Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Better Place draws venture capitalists to 'clean-tech'

By John Reed and Martin Arnold in London
Published: January 25 2010 02:00

Better Place, a two-year-old company that supplies services for electric cars, has raised $350m from HSBC and other investors in the largest round of venture capital financing yet for a "clean-tech" company in the US or Europe.
The California-based company, which is building nationwide car-recharging networks in Israel and Denmark to assist electric cars made by Renault, will on Monday announce that it has secured the Series B financing round, valuing the company at $1.25bn.
The investment in Better Place is the largest round of venture capital financing since April 2008, when Japan's Softbank agreed to invest about $430m in Oak Pacific Interactive, a Chinese social networking website, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.
HSBC Principal Investments, the bank's private equity arm, is leading the financing round in Better Place with a $125m investment that gives it a 10 per cent stake.
The other investors include Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Lazard Asset Management and the company's existing Series A investors, who include Israel Corp, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Ofer Hi-Tech Holdings, Morgan Stanley Principal Investments, and Maniv Energy Capital.
The investment is a significant boost for Better Place's unorthodox business model, about which some car industry analysts and executives have expressed doubts. In Denmark and Israel, the company is building nationwide networks of recharging spots and switch stations where batteries can be swapped for recharged ones while motorists wait.
The infrastructure is meant to eliminate the anxiety about recharging that could deter consumers from buying electric cars. The company also has projects in Japan, California, Hawaii and the eastern coast of Australia due to launch in 2012. France's Renault has agreed to supply the scheme with 100,000 units of its Fluence electric model in both countries by 2016.
Shai Agassi, Better Place's founder and chief executive, said the financing would allow the company to accelerate its start-up in Denmark to coincide with its launch in Israel in the second half of 2011. Better Place would now look at expanding to other countries, such as China and France, that have introduced incentives for electric cars.
Mr Agassi, an Israeli-American former head of products and technology at software giant SAP, founded Better Place in 2007 and launched it in January 2008 with its $200m seed round and the commitment from Renault to supply cars.
Kevin Adeson, HSBC's head of global capital financing and principal investments, who will join Better Place's board, said the bank thought the company had demonstrated it had the technical and commercial solutions needed to allow for the mass adoption of electric cars.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

Obama's state of the union address may leave climate out in the cold

US president will focus on jobs and the economy in speech to address voter dissatisfaction

Ewen MacAskill and Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 January 2010 19.50 GMT
Barack Obama is to respond to last week's shock Senate election defeat by using Wednesday's state of the union speech to scale back his ambitious legislative programme and instead focus on measures to help recession-hit families.
Obama opened his presidency last year at breakneck speed, with proposals to tackle the recession, climate change and health, as well as deal with two wars.
But the state of the union speech is shaping up as a much more modest affair, reflecting voter complaints – apparent in last week's Massachusetts election, in which Republican Scott Brown won a surprise victory – about his healthcare plan, the billions of dollars in federal spending and failure to tackle unemployment. Although the White House denied Obama was scaling back his plans, the tone will be more populist and tightly focused on jobs and the economy.
An official said that one of the themes would be "creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, changing Washington", and fighting for working-class families.
The Massachusetts defeat has created panic among Democratic members of Congress fearful of losing their seats in November's mid-term elections. The influential Rothenburg report today suggested 58 Democratic seats in the House of Representatives were vulnerable, up from 47 last month.
Obama's healthcare reform bill, which he had hoped to have passed into law by the time he delivered the state of the union speech, looks as if it could be an early victim of the election loss.
Democrats are threatening to ditch much of the health bill, an issue on which Obama had fought the election, promising to expand health insurance coverage to almost all Americans.
Another signature issue, global warming, is at risk of getting short shrift in the speech, further shrinking the already slim prospects of getting a climate change law through Congress, environmentalists say.
"I think the president needs to underscore that climate and energy reform is a priority for 2010 as specifically as possible," said John Kerry, who has been leading the effort to get a climate bill through the Senate.
Environmental organisations believe some Obama aides are advising the president to downplay or even avoid mention of the words "climate change".
"There has always been nervousness on whether the administration is playing an aggressive enough role," said Steve Cochran, of the Environmental Defence Fund. "[Everyone is] looking to see what he might say in the state of the union to suggest the administration continues to move forward on this agenda, or that they are going to back off somehow because of a variety of political realities."
In a practice run for the speech, Obama today set out various proposals to help working-class families, such as doubling the childcare tax credit for families earning less than $85,000 (about £52,000) a year, a move that could be worth $900 for each family.
The aim, Obama said, was to help ease the way for families who had been "pounded by the full fury of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression".

