Monday, 25 January 2010

Chinese adviser calls for open mind on causes

China's most senior negotiator on climate change says more research needed to establish whether warming is man-made

Gethin Chamberlain in Delhi, Sunday 24 January 2010 17.58 GMT
China's most senior negotiator on climate change said today he was keeping an open mind on whether global warming was man-made or the result of natural cycles.
Xie Zhenhua said there was no doubt that warming was taking place, but more and better scientific research was needed to establish the causes.
Xie, Premier Wen Jiabao's special representative on climate change, was speaking in Delhi at the end of a two-day meeting of ministers from four of the most powerful emerging economies – China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
The four countries, known as the Basic group, called on rich nations to ensure that $10bn pledged to combat climate change was handed over before the end of the year. South Africa's environment minister accused the US of lagging behind at Copenhagen and said it had a moral obligation to take a lead on the issue.
The group pledged to pass on details of their own voluntary actions on the environment to the UN framework convention on climate change by 31 January.
Xie's comments caused consternation at the end of the post-meeting press conference, with his host, the Indian environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, attempting to play down any suggestions of dissent over the science of climate change.
Ramesh refused to accept China had stepped out of line, although he conceded: "We still need more science to understand whether global warming is causing glacial melt or whether it is the natural cycles."
Responding to a question about the controversy over the melting of Himalayan glaciers and to fresh doubts cast on the link between global warming and extreme weather events, Xie said there were still "disputes" in the scientific community over the causes.
"Now the mainstream view is according to the review reports by the IPCC," he said. "There is one starkly different view, that the climate change or climate warming issues is caused by the cyclical element of nature itself. I think we need to adopt an open attitude to the scientific research, that we need to have as inclusive as possible all kinds of views concerning this aspect, because we want our views to be more scientific and to be more consistent."
Asked later to clarify his remarks, he said: "It is already a solid fact that the climate is already warming. The scientists have already shown that te global climate is warming.
"Due to the climate change influences, the countries that have been actively impacted most are those developing countries, in particular those small island countries. And the major reason of this climate change issue is the unconstrained emissions produced by developed countries in the process of their industrialisation. That is the mainstream view and we need to make responses concerning these views. There are some uncertain views but our attitude is open, that we need to have more studies. But this shall not impede our efforts in combating the climate change."
The Basic group played a key role in drawing up the Copenhagen accord in December. Ramesh said they had agreed that rich nations should demonstrate their credentials by ensuring that the $10b pledged at Copenhagen was paid this year.
"That is the basic minimum," he said. "If $10bn as promised in the Copenhagen accord does not flow to Africa, to small island states and to the LDCs [least developed countries] we believe that frankly the developed countries are not serious. That is the first milestone that has to be achieved. You have to put money on the table, you have to identify the projects and money has to start flowing."

China has 'open mind' about cause of climate change

China's most senior climate change official surprised a summit in India when he questioned whether global warming is caused by carbon gas emissions and said Beijing is keeping an "open mind".

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi Published: 11:00PM GMT 24 Jan 2010

Xie Zhenhua was speaking at a summit between the developing world's most powerful countries, India, Brazil, South Africa and China, which is now the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the gas believed to be responsible for climate change.
The four countries have joined forces to intensify pressure on the United States and Europe to fulfil promises to cut their emissions and give more than $10 billion (£6.2 billion) to those countries worst affected by climate change by the end of this year.

Environment ministers from the four countries voiced their frustration at the US for failing to lead the way with carbon emission reductions despite being responsible for much of the emissions most scientists believe to be the cause of global warming.
But Mr Xie, China's vice-chairman of national development and reforms commission, later said although mainstream scientific opinion blames emissions from industrial development for climate change, China is not convinced.
"There are disputes in the scientific community. We have to have an open attitude to the scientific research. There's an alternative view that climate change is caused by cyclical trends in nature itself. We have to keep an open attitude," he said.
"It is already a solid fact that climate is warming. The major reasons for this climate change is the unconstrained emissions produced by the developed countries in the process of industrialisation. That's the mainstream view [but] there are other views. Our attitude is an open attitude".
India and South Africa's environment ministers appeared to be baffled by his comments.The Indian delegrate, Jairam Ramesh, said he did not believe his Chinese counterpart had meant what he said, while South Africa's minister Buyelwa Sonjica said she could not "second guess" what Mr Xie had meant by his comments.
They appeared to undermine the new group's main argument, that Western developed countries should pay for poor countries to switch to low carbon models because its emissions had caused climate change.
Earlier, the ministers had pledged to give Western countries a "slap in the face" by announcing their plans to cut emissions by the end of this month and by offering their own aid to the poorer countries suffering most from climate change.

