Friday, 30 April 2010

Putting the pressure on algae to create biofuel

By Ben Coxworth
17:20 April 29, 2010

If you’ve read even a little bit about potential sources of biofuel, you’ll know that algae is one of the big ones. During photosynthesis, this unicellular aquatic plant turns sunlight and carbon dioxide into oil. It’s grown in ponds, where it’s not taking land away from food production, and yields much more oil than other biofuel crops, such as corn or soybeans. Researchers at the University of Michigan have recently come up with a method of getting algae to give up its oil more quickly and efficiently than has previously been possible - they pressure cook it.
The current method of creating algae fuel involves cultivating special oily types of algae, drying them out, then extracting their oil. UM’s method allows the use of regular, less-oily algae, which is added to water. The algae-water is heated to 149C (300F), and kept at a high enough pressure that it remains liquid instead of turning to steam. The high pressure and temperature cause the algae to react with the water and break down, plus they cause the algae’s proteins and carbohydrates to rapidly decompose. The result of both reactions, after 30 to 60 minutes, is crude bio-oil.
It’s the same basic process that created fossil fuels from prehistoric plants, only UM’s method takes minutes instead of millennia.
Presently, the oil has a tar-like consistency. The researchers looking at ways of making it flow better, along with the possible use of catalysts to increase its energy-density, and the reduction of its sulfur and nitrogen content to make it cleaner.

Global warming: The big questions are still unanswered

April 29, 8:58 PMEnvironmental Policy ExaminerThomas Fuller

I have noticed in the comments to this and other sites that people unfamiliar with the imbroglio surrounding global warming tend to ask the same questions, and tend to be confused by the conflicting answers they receive from partisans on either side.A sort of code has developed--a jargon among debaters--that doesn't really help newcomers very much. And surprisingly, a lot of people are still showing up who are new to all this. Talking about RC vs. CA in the context of paleoclimatic temperature reconstructions does not mean too much to people who have never heard of the weblogs Real Climate or Climate Audit, nor of the tension that exists between them.They say in baseball that you can't tell the players without a program, and as yet there is no program. Given the structure of this site, I'm not sure that's a problem I can solve, although I will give it some thought. For now, though, I think identifying the important questions that remain unsolved is the best I can do for newcomers.Sensitivity: Most of us accept that doubling the concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere will raise global temperatures by one or two degrees Celsius. But what happens to the rest of the atmosphere as it copes with this rise? The consensus holders, championed by Al Gore and James Hansen, believe that especially water vapor, another greenhouse gas, will increase and add its own contribution to global warming. Skeptics believe it will remain relatively unaffected.Consensus holders believe that their computer models, which captured the effects of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption quite nicely, tell us that sensitivity is about 3 degrees Celsius (with a generous plus or minus). (A sensitivity factor of 3 means that 1 degree of warming caused by CO2 will cause a total of 3 degrees of warming.) Skeptics say that without a piece of physical evidence, consensus holders are being very premature.Oceans: The oceans are a sink for both heat and CO2. Heat gets stirred into the ocean at a local level, interacting with salinity to create layers of differing heat levels at different levels. The oceans transport this heat and release it at odd times and odd places, helping cause phenomena like El Ninos and La Ninas. When the oceans warm, they release CO2. When they cool, they absorb more of it. (At least that's simple.) And the oceans hold a lot more CO2 than the atmosphere--93% of the CO2 shared between ocean, plants and atmosphere is in the oceans. It also moves through different layers of the ocean and can eventually be absorbed by microscopic organisms and turn into limestone at the ocean floor. Before that happens, though, it works at making the ocean slightly less alkaline, or more 'acidic.'But we really don't know what's happening down there. We know more about the moon than we do the ocean, in all honesty. (Well, we should--not as much is going on up there.) We don't know if the oceans are going to keep taking in all the CO2 we can belch out (but probably not) or if it will reach a point where it gives a lot of it back, which would be unwelcome indeed. We don't know if the extra CO2 we are emitting is going to have a huge effect on the alkalinity of the ocean, or a very small one. This is not to say that there are no coherent theories--there are, and the level of uncertainty is being reduced quite quickly. Which means within two decades or so we'll really have a good handle on it. (And while we're on the subject of oceans, when they warm, they expand and sea level rises--which it has been doing for quite a while, although there is disagreement on whether the rate of rise is increasing or not.)Clouds: Sunlight can bounce off the tops of clouds and go back into space. Clouds can cool the atmosphere. Clouds can trap heat underneath them. Clouds can warm the atmosphere. What's the net effect of clouds? We don't know. This is a big obstacle to understanding what's happening in the ol' global warming thing. Any one of these factors--sensitivity, the role of the oceans or clouds, could completely swamp other factors in determining whether global temperatures will rise or fall. They are that important. If all three swing in one direction it will be decisive without any question. Even if two end up being rather neutral, the third one--whichever one you choose--can swing the balance in either direction.Because we don't really know the answers to these big questions, you would think there's not too much to fight about. You would be an optimist. The consensus holders believe that the situation is so dire that we can't wait for the final figures to come in before we act. The skeptics disagree. And there is even a group in the middle (I am one of them) who think there will be some global warming, but it won't rise to the level of a catastrophe.As newcomers tour the blogosphere, they will encounter people who claim to know the answers to these questions. And certainly someday someone will come up with the right answers. But I would advise newcomers to beware those who are extremely confident and certain on these issues.

Carbon Capture and Storage: Economic Costs Revisited

Posted by Rembrandt on April 29, 2010 - 10:20am in The Oil Drum: Europe
This is an updated version of post by Rembrandt from 2007.-Gail
Capturing carbon dioxide from coal (and gas) fired electricity plants, and subsequently transporting carbon dioxide from the plant and storing it underground in (abandoned) oil/gas fields, in other geological formations or on the ocean floor, seem like an excellent solution for continued fossil fuel use in the coming decades.
When I looked at the situation in 2007, the European Union hoped to have 12 large CO2 capture and storage demonstration projects at coal plants of at least 250 MW of capacity in place by 2015, requiring an investment of 5 billion euro. Progress has been slow, however. At the end of 2009, after 13 months of discussion, the European Union finally made the decision to invest 1 billion euro in six demonstration projects. In February, 2010 another 300 million euro was made available, which would be sufficient for two more CO2 capture and storage demonstration projects. The expectation behind these investments are that they will lead to significant cost reductions, making the technology affordable by 2020.
Even as these projects get off the ground, there are two large drawbacks:
The process is quite energy intensive, and thus will use up coal supplies faster.
Because of the additional energy cost the process will remain quite expensive, it is not certain that costs can be reduced sufficiently
In this post, I will talk about the second item, the high economic cost. In my previous post, I quantified the impact the extra energy cost might be expected to have on coal depletion.
In 2007, I participated in an evening group discussion about possibilities for the Dutch economy relating to capturing and storing carbon dioxide. After two interesting talks, one outlining the technical possibilities for storage in the Netherlands and the other the commercial possibilities, one of the other participants made a remark that was spot on. No matter how wonderful the idea of capturing and storing carbon dioxide may sound, it will always be costly to do so relative to current electricity production costs.
The additional costs were estimated by the IPCC in a 2007 special report on carbon dioxide capture and storage at 1 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (with these cents computed in US$), with the difference depending on the type of power plant, the technology employed for capturing, the reservoir in which the CO2 is stored, the transporting distance and other variables. The largest share of the costs originate from the extra energy needed to capture a pure stream of carbon dioxide for storage. The IPCC estimates the costs using a broad range of publications for different power plants as follows:
“Application of CCS to electricity production, under 2002 conditions, is estimated to increase electricity generation costs by about 0.01–0.05 US dollars per kilowatt hour (US$/kWh), depending on the fuel, the specific technology, the location and the national circumstances. Inclusion of the benefits of EOR [enhanced oil recovery] would reduce additional electricity production costs due to CCS by around 0.01–0.02 US$/kWh”
More specifically:
“The application of capture technology would add about 1.8 to 3.4 dollar cents per kWh to the cost of electricity from a pulverized coal power plant, 0.9 to 2.2 dollar cents per kWh to the cost for electricity from an integrated gasification combined cycle coal power plant, and 1.2 to 2.4 dollar cents per kWh from a natural gas combined-cycle power plant. Transport and storage costs would add between –1 and 1 dollar cents per kWh to this range for coal plants, and about half as much for gas plants. The negative costs are associated with assumed offsetting revenues from CO2 storage in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) or enhanced coal bed methane (ECBM) projects. Typical costs for transportation and geological storage from coal plants would range from 0.05–0.06 dollar cents per kWh.”