Fears Barack Obama will omit climate change from State of Union speech

Environmental organisations believe Obama is being urged to downplay climate change during this year's speech

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 January 2010 17.57 GMT
Global warming – a signature issue for Barack Obama – is at risk of getting the short shrift in this year's State of the Union speech on Wednesday, further shrinking the already slim prospects of getting a climate change law through Congress, environmentalists say.
Obama is being lobbied hard to send a strong signal that climate change remains at the top of his agenda and issue a forceful call to Congress to move forward on legislation this year.
"I think the president needs to underscore that climate and energy reform is a priority for 2010 as specifically as possible," said Senator John Kerry, who has been leading the effort to get a climate bill in the Senate.
Environmental organisations believe some Obama aides are advising the president to downplay or even avoid mention of the words "climate change" and keep the speech tightly focused on jobs and the economy, especially after last week's upset in Senate elections cost the Democrats' their super majority in Congress.
Those organisations will be watching Obama's speech closely to see whether he comes out for "comprehensive" legislation – code for the sweeping energy and climate change proposals to cut America's carbon emissions that are now before Congress.
The uncertainty about climate change legislation spills over into the international arena, where US inaction could be used as an excuse by India and China to further delay action on global warming.
"There has always been nervousness on whether the administration is playing an aggressive enough role," said Steve Cochran of the Environmental Defence Fund.
"[Everyone is] looking to see what he might say in the State of the Union to suggest the administration continues to move forward on this agenda, or that they are going to back off somehow because of a variety of political realities."
Officially, Kerry is continuing his efforts with a small group of Republican and Democratic Senators to craft a compromise climate and energy bill that would win support across party lines.
"The reports that climate change legislation are dead are way premature," said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the Democrats can not get a bill through the Senate on their own. "In order to get past 60 votes the bill has to have things in it that appeal to moderate Republicans and maybe even some very conservative Republicans," he said.
But Democratic leaders in the Senate have begun more openly to scale back ambitions since last week's defeat. Some are now calling for a few clean energy proposals to be tacked on to a larger jobs bill.
Obama hinted at such a combination during a visit to Ohio last Friday, urging Congress to pass a jobs bill that would "offer families incentives to make their homes more energy efficient, saving them money while creating jobs".
Other senators, Democratic and Republican, would like to focus first on an energy bill that would promote the use of renewable energy such as wind and solar but would not lay the foundations of a carbon market, which critics say would damage the US economy. Such an energy bill could also expand offshore drilling. "A large cap-and-trade bill isn't going to ahead at this time," Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator from California, said last week.
Other Democratic senators have called for reframing energy and climate change as a national security issue, which would help win Republican support.
But conservative Democrats say that it would be a mistake to take on such a sweeping project after the collapse of healthcare reform. "My own sense is that in the aftermath of a very, very heavy lift on healthcare, I think it is unlikely that the Senate will turn next to the very complicated and controversial subject of cap-and-trade climate legislation," said Senator Bryan Dorgan.

Climate fund 'recycled' from existing aid budget, UK government admits

Move appears to contradict repeated government pledges that climate aid would be additional to existing aid programmes

