Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Gardeners urged to stop using peat-based compost

Extraction releases huge amounts of CO2 into atmosphere
By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The star of the BBC's Gardeners' World has been drafted in by the Government as they try to persuade the public to stop using peat compost.
Ministers hope that Diarmuid Gavin will help them convince gardeners to stop using peat, which is present in almost half of all compost sold by garden centres.
Yesterday the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn announced a new target to phase out the use of peat compost in amateur gardens by 2020 but shied away from imposing a ban, provoking criticism from members of wildlife groups who said that ministers should have taken stronger action years ago.
In 1999 the Government aimed to eliminate peat from all but 10 per cent of compost by 2010, but it is still present in 46 per cent of the compost sold in Britain. Its extraction in the UK not only disturbs rare wildlife but also releases an estimated million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
Around 70 per cent of peat is used in horticulture, much by amateur gardeners who have long considered it the best way of encouraging plant growth. It is rich in nutrients, being made up of partially decomposed plant material that has not decayed fully because of local conditions.
In northern Europe, peat is being extracted quicker than it is renewed on moors and bogs. Some 38 per cent of peat sold here comes from the UK, with 56 per cent coming from Ireland and 6 per cent from the Baltic states.
Launching the campaign at Kew Gardens in west London yesterday, Mr Benn said: "Amateur gardeners are by far the biggest users of peat, using over 2 million cubic metres each year. Our research shows us that gardeners often don't realise the damage that peat extraction causes or that the compost they're buying contains peat."
The launch was backed by Mr Gavin, who said: "Using peat-free products in the home and garden is one of the simplest yet most effective ways that people can make a positive environmental impact and reduce their carbon footprint. For most uses in the garden, for example, pots, growbags, hanging baskets, digging into or tidying up flowerbeds, peat-free alternatives are just as good as peat-based compost, and they don't lead to the loss of our valuable peat bogs."
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will hold talks with retailers this summer about how they can meet their 2020 target.
But a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds criticised Mr Benn's plans, saying that they were not ambitious enough. Dr Mark Avery, the group's director of conservation, said that peat would still be used in private gardens in 10 years' time, and that the proposals would not affect commercial growers, who account for a third of peat use. Representatives from the RSPB and other environmental organisations are due to meet Defra ministers tomorrow to discuss their concerns.
Dr Avery said: "The Government has missed the chance for an easy win in the fight against climate change. Using peat in gardens releases a million tonnes of CO2 every year. Removing it from composts and grow-bags would cut those emissions at a stroke and would be the same as taking about 350,000 cars off the road. It would also help end the destruction of our precious peat bogs and the loss of birds, plants and insects that rely on them."
Peat compost: The alternatives
*Peat is not necessary to grow most plants. A Which? survey this year found that alternative composts performed better than peat for growing potatoes and flowers in pots.
*Alternatives include bark, green compost, wood waste, wood fibre and coir. Defra acknowledges peat is best for some "very specialist uses and plants", such as carnivorous plants native to peat bogs and some ericaceous plants native to moorlands, but advises gardeners to use peat-free compost for all main garden uses. It offers advice at

Alien v predator: moth out to kill Japanese knotweed

Chosen insect feeds on invasive species but not other closely related plants and crops

The Guardian, Tuesday 9 March 2010

Biological warfare is to be declared on an alien invader, Japanese knotweed, that swamps gardens and rivers, with the release of an insect to eat the virulent weed.
The decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the first allowing one non-native species, a flying insect resembling a miniature moth, to control the seemingly unstoppable spread of an alien plant.

