Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Biofuel breakthrough

By Clive Cookson
Published: February 26 2010 01:58

Breakthrough on converting biofuel
Biofuels made from wood, grass and agricultural wastes such as corn stalks are environmentally attractive because, unlike crops such as maize and sugar grown primarily to produce fuels, they do not take over good farmland. The trouble is that, until now, these “cellulosic biofuels” have been hard to convert into useful liquid fuels.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin report a breakthrough on Friday in the journal Science. Their two-step chemical conversion turns waste biomass efficiently into liquid hydrocarbons that could fuel vehicle or jet engines.
The process turns biomass first into a chemical called gamma-valerolactone or GVL, which in turn is converted into jet fuel hydrocarbons. This preserves 95 per cent of the energy from the original biomass, while the waste carbon dioxide can be captured under high pressure for storage or burial underground.
“The hydrocarbons produced from GVL in this new process are chemically equivalent to those used in the present [transport] infrastructure,” said David Martin Alonso, a member of the Wisconsin research team. “The product we make is ready for the jet fuel application and can be added to existing hydrocarbon blends, as needed.”

Spring is back to normal – after 15 freak mild years

The severe winter means that we still have to wait a few weeks for the return of blossoms, buds and wildlife, writes Michael McCarthy
Spring begins today, Monday 1 March, and it is running about three weeks to a month late compared to recent years.
The coldest winter since 1981 has kept the natural world locked up tight, substantially setting back the blossoming of trees and spring flowers, and delaying the emergence of hibernating insects such as bumblebees, and red admiral and peacock butterflies.
Over the last 15 to 20 years, spring has advanced considerably because of the warming climate – according to the Met Office, Britain's average temperature has increased by a full degree centigrade since 1970 – and by mid-February in most years, blossom and spring flowers are in evidence, as well as butterflies on warm days.
But this year the natural world is only just awakening. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for example, the million or so Crocus tommasinianus which form a quite spectacular carpet of pale violet began to flower on Friday – whereas they were out in early February last year.
Similarly, Kew's spectacular display of daffodils is not yet in evidence, but this time last year the yellow blooms had been vivid for nearly a month. And Kew's snowdrops, which last year came out in January, made a February emergence in 2010.
The man who looks after Kew's grounds, the head of the arboretum, Tony Kirkham, doesn't see this as a late spring. He sees it as a normal one.
"Over the past 20 years we've got accustomed to it being very early, but this really is a normal year, in terms of the way things used to be," he said.
Mr Kirkham welcomed the freezing winter, as trees and plants shut down completely and "had a good rest", he said. He is also hopeful the freeze will have damaged one of Kew's major insect pests of recent years, the horse-chestnut leaf-miner moth, which came to Britain from eastern Europe and whose caterpillars now turn horse-chestnut leaves brown and dessicated long before the onset of autumn.
Mr Kirkham hopes the cold will have reduced the number of life-cycles the moth can go through in a year and brought down the stress on the trees.
The cold has certainly affected insects, according to Alan Stubbs, the chairman of Buglife, the invertebrate conservation charity. "Normally you might have expected to see some of the bumblebees, and some of the hibernating hoverflies by now, as well as some of the overwintering butterflies, but I haven't seen any of them yet," he said.
"Things that hibernate need to find sources of energy quickly when they come out, but there's nothing for them yet. It's only in the last few days that the worms in my compost heap have become active, but as regards flying harbingers of spring, there haven't been any so far."
Birds are not so quite dependent on the weather for starting their mating season, and some species are pairing up, while the earliest breeders of all, ravens, are already nesting in places such as the Lake Vyrnwy reserve in North Wales.
"Ravens will have laid eggs by now," said a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Grahame Madge. "Their early nesting is probably something to do with the fact that they are carrion feeders and there's more carrion around at the end of winter."
Crossbills, which feed on pine cones, are also starting to nest, but it will be another month or so before most songbirds begin their breeding cycle, and a few weeks more for migrants like swallows, cuckoos and nightingales.
The RSPB must wait to see which of Britain's birds will have been hardest hit by the severe winter, especially the snows and ice of early January, which prevented birds from finding food. "Kingfishers are the species which everybody is most worried about," Mr Madge said. "In the hard winters of 1947 and 1963 they went down by 85 per cent." Initial indications from observers were that the population might have been reduced by half, he said. There were also worries about bitterns, the very rare brown relative of the heron, and also about green woodpeckers and goldcrests.
The results of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch survey, which will give a clear indication of what species have lost out most, will not be known for another month.
When does spring start?
*There are two opinions as to when spring starts: the meteorological one and the astronomical one.
The first, used by the Met Office and sanctioned by the World Meteorological Organisation, bases the seasons on the months of the calendar, in three-month blocks. Thus, winter is December, January and February, spring is the months of March, April and May, and so on.
This is now used all over the world so that climate statistics can be easily comparable across the globe.
But there is another, astronomical way of marking the seasons, using day length – with the equinoxes and solstices, those moments in the earth's annual progression around the sun when days are of equal length (the spring and autumn equinoxes), and when they are longest and shortest (the summer and winter solstices).
This year the spring, or vernal equinox, falls on Saturday 20 March, at 5.32pm Greenwich Mean Time.
So if conditions aren't warm enough for you today, or there's not enough blooming or buzzing or billing and cooing going on, you're perfectly at liberty to say spring doesn't really start for another three weeks.

