Tuesday, 9 February 2010

US couple take lead on carbon trade by selling their first credit

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: February 9 2010 02:00

While a bill to establish a cap-and-trade system has stalled in the US Senate, individuals keen to tackle carbon emissions should consider the example of Tami and Randy Wilson.
The Pennsylvania couple have sold the world's first carbon credit awarded for a reduction in personal carbon emissions. About 1,800 others have signed up to follow suit - underlining the US public's readiness to press ahead on the issue.
The Wilsons began by getting rid of their son's heated water bed, turning off power to computers and televisions when not in use, changing to energy-efficient light bulbs, hang-drying their laundry and, finally, investing $58,000 (€42,000 £37,000) in a solar panel system - until they reduced their electricity bill to zero.
Then they signed up on the MyEmissionsExchange. com site to have their energy savings calculated. They found that they had already saved one tonne of carbon, which earned them a carbon credit. The exchange sold the credit for $21.50 to Molten Metal Equipment Innovations of Ohio, taking a 20 per cent commission.
"Everybody wants to be environmentally friendly," said Ms Wilson, 49, a water treatment plant operator. "It takes a trigger point to get people involved. For us it was the announcement of a 30 per cent increase in our electricity bill."
MyEmissionsExchange. com, owned by the energy broker Oceans Connect, is hoping that other individuals will not only want to be paid for their energy savings but that companies will be keen to buy credits easily verified by comparing a family's improving power bills.
While purchasing a single credit is insignificant, the MyEmissionsExchange site is hoping that expectations for carbon legislation and public interest in limiting climate change will enable it to build scale.
"If we think big, we don't have to rule out ExxonMobil buying credits," said Paul Herrgesell, project manager at the website.
MyEmissionsExchange began trying to help individuals to enter the carbon market in October, and executed the Wilsons' sale last month. The site, which verifies and sells personal carbon credits, is open to any individual household or business that wants to earn a personal carbon credit by demonstrating it has reduced its electric, natural gas, propane or fuel oil bill compared with the same month a year earlier.
The problem with such schemes, say many market experts, is that it is so hard to verify whether genuine carbon reductions have taken place, and to quantify them.
"This is good to raise awareness and to mobilise people to personally act against climate change,'' said Davide Vassallo, director at Arthur D. Little, the consultancy. "But I don't believe we will have a market here.''
The US authorities have yet to require a reduction in carbon emissions. He pointed out that the largest carbon credits markets were based mainly on the cap-and-trade system, where regulation created the demand to procure credits.
Paul Cooper, president of Molten Metal Equipment Innovations, which makes pumping equipment for the recycling industry, said the company would buy more credits if they became available, given its support of energy conservation.
"Without corporations involved, it won't take off," he added.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

The case for climate action must be remade from the ground upwards

With the science under siege and the politics in disarray, it may fall to civil society to keep this still crucial fight alive