Figure 1 - Costs of Carbon Capture and Storage in dollars per kWh from the IPCC report

Figure 2 - Costs of Carbon Capture and Storage in dollars per ton of CO2 avoided from the IPCC report
When I did my analysis in 2007, the industrial base price of electricity in the Netherlands was about 7 eurocents per kWh or 9.6 dollar cents per kWh. This was in the high range relative to other European countries. For the most likely application--a pulverized coal power plant--the additional cost of capture and storage would amount to 20% to 30% over and above the industrial base price. This is confirmed by a recent study to published in Energy Policy, volume 35, Issue 9, September 2007, pages 4444-4454: “Cost and performance of fossil fuel power plants with CO2 capture and storage“. The authors, E. Rubin et al, estimate a cost increase of 15% to 30%. They base this on a wide range of previous publications.
To cover these costs in the long run in a market environment, companies are looking at two distinct options. First, there is the hope that carbon capture and storage can be paid by the pricing of carbon dioxide through the European emissions trading scheme. Second, the possibility of enhanced oil recovery by carbon dioxide injection in oil fields could offset some of the costs incurred.
The European emission trading scheme is an initiative under the Kyoto protocol. It provides Europe with a market to trade greenhouse gas emission allowances or emission reduction units. Each individual company is given an assigned amount of Kyoto Protocol Units or Carbon Credits which can be increased or decreased through several mechanisms. Every carbon credit is equivalent to a reduction of one ton of greenhouse gas emissions. Within the trading scheme, a party is allowed to transfer their carbon credits to or from another party. An unlimited number of units may be acquired by emissions trading while only a limited number may be transferred to another party. At the moment, carbon capture and storage is not incorporated as a possibility for mitigation under the emissions trading scheme.
The European carbon credit market passed its test phase and became effective in 2008. During the test stage before 2008, it did not function very well because too many credits were handed out, thereby putting a downward pressure on the price of a ton of carbon. We can see this in Figure 3 below. In April 2006, when news came out that countries had a surplus of credits, their value began dropping significantly. During 2008 when more players entered the market and the market became effective, the cost of a ton of CO2 rose significantly, up towards 40 euro, but from June onwards the price dropped significantly due to investor expectations being adjusted by developing events in the economy. As the economy has only slowly picked up somewhat, and energy consumption is still low relative to early 2008 levels, the price of CO2 is still very low as shown in Figure 4 below.

Figure 3 - Price development per ton of Carbon dioxide under the European emission trading scheme, source:

Figure 4 - Price development per ton of Carbon dioxide under the European emission trading scheme from November 2007 to March 2010, source:
Now, in 2010, the price for a carbon credit lies between 12 and 18 euros per ton CO2. In relation to the costs of carbon capture and storage this is much too low. In Table 2, the cost estimates from the IPCC for a pulverized coal power plant are shown to be between 30 to 70 dollars per ton CO2 or 20 to 50 euros. The present price makes the technology an economic disaster at any location. It is difficult to predict whether the price of carbon will increase because the development of the market is heavily dependent on economic developments and political negotiations. For instance, will more countries outside the European Union join in the trading in the future? Will the amount of carbon credits handed out be adjusted to the new economic situation?
Next to emissions trading, there are high hopes for enhanced oil recovery. In my opinion, these hopes are overblown, given that the technique can only be applied commercially at very few oil fields. This was recently highlighted by Statoil and Shell. The companies dropped plans to store CO2 at the Draugen oilfield in Norway because economic analysis showed that it was uneconomical to do so. Nonetheless, enhanced oil recovery is often considered as a possible option as explained in the case study below.
Pioneering Carbon Capture and Storage: Rotterdam Harbour
One of the 12 large CO2 capture and storage demonstration projects that the European Commission wants to develop by 2015 could very well be located in the Dutch harbour of Rotterdam. In 2007, the environmental agency of the Rijnmond Region, in which Rotterdam Harbour lies, calculated that it would be possible to capture and store up to 20 million tons of carbon emissions from the Rotterdam region annually for only 24 euro per ton of CO2 (PDF in Dutch, 3.6 MB, 56 pages), a price that is much lower than normal thanks to efficient usage of energy. A significant amount of heat created by local industry is wasted which can be applied for usage in the capture process. The environmental agency has assumed that this waste heat can be utilised for free as input in the capture process, hence the huge reduction in costs for capture and storage. However, it still remains to be seen whether the local companies will comply with giving away their waste heat for free--no one has asked the companies formally thus far.
In the analysis of the agency, if a price of 24 euros per ton of CO2 can be realized (which is much higher than the current trading range of 12 to 18 euros), then this project would be viable under the European emission trading scheme. Additional funding could be gained by the application of enhanced oil recovery according to the environmental agency of Rijnmond. In the agency's analysis, they assume that two additional barrels of crude oil will be produced for every ton of injected CO2. They also assume an oil price of 30 dollars per barrel. However, this income flow is very variable. When applicable at an oil field, the injection of carbon dioxide will only be maintained for a few years. Beyond that period, it is not expected to not deliver additional production benefits, so the income flow can be expected to slow down and then come to a halt. Furthermore, time is running out, because many fields that appear to be suitable for carbon dioxide injection for enhanced oil recovery will be closed down in the period of 2008 to 2012. By 2018, very few oil fields will be available for injection purposes.
While the idea of carbon dioxide capture and storage seems excellent, the costs are a large hurdle that might cancel this option altogether. Only with continued political support will this technological mitigation option for climate change become viable. The best option in pursuing this technology is full support of carbon dioxide capture and storage in the European emissions trading scheme, to make pioneering projects such as the one proposed at Rotterdam harbour viable. For larger application beyond a few projects, the price of a ton of carbon needs to increase, or the costs of capture and storage will need to come down significantly. Whether this will happen in the long term future is doubtful.

Madagascar passes decree banning rainforest timber trade

Rhett A. Butler,
April 27, 2010
Madagascar's transitional government has finally signed a decree banning the logging and trade of precious hardwoods, a month after announcing the moratorium. The decree comes in direct response to mounting pressure from the international community over ongoing destruction of Madagascar's national parks by illegal loggers. Timber trafficking was associated with an increase in commercial poaching of wildlife — including endangered lemurs ̬ and violence against conservation workers and local communities by marauding bands of loggers. The decree specifically prohibits the "cutting, exploitation and export of rosewood and ebony in Madagascar." The document states that "All persons engaged in the cutting, exploitation and export and rosewood and ebony are liable to criminal prosecution." The decree is signed by the the Deputy Prime Minister, Albert Camille Vital, and the Ministers of the Environment and Forests, Finance and Budget, Justice, Commerce, Interior Security, and the Secretary of State in charge of the Gendarmerie. While the moratorium has been welcomed by environmentalists, some remain skeptical that it will be enforced by the current government. Some prominent advisers to the administration— which seized power during a military coup a year ago — have been linked to the timber trade.

Private water suppliers poised to grow as demand set to surge

Global Water Intelligence analysts expect the water supply market to grow about 20% in the next five years• Experts call for hike in global water price