Gore takes aim at climate change skeptics


Former US Vice President Al Gore on took aim at skeptics who doubt the reality of human-caused climate change, saying he wished it were an illusion but that the problem is real and urgent.
Gore, who has made the fight against climate change his signature issue since leaving the White House in 2001, specifically addressed challenges to the accuracy of findings by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion," Gore wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.
"But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes" in reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Climate change skeptics have pointed to errors in the panel's landmark 2007 report - an overestimate of how fast Himalayan glaciers would melt in a warming world and incorrect information on how much of the Netherlands is below sea level - as signs that the report's basic conclusions are flawed.
The panel's report said that climate change is "unequivocal" and that human activities contribute to it.
Gore's defense of the panel's findings came two days after the United Nations announced that an independent scientific board would review the panel's work in light of the errors.
The intergovernmental panel shared a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Gore and has driven political momentum to agree on a global climate treaty to replace the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.
A December meeting in Copenhagen that aimed to bring about a global agreement failed to reach this goal, and Gore blamed inaction in the US Senate.
"Because the world still relies on leadership from the United States, the failure by the Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the Copenhagen meeting guaranteed that the outcome would fall far short of even the minimum needed to build momentum toward a meaningful solution," Gore wrote.
Three US senators - Democrat John Kerry, Republican Lindsey Graham and Independent Joe Lieberman - have proposed to restart the process by dumping across-the-board cap-and-trade provisions in favor of sectoral approaches to cutting greenhouse gas provisions.
The new bipartisan bill could target individual sectors and move away from a system used in Europe in which companies would buy and sell the right to pollute, a process that caps and eventually reduces emissions blamed for heating the Earth.
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Climate Panel to Appoint Committee to Review Its Procedures

The world's leading authority on climate change announced Saturday it is appointing an independent committee to investigate whether it needs to change its procedures to ensure it practices rigorous science.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, beset in recent months by a string of allegations of factual mistakes and improper scientific behavior in the preparation of its high-profile reports, said it will share details of how the independent review will work in early March.
A story in The Wall Street Journal on Friday detailed the IPCC's current effort to resuscitate its reputation and a longstanding tension within the organization between the desire by policy makers for clear, usable conclusions about climate science and the massive complexities of that science, many aspects of which scientists continue to debate.