Huw Irranca-Davies on introducing an insect predator to attack Japanese knotweed Link to this audio
However, it is likely to cause concern among wildlife lovers because of a long history of human interventions in the natural world ending in failure, and sometimes causing worse problems than the original, as with the cane toad in Australia.
In a public consultation by Defra last year about 20 responses opposed the scheme, though 42 were in favour.
The wildlife minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, said the fast-growing Japanese knotweed was estimated to cost £150m a year to control, and was able to grow through buildings and roads.
Fallopia japonica has also been blamed for flooding, by causing erosion to river banks and clogging up streams with dead plants.
"This project is not only ground-breaking, it offers real hope that we can redress the balance," said Irranca-Davies.
Experts estimated in 2003 that it would cost £1.5bn to fund a physical clearance campaign for Japanese knotweed.
Laboratory tests were started on pests from Japan which control the knotweed by feeding on sap from its stems, causing the plant to die back.
The tests showed the chosen Aphalara itadori did not eat any other species, including closely related British plants and important crops.
The psyllids – or plant-jumping lice, which grows to only 2-2.5mm – will be released at two sites initially, under close supervision.
If these outdoor trials are a success the trials will be extended to another six sites, none of which Defra will disclose.
The concept is similar to biological pest control practised by some farmers, using predator insects to control crop pests. The non-native predatory beetle Rhizophagus grandis was also released in Britain under licence in the mid-1980s to tackle the invasive alien spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus micans).
On conservation and wildlife internet forums, opponents of the idea said they feared the impact on other native wildlife, for example species that might start feeding on the psyllids. One blogger compared the risk to the traditional nursery rhyme "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly" in reference to the long pursuit of one animal to destroy another – ending in the lady swallowing a horse: "She's dead of course." The Global Invasive Species Programme said that despite a few well-known failures, a third of biological control programmes to tackle pests and weeds were judged successes, and the system was often considered more "permanent, efficient, environmentally sustainable and relatively cheap" than using chemicals or mechanical removal.
"While there are some risks, which still may be considered by some to be unacceptable, biological control is increasingly viewed as being the preferred management strategy for invasive species, wherever possible, and in the case of biological weed control specifically, it has an enviable safety record," said Sarah Simons, Gisp's executive director.
Japanese knotweed, which is native to Japan, Taiwan and China, was introduced by botanists into Britain in the 19th century as an ornamental plant. It grows at up to a metre a month, and a fragment of just 0.8 grams can grow into a new plant. Invasive predators have become a global problem and are among the top causes of global species threats and extinctions according to conservation experts.
The Royal Horticultural Society suggests gardeners destroy knotweed using glyphosate-based weed-killers or by digging out the roots and cutting back regrowth, however it warns that the process can take several seasons. Experts stress that uprooted plants must be destroyed carefully to avoid spreading. "Eradication requires steely determination," says the RHS.

