Sunday, 21 February 2010

Barack Obama's climate change policy in crisis

President Barack Obama's climate change policy is in crisis amid a barrage of US lawsuits challenging goverment directives and the defection of major corporate backers for his ambitious green programmes.

By Philip Sherwell in Washington Published: 5:13PM GMT 20 Feb 2010

The legal challenges and splits in the US climate consensus follow revelations of major flaws in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which declared that global warming was no longer scientifically contestable.
Critics of America's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are now mounting a series of legal challenges to its so-called "endangerment finding" that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health.

That ruling, based in part on the IPCC's work, gave the agency sweeping powers to force business to curb emissions under the Clean Air Act. An initial showdown is expected over rules on vehicle emissions.
Oil-rich Texas, the Lone Star home state of Mr Obama's predecessor George W Bush, is mounting one of the most prominent challenges to the EPA, claiming new regulations will impose a crippling financial toll on agriculture and energy producers.
"With billions of dollars at stake, EPA outsourced the scientific basis for its greenhouse gas regulation to a scandal-plagued international organization that cannot be considered objective or trustworthy," said Greg Abbott, Texas's attorney general.
"Prominent climate scientists associated with the IPCC were engaged in an ongoing, orchestrated effort to violate freedom of information laws, exclude scientific research, and manipulate temperature data.
"In light of the parade of controversies and improper conduct that has been uncovered, we know that the IPCC cannot be relied upon for objective, unbiased science - so EPA should not rely upon it to reach a decision that will hurt small businesses, farmers, ranchers, and the larger Texas economy."
Mr Abbott’s comments follow the controversy over the work of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, whose research was at the heart of IPCC findings. Leaked emails indicated that the freedom of information act was breached and that data was manipulated and suppressed to strengthen the case for man-made climate change.
A series of exaggerated claims, factual mistakes and unscientific sourcing have subsequently been uncovered in the 2007 IPCC report - such as the alarming but unjustified warning that Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035. Scientists insistent that humans are causing climate change have said the mistakes do not overturn an overwhelming burden of proof backing their case.
The case brought by Texas is one of 16 challenging the IPA over its data or procedures. They have been lodged variously by states, Republican congressmen, trade associations and advocacy groups before last week's cut-off to file court actions.
The pro-market Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and US Chamber of Commerce are also mounting high-profile battles to overturn the EPA decisions through petitions filed with the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington.
"The Clean Air Act is an incredibly flawed way to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and the findings on which it is based are full of very shoddy science," said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the CEI.
"Many policies and proposals that would raise energy prices through the roof for American consumers and destroy millions of jobs in energy-intensive industries still pose a huge threat."
Among those he listed were the EPA's decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions using the Clean Air Act, efforts to use the Endangered Species Act to stop energy production and new power plants, the higher fuel economy standards for new passenger vehicles enacted in 2007, and bills in Congress that require buildings to use more renewable electricity and introduce higher energy efficiency standards.
The EPA, a federal agency which is increasingly key to Mr Obama's green agenda as his legislative policies become bogged down in Congress, refuted the charges.
"The evidence of and threats posed by a changing climate are right before our eyes," said Catherine Milbourn, EPA spokeswoman. "That science came from an array of highly respected, peer-reviewed sources from both within the United States and across the globe."
The Environmental Defence Fund is leading the defence of the EPA's findings, arguing that critics are deliberately ignoring science to set back efforts to tackle climate change. "The EPA's decision is based on a 200-page synthesis of major scientific assessments," said the Fund, denying the work was simply attributable to the IPCC.
Also last week, the United States Climate Action Partnership, a grouping of businesses backing national legislation on reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, suffered a major blow when oil firms BP America and Conoco Phillips and construction giant Caterpillar left the group.
The two oil firms, the most significant departures, walked out on the industry-green alliance protesting that "cap and trade" legislation would have awarded them far fewer free emission allowances than their rivals in the coal and electricity industries.
Last week also saw the United Nation's top climate official, Yvo de Boer, announce his resignation after the failure of the recent Copenhagen climate conference to agree to more than vague promises to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

Acidified landscape around ocean vents foretells grim future for coral reefs

Underwater vents allow scientists to assess the acidic effect of carbon dioxide on ocean life