In the statement, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said that leaders of the United Nations-sponsored organization "stand firmly behind the rigour and robustness" of the IPCC's 2007 report. That report concluded that climate change is "unequivocal" and is "very likely" caused by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activity, notably the burning of fossil fuels.
"But we recognize the criticism that has been leveled at us, and the need to respond," Mr. Pachauri said in the statement.
The IPCC won a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the 2007 report, a prize the organization shared with former Vice President Al Gore. The report helped push climate change to the top of the political agenda in much of the world, including in the U.S., where it intensified discussion in Washington about potential legislation to cap greenhouse-gas emissions. But since late last year, several revelations have raised questions about the IPCC's objectiveness and accuracy in producing its reports.
IPCC leaders, and many scientists, say the disclosures don't call into question the IPCC's fundamental conclusion that human activity is changing the climate. But combined with the recession, which polls suggest has dampened public willingness to spend more for lower-carbon energy, the revelations about the IPCC have intensified calls by some politicians for a slowdown in the push to regulate carbon emissions.
In November, more than 1,000 emails hacked from a prominent U.K. climate-research lab and posted online seemed to show researchers there trying to squelch scientists who challenged their work pointing to a human influence on the climate. The lab, the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, produced extensive research on long-ago temperatures that featured prominently in IPCC reports.
Last month, the IPCC expressed "regret" at what it said was an error in its 2007 report. The report erroneously claimed that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.
In the statement Saturday, Mr. Pachauri said the 2007 IPCC report's "key conclusions are based on an overwhelming body of evidence from thousands of peer-reviewed and independent scientific studies. Most significantly, they rest on multiple lines of analysis and datasets."
IPCC officials discussed the establishment of an independent review committee with government officials in meetings last week in Bali organized by the U.N. Environment Program.
"The mechanism by which such an independent review will take place is under active consideration," Mr. Pachauri said in the statement
Write to Jeffrey Ball at jeffrey.ball@wsj.com

Trade row looms as adviser calls for carbon tax on China

• Lord Turner proposes levy on cheap imports• Tariffs could antagonise developing countries
Tim Webb
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 March 2010 19.49 GMT
Ministers should consider a carbon tax on imports to help struggling British manufacturers, according to one of the government's key advisers, despite fears such a measure could lead to a global trade war.
Lord Turner, who heads the UK committee on climate change, said the government should "rigorously assess" bringing in levies on cheap imports from countries outside the European Union, which are not subject to carbon-related costs such as the EU emissions trading scheme.
Ministers have in the past resisted calls from European counterparts to introduce such carbon levies, arguing they would be anti-competitive. In future, heavy industry such steel and cement manufacturers in the EU will not have to pay for most of their allowances to emit carbon under the trading scheme, unlike other firms taking part. The idea is to protect EU manufacturers and prevent "carbon leakage" – plants being moved to countries which do not have their own trading schemes.
It has emerged that Indian-owned steelmaker Corus, which is closing its Teesside plant, stands to pocket around £250m by selling unused carbon permits. Unions allege that this is why the company does not want to find a buyer for the plant.
Lord Turner said a change of approach was needed. "Business needs a clear and consistent market-based incentive to move towards a low-carbon economy. We can't solve the problem by giving out emission allowances for free as the only option for internationally trading manufacturing sectors. Border carbon-price levelling should not be excluded, but rather subject to rigorous assessment alongside other options."
It is understood that the committee on climate change will review the issue this summer. The government does not have to implement the committee's recommendations, but it must justify any decision not to do so. Turner also backed a report out this week from the Carbon Trust, which recommended imposing carbon tariffs on some imports to the EU.
Gareth Stace, head of climate and environmental policy at manufacturers' organisation EEF, said that such tariffs could help some sectors, such as cement manufacturing. But he warned: "Such border adjustment measures would not be good for trading relationships and would antagonise developing countries, and could hit British exports."
He also said they would be complex to regulate and could encourage more imports of finished goods to the EU, which would not be subject to such tariffs and which could also hit UK manufacturers.

Number of bugs in Britain's soil rises by nearly 50% in 10 years

• Number of invertebrates in soil has increased by 47%• Study shows decrease in diversity underground
Juliette Jowit
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 February 2010 23.24 GMT