The ecological case for ebooks

Should you be getting an e-reader for the planet's sake? I'd always thought not, but a new study has made me think again
The recent announcement that Foyles are soon to launch the bebook is further proof (as if any were needed) that the e-reader bandwagon is well and truly rolling. News that the New York Times book review will soon be available in e-reader format, meanwhile, also points the way to an increasingly interesting future for what we used to know as the "print industry".
The ability to buy something I wouldn't be able to get in a better format elsewhere (so long as the UK remains starved of the glory of the Sunday NYT delivery) even makes me think I might possibly find a use for an e-reader. Up until now, they've struck me as less pleasant than books, far more problematic in terms of copyright theft and – at least for personal use – rather decadent. They're a big computer that can only read books and so, I've always assumed, a waste of resources. But a bit of research has led me to question even that assumption.
I've only managed to find one report – on the Kindle (by The Cleantech Group) – but it backs up suggestions that so long as e-readers are used as book replacements rather than supplements, they soon start to pay back in carbon terms. The report states that a book uses up "approximately 7.46 kilograms of CO2 over its lifetime" and that the Kindle produces "roughly 168 kg" during its lifecycle, making it "a clear winner against the potential savings: 1,074 kg of CO2 if replacing three books a month for four years; and up to 26,098 kg of CO2 when used to the fullest capacity of the Kindle."
There are still problems. Crucially, the report states: "Amazon declined to provide information about its manufacturing process or carbon footprint" – so we're still really dealing with educated guesswork. I was also curious about whether the report has taken into account the role of books as "carbon sinks". My theory was that books last a long time before they are destroyed – often longer than their source trees ... And even when they aren't furnishing rooms they have a useful second life under the floor of motorways and similar.
When I contacted the author of the report, senior research analyst Emma Ritch, she said: "While some of the carbon stored in the forest will remain stored in paper, the majority will be emitted into the atmosphere. There is a significant amount of carbon stored in the soil, the roots of harvested trees, the usable saplings and other understory vegetation. These release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere when they decay, or when they are burned as energy sources for the pulp mill."
So it seems I'm – literally – barking up the wrong tree. Even wood sourced from sustainable forests uses a lot of energy (not to mention water) when it is being processed, and yet more when transported afterwards. (Books are heavy, after all.) Ritch also made the point that textbooks are often updated – and so become obsolete – every couple of years, showing another clear advantage to ebook readers. There are also plusses for academics ploughing through multiple journals and probably even for professional book reviewers.
However, I parted company with Ritch's positive view of e-readers when she suggested a further advantage: "the consumer who purchases an ebook often has the rights to use it on five or more devices, meaning multiple users within a household would not have to purchase multiple physical versions of a book." I'd actually view that as a problem, as far as fiction goes. Five or more devices probably gives the ebook a lifespan of little more than 10 years if my experience with such machines is anything to go by – and that's if you don't share it. A book (so long as it stays together) can be shared with hundreds of people over hundreds of years.
I also have concerns about the supply side. There's no information available about the energy required to run Amazon's "whispernet" and it's hard to work out the amount involved in supplying other books for download. The internet is too often thought of as a cost-free resource in carbon terms – but it's recently been suggested that Google alone produces as much as some nation states. Ritch suggested a good comparison would be that "a physical book purchased by a person driving to the bookstore creates twice the emissions of a book purchased online." But of course, that depends on someone driving rather than walking to the shop.
Nevertheless, I'm part-way convinced. There are clear advantages to using e-readers in schools and academe. At home, I'm less sure – especially when you factor in side-issues such as the toxicity of the heavy metals used in ebook readers and their batteries. I also hesitate because the devices are so new we still know little about how they're used.
Here, I'm hoping an informal survey here might shed more light. So tell me: if you own an e-reader, how often do you use it? (Have you for instance topped off the 22.5 books The Cleantech Group require to break even with traditional books in carbon terms?) Are you buying fewer books? How long does your battery last? Have you had to replace it? Do these carbon savings seem realistic to you? And has that influenced your decision to buy one?
I'd also be curious to know if other ebook agnostics are likely to be converted by the idea that they could be more environmentally friendly. I know it makes me waver. But then again, won't an iPad be more useful? Even if that does mean my reading could be interrupted by emails … And you can't throw the thing across the room when whatever you're reading gets too annoying …

Save the planet. But maybe not right now

Doomsaying precludes the possibility of ingenious solutions – and indicates a morbid vanity that we must be the saviours

Martin Wainwright, Wednesday 10 March 2010 09.30 GMT
Isn't it welcome to have Ian McEwan as an advocate for a little optimism in the climate change debate? His hope, expressed in his new novel Solar, that humanity will prove ingenious enough to solve the problem through the skill of coming generations is a welcome change from those who portray our descendants as helpless victims of our "excess".
Their injunctions to "save the world for our children and grandchildren" fly in the face of history, which repeatedly shows how progress – from the wheel to the internet – transforms the world picture as time marches on. The doom brigade has its moments, such as the collapse of the classical world in Europe, the Black Death and the first world war, but they are exceptions to learn from. And we have learned.
Not to the extent of mastering clairvoyancy, however. Like miserabilism, a constant in human behaviour is the inability of Today to successfully imagine Tomorrow. The archive of prophecy and science fiction contains some good guesses, but in general the seers get it wrong. Which of my grandparents, addressing me in the 1950s, could possibly have foreseen today's IT? Which of my grandparents' grandparents had a notion of the bicycle or national parks?
This is true of scientists as much as of the more general type of wise person. Science is too often mistakenly treated in the way that history was by those 19th-century Germans who thought that one day the whole truth could be set down. Certainty is not absolute. Scientists are ambushed by novelty – see Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, Einstein – as often as the rest of us.
None of this is to argue against the risks of global warming or prudence in facing them. It is to warn against vanity, in the form of the exaggerated belief that it is all down to our generation: here, now, hurry, rush. It's also an appeal against pessimism, because of the limitations glumness places on the very potential which, odds-on, will prove the planet's salvation.
A writer in the Economist's most recent green supplement made this point neatly by questioning assumptions (rather reminiscent of Catholic dogma in Galileo's day) that spending the world's limited resources on Tomorrow rather than Today is necessarily morally right. The Economist's writer said: "Since future generations will probably be much richer than we are, it makes no more sense for us to sacrifice our wellbeing for them than it would to expect 18th-century peasants to go without gruel so we can buy more computers."
That is the sort of sally that deserves a wide hearing. If we stall Today's wonderful spread of international knowledge, travel and general prosperity, we risk a future like Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, where unknown Miltons remain mute and inglorious and village Darwins never get further than their shacks.