Don’t let glacier howler cloud bigger picture

Climate change is not a religion: that’s why we can admit error
Mark Lynas

Warning: I am about to make a damaging and embarrassing admission on climate change. Here goes. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is not the Bible. Its statements are not gospel. They are subject to revision in the light of new evidence or the discovery of inaccuracies.
That is why climate change is science, not religion. Nothing is settled and sacred; all is subject to constant revision.
The IPCC’s mistake on the Himalayan glaciers is embarrassing, not just because it is wrong, but because it is so obviously wrong. The warning that these immense ice-fields could be gone by 2035 always struck me as absurd — the Himalayas contain the highest peaks in the world, and the ice that clads their upper slopes is the greatest mass of frozen water outside of the poles. The glaciers may be in rapid decline, but they aren’t going to disappear in 30, or even a hundred, years.
That doesn’t mean that this is a non-issue, merely that the likely rates of glacial retreat are improperly understood. There is a desperate need for quality research on Himalayan glaciers, given their vital importance to major rivers that sustain millions of people in Asia. The IPCC included the erroneous 2035 figure probably because there was no serious research to rely on.
So what lessons can be learnt? No one has a monopoly on truth, not even earnest environmentalists. But nor does one mistake invalidate an enormous body of knowledge, gathered over many years by hundreds of experts, which paints a picture of a planet endangered by continuing emissions of greenhouse gases. The IPCC process is rare evidence that our species really is intelligent; that it can marshal and assess vast quantities of data — and act on the results.
We learn from mistakes, not successes; in science this is especially true. The politicised debate around climate science, while it can be poisonous, should at least keep researchers on their toes. Nothing is worse for scientific progress than lots of experts sitting around constantly agreeing with one another.
The sceptics would be more useful though if they were truly sceptical, challenging evidence and examining it rigorously. Instead, most believe any new theory, however implausible, that allows them to ignore the reality of climate change. This is denial, not scepticism. Challenge the “facts” presented by the green lobby; but don’t reject the overall conclusions of the IPCC — the most important joint scientific body ever established — just because they are ideologically inconvenient.
Mark Lynas is the author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

World economic growth at odds with climate targets

As the UK is expected to emerge from recession, the New Economics Foundation says endless growth is pushing the planet's biosphere 'beyond its safe limits'

Kathryn Hopkins, Monday 25 January 2010
Economic growth is not compatible with climate change targets for rich countries, according to a new report out today.
The New Economics Foundation warns that global economic expansion is not possible if the world is to restrict the temperature rise to 2 degrees – the EU's agreed political objective.
The NEF found that this would require unprecedented – and probably impossible – reductions in the carbon intensity of a growing economy. None of the models or variations it looked at could square the circle of global economic growth with climate safety.
Andrew Simms, policy director at the NEF, said: "Endless growth is pushing the planet's biosphere beyond its safe limits. The price is seen in compromised world food security, climatic upheaval, economic instability and threats to social welfare. We urgently need to change our economy to live within its environmental budget. There is no global, environmental central bank to bail us out if we become ecologically bankrupt."
As economists and politicians expect the UK to emerge from recession tomorrow after a year and a half, Roger Bootle, Deloitte's economic adviser, warns today that fiscal policy will be a greater drag on growth than elsewhere. He expects Britain's economy to grow by just 1% in 2010, compared to growth of 1.5% in the eurozone, 3% in the US and Japan and 3.5% globally.
"The constraints on the strength of the global recovery over the next couple of years look set to bite particularly hard in the UK," he says. However, he added that after a difficult period over the next couple of years, he sees no reason why the UK cannot return to being a "relative outperformer".
Meanwhile, Ernst & Young said that despite profit warnings from British companies tailing off during 2009, UK plc still faces a "bumpy ride".
Andrew Wollaston, restructuring partner at Ernst & Young, said: "Given the depth of the slump, recovery has certainly come quicker than we might have anticipated. This rapid economic recuperation, along with previously depressed earnings forecasts, is helping companies beat expectations and keep profit warnings low. Good news for UK plc, but this is not the end of the story. Rapid recovery costs and 2010 is when we start paying. Brace yourselves for a bumpy recovery."