Unnoticed by the people of Britain, a transformation has been happening beneath our feet. In the first study of its kind, scientists have analysed the soil the country depends on.
In just the top 8cm (3in) of dirt, soil scientists estimate there are 12.8 quadrillion (12,800 million million) living organisms, weighing 10m tonnes, and, incredibly, that the number of these invertebrates – some just a hair's breadth across – which in effect make the soil has increased by nearly 50% in a decade. At the same time, however, the diversity of life in the earth appears to have reduced.
The most likely reason for both the increase in numbers and the decrease in types is the rise of annual temperatures and rainfall over the decade of the study, leading to warmer, wetter summers, said Professor Bridget Emmett, of the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), who led the study. The scientists' theory is that the warmer, wetter soil encourages most of the bugs to breed faster or for longer, but that more marginal species have been unable to adapt to the new conditions.
They are less certain, however, about whether the changes are a threat or a boon: soil has a relatively high "species redundancy", so there are many species that can do the same job, but all creatures are facing an onslaught of changes such as global warming, pollution and habitat destruction.
"If you look at the soil, most of it comes out of the back end of the animals," said Emmett. She added: "The question is whether we have lost resilience in the soil. Is diversity important for the soil to bounce back after multiple pressures?"
CEH's biggest ever study of Britain's soil is part of the much wider Countryside Survey, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs approximately every decade.
The survey in 2007, whose results have only just been released after two years of analysis, took more than 2,600 samples from different geological and climatic areas across England, Scotland and Wales, and measured them for invertebrates, nutrients, pollutants, acidity and carbon.
In what is thought to be the first national analysis of change in soil bug numbers and types, Emmett's team extrapolated that there were 1.28 x 10 to the power of 16 individual invertebrates, mainly made up of Oligochaetes (small worms), Collembola (springtails) and Acari (mites).
They then made the same calculation as for the previous survey in 1998 and estimated that the number and mass of bugs had increased by 47%, and that the biggest increases by far were in the numbers of mites. The concentration of living things was particularly high in woodland, but the phenomenon appeared in every type of landscape sampled except arable land, probably because of the regular tilling and disruption of their habitat.
Although the study looked at only the top 8cm of soil, the results were likely to cover most active life underground, said Emmett: "In fairness, it's where most of them are: they know where all the carbon and nutrients are concentrated."
The decrease in the variety of species found was much smaller – 11% – and the scientists warn that further research is needed to be sure of the trends, because too little is known about whether climate, pollution and land management affect soil bugs and, if so, how.
Biodiversity helps the soil to cope with future threats from pollution and climate change, and is a "pool from which future novel applications and products can be derived", notes the report.
The beasts below
Oligochaetes: Earthworms and sludge worms There are about 3,500 oligochaetes species, the most familiar member of which is the earthworm. Smaller species – from 1mm to a few centimeteres long – tend to live in the sea or in fresh water, while larger ones – up to 3m in some cases – prefer moist soil. All the species are hermaphrodites and most come to the surface during rainfall to mate. Their importance in mixing and aerating soil led Charles Darwin to write in 1881: "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures."
Acari: Mites and ticksLike their fellow arachnids, the mites and ticks of the acari have eight legs. Predatory mites have sharp senses, but many are sightless. They breathe through their skin and their mouth parts of mites can be shaped for stinging, sawing or sucking. They can be parasites to plants, animals and even humans, to who they may transmit Lyme disease and Q fever.Collembola: SpringtailsThese small, wingless insects, the size of a full stop, can propel themselves by jumping, although they usually crawl. They are one of the most abundant and widespread animals on Earth, living in soil, under the bark of trees, or on water. They feed on decaying vegetable matter but can be a major pest on crops. In one square metre of soil there may be over 10,000 of them, but they are hard to spot with the naked eye. They are among the few insects living in Antarctica.
• This article was amended on Monday 1 March. The headline incorrectly said the number of bugs had doubled. This has been corrected.

Climate scientist admits sending 'awful emails' but denies perverting peer review