Juliette Jowit in Paris, Wednesday 28 April 2010 14.47 BST
Private companies are poised for a surge in demand to take over water supplies, despite widespread opposition to privatisation of what is seen as a life-giving public service.
Global Water Intelligence analysts expect the water supply market to grow about 20% in the next five years, and demand is especially strong in North Africa, the Middle East and China, GWI's publisher Christopher Gasson told the Guardian.
Another big growth area is likely to be the US, where "hundreds" of public water authorities thought to be talking to private operators, said Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of the global water division of engineering group Black & Veatch.
Renewed growth is being driven by poor services and the need for huge investment to repair and expand supplies, which in a recession is even harder for governments and municipal authorities to fund, said Gasson. It is also encouraged by less historical opposition to private suppliers in much of the big-growth regions, and the continuing "marketisation" of China, he said.
"There's been a move towards private sector finance and operation because of this failure to deliver," said Gasson. "If you have a contractor and the contractor doesn't deliver you can beat him over the head, but if you have a public employee who's got a job for life it's much more difficult to demand performance."
Private companies are seen as a source of finance, and a useful scapegoat to raise bills to help pay for the investment, because the decision would be made by state regulators rather than local politicians, said McCarthy: "It takes a bit of pressure off the local officials if they can shift that to somebody who's less impacted by the politics."
Despite huge controversy over privatisation of water suppliers in the last couple of decades – most famously violent protests in Bolivia over huge big bill increases – a World Bank report last year showed the population served by private companies has continued to expand, from almost zero in 1991 to more than 160m in 2007.
GWI's annual market report forecasted private company spending on water supplies would rise from about $45bn (£30bn) last year to nearly $70bn in just five years' time, and private finance of other water infrastructure more than double from about $30bn to more than $70bn.
However, still only about 10% of the world population is supplied by private operators, although more than four out of 10 people have no network supply at all.
The resurgence of privatisation interest, and continuing controversy over the issue, prompted GWI to chose it as the theme for the main debate at its major annual industry meeting in Paris this week.
AquaFed, the private industry lobby group, defended the continuing growth of public supplies, citing the World Bank study of 36 contracts in Africa, Latin America and Asia, which found private operators improved continuity of service and water quality, reduced leaks, and did not charge prices higher than public managers under the same conditions.
"Everybody needs access to water and sanitation in a way that's affordable," Gérard Payen, Aquafed's president, told the debate, referring to calls for water to be treated as a human right. "[But] the right which is recognised but not effective for people is useless."
Many delegates described the debate as "sterile", "pointless", or a "red herring"; they argued there were good and bad examples of water operators from both public and private sectors, and private suppliers could be controlled by good regulation.
Passionate opposition remains however, and not everything is going the private operators' way: officials in Gary, Indiana, in the US, want to terminate their private contract early, claiming they can do the job for half the price; and the concession to supply 2 million residents in central Paris was recently awarded to a public authority, after 25 years of private operation.
Maude Barlow, chair of Food & Water Watch campaign group, told delegates that although private companies could help build networks and big infrastructure, they should not be able to make a profit from supplying water.
"I don't think anybody should be making money from delivering water because it can be done in the public sector on a not-for-profit basis," said Barlow. "No corporation can survive on that basis ... You make decisions about life and death because you have to make a profit, and that's the issue here."
Oxfam said it was concerned about big private operators "cherry picking" the most profitable customers, and suing governments if they tried to terminate contracts for poor performance or exorbitant prices – as Bechtel tried to do in Bolivia.
"Market-led solutions have often undermined the provision of essential services and have had a negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable communities," said a spokesman. "Water privatisation is the most notorious example."

Cape Wind to become America's first offshore windfarm

Green light for 130-turbine project in Nantucket Sound overcomes nearly a decade of resistance from the Kennedy clan and local environmental opposition

Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington, Wednesday 28 April 2010 17.30 BST
The Obama administration gave the go-ahead today to America's first offshore windfarm in the Nantucket Sound, overcoming nearly a decade of resistance from the Kennedy clan and other famous denizens of the favourite holiday destination of America's liberal elite.
The announcement provides a much-needed boost for President Obama's green energy credentials in the week that his proposed climate change laws were relegated down the agenda and the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster highlighted the potential dangers of any expansion of near-shore drilling.
The Cape Wind project will comprise 130 turbines that are expected to generate 75% of the electricity for Cape Cod and nearby islands like Martha's Vineyard. It could trigger a major expansion in America's use of wind power, which currently generates only 2% of supply.
Announcing the decision in Boston, the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said: "This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast as we build a new energy future. Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter – the US will once again lead the world on technology."
He acknowledged the path to approval had "not been easy" but said: "It has been examined at all levels and on all sides." He promised future decision making on windfarms would be streamlined.
Opponents of the project had argued that the pristine waters of Nantucket Sound, home to whales and sea birds, was an unsuitable spot for a windarm, and that it should be sited further offshore. They argued the 440-foot towers would interfere with local aircraft, complicate ferry services, and crowd out local fishermen. The turbines, as near as 5km to shore, would also intrude on two submerged Indian burial grounds, and wreck the views from the dunes of Cape Cod. But reviews by 17 state and federal agencies, as well as two environmental impact reports, found little of concern.
The Cape Wind project had also encountered strong local opposition, led by the late Ted Kennedy, who used to sail in the Nantucket Sound. The solid bloc of opposition from the Kennedys - even from the environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr - made Cape Wind a tricky project for Democrats. Even John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator, leading the push for climate and energy legislation in the Senate, hesitated to come out for the project. The Koch family, the reclusive owners of a private oil company who have homes in the area, also funded a lobbying campaign against the project.
However, Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, said that after facing down 11 previous court challenges, the developers were now confident of finally going ahead. "The favourable decision will really help kick the door open on a whole new industry in this country of offshore renewables," Rodgers said. "Just thinking practically I think Cape Wind is the one offshore wind project that could actually be build and commissioned during the Obama administration. It is going to have a big impact on how much will get done on their watch, actually putting steel into water and putting people to work."
The run-up to today's decision had been seen as a test of the Obama administration's commitment to its green agenda. Obama has put energy security at the heart of his presidency, arguing that reducing America's reliance on imported oil will create jobs and secure future prosperity.
He has made a point of visiting wind turbine and battery manufacturers around the country, as well as solar farms. In a visit to a wind turbine blade manufacturer in Iowa on Tuesday, Obama said: "If we pursue our full potential for wind energy, and everything goes right, wind could generate as much as 20% of America's electricity 20 years from now."
But Obama has also frustrated environmentalists by proposing $36bn in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry, and expanding offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast. The White House compounded that anger this week by shifting its legislative to-do list from climate change to immigration, scuttling six months of work by Senators to draft a compromise energy and global warming bill.

International failure to meet target to reduce biodiversity decline

Pressures on the natural world have risen since the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity, say conservation groups• Gallery: Readers' blossom photos

Juliette Jowit, Thursday 29 April 2010 18.13 BST
The world has failed to meet the target set by international leaders to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by this year, experts will announce next month.
Instead, a coalition of 40 conservation organisations claims there have been "alarming biodiversity declines", and that pressures on the natural world from development, over-use and pollution have risen since the ambition was set in the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity.
The first formal assessment of the target, published today in the journal Science, will be the basis of a formal declaration by the CBD in Nairobi on 10 May, at which governments will be pressed to take the issues as seriously as climate change and the economic crisis.
A growing number of studies have shown that it is almost impossible to calculate the value of the "ecosystem services" from the natural world, from food, rich soil and fuel for local people, to clean air and water, and plants used for the international pharmaceutical industry.
"Since 1970 we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%," said Professor Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the United Nations Environment Programme, one of the contributing organisations.
"These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human well-being and sustainable development."
The Science study compiled 30 indicators of biodiversity, including changes in populations of species and their risk of extinction, the remaining areas of different habitats, and the composition of communities of plants and animals.
"Our analysis shows that governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002: biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems," said Stuart Butchart, the paper's lead author.
"Our data show that 2010 will not be the year that biodiversity loss was halted, but it needs to be the year in which we start taking the issue seriously and substantially increase our efforts to take care of what is left of our planet."
Examples of successful policies that have helped preserve and sometimes restore species and ecological areas are also highlighted in Science, and politicians are called on to fund more such initiatives.
These include new protected areas, including the Juruena national park in Brazil; projects leading to the recovery of species such as the European bison, and even animals on the brink of extinction, such as the black stilt, a wader bird from New Zealand.
Ahmed Djoghlaf, the CBD's executive secretary, said: "While many responses have been in the right direction, the relevant policies have been inadequately targeted, implemented and funded. Above all biodiversity concerns must be integrated across all parts of government and business, and the economic value of biodiversity needs to be accounted for adequately in decision-making."
The failure to meet the CBD target will not be a surprise to experts or policymakers, who have warned for years that too little progress was being made. Last month the head of the IUCN species survival commission, Simon Stuart, told the Guardian that for the first time since the dinosaurs species were believed to be becoming extinct faster than new ones were evolving.
Natural England, the government's countryside agency, also warned that more than two species a year were becoming extinct in England.
Three weeks ago, in another paper in Science, the eminent ecologist E O Wilson led calls from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and nine other conservation groups for a "barometer of life" to track the changing fortunes of 160,000 of the world's 2m known species.

