cent of the 127 million litres of palm oil added to petrol and diesel last year came from plantations certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international monitoring body.
Chevron, Murco, Topaz and Grangemouth refinery had “failed to demonstrate the sustainability of their biofuels”, the report said. ConocoPhillips was the only big oil company to meet the three voluntary targets the Government set the industry: for 30 per cent of the biofuel to meet a minimum environmental standard, for it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent compared with fossil fuel and for the source of at least half the biofuel to be reported.
The agency said the end of the 20p a litre fuel duty discount for biofuel from April could cause prices to rise, though probably only by less than 1p per litre.
From March 2011 companies will be required under a European directive to report the previous use of all the land from which they derive their biofuels. However, they will also gain an additional loophole because they will not have to admit using rainforest land if the trees were removed before 2008.

Time for a Rethink on Global Warming

Mandated carbon cuts won't work.
With most of the world still reeling from the worst recession in 40 years, this week some 2,500 members of the international political, business and media elite are descending on Davos, Switzerland. The occasion is the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, that well-publicized Woodstock for movers and shakers. The point of Davos is to swap big ideas about big issues, and this year's theme couldn't be bigger: "Improving the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild."
If you detect a whiff of "back to the drawing board" in that slogan, you're right. There is a growing consensus in policy circles that if the recent economic carnage has taught us anything, it's that our 20th-century prescriptions are not up to the challenges of our 21st-century world.
This kind of intellectual humility would certainly be welcome in my particular area of interest: the debate over how best to cope with man-made climate change. For nearly two decades, environmental policy makers have been single-mindedly marching down the same road, trying without success to get the governments of the world to endorse a binding agreement to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Just last month, we saw this strategy fail again when yet another global climate summit convened and adjourned without accomplishing anything. Yet policy makers refuse to change course.
There is a superficial logic to the conventional wisdom that the only serious way to stop global warming is to get governments to either force or bribe their citizens into slashing their reliance on fuels that emit carbon-dioxide. After all, if carbon emissions cause global warming, shouldn't eliminating them cure it?
Yes, it would. The question is at what cost? The fact is that whatever prosperity we currently have or are likely to achieve in the near future depends heavily on our ability to acquire and burn carbon-emitting fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
Right now, developing nations like China and India are most vocal in their opposition to cutting carbon emissions—and it is not hard to see why. Compared to other forms of energy, fossil fuels are abundant, efficient and cheap. In order to make drastic cuts in their carbon emissions, developing countries would have to pull the plug on domestic economic growth—thus consigning hundreds of millions of their citizens to continued poverty.
But the developed world has an interest at stake here as well. All the major climate economic models show that to achieve the much-discussed goal of keeping temperature rises under two degrees Celsius, we would have to impose a global tax on carbon emissions that, by the end of the century, would cost the world a phenomenal $40 trillion a year. Even the wealthiest of nations would have trouble paying that price.
Viewed in this light, it's no wonder so many governments are skeptical of the idea that environmental salvation lies in just saying no to fossil fuels. So what's the alternative? I believe it's time to take a page from the World Economic Forum's book and rethink, redesign and rebuild our climate policy.
Despite all the optimistic talk about solar, wind and other green-energy technologies, the alternatives we currently have aren't anywhere close to being able to carry more than a fraction of the load fossil fuels currently bear. For two decades, we've been putting the cart before the horse, pretending we could cut carbon emissions now and solve the technology problem later. But as we saw in Copenhagen last month, that makes neither economic nor political sense.
If we really want to solve global warming, we need to get serious about developing alternatives to coal and oil. Last year, the Copenhagen Consensus Center commissioned research from more than two dozen of the world's top climate economists on different ways to respond to global warming.
An expert panel including three Nobel Laureate economists concluded that devoting just 0.2% of global GDP—roughly $100 billion a year—to green-energy R&D could produce the kind of breakthroughs needed to fuel a carbon-free future. Not only would this be a much less expensive fix than trying to cut carbon emissions, it would also reduce global warming far more quickly.
Mr. Lomborg is the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center at Copenhagen Business School and the author of "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" (Knopf, 2007).

Obama sees the positives as US gives formal notice on greenhouse gases

State department climate change envoy Todd Stern writes to UN to formally promise to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Friday 29 January 2010 02.51 GMT
America embraced the accord reached at the Copenhagen climate summit yesterday by formally giving notice to the United Nations that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The announcement was the second piece of encouraging news from the US in 24 hourson the prospect of reaching a global deal on climate change.
In his state of the union address on Wednesday, Barack Obama promised to keep pushing on his energy and climate change agenda. The intervention could boost the slim prospects of getting Congress to act on climate change - which is widely seen as a precondition for a global deal.
In his letter to the UN, the state department climate change envoy, Todd Stern, said that America could cut carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.
However, he said, the commitment was contingent on Congress passing climate change legislation.
The letter reaffirms the promise Obama made to the summit last month to cutUS emissions and work for a global climate deal. It says the 2020 commitment was a first step towards cutting America's global warming pollution by 42% in 2030, and by more than 80% by the middle of the century.
"The US submission reflects President Obama's continued commitment to meeting the climate change and clean energy challenge through robust domestic and international action that will strengthen our economy, enhance our national security and protect our environment," Stern wrote.
He said America was acting on the assumption that other countries which signed the accord would take similar action.
"The United States is committed to working with our partners around the world to make the accord operational and to continue the effort to build a strong, effective, science-based, global regime to combat the profound threat of climate change," Stern wrote.
Under the slight, 12-paragraph, accord reached at Copenhagen, industrialised countries and the rapidly emerging economies like India and China were expected to offer formal notification of their plans to act on emissions by January 31.
However, the UN has since indicated that deadline is somewhat elastic, and there are fears that the momentum in the run-up to Copenhagen has fizzled away.
Obama offered some sense of movement in his speech, refusing to back down on climate agenda despite running into opposition from Republicans, as well as Democrats from oil and coal states, and the industrial heartland.
He told Congress he would carry on. "I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy, and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change," he said. "But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future. "
Obama's new vision for an energy and climate bill, spelled out on Wednesday, do not necessarily align with those of environmental groups or the liberal wing of his own Democratic party. He called for opening up new areas for offshore drilling and building more nuclear power plants.
But his willingness to recommit his administration to the energy agenda could boost the slim prospects of getting a climate change bill out of the Senate this year.
Democrat John Kerry and Republican Lindsey Graham have been lobbying hard among Republicans and conservative Democrats - as well as business leaders - to try and craft a compromise bill.
Obama, in his support for nuclear power and offshore drilling, hit on some of the components Kerry and Graham have been discussing. But several Senators told reporters they still thought it unlikely the Senate would take up energy and climate before the end of 2010.