David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 January 2010 18.00 GMT
A £1.5bn pledge by Gordon Brown to help poor countries cope with the ravages of climate change will drain funds from existing overseas aid programmes to improve health, education and water supplies, the government admitted today.
The move, revealed in an email exchange between campaigners and an official at the Department for International Development (DfiD), appears to undermine repeated government pledges that such climate aid should be additional to existing overseas development aid (ODA).
Tim Jones, policy officer at the World Development Movement (WDM), said: "The UK government has publicly said 90% of money for tackling climate change should be additional to existing aid commitments. In private, all of the UK's climate change money is being diverted from international aid. The UK has a moral responsibility to put new money into tackling both development and climate change."
The prime minister announced the £1.5bn "fast start" finance in December, in an attempt to kick-start negotiations at the faltering UN climate talks in Copenhagen. At the time, Brown said it was "to help developing countries adapt to climate change, use clean technology and protect forests".
The UK money was part of a £6.5bn package to be paid by EU countries from 2010 to 2012.
Faced with questions about whether climate finance agreed in Copenhagen would be additional to ODA, British officials said the UK position was that it should be, and that it was lobbying European countries along those lines.
In June last year, Brown said: "The British government recognises that finance to tackle climate change cannot simply be part of official development assistance. Assistance for climate change should not be allowed to divert money from the pledges we have already made to the poorest."
In October, Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, said: "Failure to reach agreement on the principle of additional finance could mean that money will be diverted away from the world's poorest people, while the gains we have made towards the Millennium Development Goals could be reversed."
In the new email exchange between the WDM and the DfiD official, seen by the Guardian, Jones asked for clarification on whether the £1.5bn announced by Brown in Copenhagen in December would be additional, or "will count as ODA, and be included in UK ODA targets?".
The official replied: "The fast start financing will count as ODA." They also confirmed that at least half of the promised £1.5bn had already been announced by ministers, some as long ago as 2007. Brown's pledge "includes some already existing commitments," the official confirmed. It would be spent in countries that have "demonstrated a commitment towards tackling climate change".
Jones said: "Over half of the money announced by the UK in Copenhagen had already been announced, allocated or spent. At least one-third of it will be loans, increasing unfair debts channelled through the undemocratic and mistrusted World Bank."
DfiD spokesman said: "Whilst we do not comment on leaked emails, we have never suggested that our £1.5bn commitment to fast start funding is additional to ODA. Fast start finance was always intended to be part of ODA. The prime minister said in his statement at Copenhagen that from 2013 the UK will provide additional climate finance over and above our 0.7% ODA commitment. Fast start funding comes before, not after, 2013."

Now climate-change scientists say ozone hole stops global warming

Published Date: 26 January 2010
By Jenny Fyall
IT WAS once regarded as one of the biggest environmental threats to the planet.
Now there is mounting evidence that the ozone hole above the Antarctic has been protecting the southern hemisphere against global warming.The bizarre side-effect of ozone depletion has been studied by scientists at the University of Leeds.The ozone hole, caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) released into the atmosphere, is now steadily closing, but the research has suggested this could actually increase warming.Scientists discovered brighter summertime clouds had formed over the area below the hole, which reflect more of the sun's powerful rays."These clouds have acted like a mirror to the sun's rays, reflecting the sun's heat away from the surface to the extent that warming from rising carbon emissions has effectively been cancelled out in this region during the summertime," said Professor Ken Carslaw, who co-authored the research.When the ozone hole seals, he expects an acceleration in warming in that region, he added.During the 1980s, there were widespread warnings that UV exposure caused by the depleting ozone layer would have devastating impacts ranging from a rise in skin cancer, to damage to plants, to reduction of plankton. The Leeds team found that beneath the Antarctic ozone hole, high-speed winds whip up large amounts of sea spray, which contains millions of salt particles. This spray then forms clouds, and the increased spray over the last two decades has made these clouds brighter and more reflective – helping to keep global warming in check.Prof Carslaw described the phenomenon as an "unexpected and complex climate feedback". He highlighted that atmospheric impacts on the climate were "inordinately complicated" and it was not unusual for unexpected consequences to be revealed."It's a bit like the El Nino affecting weather in the UK even though it's in the Pacific," he said. He said the findings of the research did not mean the ozone hole should be kept open."You can't correct two wrongs in that way," he said. "The ozone hole was potentially a major catastrophe for the planet that was only stopped by the Montreal Protocol, so we can't go back on that."Instead, he said it was essential for carbon emissions to be slashed in the same way that CFCs – the ozone-depleting substances in aerosols – were cut under the 1987 Montreal Protocol.The Leeds team made its prediction using a global model of aerosols and two decades of meteorological data. The research, which will be published in Geophysical Research Letters online, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Academy of Finland

Don't let the carbon market die

The Copenhagen climate change conference achieved too little, but a modest global carbon tax would make amends