Ian Katz
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 February 2010 23.09 GMT
What a difference three months makes. Back in November, the world broadly agreed that emissions of carbon dioxide were heating up the planet and that we needed to do something about it, even if we couldn't agree exactly what. And though we'd had the usual pre-summit rollercoaster ride of dire predictions and naive exhortations (yes, I plead guilty to some of those), even hardheaded types dared to hope that Copenhagen might produce the basis of a global climate treaty.
As late as 7 December, 56 newspapers around the world could declare in a common, Guardian-led editorial: "The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a ­challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it."
Now, with climate science under siege and climate politics in disarray, that sounds like the rhetoric of another age. The American commentator Walter Russell Mead recently captured the mood: "The global warming movement as we have known it is dead … basically, Sarah Palin 1, Al Gore zip." A senior British diplomat compares those trying to secure global action on climate change post-Copenhagen to "small groups wandering in different directions around the battlefield like a beaten army". A leading scientist offers an equally pithy assessment: "Everybody is completely clueless."
Not depressed yet? This weekend a BBC poll showed a dramatic fall in the number of people who believe warming is happening; carbon markets have ­tumbled; a Guardian survey of over 30 leading figures involved in climate negotiations found almost none who believed a global deal was possible this year; in Australia a man who described climate change as "absolute crap" could soon be prime minister.
What went wrong? How long have you got: the leak of the "climategate" emails that showed scientists behaving just as tribally as their detractors, the ­Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's great ­glacier meltdown (enough "gates" for now), the abject failure of ­Copenhagen, Obama's Massachusetts disaster and a bitterly cold winter in much of Europe and the US. If you doubt the effect of the last of these, take a look at stories like "The mini-ice age starts here" in the Daily Mail, or the website entitled If Global Warming Is Real Then Why Is It Cold?. Add to that lot a mildly hysterical binary culture in which the case for action on climate change is either unanswerable or in tatters, and the perfect storm is complete.
It's worth considering a few of these setbacks in a bit more detail. What Fred Pearce's brilliant investigation of the East Anglia emails, published last week in the Guardian, showed was embattled scientists doing some pretty shabby things: conspiring to keep sceptics out of journals, using every trick they could to avoid handing over data to their ­critics and, in at least one case, ­apparently trying to hide weaknesses in a major piece of research.
The apparent abuse of the peer review process is perhaps the most worrying aspect because it is meant to be the gold standard that allows us to distinguish credible science from pseudoscience.
It is hard to see how Phil Jones, the director of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and some of his colleagues will escape censure for the behaviour Pearce exposed. But it is also worth pointing out what neither he nor any other journalist has so far found: any evidence of scientists fiddling their results, or indeed anything that calls into question the scientific case that man is causing dangerous ­climate change.
Given that, some, particularly in the climate science community, have wondered why the Guardian devoted so much energy and space to excavating the affair. Myles Allen, a distinguished Oxford physicist, suggested on these pages that the Guardian was "hoping against hope to turn up a genuine error which fundamentally alters conclusions". The truth couldn't be further away, but only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound.
Which brings us to the dismal case of the IPCC and the Himalayan glaciers. Many scientists are still bemused at how the expert panel could have made quite such an eye-watering howler: the ­prediction that the glaciers would melt by 2035 was not just wrong but wrong by a factor of 10. One scientist tells me that glaciologists had spotted the error and notified the IPCC about it as early as last September, but no effort was made to correct it.
One-off mistakes happen, of course, even in the most ­scrupulous organisations, but the glaciers affair seems to point to some wider ­problems. The first is that not all IPCC-cited ­science is quite what the public ­imagined it to be. Landing with a thud every five years or so, the panel's vast "assessment reports" have been treated as scientific tablets of stone: Here is What We Know About Climate Change Now.
But many of us have been shocked to discover that some claims are based on research conducted by pressure groups, or even journalists. Whereas so-called Working Group I, which deals with the pure science, is based almost exclusively on peer-reviewed work, Working Group II, on the impact of warming, leans ­heavily on "grey literature". Researchers argue that is necessary because peer review studies simply aren't available for many of the remote areas the report seeks to cover, but the result is a fat target for critics: In recent weeks there have been a string of ­stories about apparently flaky assertions in the report. The IPCC's problems have been compounded by an approach to crisis management best characterised as "aim at foot, fire". Having failed for months to correct the glacier error, the panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, then ­managed to come across as haughty and unapologetic. The posse of journalists and bloggers now hounding him with (unfair, I think) allegations of venality and hypocrisy, will not stop till he has been cast into the rising sea.
The consequences (and causes) of the Copenhagen lash-up may take a little longer to divine. Certainly it showed that China was not ready to accept the constraints on its growth that a legally binding carbon settlement would entail. And that Europe was not prepared to lead the way to a low carbon world by cutting deeper in the hope that others would follow.
But whatever the full postmortem reveals, it is clear that the energy has drained from the push for a global deal. Before Copenhagen a senior British negotiator told me it was crucial that the politicians at least agreed a clear timetable to a legal deal: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay." In his analogy the crowd have left the stadium and there is no scheduled replay.
Back then Gordon Brown warned that the world needed to seal a deal within the first six months of 2010. In the runup to a dangerous mid-term election, President Obama would not risk trying to push a controversial cap and trade bill through the US Congress.
And that was before the Democrats' shock defeat in Massachussets. Since then only the most relentless optimists – climate change secretary Ed Miliband among them – suggest this year might see the US climate bill many regard as the necessary prerequisite for a global deal.
So far, so grim, but what can be done? First, climate scientists must make a public commitment to greater openness. They should acknowledge that the huge implications and importance of what they do mean the public expect and are entitled to a greater degree of scrutiny of their work. They should repudiate the laager mentality and evasions of the East Anglia researchers. Instead of grudgingly yielding to Freedom of Information requests, they should publish their data and workings online wherever possible.
In the longer term more open ways of reviewing science should be explored. Royal Society president Martin Rees talks about an Amazon-style system where reviewers can openly rate papers online. It is in this spirit that the Guardian will today publish Pearce's full 28,000 word account of the East Anglia emails affair online and invite anyone involved to tell us if we've got it right.
Then, the case for action must be remade from the ground up. It's no good politicians and scientists going on TV and insisting that the overwhelming body of climate science has not been touched by the scandals. They need to go back to first principles and explain how we know that CO2 causes warming, how we know CO2 levels are rising, how we know it's our fault, and how we can predict what is likely to happen if we don't act.
Next, the credibility of the IPCC – or some form of scientific high court – must be restored. In the short term that means appointing independent experts to review any alleged errors in the panel's reports. At the same time the IPCC should renounce, or at least severely restrict the use of, grey ­literature. "If that means you can't be comprehensive then don't be," says a senior scientist advocating this course. There is a strong case for more radical reforms: the panel should arguably be replaced by a body controlled by national scientific academies rather than governments.
Those who want action on climate change will meanwhile have to accept a more incremental approach. Mead describes the effort to secure a global deal as "like asking a jellyfish to climb a flight of stairs; you can poke and prod all you want, you can cajole and you can threaten. But you are asking for something that you just can't get". Even the head of an NGO who has argued passionately for a binding, comprehensive deal tells me: "Maybe you've got to unpick the uber-deal and work out which bits are possible to do now, and build confidence."
Finally, anyone who cares about this issue must fight to keep it alive. With Barack Obama embroiled in a domestic political battle, powerful advocates like Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown likely soon to exit the stage and European leaders notably reticent in Copenhagen, it is hard to see where the political leadership for a global deal will come from. So it may fall to civil society – to individuals, organisations and businesses – to pick up the baton. The choice remains the one described in that global editorial, only now the answer is likely to be decided by us.