South African tourism minister nominated for top UN climate job

Marthinus van Schalkwyk is a candidate to take over from United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer, who announced his resignation last month

Damian Carrington and agencies, Monday 8 March 2010 16.48 GMT
The South African president's office today announced the nomination of its tourism minister for the United Nations' top climate post.
The office said Marthinus van Schalkwyk is a candidate to lead the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The current post holder, Yvo de Boer, announced his resignation in February and will step down on 1 July to take up a post with consultancy firm KPMG.
Van Schalkwyk was South Africa's former minister for environmental affairs and tourism until May 2009, when the ministry was split. He succeeded former South African president FW de Klerk as leader of the National party in 1997 and presided over its dissolution and merger with the ruling African National Congress in 2005.
De Boer and others have stated that a binding global deal to tackle climate change will not be reached this year at the main annual UNFCCC event in December. That elevates the importance of the 2011 meeting, which will be held in South Africa, perhaps boosting van Schalkwyk's chances.
But there will be other candidates. Reports from India suggest that the environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, is supporting the candidacy of environment secretary, Vijai Sharma, who is also said to have the support of China. Alongside Brazil, India, China and South Africa - also known as the Basic group of nations - were seen to be the key drivers behind the Copenhagen accord, the weak agreement that emerged from the last UN climate summit in December.
The appointment is made by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, from a private shortlist, which he discusses with representatives from around the world.

UK import emissions are the highest in Europe, figures show

Study finds 253m tonnes of CO2 are released annually in the manufacture of products bound for UK shores - mostly in the developing world

Ian Sample, science correspondent, Monday 8 March 2010 20.00 GMT
Britain's demand for imported goods is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions abroad than any other European country, according to a new study published today.
The report shows that 253m tonnes of carbon dioxide are released overseas each year in the manufacture of products bound for UK shores, the equivalent of 4.3 tonnes per person. The average Briton's carbon footprint is 9.7 tonnes, not including emissions from goods.
Only the US and Japan have higher emissions linked to their imports, at 699m tonnes and 284m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year respectively, the study found.
The majority of the emissions are released in rapidly industrialising parts of the developing world, such as China and India.
The study, by scientists at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in California, highlights the unresolved issue of responsibility for carbon dioxide that is released to make products for foreign markets.
Under the Kyoto protocol, emission targets apply to the country where the gases are produced. But China has so far resisted binding emissions targets, as it does not accept responsibility for emissions associated with making goods that are exported to wealthy nations.
Previous studies, by the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research last year and Oxford University in 2007, have found that the UK is "outsourcing" much of its carbon emissions for the manufacture of goods to China.
For this study, Steven Davis and Ken Caldeira used published data on international trade from 2004 to build up a picture of how goods moved between 113 countries or regions and 57 industrial sectors, including machinery, vehicles, chemicals and food. By allocating carbon emissions to products and sources, they calculated the net emissions linked to countries imports and exports.
"Instead of looking at carbon dioxide emissions only in terms of what is released inside our borders, we also looked at the amount of carbon dioxide released during the production of the things that we consume," said Caldeira.
Over one-third of the carbon emissions linked to goods used in many European countries were actually released in developing countries, the study shows. Imports to Germany and France were responsible for 233m tonnes and 170m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions abroad respectively. Switzerland "outsourced" more than half of its carbon dioxide emissions, according to the report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Just like the electricity you use in your home, we found that products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan and the US cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China," said Davis. Nearly one-quarter of China's annual carbon dioxide emissions, some 1.4bn tonnes, come from the manufacture of products and services that are ultimately exported, the report adds.
Jan Minx, an expert in environmental economics at the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, said the study's system of attributing emissions - based on which country's consumption causes emissions rather than the country where the emissions are released - can help identify when international agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions are being undermined. Some countries, the UK included, are increasingly becoming service-based economies, but they still import goods from countries that rely heavily on fossil fuels and have no binding emissions targets. "It's not intentional, but it can have a detrimental effect on international agreements," Minx said.
Obliging countries to cut carbon emissions beyond their national borders is fraught with political and practical difficulties, but this should not stop import-related emissions being taken into consideration in negotiations to cut emissions, Minx said. "It's most feasible for a country to reduce emissions on their own territory, but this kind of accounting system can provide extra information for policymakers," he added.
Adopting such an accounting system for greenhouse gas emissions could be fairer to developing countries, such as China and India, which rely heavily on fossil fuels to manufacture products for wealthy foreigners, the researchers said.
"Apart from an opportunity to inform effective climate policy, consumption-based accounting of emissions provides grounding for ethical arguments that the most developed countries - as the primary beneficiaries of emissions and with greater ability to pay - should lead the global mitigation effort," the authors write.