led climate group ups pressure on donors

Reuters, Sunday January 24 2010
* India, China, Brazil, South Africa put pressure on donors
* Group wants rich countries to release $10 billion in 2010
* Independent fund for vulnerable nations being considered
By Matthias Williams
NEW DELHI, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Four nations led by China pledged on Sunday to meet an end-month deadline to submit action plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions and challenged rich countries to come up with funding to help fight global warming.
Environment ministers and envoys from Brazil, South Africa, India and China met in New Delhi in a show of unity by countries whose greenhouse gas emissions are among the fastest rising in the world.
The bloc was key to brokering a political agreement at the Copenhagen talks in December and its meeting in India was designed in part to put pressure on richer nations to make good on funding commitments.
"We have sent a very powerful symbol to the world of our intentions," the Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said at a joint press conference after seven hours of talks.
The group discussed setting up a climate fund to help nations most vulnerable to the impact of global warming, which it said would act as a wakeup call for wealthier countries to meet their pledges on financial assistance and give $10 billion in 2010.
Rich countries have pledged $30 billion in climate change funding for the 2010-12 period and set a goal of $100 billion by 2020, far less than what developing countries had wanted.
The group in New Delhi said releasing $10 billion this year would send a signal of the rich countries' commitment. The four said they were in talks to set up an independent fund for the same purpose, but gave no timeline or figure.
"When we say we will be reinforcing technical support as well as funds to the most vulnerable countries, we are giving a slap in the face to the rich countries," Brazil's Environment Minister Carlos Minc said through a translator.
The non-binding accord worked out at the Copenhagen climate summit was described by many as a failure because it fell short of the conference's original goal of a more ambitious commitment to prevent more heatwaves, droughts and crop failures.
China is the world's top CO2 emitter, while India is number four. China was blamed by many countries at Copenhagen for obstructing a tougher deal and has refused to submit to outside scrutiny of its plans to brake greenhouse gas emissions.
China has pledged to cut the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each unit of economic growth by 40-45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. For India, that figure is up to 25 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Xie Zhenhua, deputy head of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, said the world needed to take immediate action to fight climate change.
But in the wake of a controversial exaggeration by the U.N. climate panel on the threat of global warming to the Himalayan glaciers, he called for an "open attitude" to climate science.
"(There is a) point of view that the climate change or climate warming issue is caused by the cyclical element of the nature itself. I think we need to adopt an open attitude to the scientific research," he said through a translator.
"We want our views to be more scientific and more consistent."
(Editing by Michael Roddy)

BP Executive: EU Needs Practical Carbon Policies

BRUSSELS—The European Union should stop wringing its hands after the disappointment of the Copenhagen climate talks and embark on practical policies that will begin to reduce carbon use, a senior BP PLC executive said Friday.
In what was billed by the company as an important speech in Brussels, BP's chief executive of refining and marketing, Iain Conn, said that rather than focusing on the long-term objective of halving carbon usage by 2050—an effort he called "polishing the diamond"—the EU should take early material steps toward increasing energy efficiency and cutting carbon usage.
In an interview beforehand, he said Europeans "should stop wringing our hands" over what many on the continent saw as a disappointing outcome from the Copenhagen talks in December. "We know so much about practical things we can do today but we are not doing them. All this talk about polishing the 2050 diamond is getting in the way of what we need to do today."
These practical policies would include emphasizing the importance of natural gas in electricity generation, boosting nuclear-power generation and reconsidering policies in the EU, which is encouraging the use of diesel in passenger cars.
When its greater thermal efficiency and the lower capital costs of new power plants are taken into account, natural gas is about four times as efficient as coal, and plenty of natural gas is available in the world because of new technologies that allow it to be extracted from shale, Mr. Conn said. Because of this, he said, the U.S. has overtaken Russia as the world's largest natural-gas producer. Capital costs associated with building gas-fired power stations were also lower than coal.
In the interview, he said European governments would have a "make or buy" decision about nuclear power. Even if countries such as Germany decided not to produce electricity from nuclear-power stations, they would be buying it from countries that had them, such as France, the U.K. and the Czech Republic.
The European bias for diesel in personal transportation should be reconsidered, he said. Major gains can come from advanced gasoline-engine technology, he added. Combing this with hybrid technology, starting with the recovery of braking energy, there was the potential for nearly halving carbon-dioxide emissions per kilometer. "Importantly, this can be delivered at a much lower incremental cost than a full battery electric vehicle," he said.
"In the shorter term it seems clear from our work that by far the most effective pathway to lower carbon transport is through making existing vehicle engines more efficient," he said.
The focus on diesel for cars in Europe also makes it harder to increase the proportion of biofuels in the mix. Unlike gasoline, which can be mixed with ethanol—which Mr. Conn said could be relatively easily produced without hurting food supplies—diesel would require blending with "environmentally more problematic vegetable oils."
In the interview, he said Europe exports about a million barrels a day of gasoline to the U.S. and imports the same amount of diesel, mostly from Russia. Gearing up European refineries to produce more of the high-quality diesel required by engine manufacturers would, he said, be very expensive.
Mr. Conn said that proposals for a border carbon tax, which would impose tariffs on imports from countries with a lower cost of carbon than Europe, "a considerable mistake" that would lead to negative results such as trade retaliation. Among the proponents of such a move is the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Mr. Conn also said the U.S. and EU should closely align energy policies—without signing treaties—to keep the price of carbon broadly in line, in part to avoid trade and other frictions arising from big differences in the price of carbon. This would also provide an important example to the rest of the world, he said.
Write to Stephen Fidler at