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Sunday 21 February 2010
Huge vents covering the sea-floor – among the strangest and most spectacular sights in nature – pour carbon dioxide and other gases into the deep waters of the oceans.
Last week, as researchers reported that they had now discovered more than 50,000 underwater volcanic springs, they also revealed a new use for them – as laboratories for measuring the impact of ocean acidification on marine life.
The seas are slowly being made more acidic by the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from factories and cars being pumped into the atmosphere and then dissolved in the sea. The likely impact of this acidification worries scientists, because they have found that predicting the exact course of future damage is a tricky process.
That is where the undersea vents come in, says Dr Jason Hall-Spencer of the University of Plymouth. "Seawater around these vents becomes much more acidic than normal sea­water because of the carbon dioxide that is being bubbled into it," he told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California, last week. "Indeed, it reaches a level that we believe will be matched by the acidity of oceans in three or four decades. That is why they are so important."
As part of his research, Hall-Spencer has scuba-dived into waters around vents and used submersibles to study those in deeper waters. In both cases the impact was dramatic, he told the conference.
"The sea floor is often very colourful. There are corals, pink algae and sea urchins. But I have found that these are wiped out when the water becomes more acidic and are replaced by sea grasses and foreign, invasive algae.
"There is a complete ecological flip. The seabed loses all its richness and variety. And that is what is likely to happen in the next few decades across the world's oceans."
Hall-Spencer also noted that in acidic seawater a type of algae known as coralline algae – which act as the glue holding coral reefs together – are destroyed.
"When coralline algae are destroyed, coral reefs fall apart," he said. "So we can see that coral islands like the ­Maldives face a particularly worrying future. ­Rising sea levels threaten to drown them, while acidic waters will cause them to disintegrate.
"It is a very worrying combination."

Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels

Study claimed in 2009 that sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by the end of century – but the report's author now says true estimate is still unknown
David Adam, Sunday 21 February 2010 18.00 GMT
Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.
The study, published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience, one of the top journals in its field, confirmed the conclusions of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It used data over the last 22,000 years to predict that sea level would rise by between 7cm and 82cm by the end of the century.
At the time, Mark Siddall, from the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol, said the study "strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results". The IPCC said that sea level would probably rise by 18cm-59cm by 2100, though stressed this was based on incomplete information about ice sheet melting and that the true rise could be higher.
Many scientists criticised the IPCC approach as too conservative, and several papers since have suggested that sea level could rise more. Martin Vermeer of the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany published a study in December that projected a rise of 0.75m to 1.9m by 2100.
Siddall said that he did not know whether the retracted paper's estimate of sea level rise was an overestimate or an underestimate.
Announcing the formal retraction of the paper from the journal, Siddall said: "It's one of those things that happens. People make mistakes and mistakes happen in science." He said there were two separate technical mistakes in the paper, which were pointed out by other scientists after it was published. A formal retraction was required, rather than a correction, because the errors undermined the study's conclusion.
"Retraction is a regular part of the publication process," he said. "Science is a complicated game and there are set procedures in place that act as checks and balances."
Nature Publishing Group, which publishes Nature Geoscience, said this was the first paper retracted from the journal since it was launched in 2007.
The paper – entitled "Constraints on future sea-level rise from past sea-level change" – used fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements to reconstruct how sea level has fluctuated with temperature since the peak of the last ice age, and to project how it would rise with warming over the next few decades.
In a statement the authors of the paper said: "Since publication of our paper we have become aware of two mistakes which impact the detailed estimation of future sea level rise. This means that we can no longer draw firm conclusions regarding 21st century sea level rise from this study without further work.
"One mistake was a miscalculation; the other was not to allow fully for temperature change over the past 2,000 years. Because of these issues we have retracted the paper and will now invest in the further work needed to correct these mistakes."
In the Nature Geoscience retraction, in which Siddall and his colleagues explain their errors, Vermeer and Rahmstorf are thanked for "bringing these issues to our attention".