In his first public appearance since the beginning of the emails row Phil Jones tells MPs he will be cleared of accusations
David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 March 2010 18.27 GMT
The scientist at the centre of a media storm over global warming research admitted today he had sent "awful emails" but said he expected to be cleared of accusations that he tried to pervert the scientific process.
Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, told a parliamentary inquiry that there was nothing in the hundreds of emails released on to the internet last year that supported the claims.
"I was just commenting that those papers weren't very good," Jones said. "There is nothing that [shows] that me or the CRU were trying to pervert the peer review process in any way."
In his first public appearance since the emails were released in November, Jones faced repeated questions about the way the CRU failed to make publicly available the raw data and computer codes needed to reproduce its work. "It is not standard practice to provide codes and methods," he said. "Perhaps it should be."
He said much of the raw data were available from other sources, such as Nasa, and that there was nothing to stop somebody repeating his calculations and constructing their own temperature records. "There is nothing rocket science in them," he said of his academic publications.
Asked about emails in which Jones refused to share his data with critics, he said: "I've obviously written some really awful emails." But he insisted that the collection of emails made public were "a tenth of one per cent" of his correspondence over the period.
The controversy over the emails, dubbed "climategate" by some, has prompted allegations of scientific misconduct and attempts to keep dissenting findings from scientific journals. It has also raised questions about the validity of the global temperature record used to demonstrate global warming, based on email that scientists used a "trick" to "hide the decline".
Under questions from the committee, prominent climate sceptics Nigel Lawson and Benny Peiser, who represented the Global Warming Policy Foundation, conceded that the use of the word "trick" was innocuous. Lawson said the issue was that the scientists had not disclosed the way they blended several separate data sets into single graph, which he called a "fudge". Jones said this was not true, and the technique was widely discussed in scientific papers.
Lawson and Peiser said they did not think the release of the emails questioned the underlying science of climate change. "This is nothing to do with the basic science, that's not the issue," Lawson said. Peiser said the emails had "tarnished the image of British science around the world".
Jones said some issues raised by the emails, such as an apparent reluctance to comply with Freedom of Information requests, were because the CRU did not have permission to release requested data, which had been supplied by foreign weather services. Several countries, including Sweden, Canada and Poland had refused to allow their information to be supplied, he said.
Former information commissioner Richard Thomas told the committee he could not comment on whether the university had broken the rules, as a recent statement from the information office suggested. But he suggested that there was a stronger case for public disclosure when data had been used to influence public policy, such as in climate science.
Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, told the committee he hoped to announce the chair of a new inquiry, into the scientific findings of the CRU, later this week. The university has already set up a panel to assess the behaviour of Jones and colleagues, which is headed by Sir Muir Russell.
Acton said the university was "longing to publish" the restricted data and had worked with the Met Office to release details. He said he was "puzzled" by the statement from the information office, because no breach of the rules had been established.
In a highly critical written submission to the committee, the Institute of Physics said the emails raised "worrying implications... for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method".
The institute said: "The emails reveal doubts as to the reliability of some of the [temperature] reconstructions and raise questions as to the way in which they have been represented."
It added: "There is also reason for concern at the intolerance to challenge displayed in the emails. This impedes the process of scientific 'self correction', which is vital to the integrity of the scientific process as a whole, and not just to the research itself."
John Beddington, the government's chief scientiific adviser, told the committee the institute's view was "premature" and that they should wait until the Russell inquiry publishes its findings in the spring.
Bob Watson, chief scientist at the environment department Defra said the media have portrayed the email affair as a crisis, but there are no adverse conclusions on the science of global warming. He said it was beyond debate that the climate has changed markedly over the last century.

US Senate's top climate sceptic accused of waging 'McCarthyite witch-hunt'

James Inhofe calls for criminal investigation of climate scientists as senators prepare proposal that would ditch cap and trade