Green party takes a punt on victory in Cambridge

Candidate Tony Juniper says Green party poised for breakthrough in open race as newspaper polls put them ahead
Amelia Gentleman, Thursday 29 April 2010 18.50 BST
Tony Juniper, the Green party's candidate for Cambridge, is campaigning on a bicycle with a wheelbarrow-shaped front carriage, sturdy enough to carry leaflets weighing up to a quarter of a tonne. The leaflets are printed on 100% recycled paper, using, where possible, vegetable dyes. The electricity in his headquarters comes from a company that supplies renewable energy, and the wood for his campaign billboards comes from sustainable forests.
The former director of Friends of the Earth hopes to inspire the whole of Cambridge to adopt similar values and has a vision of transforming the city into a model of environmental sustainability, with residents living in solar-powered homes, bicycling to local shops and eating more locally produced food.
After a slow start, Juniper believes the campaign in central Cambridge has become a four-way race. Two online polls conducted by the Cambridge News have this week put the Greens ahead. One published on Monday said that if the city followed the trend of the paper's respondents (who come from a much wider geographical area, across Cambridgeshire) the Greens would be first past the post with 24.2% of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democrats' candidate, Julian Huppert, with 23%.
Online polls are unreliable, however, and today had Juniper at around 50/1 to win, favouring the Liberal Democrats instead. Both Huppert and the Labour candidate, Daniel Zeichner, dismiss the newspaper's poll, but they concede that the Green party's support has strengthened locally.
Cambridge has no core loyalty to any party, leaving all candidates fighting hard for the undecided voters.
The constituency was Conservative until 1992, when it was taken by Labour, who held it until 2005. Labour support disintegrated amid disaffection over the Iraq war and the seat was won in the last election by a Lib Dem, David Howarth, who has now stood down. With the race so open, candidates from all parties are participating in an intense schedule of well-attended public debates.
The Green campaign has been aided by a benefit gig performed by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and an appearance by Ken Livingstone, who did not formally back Juniper but said it would be good to see Green MPs in parliament.
Juniper talks as much about the economy and social justice as issues related more directly to the environment, working to convince voters that this is a party with a strong position on all issues. But his central argument hangs on the need to combine mending the economy and addressing the environment.
"The other parties say we need to do the economic growth now and the environment later. That is how the conversation has gone for 30 years. I fear that if we don't get some Greens in there soon, that's how it will continue," he said.
"We will have 9 billion people living on Earth by 2050 at a time when we have to cut greenhouse emissions by 80%. You can't do it with everybody living like Europeans. And you won't be able to do it politically if you have a few people living like Europeans and everybody else living in abject poverty. The scale of the transformation needed is unprecedented."
Cutting carbon emissions at a local level can be done by creating a greater sense of community, and encouraging local, sustainable farming and business.
"We will have local people trading with each other, more people having a direct link with the people who provide their services," he said.
Nationally, the Green party is focusing on winning three seats – and Cambridge is not one of them.
The Lib Dems' local website has a graph on its front page saying "Cambridge is a two-horse race", and pointing out that the Lib Dems took 44% of the vote in the last election, while Labour took 34%, and the Greens 2.9%.
"We have been canvassing data from thousands of voters around the constituency showing that Cambridge continues to be a Labour/Lib-Dem marginal, as it has been for a decade," Huppert said.
The Greens' share of the vote in the last election was low, Juniper argues, because they did not mount an organised campaign. This time they have an energetic team in the constituency, with more than 120 campaigning volunteers. "It is an audacious punt, it is ambitious, but I think we can win," he said.
Zeichner thinks it unlikely. "I wouldn't attach too much significance to an online poll, but there is no doubt that the Greens are going to do well. I would describe Cambridge as a three-and-a-half-way marginal," he said.

State of emergency is declared as US oil slick nears the coast

Jacqui Goddard in the Gulf of Mexico, Tim Reid in Washington and Frank Pope, Oceans Correspondent
The massive oil spill pouring from a ruptured rig in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the coast of Louisiana, threatening an environmental catastrophe in the region.
The first fingers of oily sheen reached the mouth of the Mississippi River on Thursday evening local time, 24 hours ahead of previous estimates by the US Coast Guard
As the sun began to set over the fragile wetlands surrounding the Mississippi, the oil was slipping into the South Pass of the river and already lapping at the shoreline in long black lines.
Although US government agencies and BP set up 100,000 feet of booms to protect coastal areas from the slick, rough seas sent five foot waves of oily water over the top of the booms into the river.

The slick is on its way to becoming Americas's worst environmental disaster in decades, endandering hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife in one of the world's richest marine environments.
Even before the spill neared the coast, wildlife experts said a toxic mix of chemicals was poisoning the waters of endangered marine life and fisheries, including one of only two breeding grounds world-wide for Atlantic bluefin tuna.
"It is of grave concern," said David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."
Fear turned to fury among local residents as BP, which has leased the Deepwater Horizon rig from owner and operator Transocean, stood accused of playing down the scale of disaster after as it emerged that five times more oil was surging into the Gulf from the seabed than had been calculated previously.
There is a growing sense among the fishermen and tourist guides dependent on the wetlands for their livelihood that the Government has once more failed them, just as it did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama was briefed on the disaster and ordered Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, and Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, down to the Gulf Coast today.
Mr Obama said: "While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence, to address the incident."
The operation now involves 1,100 people and more than 70 vessels. Last night, the Governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency
Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, said he was terrified that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or BP.
"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive,' said Mr Thomas. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."
US experts are now fearful that it could take weeks, or even months, to shut off the ruptured pipe — yesterday a third leak was discovered — meaning that within two months the spill would surpass the 11 million gallons that leaked from the Exxon Valdez tanker in the notorious spillage off the Alaska coast in 1989, America’s previous worst oil disaster.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday so officials could begin preparing for the oil's impact. He said at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume's path.

The 100-mile by 45-mile slick also threatens the Alabama coast.
It also emerged yesterday that the oil rig did not have a remote-controlled shut-off switch used in other oil-producing nations, such as Norway and Brazil, which could have closed down the well after the explosion.
The device, known as an acoustic switch, is not required under US law, but the lack of one added to questions about BP’s operation of the Deepwater Horizon. It exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20. The cause of the blast, which killed 11 of the 111 workers on board and set the rig ablaze before it eventually sank, has yet to be determined.
Mr Suttles said that Deepwater Horizon was equipped with other safety devices that should have prevented this type of spill, in which the oil is coming out of fractures on a severed pipe connected to the wellhead, 5,000ft below the surface.
Dozens of vessels were trying to contain the spill, using a variety of methods. Crews triggered a series of controlled fires to burn off the thickest parts of the slick, while booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants were trying to stop the rest from reaching shore. Heavy seas, forecast to last into next week, are hampering the operation.
BP was due to start drilling a new “relief” well that would allow them to stop the flow from the seabed, although officials said that it would take at least two months to complete.
A separate effort was also under way to try to place a dome on the ruptured wellhead but that, too, could take weeks.
BP has also tried, unsuccessfully, to close the wellhead using submersible robots.
More than 400 species are threatened by the oil, including wading birds and sea otters. The Gulf’s abundant oyster and shrimping grounds are also in danger of severe damage.
Marine and coastal life from the smallest plankton to the resident sperm whales will all be affected, experts say. Valuable fisheries for oyster and menhaden fish are at risk, as is the breeding of endangered turtles and bluefin tuna.
If the slick spreads, the rare manatees of the Florida panhandle could be under threat.
Much depends on where the slick ends up and the success of the efforts to contain it.
If it is taken by the Gulf’s defining current, which is known as the Loop, the oil may also reach the Florida Keys and endanger the region’s coral and resident marine populations.
The type of oil leaking from the sea floor is complicating matters. It is called sweet crude, which contains heavy compounds, known as asphaltenes, that do not burn easily or evaporate, even on the warm Louisiana coast.
With light crude, both burning and chemical dispersants work well, but neither tactic is very effective against sweet crude, raising fears that nothing can be done to stop the oil reaching shore.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Whale excrement could help fight climate change

Whale droppings could help fight global warming by 'fertilising' the oceans, according to a new study.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 3:48PM BST 27 Apr 2010

Researchers from the Australian Antarctic Division found that the naturally iron-rich whale excrement encourages growth of algae, therefore drawing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Advocates of "geo-engineering" have suggesed dumping iron filings in the sea to 'fertilise' the oceans but this offers a more natural process.