The 'waterless' washing machine that could save you money

New machine by Xeros cleans clothes with beads and a tiny amount of water and may cut household bills by 30%

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Tuesday 9 March 2010 16.16 GMT

"Dry" cleaning is set to become a domestic activity with a washing machine that uses 90% less water than a normal laundry cycle and could be available by the end of 2011. The device, developed by Leeds-based Xeros Ltd, replaces water with tiny plastic beads that suck up stains and its producers claim it will shift stubborn pounds from household energy bills as well.
The Xeros process uses 3mm-long nylon beads that can get into all the crevices and folds of clothing and can also be re-used hundreds of times. The beads flood the machine's drum once the clothes are wet and the humidity is at the right level. After the washing cycle is complete, the beads drain away in the same way as water in a conventional machine.
The chief executive of Xeros, Bill Westwater, said: "The net saving in water, detergent and electricity and including the cost of the beads, we calculate, is about a 30% cost saving for the user." He claims the machine has been tested successfully on a range of fabrics stained with everything from mud, red wine and curry stains to ink from ballpoint pens.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, just under one-third of household energy is used to heat water. Laundry washing also accounts for 15% of all household water consumption; meaning if everyone in the UK converted from normal washing to the Xeros system, the carbon emissions saved would be the equivalent of taking 1.4 m cars off the roads. Another perk of the device is that it should allow many delicates to be "dry" cleaned at home.
Xeros has already received research and development funding from Yorkshire Forward and has just returned from a government-sponsored "Clean and Cool" trade mission to the United States, aimed at securing investment from venture capitalists in Silicon Valley in California.
The idea for polymer-based cleaning came from Stephen Burkinshaw, a polymer chemist at Leeds University who spent 30 years working out how to improve the dyeing of plastics used in fabrics. A few years ago he realised that the stains on clothes acted in a similar way to dyes, and he wondered if he could use plastics to attract away the stains.
After experimenting with a range of plastics, he settled on nylon. Thanks to a natural property of the material, nylon beads attract stains to their surface and, in 100% humidity, the molecular structure of the plastic becomes amorphous, so the stains diffuse into the centre of the beads. "Not only are you able to suck the stain off the clothes, you're also able to ensure there's no deposition back onto the clothes," said Westwater.
When the beads are at the end of their life, saturated with dirt and stains, they can be collected and recycled into, for example, dashboards for cars. Eventually Westwater wants to design a closed-loop recycling system for his washing machines, where saturated beads can be refreshed and re-used in Xeros machines.
Westwater has already built a prototype washing machine and aims to have a product ready for the commercial laundry market by the end of next year, with a consumer version coming to market shortly afterwards. "There is more of a technical challenge [in development] as you compact the system. But it's not just about that - there's also consumer inertia. For millenia, people have been washing their clothes with water and a bit of detergent and suddenly we're coming along and saying that most of that water can be replaced by these beads. That's a big leap in the consumers' minds."
Claire Cunningham, a spokesperson for the government-backed Technology Strategy Board, said Xeros had an "interesting and innovative product" and the environmental and financial savings were of particular interest when it was selected to take part, along with the 18 other British clean technology companies, in the Clean and Cool trade mission.