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 March 2010 17.14 GMT

The US Congress's most ardent global warming sceptic is being accused of turning the row over climate science into a McCarthyite witch-hunt by calling for a criminal investigation of scientists.
Climate scientists say Senator James Inhofe's call for a criminal investigation into American as well as British scientists who worked on the UN climate body's report or had communications with East Anglia's climate research unit represents an attempt to silence debate on the eve of new proposals for a climate change law.
Inhofe's document ends by naming 17 "key players" in the controversy about CRU's stolen emails, including the Britons Phil Jones and Keith Briffa.
"I think this is like a drag net, just to try and catch everyone whose name happens to be on this list. It's guilt by association and I thought those days were over 50 years ago," said Michael Oppenheimer, of Princeton University, who is on the list of 17 scientists. "It looks like a McCarthyite tactic: pull in anyone who had anything to do with anyone because they happened to converse with some by email, and threaten them with criminal activity."
Inhofe is also accused of further fuelling a spike in hate mail and politically motivated freedom of information requests in the three months since the emails of climate scientists were stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.
Rick Piltz, a former official in the US government climate science programme who now runs the Climate Science Watch website, said Inhofe and others were getting in the way of scientific work. "Scientists who are working in federal labs are being subjected to inquisitions coming from Congress," he said. "There is no question that this is an orchestrated campaign to intimidate scientists."
Michael Mann, a scientist at Penn State University who is on Inhofe's list of 17, said that he had seen a sharp rise in hostile email since November.
"Some of the emails make thinly veiled threats of violence against me and even my family, and law enforcement authorities have been made aware of the matter," he told the Guardian.
He said the attacks appeared to be a co-ordinated effort. "Some of them look cut-and-paste."
A university investigation largely cleared Mann of misconduct for his connection to the East Anglia controversy. However, a rightwing group in Pennsylvania are demanding further action.
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at Nasa's Goddard Institute who is also on the list of 17, said he had seen an increase in freedom of information act requests. "In my previous six years I dealt with one FoIA request. In the last three months, we have had to deal with I think eight," he said. "These FoIAs are fishing expeditions for potentially embarrassing content but they are not FoIA requests for scientific information."
He said Inhofe's call for a criminal investigation created an atmosphere of intimidation. "The idea very clearly is to let it be known that should you be a scientist who speaks out in public then you will be intimidated, you will be harassed, and you will be threatened," he said. "The idea very clearly is to put a chilling effect on scientists speaking out in public and to tell others to keep their heads down. That kind of intimidation is very reminiscent of other periods in US history where people abused their position."
Other scientists on Inhofe's list of 17 admitted they were disturbed by the threat of criminal prosecution.
"I am worried about it, I have to say," said Raymond Bradley, director of the climate science research centre at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is also on the list of 17. "You can understand that this powerful person is using the power of his office to intimidate people and to harass people and you wonder whether you should have legal counsel. It is a very intimidating thing and that is the point."
Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican on the Senate's environment and public works committee, released a document last week suggesting scientists be investigated for breaking three laws and four government regulations.
The document, produced by members of Inhofe's staff, recycles now familiar sceptic arguments about the stolen emails from East Anglia and the mistakes in the IPCC report.
But climate scientists say the report takes the campaign to a new level by threatening criminal prosecution. The report calls for the inspector generals of all US government agencies touching on the environment to investigate the scientists as a first step to possible prosecution.
"The minority staff of the Senate committee on environment and public works believe the scientists involved violated fundamental ethical principles governing taxpayer-funded research and, in some cases, may have violated federal laws," the report says.
A spokesman for Inhofe rejected the charges of a witch-hunt. But he said a criminal investigation was warranted and that it should not necessarily be limited to the 17 "key players".
"We are not saying that there are 17 scientists we should be calling criminals," said Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Inhofe. "I'm not putting a number on 17."
He added: "The bottom line though is that there was manipulation of data and it appears that they violated a law." "In terms of what these email demonstrate, there are possible criminal violations here with FoIA and other laws."
Senate leaders are expected to release new proposals for action on climate change as early as this week. Environmentalists fear the proposal, crafted by a troika of Democratic, Republican, and Independent senators, would weaken a climate change bill passed by the house last June.
The Washington Post reported at the weekend that the senators could scrap a cap-and-trade bill that was the core of the house bill and bring in more limited measures.

Land management in UK must change to cope with climate change

Britain faces rising water bills, housing shortages and destruction of wildlife unless the way land is managed is completely reformed, scientists have warned.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 6:30AM GMT 26 Feb 2010
Professor John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said sticking with "business as usual" was not an option in the face of pressures such as climate change and population increases over the next 50 years.
The Foresight report on the future of land use said addressing these major challenges would need a strategic and integrated approach, rather than the fragmented policies of the past.