Cities face wrecking ball to meet carbon targets

Rebecca O’Connor, Property Correspondent

Huge expanses of British town and city centres built in the Sixties and Seventies may have to be torn down to meet carbon emission standards for buildings.
In an interview with The Times, the Government’s new chief construction adviser said that there may be no choice but to demolish buildings put up in those decades because it is impossible to refurbish them to a sufficiently high standard.
Paul Morrell, who took up his new post at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills at the end of November last year, said: “In the Sixties, everything was built cheaper, faster and nastier. If you are going to try to fix buildings, then really you won’t have too many problems with anything built earlier than the Fifties or after the Eighties. Although you can do some things to buildings from the Sixties and Seventies, like replacing the roofs, there are probably some places that need to come down entirely.”
Mr Morrell has been charged with ridding the construction industry of carbon to meet a government target to cut UK carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared with levels in the Nineties. He said that problem areas were likely to be places such as Newcastle city centre, where a lot of buildings went up in the Sixties and Seventies. Other towns that could undergo an eco-makeover could include Slough and Aylesbury, visited by Janet Street-Porter for Channel 4’s Demolition programme, broadcast in 2005.
Mr Morrell said: “The buildings that pose the most difficulties are semi-industrialised, highly inefficient, badly insulated and so ugly that they are not worth refurbishing.”
Property is responsible for 50 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, according to the British Property Federation. The Government has a target for all new commercial buildings built from 2018 to be zero-carbon, but a strategy for how to deal with existing stock has yet to be established.
The Policy Exchange, the public policy think-tank, has estimated that Britain would need to spend about £400 billion on new and refurbished infrastructure by 2020 to address historic underinvestment and to kick-start transition to a low-carbon economy.
Mr Morrell’s comments will be a blow to fans of retro architecture. The brutalist style that characterised the Sixties and Seventies has gained a following in recent years, as more such buildings have been torn down.
Its devotees may be reassured to learn that listed buildings from any era are likely to remain exempt from carbon targets, according to English Heritage. The listing authority said that many modern refurbishment measures, such as plastic windows and wall insulation, were not suitable for historic buildings because the measures do not allow the buildings to breathe, increasing the risk of mould and rot. However, many adaptations — such as better boilers and loft insulation — are equally applicable to new and most historic houses.
Property landlords are starting to deal with incoming requirements that will force them to spend millions of pounds to improve energy efficiency in their buildings, or to redevelop them. Increasingly owners favour refurbishing stock rather than starting from scratch, according to GVA Grimley, the property consultancy, partly because it is usually cheaper. Mr Morrell, who cited the refurbishment of Hampshire County Council’s Elizabeth II Court building in Winchester as a successful example of how a property can be improved, said: “The problem is weighing up whether it is more energy-efficient to knock something down and start from scratch, or refurbish it. We don’t have the methodologies for weighing that up in all cases.”
Francis Salway, the chief executive of Land Securities, Britain’s biggest commercial landlord, said that the company was using a combination of both approaches. He said: “We have refurbished some smaller buildings, but it is quite high-risk to refurbish larger stock. It is generally cheaper to refurbish, rather than redevelop, but sometimes the numbers come out surprisingly close. Refurbishing is sometimes more complex and less effective than starting from scratch.”
The Government committed itself last week to a consultation on the introduction of display energy certificates (DECs), which show offices’ and shops’ energy use. Responding to the Committee on Climate Change’s first progress report, ministers said that DECs should be rolled out to give everybody a better understanding of carbon emissions. The British Property Federation said that DECs were necessary because they were based on actual energy use