India boosts climate data contribution to IPCC

A scientific network set up recently by India's environment ministry will contribute formally to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country's prime minister has announced

T. V. Padma for SciDev.net, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 February 2010 11.00 GMT
A scientific network set up recently by India's environment ministry will contribute formally to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country's prime minister has announced.
It is the first time that Indian scientists will be involved at an institutional level with the IPCC, whose job is to assess the information relevant to understanding the risks of climate change. Its scientists have hitherto made individual contributions.
The Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), formed last year (October 2009), will provide its first research findings to the IPCC by November 2010, prime minister Manmohan Singh told a sustainable development summit in New Delhi today (5 February). Its findings will form part of the panel's fifth assessment report, due to be finalised in 2014.
INCCA comprises more than 200 scientists drawn from 120 institutions across the country and will focus on the 'three Ms' — measuring, modelling and monitoring — to make comprehensive assessments of climate change's impact on key sectors such as agriculture, water, biodiversity, natural ecosystems and health, environment minister Jairam Ramesh said yesterday (4 February).
A group within INCCA, made up of scientists from the environment ministry, the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and the Indian space department will provide "institutional inputs" to future IPCC reports, Ramesh said.
The announcements come amid international debate over an IPCC claim about the melting rate of the Himalayan glaciers (see Glacier dispute reveals holes in research) and suggestions that scientists from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, were selective about which of their climate research results they publicised.
But Singh emphasised that, despite some criticism of the IPCC's reports, "India has full confidence in the IPCC process and its leadership and will support it in every way that it can".
Ramesh said that the Indian initiative "will help fill an important scientific knowledge gap in the IPCC assessment by providing robust information at the sub-regional level".
INCCA is one of a series of measures by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to strengthen India's scientific base.
Others include the Global Advisory Network Group on Environmental Sciences (GANGES) that will focus on creating a research agenda and promoting collaboration in the field; a national environmental sciences research programme; a scientific expert committee to the ministry; and an action plan to enhance forestry science.
Ramesh said that the intended scientific focus of the environment ministry has "got somewhat diluted" over the years and the initiatives will bring science "back into the mainstream of our work and decision-making".
The country is also setting up a national institute on Himalayan glaciology in Dehradun, northern India, said Ramesh.

