Saturday, 30 January 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Osama bin Laden lends unwelcome support in fight against climate change

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

Climate change: sailing through the perfect storm

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

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

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

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

U.S. electric carmaker Tesla files for IPO

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