New generation of nuclear in doubt

Ambitious plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations across Britain will fail because of a lack of skills and funding, engineers have warned.

By Louise GrayPublished: 7:30AM GMT 10 Mar 2010

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMech) said the UK needs to have the first new nuclear power stations up and running by the end of this decade to avoid the lights going out.
However a lack of skilled engineers, delays in the planning process and a shortage in funds mean the building programme is in danger of stalling.
IMech called on ministers to invest in training programmes for nuclear engineers and speed up planning by identifying areas where power stations could be built.
Taxpayers will have to effectively provide a subsidy for the industry by either guaranteeing loans to the nuclear industry or setting a minimum price for carbon.
However a seminar of environment and industry experts meeting in Westminster will question whether the new generation of nuclear should go ahead.
Ministers want up to 11 new nuclear power stations to be built in Britain over the next 15 years in order to provide energy and cut carbon emissions.
But each power stations will cost up to £5 billion and need up a workforce of up to 10,000. In the past the planning process has dragged on for years.
The IMech report calls for a “floor price” for the carbon permit that coal and gas generators have to buy to cover their emissions, this would make nuclear more competitive but ultimately the extra cost for fossil fuels over the short term will be passed onto energy bills. Alternatively a loan guarantee would encourage investment in nuclear but would mean the taxpayers pay if Government has to bail the industry out.
Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at IMech, said energy bills will need to rise to pay for new energy sources over the next decade and nuclear is among the cheaper options.
"For the nuclear energy sector to have the confidence to invest tens of billions in new plants or technologies, it will need strong and binding commitment, delivered in actions that will last," he said.
However Dr Paul Dorfman, an expert on nuclear at Warwick University and former government adviser, said nuclear will provide only four per cent of total energy – and could cost billions to clear up.
"The key problem is locking in vast amounts of money at a time when the public purse is running short of cash into one particular essentially high risk technology at the risk of endangering other more sustainable technologies."

David Cameron's environmentalism will succeed where Labour's failed

Big Government environmentalism hasn't worked. But David Cameron's market-driven solutions will be effective in saving the planet, write Ben Caldecott and Gavin Dick.

By Ben Caldecott and Gavin DickPublished: 6:07AM GMT 10 Mar 2010

Left-wingers have colonised green politics for decades. Despite having the best of intentions, their policies failed and the environmental threats we now face are too serious to be left to them. That’s why David Cameron’s greening of the Conservative Party is so welcome.
Some claim that the party’s focus on the environment is a recent conversion. In fact, it is a homecoming. The Tories have a long and proud history of environmental preservation. Benjamin Disraeli, just like Mr Cameron, reasoned that Conservatives were natural stewards of the environment, keen to conserve its vitality and pass its benefits and beauty on to future generations. He faced grumbles from some and protest from others, but pressed on, confident that prioritising the environment was not just good for his party, but good for Britain.

It was Disraeli’s government that put the River Pollution Prevention Act into law in 1876, to prevent the dumping of raw sewage into Britain’s rivers. It proved seminal, influencing environmental legislation well into the 20th century. Likewise, it was a Conservative government that rid London of pea-soup smog with the Clean Air Act. It was the Tories who introduced the green belt across England to preserve our countryside in the 1950s. And it was Margaret Thatcher who was the first international leader to speak to the UN General Assembly on the dangers of climate change. She argued that we are “the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself – preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder”.
Conservatives understand why it is important to conserve, to live within our means and not run up a vast debt – be it financial or ecological, to pass on to future generations. They have also always understood the importance of security. Today, climate instability, the break-down of ecosystems, population movement and resource conflict all pose serious threats to the safety of Britain’s people, our Armed Forces and our economy.
That is why the Conservative Environment Network, which launches today, has been formed. We are determined to support the current environmental leadership the Conservative Party is showing and to make the case to other Conservatives who may not recognise our Party’s proud environmental heritage.
The public has had enough of Left’s preference for tax, regulation, government interference and penalties. But there is the positive agenda – of socially empowering and market-driven solutions – that Mr Cameron’s 21st-century green conservatism can advocate. In a world of emptying oceans, disappearing forests, depleting aquifers, eroding soils, a warming atmosphere and an ever-increasing human population, the stakes are too high to ignore.
Ben Caldecott and Gavin Dick are among the founders of the Conservative Environment Network

Two new sites for eco-towns

Two more councils are planning to build eco-towns under Government plans to roll out the controversial project.