Steve Nicol, who helped carry out the research, said a larger population of baleen whales would boost the productivity of the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the absorption of carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming.
"The plants love it and it actually becomes a way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere," he said.
Mr Nicol said the idea to research whale droppings came from a casual pub chat among Antarctic scientists in Australia's island state of Tasmania.
He exlained that iron is micronutrient in the Southern Ocean that helps algae bloom at the surface, which in turn absorbs carbon dioxide.
When krill eat the algae, and whales eat the krill, the iron ends up in whale droppings, and the iron levels are kept up in surface waters where it is most needed for more algae rather than sinking to the bottom.
"The system operates at a high level when you have this interaction between the krill, the whales and the algae and they maintain the system at a very high level of production. So it's a self sustaining system," he said.
He said it was not yet known how much excrement it would take have a significant impact on the Southern Ocean.
His findings come as the International Whaling Commission prepares to meet to update the law on the protection of whales. It is feared the law will be changed to allow the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean for the first time in 25 years.

Lib Dem plans for the environment

Greenpeace have described the Lib Dems plans for the environment as the most ambitious of any party. But both Tory and Labour say their plans to cut carbon to zero without nuclear are unrealistic.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 5:31PM BST 28 Apr 2010

:: The only party to increase the target on cutting carbon emissions to 100 per cent by 2050, although 10 per cent will come from carbon offsets.

:: Reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40 per cent by 2020 with no offsets.
:: Unilaterally move towards 30 per cent reductions by 2020 and move for the whole of Europe to do likewise.
:: Push for international deal that limits temperature rise to 1.7C by boosting by asking rich countries to reduce greenhouse gases. Invest in clean energy for poor countries and sharing technology. Push for zero net deforestation by 2020. Adopt at EU or UK level a new law making it illegal to import or possess timber produced illegally in foreign countries.
:: Work with other countries to develop an international labelling system so consumers can see the impact of different products.
:: Robin Hood tax or cap and trade system for carbon emissions from aviation and shipping to pay for climate finance.
:: Create domestic laws to stop illegal timber being sold in Britain if EU legislation does not happen.
:: The Liberal Democrats plan to create a one-year green job stimulus plan, for which £3.1 billion of cuts in government expenditure would be used to create 100,000 new jobs in home insulation and renewable energy.
:: UK Green Investment Bank set up with government seed funding to attract in private finance. Investigate ways of raising seed capital such as auctioning airport slots.
:: Begin a 10 year programme of home insulation, offering a home energy improvement package of up to £10,000 per home, paid for by the savings from lower energy bills and make sure every new home is fully energy-efficient by improving building regulations.
:: Up to 40 per cent of UK electricity should come from clean energy by 2020, raising to 100 per cent by 2050, underpinned by guaranteed price support, and ensure that at least three-quarters of this new renewable energy comes from marine and offshore sources.
:: Update the National Grid so it can cope with new clean energy sources and better use sub sea connections so UK is prepared to join European Supergrid.
:: Investing up to £400 million in refurbishing shipyards in the North of England and Scotland so that they can manufacture offshore wind turbines and other marine renewable energy equipment.
:: 800,000 green internships.
:: Block any new coal-fired power stations unless they are accompanied by the highest level of carbon capture and storage facilities. Leaves you open to building them?
:: No new nuclear power stations
:: Central government will have to cut its energy use by 10 per cent by 2010 in line with 10:10 campaign. Also require companies to report and reduce their energy use.
:: Reform EU emissions trading scheme by bringing in a tighter cap on emissions, auctioning as many allowances as possible and encouraging other European countries to increase the use of reserve prices in allowance auctions.
:: Change the tariffs system so that the first essential use energy you use is cheapest and rewarding those who make an effort to use less. Social tariffs ensure the best price for those in need. Extend protection and support to 'off-gas-grid' consumers.
:: Encourage community-owned renewable energy schemes where local people benefit.
:: Setting aside extra money for schools who want to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. They will pay back the loan over time from energy savings, creating a rolling fund to help insulate every public building.
:: UK Infrastructure Bank to attract private finance investment in public transport and energy.
:: Launching an 'Eco cashback' scheme, for one year only, which will give you £400 if you install double glazing, replace an old boiler or install microgeneration. If you choose microgeneration, you will be able to sell the energy back to the National Grid at a profit, with a more attractive feed-in tariff than under current Government plans.
:: Bring 250,000 empty homes back into use. People who own these homes will get a grant or a cheap loan to renovate them so that they can be used: grants if the home is for social housing, loans for private use.
:: Compulsory water meters in areas of water stress.
:: Polluter pays taxes. For example replacing the per-passenger Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane duty and ensuring the air freight is taxed for the first time.
:: Invest £140 million in a bus scrappage scheme that helps bus companies to replace old polluting buses with new, accessible low carbon ones and create jobs.
:: Cancel plans for a third runway at Heathrow and other airport expansion in the South East and reduce pollution through tighter regulation on vehicle exhausts. Fully meet European air quality targets by 2012.
:: Invest in high speed rail and improve rail networks using money from cutting the roads budget.
:: Cut rail fares, changing the rules in contracts with Train Operating Companies so that regulated fares fall behind inflation by one per cent each year, meaning a real terms cut.
:: Make Network Rail refund a third of your ticket price if you have to take a rail replacement bus service.
:: A legally binding Supermarket Code of practice and an Independent Food Market Regulator to ensure a fair price for food.
:: Introduce farm apprenticeship scheme
:: End testing of household products on animals.
:: Reform of farm subsidies including taking £300 payments out of the system because they are too expensive to process.
:: Improve food labelling on a voluntary basis and then through Europe.
:: Full access code for the countryside. Everyone will have statutory access rights to most land and inland water – as long as they follow responsibility law.
:: Abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return planning decisions to local authorities.
:: Gardens will be greenfield sites so they cannot be built on.
:: Double the UK's woodland cover by 2050.
:: Extend feed in tariff to farms and provide loans for anaerobic digestion plants.
:: Create a statutory duty on manufacturers to accept the return of products and packaging, including plastic bags, furniture, electrical goods and mobile phones, so they can be recycled.

Why eco-friendly products are not as green as they appear

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Thursday, 29 April 2010
Faced with a choice between normal cleaning products and more expensive "green" alternatives, many shoppers pay more to do their bit for the environment.
But store chains and specialist manufacturers may be exaggerating some of their claims for "eco" cleaners and washing powders, a process dubbed "greenwashing". according to a survey by a consumer group today.
The claims of 14 "green" household cleaners, laundry tablets, nappies and baby wipes were put to the test by a panel of experts assembled by Which?.

While all the products made by the likes of Ecover, Green Force and Tesco did some good for the planet, almost half of them made claims that seemed not to be justified.
Which? assembled a panel of experts including Dr John Hoskins, a toxicologist and former adviser to the Commons Environment Select Committee, and Dr John Emsley, a chemist who has written extensively about the impact of chemicals in everyday life.
While they gave a thumbs-up to disposable nappies and wipes made by Sainsbury's, Asda, Earth Friendly and others, they disputed some of the claims made for laundry tablets and, especially, lavatory cleaners.
The world's biggest ecological cleaning product company, the Belgian Ecover, came in for some of the heaviest criticism. Of its lavatory cleaner and laundry tablets, Which? said: "Some claims are greenwash". Its panel "found no convincing evidence" to show that the cleaner had a different impact on aquatic life once it had been through a waste treatment plant. The scientists levelled the same charge at its laundry tablets, and those made by another company, Simply Active Eco Smart.
On Green Force's lavatory cleaner, the scientists had reservations about the claim "formulated to limit the impact on the environment" and said there was no convincing evidence that it was kinder to fish and other aquatic life than the market leader. While Sainsbury's Cleanhome cleaner claimed it was biodegradeable and kinder to the environment, the experts said some claims lacked evidence, again saying there was no convincing evidence it was kinder to aquatic life.
Some of Tesco's claims for its Naturally lavatory cleaner "lacked evidence" – particularly the claim that it contained no phosphates and left no chemical residues, since, the panel pointed out, this did not apply to normal cleaners either. Although they did not criticise the products, Which? said it was unclear whether the clean planet logos on Ariel Actilift and Persil Bio tablets related to environmental action by the manufacturer or shopper. Which? questioned the "greenness" of several other, bigger products. Tests showed the eco steam setting of the Bosch Sensixx Eco iron used the same energy as a low setting on a normal Bosch iron, and the Ainsley Harriott Eco Express Kettle was no quicker or more efficient than a normal kettle. There were many more fuel efficient cars on the market than the Ford Focus 1.6 Econetic, which did 49 miles to the gallon in tests.
Eco labels disputed the findings of the survey. Ecover said its lavatory cleaner and laundry tablets surpassed environmental laws, saying: "Our products are fully degradeable in anaerobic and aerobic conditions, going further than legislation and differentiating Ecover from market leaders."
Green Force said its sugar-based detergent was less toxic than soap and 20 times better than a typical alternative. Sainsbury's said its cleaner was endorsed by the Government-backed Ecolabel scheme. Simply said its Eco Label status showed it met toxicity criteria "which most, if not all, the leading brands cannot meet".
Tesco agreed to remove the claim about phosphates but stuck by its line on hazardous residues, saying that in the case of accidents citric acid and naturally derived detergents were "much kinder to the skin" than acids found in other products.