Oliver Tickell
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 January 2010 17.00 GMT
Some people have good reason to be shocked that banks have pulled out of the carbon market, not least recent economics graduates whose dissertations on carbon finance now qualify them only for unemployment. And JP Morgan, which paid a jaw-splitting $204m for carbon trader Ecosecurities last September, must be feeling a little sore. Perhaps it relied on the GHG Emissions Credit Trading report (yours for a mere $397), which predicts a $4.5 trillion carbon market by 2020.
No less chagrined must be Gordon Brown, who sees the carbon market as key to the global response to climate change, and to the economic fortunes of the City of London. As Brown told WWF in 2007, the government wanted binding limits on developed country emissions in a post-2012 climate agreement, because London was the world's carbon trading capital, and "only hard caps can create the framework necessary for a global carbon market to flourish". Thus he made it clear that the health of the carbon market took a rather higher priority than the health of the climate system.
The same outlook was evident among the designers of the Kyoto protocol, which created the global carbon market through its various carbon trading mechanisms, such as the clean development mechanism (CDM). The great achievement of the protocol was not to reduce carbon emissions – they actually rose at an increasing rate under its watch, three times faster in the early 2000s than during the 1990s – but to create a market in emissions rights and notional emissions reductions worth tens of billions of dollars a year.
With the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol for beyond 2012, it is right that confidence in the future of carbon markets has fallen. Hopes have all but evaporated that the industrialised "Annex 1" countries will reach agreement in time, thanks to the rifts that emerged at Copenhagen between the US and China. Other Annex 1 countries will not sign up to an agreement that does not include the US. The US will not sign up to an agreement that does not constrain the emissions of China and other big developing country emitters. And China is in no mood to sign up to anything much at all, at least until the Annex 1 countries take a serious lead.
So is the carbon market dead? Well, reports of its demise may have been exaggerated. The world's major carbon market is not that created directly by the Kyoto protocol, but the European Union's emissions trading system (EUETS), which allows emissions "allowances" to be traded among the EU's carbon polluters. Set up as part of the EU's means to achieve its Kyoto target, it turns over around 3 billion tonnes of carbon each year, three times the Kyoto compliance market.
The EUETS also allows for a proportion of emissions reductions to be met using Kyoto protocol carbon credits. And even if there is no global 2012 agreement, the EUETS is set to continue, as the means to deliver the EU's promised 20% cut in EU-wide carbon emissions by 2020. There is thus the bizarre prospect that a "zombie" Kyoto protocol may continue to create CDM-based carbon credits for the EUETS market, even after the protocol itself has effectively expired, with no new emissions reduction targets beyond 2012.
But that still leaves the carbon market seriously short of growth prospects. And here the problem is not so much Copenhagen, as the US. Specifically, Massachusetts. The Waxman-Markey bill that would have created a US carbon market to rival the EUETS was already in deep trouble before Barack Obama lost his controlling majority in the US senate. Now, the election of pickup truck-driving and proud of it Republican senator Scott Brown means the bill is looking dead in the water – and the putative US carbon market with it.
So what next? Bjorn Lomborg and I disagree on many things, but we do have one important point of accord: that a uniform global carbon tax would represent a considerable improvement on the flawed and ineffective carbon markets that we have created to date. To work properly, the tax must be global; and it must be levied "upstream", at the small number of locations where fossil fuels are produced and their flows are concentrated, rather than the billions of locations at which they are burnt.
It should begin at a modest level of a few dollars per tonne of CO2, so as not to frighten participating countries off – and even a $3 carbon tax, almost invisible in terms of cost impact, would raise $100bn per year. To encourage developing countries to sign up, the rich countries should double-match fund the carbon tax revenue, and put the whole into a climate fund. This could be spent in participating developing countries to finance their adaptation to climate change, fund forest conservation, advance the development and deployment of renewable energy, and research geo-engineering techniques – just in case we need them to stabilise the world's climate. All this would be, incidentally, in perfect harmony with the Copenhagen accord.
Over time the carbon tax should rise – or, better still, be replaced with a more sophisticated economic mechanism based on the auction of carbon permits, subject to a reserve price, as set out in my "Kyoto2" framework. But a simple, modest carbon tax is surely the best first step we can take towards getting there. As well as raising much-needed funds to finance climate solutions, it would also send an important signal to companies and investors – that long-term investments in clean energy, energy efficiency and a low carbon future will be rewarded: something that today's boom-and-bust carbon markets have failed to achieve.