Land is also likely to come under pressure from an increasingly wealthy population to provide more living space and recreation, and the need to produce food and green energy - from wind farms to fuels made from crops - to meet targets on renewables.
Pressure on land and the resources it provides is expected to be particularly acute in the South East, where population is expected to grow most but where water is most scarce and most of the best farmland is found.
In the coming years, changes to the climate including warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers will affect water supplies, increase the need to manage land for flood risk and could damage wildlife and habitats such as ancient woodland.
At the same time, the need to meet EU targets to boost renewable energy and fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through managing soils and forests will also require innovative ways of looking after the land.
Currently, contrary to popular belief, just 10% of land in England is developed - with half of that made up of gardens - while 12% of the UK is forest and woodland and three quarters is farmed.
The report found that, until now, measures to look after the land had managed to contain urban sprawl, ensure there was enough for food production, provided green spaces and preserved beautiful landscapes.
But in the future, a failure to manage land in a joined-up way could result in shortages of resources and "public goods" such as water, wildlife and urban green space, it warned.
Prof Beddington said: "Over the next 50 years we cannot manage land in the way we've done.
"We've got too many competing issues, so much change going on and we need to get much smarter about how we manage land as we go on. Business as usual is not an option."
Options for managing the land in a more joined-up way in the future include incentive schemes for landowners to provide services such as flood storage, water supplies wildlife protection and access for people to enjoy the great outdoors.
Prof Beddington warned: "Without being smart about how land is used, we risk missing targets, such as halting biodiversity loss.
"The effects of climate change and new pressures on land could escalate, seriously eroding quality of life."
Prof Mark Tewdwr-Jones, who was involved in the report, said a new approach was needed, including establishing clear objectives for what the land should be for and how to manage changes to its use.
There should also be a transparent way of making decisions at a national, regional and local level, with a balance between local views and wider concerns.
And better ways should be found to value land for all the benefits it provides - including those, such as clean water supplies and wildlife conservation, on which it is hard to put a price tag.
But the researchers said it was up to the Government to decide how to develop a joined up approach to managing land, across different departments, which would meet the challenges the UK faces.

New home owners forced to 'pay for previous occupant's green loan'

Home owners would be forced to pay for solar panels fitted by previous occupants, under new government green plans to be unveiled this week.

By Andrew Hough, and Louise GrayPublished: 7:30AM GMT 01 Mar 2010

Under the plans, expected to be announced on Tuesday, loans for installing renewable energy would be fixed to a specific home rather than the owner.
As part of the “pay as you save green loans” scheme, home owners would then be able to install solar panels and cavity wall insulation, Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is expected to say

On Sunday night, the housing industry said it could lead to some people not being able to sell their home as potential buyers may baulk at the prospect of paying for a loan they did not agree to.
The pay as you save scheme, where households pay back the cost of insulation or other energy efficiency measures over time through savings on their fuel bill, is already been trialed as part of a £4 million pilot.
Banks and some supermarkets are currently in talks to help fund the scheme.
The Government is expected to roll out the scheme across the country and also introduce legislation so that loans can be attached to the home rather than the owner.
This allows people to invest in more expensive renewable energy projects like solar panels without having to worry about moving house.
Forcing a new homeowner to inherit the annual charge would “dismantle the financial barriers and upfront costs faced by people in making their homes more energy efficient”, ministers believe.
The government believes many British householders want to reduce their carbon emissions but are concerned about the upfront cost of installing insulation, solar panels or ground source heat pumps.
It is estimated that installing solar panels on a roof costs about £10,000 and about a decade to pay off.
The government is grappling with how to allow people to save on their bills, with figures showing the average homeowner moves every nine to 12 years, meaning people are not able to see their investment pay off.
“Helping people save energy at home can make it easier and cheaper to keep homes warm and appliances running,” Mr Miliband will say.
“It is also the best way to cut our carbon emissions. This new approach will allow people to pay for home improvements after they have had them installed rather than before.
“More people will be able to get the work they want done. That means less energy used which is good for the environment and lower bills which is good for families, particularly when we have cold weather like we did this winter.”
Gary Smith, President of the National Association of Estate Agents, said it would make buying and selling houses even more difficult as the country comes out of recession.
"I think it could have a detrimental effect on the housing market. Just the principle of attaching a loan to the property complicates things unnecessarily and it interferes with the free market value of the house," he said.
Greg Clark, the Conservatives energy spokesman, said the proposals were first raised by the Opposition months ago.
The Tories scheme would not guarantee loans against the house but link it to payments on the energy bill, meaning it would not affect the housing market in the same way.
"It would not be a debt attached to the home, we would pay it off over time through the electricity bill,” he said.
“It makes sense to attach the cost of it to the fuel bill and pay it back over time.”
The government has already announced a green energy cashback scheme that the feed-in tariff pays home owners for any electricity generated that is fed into the grid.