Europe and North Africa ‘could be powered by green supergrid’

Peter Jones

All of Europe and North Africa could be powered by renewable electricity by 2050 with the North Sea at the heart of a European “supersmartgrid”, according to a reort by the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The report, compiled with a range of research institutes, says that the North and Baltic seas could sustain a large amount of offshore windpower with the North Sea also contributing big quantities of electricity from wave and tidal power.
This could be connected to a European “supersmartgrid” with more electricity supplies being generated by solar power in North Africa and more hydro development in Scandinavia and the Swiss Alps.
Kevin Reynard, a partner at PWC in Aberdeen, said that the report had cleared up some of the conventional criticisms of large scale renewables.

By connecting wind farms over a wide area using smart technology, the report argues that wind could produce reliable amounts of electricity.
“Opportunities to use clean, affordable natural sources of energy have been talked about for over 150 years and now is the time for positive action,” he said.
“We will need to see a big increase in renewables as well as the deployment of carbon capture and storage on a commercial scale if we are to reduce reliance on carbon within the power sector and meet our challenging longer term climate change goals.”
The study, which also involved the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and the European Climate Forum set out a policy, market, investment and infrastructure roadmap towards a 2050 goal of achieving a 100 per cent renewable power sector.
It contends that the costs of electricity from new renewable technologies, currently high in comparison with conventional coal or gas-fired power generation, will reduce as technologies improve to make them competitive and not reliant on subsidies.
But Mark Higginson, another partner at PWC, said: “The funding of large scale renewables projects remains a challenge due to the current state of the credit markets and lack of clarity over carbon pricing in the absence of clear government policy.
“We have the skills, capability and expertise here in the North East and Scotland as a whole to make it happen. Indeed, a number of major oilfield service companies are already beginning to gear up to service the renewables sector. We just need more government and industry support to further unlock this potential.”

Green groups divided over US climate bill stand off

Campaigners call for urgent effort to save US climate bill, while some insist proposed legislation remains fundamentally flawed

Danny Bradbury for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 28 April 2010 11.57 BST
Environmental groups have delivered a mixed reaction to Senator Lindsey Graham's controversial decision to withdraw support for the proposed climate change bill he had been working on, with campaigners arguing over whether or not the bill should be saved.
Senator Graham effectively abandoned his support for the bill over the weekend following a row over Democrat Senate Leader Harry Reid's determination to push for an immigration bill ahead of the mid-term elections. The climate change bill, that he worked on with Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, has now been postponed until the row can be resolved.
Many of the leading green groups called on the Senate to work to get Graham back on board as quickly as possible, arguing that the next few months represent the best chance of the US passing any form of climate change legislation.
The US Climate Action Partnership, which has lobbied for a climate bill on behalf of a coalition of green groups and big businesses including Ford, GE, GM, Shell and Siemens, issued a statement urging that Senate and the administration to move forward with the legislation.
"The US faces a critical moment that will determine whether we will be able to unleash billions in energy investments or remain mired in the economic status quo," the group said. "The US Climate Action Partnership urges the US Senate and this Administration to make comprehensive climate and energy legislation a top priority this year."
The demand for action was echoed by Frances Beinecke, president of the New York branch of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We need to get it back on track," she said. "We can't afford to lose any more time. Americans want action on legislation that will create jobs, cut our oil imports in half and reduce the carbon pollution that threatens us all."
In contrast, Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, attempted to downplay the implications of Senator Graham's walk out, describing the incident as "a murmur, not a heart attack", raising hopes that a compromise could yet be reached.
But he insisted that the proposed climate bill represents the only current proposals capable of ensuring the US meets its stated climate goals, dismissing alternative plans put forward by a number of Senators last week.
"The energy-only bill from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee isn't enough to get the job done," he said. "For one, it would not spur renewable electricity development beyond what we already expect to achieve under current state and federal policy. The bill is simply not an alternative to comprehensive climate and energy legislation."
However, some environmental groups still think that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill is so flawed that it should be canned permanently.
Kevin Kamps, who heads up subsidies research at Beyond Nuclear, lamented what he saw as excessive support for the nuclear industry in the proposed legislation. He argued that the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House of Representatives last June represents a better option. "The House Bill is not perfect by any means but it's so much better than the Senate Bill," he said, adding that the alternative Cantwell-Collins draft bill also offered an alternative approach.
Kamps, who called the Kerry bill "dirty energy" legislation, said that the environmental movement is increasingly turning to state-level initiatives to address climate change issues, as Congress proves increasingly gridlocked. "In fact, Congress wants to intervene in state and regional activities," he complained. "In Kerry-Lieberman-Graham, they were going to dismantle the state and regional level cap and trade initiatives."
Kassie Siegel, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, similarly urged the legislation to turn its back on the current Senate machinations and concentrate on using the existing Clean Air Act as a tool to address climate change - something the Obama administration tried to pave the way for last year through an endangerment finding on carbon dioxide from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would enable it to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act.
"It makes absolutely no sense to roll back the successful laws we already have in exchange for a weaker framework," she advised.
However, the crucial endangerment finding is currently facing numerous legal and Senate changes that are attempting to strip the EPA of its right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and the administration has long-maintained that it would prefer to pass dedicated climate change legislation.

Next government has 100 days to move Britain on to low-carbon track

If we want sustainable economic growth and jobs, our financial recovery is doomed to failure if it does not address our environmental deficit

Peter Young, Wednesday 28 April 2010 14.56 BST
What is most striking about the election campaign to date is the fudging of the really big issues by the party leaders. There has been very little policy detail about the things that really matter, such as tackling the UK's huge budget deficit.
Yet even if that were forthcoming, any proposed solution to our financial deficit is doomed to failure if it does not address our environmental deficit.
Ignoring environmental concerns simply isn't an option if we want sustainable economic growth and job creation. Left unchecked, rising emissions, resource destruction and pollution will erode and ultimately destroy our ability to create the future wealth on which all economies depend. Environmental regulation must be at the heart of the new government's action plan, steering the UK towards a low-carbon future.
Paradoxically, it is the business community that is having to convince the political community of this intrinsic association between the environment and the economy. Our members, who include wide-ranging industrial and commercial leaders such as, BT, PepsiCo, Biffa, Johnson Matthey, Mitie and the National Grid, have long recognised the link between high environmental standards and economic growth and now the government must play catch-up.
The election is unusually critical: the next parliament is now being widely cited as the "last chance parliament" for any sort of rescue from debilitating climate change, as well as inheriting the legacy of the worst financial crisis in living memory.
Environmental commitments still risk becoming add-ons and isolated policies which are not sustainable in a wider economic recovery plan. At the Aldersgate Group we have identified three key actions for the new administration to take during its first 100 days, to shift the UK onto a safe low-carbon, high-growth trajectory.
1. Getting the carbon price right
We are currently not factoring in the true costs of pollution in everyday spending decisions, making investments in greener products and services riskier and more expensive than they should be. The first budget of the new parliament should include a floor price mechanism to underpin the EU carbon price, reduce perverse subsidies for environmentally damaging activities and issue a long-term commitment and timetable for green fiscal reform.
2. An immediate green investment bank
Establishing an immediately functioning green investment bank that mobilises capital from pension funds and other institutional investors to help stimulate green jobs and industry. The new government should set up a shadow green bank institution without delay, start lending using existing assets, and aim to pass primary legislation to establish the bank within 12 months of the election.
3. Low-carbon industrial targets
The UK should not only have targets for reducing carbon emissions but also specific targets for job creation, manufacturing capability and export growth in targeted industries. To help meet these targets the first budget should include enhanced capital allowances and tax breaks for green manufacturing.
Given the pressure on public finance, some may consider these recommendations to be expensive. But the cost of inaction will be far greater, and soon accelerate beyond our means. In contrast, government intervention and early market making will drive investment – the race to develop domestic environmental industries will define economic prosperity in the 21st century.
• Peter Young is the chair of the Aldersgate Group