Coke bottle is part plant

New container uses sugar cane but feels, functions like a plastic one
Coca-Cola Co., under fire from environmentalists for using plastic bottles, has introduced a new packaging material made partly from plants. The container has "the same weight, the same feel, the same chemistry, and functions exactly the same way" as a regular plastic bottle, a Coke spokeswoman says.
Coke isn't the only beverage concern trying to reduce its carbon footprint. PepsiCo Inc. has introduced a compostable bag made from plants for its SunChips snacks. But Coke is the world's biggest drink maker, and Coke Chief Executive Muhtar Kent calls the new container, which uses material derived from sugar cane, "the first generation of the bottle of the future."
Coke touted its "plantbottle" at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen last month, and it plans another push next month at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where all the sodas and water it provides will be packaged in the plantbottle. "Preliminary research" shows the new container leaves a smaller carbon footprint than regular plastic bottles, Coke says.
Coke says it aims to sell two billion drinks in plantbottles globally by the end of 2010.
Traditional plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET, which is derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. In 2006, production of plastic bottles for U.S. beverage consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, according to the Pacific Institute, a California-based environmental think tank.
The new plant-based bottle developed by Coke is 70% petroleum-based and 30% sugar-cane-based materials. The cane is crushed and mashed to produce juice, which is then fermented and distilled, producing ethanol. That ethanol is then converted through a series of chemical processes such as oxidation to a mono-ethylene glycol—a component normally derived from petroleum for use in plastic bottles. The MEG is then mixed with terephthalic acid to create PET plastic.
With the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games just a few weeks away, the company has introduced plantbottles containing its Dasani water in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. Coke also commissioned and funded an Imperial College London analysis that compared the "life cycle" of the new bottle to a regular plastic bottle to see if the impact on the environment was different, says Scott Vitters, the company's director of sustainable packaging. He says the study found that production of the plantbottle leaves a 12%-to-19% smaller carbon footprint than production of a regular plastic bottle. The company is awaiting third-party verification of the findings.
Environmental groups say the Coke bottle now being introduced is a slight improvement over regular PET bottles, but they say it won't solve a bigger problem with plastic bottles: the fact that most consumers don't recycle them.
A mere 27% of PET containers were recycled in the U.S. in 2008, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources. The new bottle is "definitely positive, but no, this doesn't make me jump up and down with joy," says Susan Collins, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, who wishes the beverage makers would also use recycled content.
And some competitors question Coke's assessment of the plantbottle's environmental footprint. "It's an admirable first step that Coke is taking," says Andrius Dapkus, director of innovations and renovations for Nestlé Waters North America Inc., a Nestlé SA unit that markets tPoland Spring, Deer Park and other bottled waters. "But as it stands today, we still don't know whether a plantbottle's environmental footprint is better, worse or the same" as that of an oil-derived bottle.
Instead of changing ingredients, Nestlé is continuing to reduce the amount of plastic in its bottles, a strategy known as "lightweighting" that Coke and PepsiCo also use. In the spring, Nestlé plans to introduce a new, lighter version of its Eco-Shape bottle.
PepsiCo's 10.5-ounce SunChips bag is 33% polylactic acid, which is derived from corn. The company's bags will be 90% plant-based by Earth Day on April 22, says Robert Lewis, a PepsiCo vice president who works on new packaging.
Plant-based bottles can pose hurdles, beverage-industry experts acknowledge. The bottles often have a shorter shelf life than PET bottles, and they don't hold carbonation as long, says Wade Groetsch, president of Blue Lake Citrus LLC, a Winter Haven, Fla.-based juice processor.
Mr. Groetsch's company uses plastic containers that are 100% polylactic acid, derived from corn, for its organic Noble Juices drinks. "It just doesn't keep the product protected the same way that the current bottles do," he says. "It's definitely a tradeoff."

Using woodlands to cut emissions

The UK is one of the least forested countries in Europe. The growing maturity of UK woodlands means that carbon sequestration is falling rapidly.