In Japan, Even a Used Prius Shines

TOKYO—As Toyota Motor Corp.'s best-selling Prius gets caught up in the auto maker's broader quality issues, it can still count on one solid base of support: Japanese drivers who want one now.
It is too early to tell how the brake-system issues Toyota disclosed earlier this month in some Priuses will affect sales of the gasoline-electric hybrid in Japan, where it is the top-selling car. Sales topped 22,300 in Toyota's home country last month, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.
But dealers report demand remains strong for used models of the 2010-model Prius, which is at the center of brake concerns that prompted Toyota to recall more than 400,000 Prius and other hybrid models. That's because car buyers can drive a used Prius off the lot immediately instead of enduring the wait of up to 4½ months for delivery of a new one.

Tokyo-based Gulliver International Co., one of Japan's biggest used-car trading firms, said used 2010-model Priuses continue to sell at prices that are 5% to 10% higher than the same model sold new.
The average price for a used Prius S, one of the basic Prius models released last May, is around 2.4 million yen, or about $26,300, the firm says. The sticker price for a new version of the same model is 2.2 million yen.
Some used models in popular colors such as pearl, black and silver are quoted at even higher prices, between 2.5 million yen and 2.8 million yen, on Gulliver's Web site.
"There are people who decided not to buy Prius out of safety concerns, but everyone is not like that. Some go for a used one so they can drive it immediately," said Shoichi Suzuki, head of research at Gulliver.
Japan Plant Service, a used-car dealer in Hachioji city outside central Tokyo, sells about five second-hand Priuses a month, which account for half of the company's monthly business. Hiroyuki Endo, a employee there, said the pace of 2010 Prius sales hasn't slowed. The company has sold two Priuses so far this month.
Unlike in the U.S., where sales of most Toyota models, including the Prius, have fallen, "It seems customers do not mind. Prius remains the most popular car for our business," said Mr. Endo.
Sellers of the used Priuses are required to make sure the necessary repairs to the braking system are made.
Japanese consumers pay close attention to product sales rankings. When something reaches the No. 1 spot, be it be cars, cosmetics or beverages, a buying frenzy sometimes follows.
The Prius delivery time has been reduced from its peak of eight months. Still, Toyota said Feb. 5 that customers who ordered a Prius after Feb. 3 wouldn't have their vehicle delivered until late June.
Netz Toyota Yokohama, an independent dealer with 31 outlets outside Tokyo, has received four cancellations out of about 100 new Priuses that have been ordered but haven't yet been shipped. The customers who canceled cited the safety issue, said company spokesman Takeshi Kitagawa.
But, he added, "While cancellation is not zero, confusion is much less than we expected. We thought customers would be much more upset given the widespread media reports."
At Exfeel Corp., an independent used-car dealer in the commuter town of Chiba, president Taro Yoshikawa sold some used Priuses this week to other used-vehicle dealers at prices higher than those for brand new ones, indicating that dealers assume that they can still sell Prius at premium prices for some time.
"The popularity of Prius is still strong and I don't anticipate the price [for the used ones] would drop dramatically," he said. "Its popularity is persistent."
Write to Miho Inada at and Mariko Sanchanta at

A green future for Teesside

With proper levels of investment and government support, offshore windfarms could fill economic gaps in the north-east