Sea ice loss driving Arctic warming cycle, scientists confirm

Study identifies cycle of ice loss and temperature rise that could see Arctic's icy cover disappear sooner than expected

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Arctic is locked into a destructive cycle that could see its icy cover rapidly disappear, scientists have confirmed. A new analysis shows that dwindling levels of sea ice are responsible for unusual levels of global warming in the region. The findings reinforce suggestions that a positive feedback between ice loss and temperature rise has emerged in the Arctic, which increases the chances of further rapid ice loss and warming.
The study could re-ignite claims that the Arctic has passed a key tipping point, which could see ice disappear much sooner than expected. While most estimates say the summertime Arctic will not be ice-free until the middle of the century, some models suggest it could vanish within a decade.
James Screen, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who led the study, said: "The concept of Arctic sea ice having a tipping point is still hotly debated. Our results cannot prove whether we have passed a tipping point or not. What we can say is that the emergence of these strong ice-temperature feedbacks can only increase the likelihood of further rapid warming and sea ice loss."
Temperatures in the Arctic have risen twice as fast as the rest of the world in recent decades, a phenomena known as Arctic amplification. Scientists have long suspected that loss of sea ice was responsible, but other factors such as changes in wind, clouds and ocean currents have also been blamed.
Writing in the journal Nature, Screen and his colleague Ian Simmonds, say they used new data to show that the projected ice-temperature feedbacks are now being observed. "Previous studies have been hampered by a lack of quality data for the Arctic," Screen said. "The ice temperature feedbacks have likely strengthened in the last decade or so due to the dramatic declines in sea ice. Prior to this, the signal may have been harder to detect."
Part of this change is down to the albedo effect, with white, reflective ice replaced by dark water, which absorbs more of the sun's heat. The removal of ice has also led to more summer evaporation of water, which acts as a powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and speeds temperature rise.
Screen said: "The albedo effect is very important here, but there are other factors related to the loss of sea ice that likely play a role."

The main parties are spouting greenwash – we are the real deal

There is only one Green party and in this election we can make a difference

Darren Johnson
The Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010
Your article about eco policy in the election campaign did not mention the Green party's policies (Last chance to save planet, say parties vying for green vote, 26 April). You focused on the two parties who'd launched their green manifestos the previous day, but comparing only Labour and Lib Dem eco policies was a bit like assessing which of two bald men was the best advert for a comb.
The article describes the Lib Dems' "£400 eco cashback scheme for new double glazing, boilers or solar panels". Had you compared this with the Green party's manifesto, you would have discovered that to meet the right CO2 targets, we need a £4bn-a-year programme to ensure all UK homes are energy-efficient. Similarly, the Lib Dems' "pledge to redirect £3.1bn" to green job-creation; but we believe that to achieve the necessary emissions reductions the UK would need a £44bn investment package, creating over a million green jobs.
And the article did not consider the parties' track record: for example, while the Lib Dems say they want more renewable energy, they have opposed windfarm proposals in Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon and Worcestershire. You say the Lib Dems would tackle aviation emissions, but don't point out that they've avidly supported airport expansions in Birmingham, Carlisle, Exeter, Liverpool, Manchester and Norwich.
And on their proposed fiscal measures to reduce road traffic, you don't say that they have voted against such schemes in Edinburgh, Manchester and York; not to mention that they've supported new road-building, from Newbury to the M74 and the proposed new Lancaster bypass.
You note that the Lib Dems say they want a zero-carbon economy by 2050. It would have been reasonable to observe that even if the Lib Dems' policies and practice were capable of achieving this, the target is in fact 20 years too late to satisfy the science. Perhaps the most reliable thing Nick Clegg says in the article was this: "Choose the only party that was taking a stand on saving the planet well before it became fashionable." On behalf of the Green party I'd like to say: thank you, Nick.
Meanwhile, what of Labour? Yes, it passed the Climate Change Act; yet it has attached to it the wrong targets and the wrong policies. But as you reveal, Labour is weaker than the Lib Dems on aviation, road-building, coal and nuclear. And Labour wants just 5,000 eco trade apprenticeships, whereas the Green party has identified a need for 350,000 training places.
On a proper comparison, one would surely have to conclude that there is still only one Green party. And this time, in places like Brighton, Norwich and Lewisham, the Greens are in with a real chance of a breakthrough, according to pollsters YouGov and ICM. If even a few Greens are elected they will be influential – able to cut through Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative greenwash in the House of Commons and force the debate to get real.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Scientists refute carbon capture doubts

LONDON (Reuters) - Geologists refuted on Monday a report which in January had cast doubt on a technology to bury greenhouse gases underground, and on which some policymakers have pinned hopes to fight climate change.

British geologists and engineers rejected the doubts on Monday, pointing to pilot projects in an email to Reuters, following a report about January's article in the Guardian newspaper on Monday.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves trapping and storing underground carbon dioxide produced by power plants which burn fossil fuels.
Some academics say that the world's efforts to limit dangerous climate change depends on CCS, which can in theory almost eliminate carbon emissions from burning coal and so give the world time to develop cheap fossil fuel alternatives.
The trouble is that the full chain of CCS processes from trapping and piping to burying underground carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by power plants is untested at a commercial scale.
Pressure levels in underground aquifers could reach levels where projects either could not pump any more CO2 in, or force the greenhouse gas to leak into the atmosphere, rendering the process worthless, argued a paper published earlier this year. "The physics is so straightforward," said Christine Ehlig-Economides, co-author of the paper published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering.
"When you try to inject something into an existing formation which is already at pressure, it (pressure) has to go up," she told Reuters on Monday. "The models that people are using more often than not do not accommodate this."
The paper had argued that an aquifer may need to be the size of a U.S. state to store CO2 from a single power plant.
She acknowledged on Monday criticism of that "general" assertion and said the authors had applied the model to particular acquirers and showed that these could in fact store CO2 for 25-30 years from clusters of power plants.
"If that's sufficient for everyone, fine. If you're really sincerely talking about accommodating large numbers of power plants, already spending impossible amounts of money and energy to capture, get this CO2 in the ground we need to be spending very close attention to what it entails," she said.
British geologists rejected the doubts, pointing to tests such as Norway's Sleipner project.
"The most profound error is that the subsurface is not made of sealed boxes," said Edinburgh University's Stuart Haszeldine and Martin Blunt from London's Imperial College.
"It is well known ... that below ground contains many hundreds of meters of porous rock suitable for CO2 storage."
Norway has buried millions of tonnes of CO2 for more than a decade below the seabed of the North Sea between Britain and Germany. "It's not anywhere hear the volumes you're talking about for real operations, for even a small power plant," countered Ehlig-Economides, referring to Sleipner.
A wider concern about CCS is cost. It is expected to add about $1 billion to the capital cost of a power plant and cut efficiency by a quarter. European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Monday he doubted that the technology would take off in Germany, because of the difficulty forcing states to take and store CO2 from each other.
(Reporting by Gerard Wynn, Editing by Sue Thomas)

Australian Government Offers A$40 Million To Fund Carbon Capture Project

By Ray Brindal
Dow Jones Newswires

CANBERRA -(Dow Jones)- The Australian Government will contribute up to an extra A$40 million to help develop the Calera mineral carbonation project--the nation's first carbon capture and use project--if feasibility studies and a pilot plant prove successful, Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said late Tuesday.
The Australian and Victorian state governments have already provided an initial A$3.5 million each for the Calera project, which captures carbon dioxide from the Yallourn power station to make solid calcium and magnesium carbonate and bicarbonate minerals that can be used as building materials, the minister told a coal conference in Melbourne.
Funding for the project will come from a A$400 million National Low Emissions Coal Initiative, one of a raft of multi billion dollar programs designed to minimize or capture carbon dioxide emissions. About 75% of Australia's electricity is generated using coal, and more than 90% of Victoria's power, most of it from low rank brown coal.
Copyright © 2009 Dow Jones Newswires