Prof Phil Jones, climate scientist, admits sending ‘awful’ e-mails

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

The integrity of climate change research is in doubt after the disclosure of e-mails that attempt to suppress data, a leading scientific institute has said.
The Institute of Physics said that e-mails sent by Professor Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, had broken “honourable scientific traditions” about disclosing raw data and methods and allowing them to be checked by critics.
Professor Jones admitted to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee yesterday that he had “written some very awful e-mails”, including one in which he rejected a request for information on the ground that the person receiving it might criticise his work.
In a written submission to the committee, the institute said that, assuming the e-mails were genuine, “worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context”.

The e-mails contained “prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law”, it added.
The institute said that it was concerned by suggestions in the e-mails that Professor Jones and other scientists had worked together to prevent alternative views on global warming from being published. It said: “The e-mails illustrate the possibility of networks of like-minded researchers effectively excluding newcomers.”
The institute said that doubts about the veracity of climate science could be overcome if scientists were required to make all their data “electronically accessible for all at the time of publication [of their reports]”.
Professor Jones stood down from his post during an independent inquiry into allegations that he manipulated data and attempted to evade legitimate requests for data under the Freedom of Information Act.
The committee did not ask him about several of the most damaging e-mails he had sent, including one in which he asked a colleague to delete information that had been requested. The committee had been asked not to press him too closely because he was close to a nervous breakdown.
Professor Jones denied that he had tried to prevent alternative views being published by influencing the process of peer review under which scientific papers are scrutinised.
He said: “I don’t think there is anything in those e-mails that supports any view that I have been trying to pervert the peer review process . . .” He added that it “hasn’t been standard practice” in climate science for all data to be disclosed.
Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Conservative Chancellor and a leading climate sceptic, said that those who wanted to check the university’s research should not have been forced to resort to making requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
He said: “Proper scientists, scientists of integrity, wish to reveal all of their data and all of their methods. They don’t need freedom of information requests to force it out of them.”

Green fuels cause more harm than fossil fuels, according to report

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Using fossil fuel in vehicles is better for the environment than so-called green fuels made from crops, according to a government study seen by The Times.
The findings show that the Department for Transport’s target for raising the level of biofuel in all fuel sold in Britain will result in millions of acres of forest being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations. The study, likely to force a review of the target, concludes that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission.
Under the standard, each litre of biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with burning a litre of fossil fuel. Yet the study shows that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations. Rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.
The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation this year requires 3¼ per cent of all fuel sold to come from crops. The proportion is due to increase each year and by 2020 is required to be 13 per cent. The DfT commissioned E4tech, a consultancy, to investigate the overall impact of its biofuel target on forests and other undeveloped land.

The EC has conducted its own research, but is refusing to publish the results. A leaked internal memo from the EC’s agriculture directorate reveals its concern that Europe’s entire biofuels industry, which receives almost £3 billion a year in subsidies, would be jeopardised if indirect changes in land use were included in sustainability standards. A senior official added to the memo in handwriting: “An unguided use of ILUC [indirect land use change] would kill biofuels in the EU.”
The EC hopes to protect its biofuel target by issuing revised standards that would give palm plantations the same status as natural forests. Officials appear to have accepted arguments put forward by the palm oil industry that palms are just another type of tree.
A draft of the new rules, obtained by The Times, states that palm oil should be declared sustainable if it comes from a “continuously forested area”, which it defines as areas where trees can reach at least heights of 5m, making up crown cover of more than 30 per cent. “This means, for example, that a change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the criterion,” it adds.
Clearing rainforest for biofuel plantations releases carbon stored in trees and soil. It takes up to 840 years for a palm oil plantation to soak up the carbon emitted when the rainforest it replaced was burnt. The expansion of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has turned it into the third-largest CO2 emitter, after China and the US. Indonesia loses an area of forest the size of Wales every year and the orang-utan is on the brink of extinction in Sumatra.
Last year, 127 million litres of palm oil was added to diesel sold to motorists in Britain, including 64 million litres from Malaysia and 27 million litres from Indonesia. Kenneth Richter, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “The billions of subsidy for biofuels would be better spent on greener cars and improved public transport.”