Ed Cox, Thursday 18 February 2010 17.00 GMT
In October 1346, English forces from across the north of England rode into Durham to take up positions against the Scottish army of King David II. They arrived just in time to take up the better ground and in the ensuing Battle of Neville's Cross they saw off the invaders and captured their king. This week the cabinet is meeting close by the scene of the battle, but it remains to be seen whether the arrival of the cavalry will see off the economic forces currently hammering the north-east.
The cabinet meeting in Durham is certainly timely, for just down the road the final steel will be poured at Teesside Cast Products bringing to a close 150 years of steelmaking. The process – known as chasing the salamander – involves emptying the last dregs from the smelt before mothballing the plant and any remaining hopes of a last-minute takeover.
The perceived need for this cabinet meeting is symbolic of a parliamentary system that has so distanced the executive from the day-to-day life of steelworkers that such gestures count for a great deal. (Roll-on powers for local authorities to drive their own economic development). Ministers will seize upon the opportunity to beat their breasts about the Corus closure and reiterate promises of a £60m investment package to bring new jobs to the area: new, green jobs in offshore wind-farming.
The argument for green jobs is persuasive. As unemployment continues to rise and the economy stumbles out of recession, the need to create new jobs and new markets is pressing. At the same time, the imperative to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases means that we need to rethink how the UK economy will be structured. But three issues must be addressed if the "green new deal" is to become a reality.
First, the UK must seize some competitive advantage. Taking offshore wind-farming alone, a recent Institute for Public Policy report argues that anything between 20,000 and 70,000 jobs could be created in the sector. But with the significant majority of job growth predicted to be in turbine and component manufacture, unless the UK can attract a turbine manufacturer to its shores it is likely to lose out to Denmark, Spain or Germany with their better-developed wind markets. Not only do we need to secure the domestic market through reforms to the renewables obligation and investment in the national grid infrastructure, but a combination of tax incentives and loan guarantees might also be required.
Second, we need to do the maths. Even the best estimates suggest that for every four jobs lost at Corus, only one will be created in offshore wind locally. Analysis for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that in 2007-08 there were only 445,000 UK jobs in the entire green sector (including the low-carbon support and supply chain), and with growth projected at just 5% per annum we have to look more widely not just at new green jobs but at the greening of existing industry.
Third, we need to build up our skills base. We simply don't have enough engineers and skilled technicians to fill emerging opportunities. Offshore wind industries will look to attract offshore oil and gas talent before they turn to retraining Corus workers. A demand-led skills strategy is going to be too little, too late; a more proactive, long-term plan is needed urgently.
Records have it that despite being outnumbered as a result of fighting wars on many fronts, the English army prevailed in 1346 by pooling the best forces from across the northern regions and seeking the better ground. The cabinet should dwell on this lesson, for victory at the Battle of Neville's Cross led to many decades of peace and prosperity in England's north-east.

MPA, NTU launch Maritime Clean Energy Research Programme

Posted: 18 February 2010 1821 hrs

SINGAPORE: Research funding of up to S$15 million will be available over five years under a newly launched "Maritime Clean Energy Research Programme". The programme, jointly launched by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), aims to help the development of green technologies in shipping and port management. Research will be conducted through the Centre for Maritime Energy Research, a new centre under the Energy Research Institute at NTU. The first Call for proposals for the research grant opened on Thursday.

Clipper confirms plans for wind turbine factory

Manufacturing of wind turbines set to return to England, with factory in Newcastle making world's largest blades

Tim Webb, Thursday 18 February 2010 17.27 GMT
Manufacturing of wind turbines is set to return to England after Clipper Windpower finally confirmed plans for a ­factory in the north-east, providing a much-needed boost to a region that has suffered badly from the recession.
The American company said it would invest in a testing facility at Walker, on the banks of the Tyne near Newcastle, for what it claims are the world's largest turbine blades.
Each of Windpower's "Britannia" turbines would be able to generate up to 10MW of electricity, enough for 10,000 homes. If the blades work properly, Clipper will make up to 75 of them a year, employing up to 500 people by 2020.
Gordon Brown and the energy and ­climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, visited the site today. The government recently announced it was helping to fund the project.
Clipper has been planning the scheme for some time, but it had been delayed while it negotiated the sale of a 49% stake in itself to UTC for $270m (£172m), which was completed in December.
The company hopes the turbines will be used in the giant offshore wind projects for which the Crown Estate recently awarded operating licences. The turbines will be manufactured in a new factory being built in Walker by Shepherd Offshore, the business run by former Newcastle United chairman Freddie Shepherd.
Brown said: "The essential work of tackling climate change brings with it new ways of doing things, which in turn brings with it new jobs. Today's announcement is clear evidence of new, green industries being firmly established in the UK."
"The UK is a global leader in offshore wind power and the north-east is at the forefront in providing the skills, expertise and enterprise to capitalise on this rapidly expanding market, which has the potential to create thousands of green jobs."
Shepherd, whose business has risen to prominence in the wake of the decline of the shipbuilding industry, said: "This industry will build on our proud history, our skills and our ambition. We are determined that we will create here the very best location for the international offshore wind industry."
Danish firm Vestas closed its turbine plant on the Isle of Wight last year, blaming a slowdown in orders worldwide and "nimby" objectors to onshore projects in the UK. Skykon in Scotland is currently the only factory making components for the wind industry in the UK.