Wind turbine maker Vestas lands record order

Portland Business Journal - by Cathy Proctor

The Vestas Wind Systems A/S wind turbine blade plant in Windsor, Colo., has restarted production after work halted earlier this year due to the global recession, a company spokesman said.
The Danish company, which has its North American headquarters in Portland, also announced it has signed the largest single order in company history.
Vestas said it had signed a "Master Supply Agreement" to build, deliver and maintain wind turbines capable of producing up to 1,500 megawatts of power in 2011 and 2012. The order includes an option for expansion to another 600 megawatts that can be exercized in 2010 and 2011, Vestas said.
The order came from EDP Renováveis (EDPR), the world's third-largest wind power company, after a competitive bidding process, Vestas said. EDPR is the renewable energy branch of EDP-Energías de Portugal, one of Europe's main electricity utilities.
The order calls for the wind turbines to be delivered to projects in Europe, North and South America.
It's too early to tell whether Vestas' manufacturing plants in Colorado will be involved in filling the order, Portland-based spokesman Andrew Longeteig said in an e-mail.
According to Dow Jones reports, EDP-Energías de Portugal CEO Antonio Mexia said that the utility has cut its planned investments in the U.S. by 10 percent for 2010 and 2011 — equivalent to about 500 megawatts of wind power — due to difficulties landing long-term power supply agreements and delays in creating a national goal for using renewable power.
Vestas' wind turbine blade plant in Windsor opened in March 2008. But the company halted production at the plant during the first quarter of this year after the credit crunch slowed work on wind farms in the United States, Vestas officials have said. Employees continued to work at the plant, focusing on retooling and training rather than blade production.
But production has restarted this month, Longeteig said.
Vestas also is building another plant in Colorado to make the towers that hold the wind turbines.Read more: Wind turbine maker Vestas lands record order - Portland Business Journal:

New government must create local demand for low carbon economy

Whoever is leading the country come May 7 needs to do more to stimulate the low carbon economy, according to a leading figure in the environmental industries. Philip Dilley, chairman of consultancy Arup and the London branch of business lobby the CBI, said: "The incoming government has to invest in creating a local demand for low carbon energy," He called for more regulations to give business certainty and help the commercial world to make the right choices. "We need more regulations that incentive investment in low carbon technology," he said, citing the new Feed in Tariff. Speaking at an event hosted by clean tech company Ultra Green this week, he also said the new government needed to address the skills gap facing the industry. "One in three firms in the environmental sector is being hampered by a shortage of skilled staff," he said. He also called for central government to empower city authorities, pointing to the progress made by metropolises at the Copenhagen climate negotiations. He pointed out that national and regional or local initiatives could work well together when providing a stimulus for the low carbon economy. Citing London's congestion charge, brought in by the previous Mayor Ken Livingstone, he said that by allowing electric vehicles to enter the city centre free, the scheme had done more for low carbon vehicle sector than any national incentive. Coupled with national incentives, that had made the UK an attractive prospect for those seeking to develop electric vehicles. "That's created an embryonic industry in this country," he said.
Sam Bond

Why CO2 projections on Global Warming are false

April 27, 2010
Analysis by: GLG Expert Contributor
While projections and predictions on CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are required to begin the dialog necessary to avert climate change, they are most likely false.
It has been estimated by scientists that CO2 levels in the atmosphere must be limited to a maximum of 450ppm, which is widely considered to be the maximum CO2 concentration level required to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This entails limiting planetary temperature rise to 2 degrees Centigrade.
For reference purposes, the concentration of greenhouse gases before the Industrial Revolution was 280 parts per million by volume, currently we are at 380 ppm and the maximum as mentioned is generally agreed to be no more than 450 ppm. Based on these thresholds, scientists and researchers have set several future-looking scenario projections on what CO2 levels will be in 2020, 2030, and even 2050. While these projections and predictions are required to begin the dialog necessary to avert climate change, they are most likely false.
It is impossible to know what innovations will be developed over the next 5-10 years, much less what will be happening in 30 years. The past no longer provides reliable insight into our future given the exponential volatility that technology has injected. As John Seely Brown has mentioned, the 20th century was primarily driven by moments of disruption (such as electrification, flight, automobile, and telephony), followed by years of stability from the build-up of infrastructure to realize the efficiency of scale benefits from an innovation (through manufacturing, transportation and distribution efficiencies).
The stability of the 20th century afforded this approach as business had reasonable means to extrapolate from the past and predict and determine what to build, where and how much. Our last 100 years were built on a factory business model that relied on organizational efficiency, hierarchy and control in order to minimize variance.
“I think there’s a world market for about 5 computers.”Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board, IBM (around 1948)
The factory model of the past is no longer relevant in the 21st century. The embedded and obscure modeling assumptions (based on past industrialization patterns), introduce significant quantitative flaws in the predicted outcomes of the simulated predictions. This includes what CO2 levels in the atmosphere will be in 2030 or 2050. As Vinod Khosla has so articulately expressed, given the current rate of change in technology, trying to predict what 2030 will be like is akin to predicting what 2010 would be like back in 1910!
The fact is that never in the history of man-kind have we had so much constant flux and unpredictability due to exponential technological innovation. Imagine how technology in the past few years has effected:
how we commute (i.e. GPS in cars and phones),
how we create, share and consume knowledge (i.e. Google or collaborative web technologies),
business transaction costs (i.e. how iTunes has collapsed transaction costs for delivery of content to users), and
impact of time and geography (i.e. email, Skype, FTP – connect anywhere, anytime)
Who could have predicted Google back in 1990? Or that General Motors or Lehman Brothers would have been bankrupt in 2009? The future is being invented each day and influenced by a confluence of forces we could not have even imagined just 10 years ago! So how can we predict what will be happening 20 years from now?
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”- Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895
What we have learned is that technology greatly expands the art of the possible and that today’s impossible will be tomorrows common sense. In Phillip Tetlock’s words “We are not natural falsificationists: we would rather find more reasons for believing what we already believe than look for reasons that we might be wrong. In the terms of Karl Popper’s famous example, to verify our intuition that all swans are white we look for lots more white swans, when what we should really be looking for is one black swan.”
As we have no idea what amazing technology inventions will occur over the next 20 years - inventions that may fundamentally change how we produce, manage, distribute and consume energy; I predict that we have no idea what CO2 levels in our atmosphere will be in 2030 and beyond.
Analyses are solely the work of the authors and have not been edited or endorsed by GLG.
This author consults with leading institutions through GLG

Rivers in England and Wales face drying out because of climate change

One in three rivers is in danger of drying out due to demand for drinking water, including some of the country's most famous stretches of salmon fishing, according to conservationists.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM BST 28 Apr 2010
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) fears that the growing population will mean more water from Britain's rivers is needed for washing and drinking in future.
They are already running low and climate change could make the situation even worse as floods and droughts become more frequent.

The charity is warning that during a hot summer with little rainfall, a third could almost completely dry out because so much water is being taken by utility companies. This would have catastrophic consequences for wildlife.
The charity wants new restrictions so that water companies can no longer take too much water from areas where wildlife is endangered. Also households need to cut their water use by more than 10 per cent over the next 20 years, it says.
The Rivers on the Edge report looked at some of Britain's best-loved chalk streams including the Itchen in Hampshire, a famous fishing river. Like other rivers in England, wildlife including otters, salmon, kingfishers and water voles have struggled to survive as more and more water is taken from the river to feed the nearby cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.
The Environment Agency estimate that river flows in some areas could be reduced by 80 per cent by 2050 and ecosystems in a third of river catchments are already in danger of drying out in a hot summer. Rivers in danger include the upper Wharfe in Yorkshire and a number of rivers in the south including the Severn.
The WWF said the only way to control the problem is to reduce the amount of water being used. At the moment people in Britain use around 150 litres per day but this needs to come down 12.5 per cent to 130 litres by 2030.
The charity want water meters in every home across the country to help households limit water use and education programmes to help people save water. For example by taking showers rather than baths.
The water companies also need to stop leaks, with 3,000 million litres wasted every day. Water can be saved by using more "recycled" effluent from sewage for irrigation and non-drinking water.
The WWF called for a complete overhaul of water regulation in the UK so that water is used in a more sustainable way. At the moment most abstraction levels are set by licences handed out in the 1960s, resulting in up to 3,300 million litres more per day being taken from certain rivers than the environment can sustain.
WWF want all damaging abstraction licences to be amended or revoked by 2020, so that water companies can no longer drain rivers that are important to wildlife.
Alicia Doherty, of WWF, admitted it will cost money to revoke the licences and to improve infrastructure but argued it could bring down costs in the long run.
"Water stress or water scarcity, where we are simply taking too much water from the natural environment – is a big issue in the UK. Yet it's one that many of us are unaware of," she said. "One third of river catchments predominantly in the south and east of the country are over abstracted and over licensed to the extent that we are risking significant damage to ecosystems. This is only likely to get worse as the climate changes and our population rises. A range of options and considerable innovation will be needed to address unsustainable abstraction."