The government has the power, it could make us all pay into a green bank

Dan Roberts
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 February 2010 20.39 GMT

One thing Lord Browne knew better than most was that the energy world is all about power, not money. Sadly, this fact only just seems to have caught up with a British political establishment that thought open markets were all that was necessary. Last week's bombshell from energy regulator Ofgem calling for an end to the UK's liberalised market experiment is still reverberating around Westminster.
Climate change and energy security present urgent challenges to an industry that has underinvested in low-carbon capacity and is over-reliant on imported natural gas. So far, few have articulated an alternative, let alone admitted to the public how much money will be required to fix the problem. The capital-starved foreign energy companies that dominate here show no sign of doing it for us.
Yet one idea is beginning to emerge in government circles that could solve both problems. If energy is going to cost more, why not put the money to good use?
A 20% levy on electricity prices could raise £20bn a year toward a ­government-sponsored ­"green investment bank". Borrow against the equity and within a parliament or two we could fund the £200bn of wind, nuclear and transmission investment that the ­private sector is unable to find. The man who tried and failed to take Britain beyond petroleum would have approved.

Carbon prices are going the wrong way

Outlook: The sooner the carbon price rises very significantly the better
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
The Confederation of British Industry says it is not convinced that a minimum price for carbon in the European Union Emissions Trading System would necessarily encourage greater investment in low carbon energy. Perhaps it needs to talk to more of its members from within the energy industry, which insists that the low price of carbon is one of the biggest issues it faces as it ponders whether to invest in low carbon electricity generation facilities.
Right now, the carbon price is heading in the wrong direction. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said yesterday that £88 per tonne was the lowest price necessary for investment in green technologies to become economic. In the EU scheme, the price for the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide is currently £13, having fallen back from closer to £20 since the middle of last year.
There have been two reasons for this decline. First, the free emissions allowances for the scheme were set prior to the recession: in a slowdown, emissions fall, so there has been less demand for additional allowances than was anticipated. And second, with the failure in Copenhagen to secure an international agreement on emission reductions, one crutch for the carbon price – that fewer free allowances might soon be available – was kicked away.
One of the few positive effects of the global recession has been lower-than-expected emissions. But the gain from that benefit will be more than wiped out by higher future emissions if the result is that the low carbon price makes it impossible for private-sector organisations to justify committing themselves to investing the huge sums necessary to build renewable energy plants with scale, or nuclear facilities.
The theory of the ETS is sound. By making it expensive to emit carbon, those that are able to afford to cut back will do so. Moreover, there is, for the first time, a will on a global scale to make these schemes work, with countries such as the US and Australia considering their own versions.
In practice, however, European Union governments, including our own, have not yet created the conditions in which the free market of the ETS will really encourage a shift to low carbon technologies.
As the CBI points out, there are schemes to encourage greater investment in some greener initiatives – certain renewables and clean coal, say – already in existence. But this is no substitute for a carbon market with prices that take much more of the uncertainty out of the decisions being made now by large companies about their investments over the next two decades. The sooner the carbon price rises very significantly – probably to more than the EAC suggests as a bare minimum – the better, and that will require direct intervention.

Electric taxi for EcoCity

Date: Monday 08 Feb 2010
LONDON (ShareCast) - Eco City Vehicles has launched a prototype, all electric version of its Mercedes-built Vito black taxi. Called the eVito, the new eco-friendly cab was co-developed and is distributed exclusively by the Eco City. The electric taxi is powered by Zytek's 70kW electric powertrain and expected to exceed a total range of 120 miles on a single charge. With zero emissions, it is also expected to be fully compliant with the Mayor of London's proposed new clean air standards for London taxis, due to be introduced in time for the London Olympics. "The eVito is the first all-electric wheelchair accessible taxi with a 25-foot turning circle to be launched in the world and a major step towards our goal to become a leading supplier of niche eco-friendly vehicles,” Peter DaCosta, chief executive of Eco City Vehicles commented.