The UK is one of the least forested countries in Europe. Although the amount of woodland cover has increased substantially since its nadir after the First World War, growth has slackened in recent years. The growing maturity of UK woodlands means that carbon sequestration is falling rapidly. An independent assessment commissioned by the Forestry Commission has proposed one way forward: a million new hectares devoted to woodland, generating a reduction of up to 15% of the UK emissions in 2050.
The UK's woodland was depleted by the needs of industry, urbanization and agriculture and fell to little more than 6% of national land area in the early 1920s. Wood was virtually absent from many lowland areas in England. A recovery in the area given over to woodland means that about 12% of the UK is now forested but this number is only rising very slowly. Net new forestation is now well below 10,000 hectares (100 sq km) a year, much of which is in Scotland.
The UK is significantly behind other countries in Europe.
Percentage of land area under forest and woodland
• UK 12%• France 28%• Germany 32%• Italy 34%• Spain 36%• Sweden 67%• Finland 74%Source: Combating Climate Change: A Role for UK Forests (pdf)
As trees grow, they extract CO2 from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. Young trees don't capture much as their absolute growth is slow. Old trees have largely ceased to grow and also don't extract much carbon dioxide. The UK's newer woods, mostly planted thirty to fifty years ago, are now just past their peak at sequestering carbon. The 2005 figure was about 16m tonnes CO2. In 2010, the figure will fall to about 10m tonnes, and by 2020 the figure could be as low as 5m tonnes (less than 1% of national emissions).
Combating Climate Change, a report commissioned by the Forestry Commission (pdf) makes a powerful case for a sharp increase in the rate of new planting. It suggests that 1m new hectares, about 4% of total UK land area, should be given over to forest cover by 2050, increasing the planting to almost 25,000 hectares a year, triple today's rate. This would, says the report, reduce UK emissions by about 15m tonnes of CO2 a year by mid-century. Parliament has legislated to cut UK emissions to about 150m tonnes of CO2 by this date. New forestry could therefore reduce the national CO2 total by about 10% below its expected level.
Is a million new woodland hectares possible? Easily. About 4m hectares are given over to rough pastureland in England alone. I haven't got the exact figures for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, but these countries probably have another 4m hectares. So transferring a million hectares into woodland is perfectly feasible.
What about the cost? The report suggests that it strongly depends on what sort of forestry we use. 'Energy forestry' using, for example, coppiced hazel and willow for fuels may well have a net cost below zero per tonne of CO2 saved. (That is, the wood fuel costs less than the fossil energy it replaces.) At the other extreme, the creation of new broadleaf woodlands, managed for biodiversity, is estimated to cost about £41 per tonne of carbon dioxide. The Climate Change Committee says that any proposal costing less than £100 per tonne is potentially cost-effective. So although £41 per tonne is almost certainly greater than the cost of, for example, carbon capture at coal power stations by 2050, it is in line with other projects for reducing CO2.
The cheapest form of reforestation – giving over large plantations to single species for frequent harvesting of wood for heating and electricity generation – is broadly unpopular in the UK. Even still, it probably needs to be considered carefully. Using biomass to generate electricity is a very good way of providing 'dispatchable' electric power, electricity that can provided exactly when needed. The last few weeks of cold, still weather in the UK should remind us that we need huge amounts of biomass as a reliable source of renewable power as a backup for wind.
• From Carbon Commentary, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Benn to call on world leaders to adopt biodiversity pricing

Environment secretary says a way must be found to take account of the economic impact of decisions on biodiversity

Patrick Wintour
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 January 2010 19.20 GMT

World leaders must find a way to price the impact of their decisions on biodiversity in the same way that the international community is finding a way of pricing carbon, the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, said today.
Benn was setting out some of the Labour election manifesto thinking before a speech tomorrow in which he will warn that the world may be going through its sixth great extinction event – when many species decrease sharply. But he will warn against pessimism over the failure of the Copenhagen talks, saying a way has to be found to reverse "the collective loss of personal, economic and environmental optimism".
He said he believed one way to repel the attack on biodiversity was to repeat the success of the report into the economic consequences of climate change produced for the Treasury by Lord Stern in 2006. Britain is part-funding a report being prepared for the European commission by the Deutsche Bank economist Pavan Sukhdev into the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity. It is due to report to the UN conference on biodiversity at the end of the year in Japan.
Benn said: "We have got the Climate Change Act that means for the first time the carbon consequences of the decisions we make have to be taken into account by government, and so the next thing is to do that in the same way with the natural world. The report prepared by Sukhdev can do for our understanding of the natural world what Nick Stern did for the understanding of the economic impact of climate change."
The Stern report led to the Climate Change Act, which requires the government to publish carbon budgets setting out how it will cut emissions. One consequence is that "dirty products" become more expensive for the consumer.
Asked how nature could be priced, and biodiversity targets set, Benn said: "We will need to think about the most effective mechanism for taking account of the economic impact of decisions we make in relation to biodiversity."
He said: "This is a century in which we will recognise that living within your means can no longer just be about money, but also must be about first living within your carbon means and second living within the natural world's ability to support humankind over issues like fishing and deforestation."
He cited the example of Panama canal shipowners paying for reforestation either side of the canal on the basis that insurance premiums were rising due to limited water supplies, or the need to preserve trees with medicinal anti-malaria properties or the cost of not saving bees in the UK and the loss of pollination of flowers.
He added: "We need to have a biodiversity equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One of the reasons we have made big progress on climate change is because we had a respected scientific body saying 'this is what is going on'. We need the same for biodiversity.
"Stern made people sit up and take notice. Stern said 'this is the cost of dealing with climate change and this is the cost of not dealing with it. Stern brought this issue to the attention of business people and economists. We have to realise we live in a world where we can no longer take without consequence".
In his speech tomorrow to centre-left group Progress he will warn that "the world is going through the planet's resources quicker than they can be renewed. In Europe it is three times faster. With huge population growth, at this rate we will need three planets by 2050. The problem of course is that we have just one."
He will warn that "biodiversity is being wiped out with species becoming extinct at one thousand times the normal rate.
"Our planet may be going through its sixth great extinction event, but you would not know it to read today's headlines."
He will call for greater optimism over the ability of man to improve its environment.
He also said that David Cameron appears not to have convinced his own party of the importance of the environment, pointing out that a recent Conservative survey of 141 prospective Tory candidates put climate change bottom of issues that concerns them.