Copenhagen dampens banks' green commitment

Banks are pulling out of the carbon-offsetting market after Copenhagen failed to reach agreement on emissions targetsx, Sunday 24 January 2010 20.06 GMT
Banks and investors are pulling out of the carbon market after the failure to make progress at Copenhagen on reaching new emissions targets after 2012.
Carbon financiers have already begun leaving banks in London because of the lack of activity and the drop-off in investment demand. The Guardian has been told that backers have this month pulled out of a large planned clean-energy project in the developing world because of the expected fall in emissions credits after 2012.
Anthony Hobley, partner and global head of climate change and carbon finance at law firm Norton Rose, said: "People will gradually start to leave carbon desks, we are beginning to see that already. We are seeing a freeze in banks' recruitment plans for the carbon market. It's not clear at what point this will turn into a cull or a rout."
Paul Kelly, chief executive of Eco­Securities, which develops clean energy projects, said that while markets had not expected a definitive post-Kyoto Protocol deal at Copenhagen, they had expected some progress.
"The lack of regulatory certainty in the post 2012 world affects the market's view of what CERs [carbon credits from clean energy projects] will be worth and subsequently will constrain financing for projects. If you had an agreement at Copenhagen with a bit more detail, people would be more willing to take risk."
After two weeks of extenuating talks, world leaders delivered an agreement in Copenhagen that left campaigners disappointed as it failed to commit rich and poor countries to any greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Banks had been scaling back their plans to invest in carbon markets before Copenhagen. Fewer new clean energy projects need to be financed as, because of the recession, there are fewer global emissions to offset. The price of carbon credits has also fallen, while plans to introduce national trading schemes, particularly in the US and Australia, remain uncertain.
Two sources said that Australian bank Westpac had scaled back plans to increase its carbon desk in London. A bank spokeswoman denied there were plans to recruit more staff in London, adding: "We have always said that we would look to grow this business organically as carbon markets develop and that remains the case."
Carbon markets were central to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and obliged developed countries that exceed their targets to purchase credits from clean energy projects in the developing world. Policymakers will meet again in Mexico in November in an attempt to revive the climate change talks.

Campaign to boost cycling in Beijing

• Measures fail to ease capital's car-choked roads• Planners want city to be haven for cyclists

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Sunday 24 January 2010 18.04 GMT

After wrestling for years with Beijing's appalling traffic and pollution problems, city planners have come up with a distinctly old-fashioned solution: bicycles.
Municipal officials want to boost the number of cyclists by 25% during the next five-year plan, state media reported today. Twenty years ago, four out of five residents in the Chinese capital pedalled to work through one of the world's best systems of bicycle lanes. But the modern passion for cars has made two-wheeled transport so treacherous, dirty and unfashionable that barely a fifth of the population dares to use lanes that are now routinely blocked by parked cars and invaded by vehicles attempting to escape from the jams on the main roads.
Last year, China overtook the United States to become the world's biggest car market. Increasing affluence brings about a million new vehicles on to the roads every month, choking the streets with traffic and the air with smog.
The capital is among the worst affected cities. Since the 2008 Olympics, car owners have been ordered not to drive on certain days each week, but these controls have failed to ease congestion, so the authorities are considering additional measures.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the government hopes to improve the infrastructure for cyclists, including restored bicycle lanes and new rental programmes providing 50,000 bikes for hire by 2015. The authorities plan more bike parks near bus and subway stations in the expectation that half the city's residents will travel to work by public transport in five years.
Residents welcomed any improvement on the current system, which is so bad that some businessmen keep a fold-up bike in the boot of their chauffeur-driven cars so they can escape bad snarl-ups.
But despite unhappiness about driving, there was scepticism about the likelihood of a return of Beijing's bicycle culture.
"Fewer and fewer of my friends ride bicycles, but the interesting thing is they don't drive cars either," said Jiamin Zhao, an internet entrepreneur who still cycles his child to school each morning. "Some people are tired of driving. More are taking the subway or taxis."
Others questioned Beijing's willingness to prioritise cheap bicycles over expensive cars given the city's emphasis on economic development and its relatively lax car ownership regulations.
"I don't think they are serious about promoting bicycles. It's much easier to buy and own a car in Beijing than Shanghai," said Chen Ying, a language teacher who owns two cars. "When I started driving 10 years ago, it was something special because not many people had cars then, but now everyone has one and the traffic is terrible. If they really want me to use a bicycle, they should build clean and safe bicycle lanes. At the moment, the roads are dangerous and too smelly."
This is not the first time Beijing has promised to regain its reputation as the "Kingdom of Bicycles". Four years ago, the construction ministry announced that any bike lanes that had been narrowed or destroyed to make way for cars must be returned to their original glory. Civil servants were also encouraged to cycle to work or take public transport. Since then, however, the number of cars in Beijing has increased by more than 25% to pass the 4m mark, while there has been no obvious improvement in conditions for cyclists.