By Louise GrayPublished: 7:30AM GMT 10 Mar 2010
John Healey, the housing minister, has already given the go-ahead for four local authorities to build environmentally friendly settlements and a further nine locations are developing plans.
Now two more councils in South Hampshire and East Devon are developing proposals.

To qualify as an eco-town, a development must have 5,000 homes – at least 30 per cent of which are affordable to those on low incomes – and contain low-carbon services and energy supplies.
The Government's aim is to build 10 eco-towns by 2020.
Mr Healey has already granted £10 million to help councils develop their plans for eco-towns.
He also announced a further £10 million to help councils develop renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, install electric car charging points and update planning procedures to protect the environment
.“We know we need greener, renewable energy if we are to meet our ambitious low carbon targets. We also know that the ways and means for people to access this energy needs to be quicker and easier.
“The tougher, better guidelines for planning give councils a new blueprint, reflecting the latest targets and ensuring councils put combating climate change at the heart of future development – ultimately saving people money on their bills and reducing emissions," he said.

‘Gribble’ marine pest may be key to biofuel breakthrough, say scientists

Home staff

A marine pest could be the key to a biofuel breakthrough, say scientists. Gribble, which resemble pink woodlice, plagued seafarers for centuries by boring through the planks of ships and destroying wooden piers.
But now environmental scientists are taking a keen interest in the crustaceans.
A team of British researchers has learnt that gribble have a gift for digesting wood not seen in any other animal.
Enzymes produced by the tiny creatures are able to break down woody cellulose and turn it into energy-rich sugars meaning that gribble could convert wood and straw into liquid biofuel.

A gribble-like processing plant could make sugars from woody raw material that can be fermented into alcohol-based fuels for vehicle engines.
Researchers at the universities of York and Portsmouth made the discovery after carrying out an extensive study of digestive genes from the gribble species Limnoria quadripunctata.
They found the crustacean’s long digestive tract is dominated by enzymes that attack cellulose and lignin, the normally indigestible material in woody plant tissue.
The results of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was made possible by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, a £26 million network of expert groups looking at bioenergy.
Duncan Eggar, the BBSRC’s Bioenergy Champion, said: “The world needs to quickly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and sustainably produced bioenergy offers the potential to rapidly introduce liquid transport fuels into our current energy mix.”

UN to review errors made by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

The United Nations is to announce an independent review of errors made by its climate change advisory body in an attempt to restore its credibility.
A team of the world’s leading scientists will investigate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and ask why its supposedly rigorous procedures failed to detect at least three serious overstatements of the risk from global warming.
The review will be overseen by the InterAcademy Council, whose members are drawn from the world’s leading national science academies, including Britain’s Royal Society, the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The review will be led by Robbert Dijkgraaf, co-chairman of the Interacademy Council and president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He has been asked to investigate the internal processes of the IPCC and will not consider the overarching question of whether it was right to claim that human activities were very likely to be causing global warming.
The review, which will be announced in New York by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General, and Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, is expected to recommend stricter checking of sources and much more careful wording to reflect the uncertainties in many areas of climate science.
The IPCC’s most glaring error was a claim that all Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Most glaciologists believe it would take another 300 years for the glaciers to melt at the present rate.
It also claimed that global warming could cut rain-fed North African crop production by up to 50 per cent by 2020. A senior IPCC contributor has since admitted that there is no evidence to support this claim.
The Dutch Government has asked the IPCC to correct its claim that more than half the Netherlands is below sea level. The environment ministry said that only 26 per cent of the country was below sea level.
The allegations about climate scientists are believed to have contributed to a sharp rise in public scepticism about climate change. Last month an opinion poll found that the proportion of the population that believes climate change is an established fact and largely man-made has fallen from 41 per cent in November to 26 per cent.
The Met Office, which produces the global temperature record used by the IPCC in its reports, has proposed a separate review of its data after admitting that public confidence in its findings had been undermined.
The Met Office relies on analysis by the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, which is under investigation over allegations that its director manipulated raw data and tried to hide it from critics.