Why I'm taking my campaign to protect the public from pesticides to Europe

Britain controls pesticide use to protect animals, wildlife and the environment, but not for people. This has to change

Georgina Downs
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 January 2010 11.22 GMT

For nine years I've been campaigning to get the government to take action to protect public health from pesticide spraying. Last July, the court of appeal overturned my case, making it only one of six court decisions to go in the government's favour. It did so as a result of bizarrely substituting my case, arguments and evidence with the conclusions of a government-requested and -funded report from 2005. That meant the majority of my witness statements were ignored by the court, and the judgment was not based on the same evidence that had led to my earlier landmark victory in the high court.
By substituting my evidence, the court of appeal judges fundamentally misrepresented my case. Their only explanation for ignoring my evidence was that I had "no formal scientific or medical qualifications". Yet this is completely irrelevant, and it would effectively mean an end to any citizen taking a judicial review case in the UK if the courts will not take any notice of the evidence presented by that citizen because he/she is not a qualified scientist or doctor. This is a highly prejudicial approach.
I have attempted to right this by appealing the judgment, but the supreme court refused me. That leaves me now with no option but to take my case to the European courts, as having come this far then I fully intend to exhaust all possible legal options in my attempt to get justice for those poisoned by the UK government's own policy.
To set the record straight, last week I published online the six witness statements that I produced for my legal case. Now anyone can see for themselves the true extent of the government's scandalous failure to protect the public from pesticides. My factual evidence, which is based on the government's very own documents, findings and statements, shows that the government has continued to allow adverse effects to occur in residents and others exposed, has knowingly failed to act, has continued to shift the goalposts, cherry picked the science to suit the desired outcome, and has misled and misinformed the public over the safety of pesticides sprayed on crop fields throughout the country.
Here's one example. In 2002, the government's advisory committee on pesticides (ACP) asked the government's pesticides safety directorate (PSD) to undertake new pesticide exposure estimates as a result of having recognised the realistic scenarios I had presented regarding exposure for residents living near sprayed fields. The result: the PSD, which receives around 60% of its funding from the agro-chemical industry, found 82 examples of safety limits being exceeded. Did the government take these results and change its policy and approach? No. Environment ministers, the PSD and ACP, all just carried on publicly asserting that the system was "robust" and provided "adequate protection".
The government has conditions of use for pesticides regarding the protection of animals, wildlife and the environment, but absolutely nothing for the protection of residents and communities. This has to change. How many more people have to suffer at the hands of this government's failure to protect its citizens?
The evidence I obtained for my legal case showed that the reason the government has so far refused to introduce mandatory measures for health protection is the costs of change to the industry and government. I am sure the general public would much prefer to see their money going on protecting human health than on fighting a six-year legal battle against a young woman who is simply trying to get the Government to protect its citizens, which is what the government should've been doing in the first place.
The government needs to get its priorities right regarding the protection of public health from pesticides, and fast.
• Georgina Downs runs the UK Pesticides Campaign