REpower signs turbine towers deal with Welsh firm

Published Date: 09 February 2010
By Nathalie Thomas
REPOWER UK, the British division of the German renewable energy giant, has signed an agreement to buy most of its wind turbine towers from a domestic manufacturer.
Edinburgh-headquartered REpower previously sourced the towers from its German parent company but yesterday revealed a deal with Welsh manufacturer Mabey Bridge. Rick Eggleston, managing director of REpower UK, said the firm had been seeking for some time to buy the towers for its UK wind farms from a British manufacturer. He said: "This agreement gives us a real boost in serving the needs of our clients and will improve our competitiveness in a tough UK market."Local procurement of the towers from a reliable UK manufacturer makes sense."The agreement follows hot on the heels of an announcement by Mabey Bridge that it is investing £38 million in a new facility in Monmouthshire, Wales, creating 240 jobs.REpower, which employs 60 people in the UK, will continue to source wind turbine blades and housings from its parent company's factories across Europe.Eggleston said he was confident of meeting the firm's target of delivering 400 megawatts of wind energy by the spring

Palm oil deal 'a threat to the rainforest'

EC's Renewable Energy Directive will allow greater mix in petrol and diesel
By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Hundreds of millions of tonnes of palm oil look set to be pumped into Britain's vehicles despite scientific evidence showing that chopping down rainforests to make way for plantations exacerbates climate change, according to a leaked report.
The European Commission is planning to increase the amount of palm oil used in cars and power stations under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which is intended to reduce greenhouse gases, suggests the document.
A loophole in the draft communication from Brussels on implementation of the directive would allow almost all palm oil currently produced to be used in vehicles on British roads.
The development – which campaigners warned have would lead to fresh bouts of forest destruction in Asia to meet growing global demand for the oil – comes after an intense campaign of lobbying in Brussels by Malaysian producers who feared the EU would ban imports of palm oil for energy.
Britons use 50 billion litres of transport fuel a year, 2.7 per cent of which came from biofuels in 2008-09. Palm oil, which is primarily used in food and household products, already controversially forms part of that fuel mix.
The Government says it is keen to avoid use of environmentally damaging materials but admits there is insufficient data about the provenance of 42 per cent of transport biofuel used in the UK. Under the RED, passed last year, Britain and other EU states are required to source 10 per cent of petrol and diesel in road transport from renewable sources. Part of that will be accounted for by electrical vehicles but the majority is expected to come from plant-based fuels such as rapeseed, soy, palm and sugar cane.
The EC document ostensibly protects wildlife areas that could grow these plants by banning member states from sourcing fuel from greenhouse gas-sequestering grasslands, wetlands and forests. But, in a crucial exemption, the protection does not apply to habitats changed before January 2008, meaning the vast majority of palm oil produced may be used, even though much of it comes from plantations that have replaced forests in the past 15 years.
The policy is almost certain to increase demand for palm oil, which can only be grown in tropical climates in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries, West Africa and the Amazon in Brazil. Rainforests have strong carbon credentials; they suck carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow.
According to a study by Denmark's Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology, published in the journal Conservation Biology in 2008, it would take between 75 and 93 years for the benefits to the climate generated by switching to biofuels to outweigh the detrimental effects of converting rainforest to plantations.
Forests in the biggest palm oil-producing countries of Malaysia and Indonesia are rich in rare wildlife, including the orangutan and Sumatran tiger, but about 90 per cent of an area's flora and fauna are lost when the land is converted to monoculture plantations where the plants are grown in straight lines. Some palm oil producers have also been linked to human rights abuses.

According to a Department of Transport study, palm oil is forecast to account for 45 per cent of Europe's biodiesel by 2020. The EC declined to comment on the draft document.
Friends of the Earth's agri-fuels campaign coordinator Adrian Bebb said: "I know the Commission officials and they're trying to get palm oil in." Robert Palgrave of Biofuelswatch said: "If you expand the palm oil business for food, fuel or cosmetics, more forest will be destroyed."