Friday, 19 March 2010

Renewables investment to breach $200bn in 2010?

London, 18 March: New investment in clean energy is set to recover to at least $175 billion-200 billion this year, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
But while the analysis firm is forecasting that current policies will drive $200 billion of investments in physical clean energy generating assets by 2030 (not including initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions, etc), this is far below the $500 billion/year it says will be needed by that date to avoid dangerous climate change.
Yesterday, BNEF published revised historical figures to reflect revisions to its methodology. It found that $162 billion was invested in 2009 across the financing spectrum, from corporate R&D and venture capital through to asset financing. This figure was down 6.4% from the revised 2008 figure of $173 billion.
Speaking to reporters before the start of a BNEF conference in London yesterday, CEO Michael Liebreich said that investment this year “could be as high as 2008 … given that [government] stimulus money is now coming through at the project level”.
While he gave a range of $175 billion-200 billion, he added that “if our past record is anything to go by, I’m more likely to be surprised on the upside.”
However, a long-term projection from a new economic model built by BNEF forecasts that investments in renewable energy generating assets will only reach $150 billion by 2020 and $200 billion by 2030, based on existing policies and measures, up from $90 billion in 2009. This would mean that renewables account for 22% of the world’s installed power generation base by 2020, up from 13% today, and 31% by 2030.
“These figures must increase significantly in order to avert the worst effects of climate change and achieve an average of 2 t CO2 [tonnes of carbon dioxide] per head by 2050,” the company says – namely to $230 billion by 2020 and $500 billion by 2030.
Guy Turner, director of carbon markets at BNEF, said that a global carbon price of $65/tCO2 by 2013, rising to $100/t by 2030, would be sufficient to drive this increased level of investment. “We would get there – we’ve got the technology, all we need is the willpower,” he said.
However, current carbon prices in Europe are at around $15/t, and the US and China – the world’s two largest emitters – appear extremely reluctant to begin putting a price on carbon. Nonetheless, Turner insisted that the price on carbon is “affordable – $100/t won’t destroy our way of life”.
Liebreich said he was unfazed by the failure of the Copenhagen conference to make much progress on securing a post-2012 international climate change deal. “The focus on Copenhagen and Mexico [where UN climate talks will continue, in December], is a distraction, compared with what’s actually happening on the ground,” with national and regional legislation and policies to support low-carbon investment.
“We’ll be negotiating on climate for the next 50 years,” he said, noting that “whole other areas of global policy-making”, around tariffs and trade, and national and international product standards, are likely to become more important in promoting low-carbon technologies and emission reductions.

Carbon traders voice fears over recycled carbon credits

Resale of surrendered Certified Emission Reduction credits by Hungarian government prompts warning that "double counting" could damage the integrity of the EU emissions trading scheme. From BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network

James Murray for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 18 March 2010 09.46 GMT
The integrity of the EU's emissions trading scheme could be badly undermined unless governments resist the temptation to sell on "recycled" certified emission reduction (CERs) credits that have already been surrendered by businesses.
That is the stark warning from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), after the Hungarian government last week agreed to sell on two million "recycled" CERs to an undisclosed intermediary.
Government officials confirmed the CERs had been provided by Hungarian companies that had surrendered the UN-approved carbon offset credits to help them comply with the emission caps imposed on them through the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The government subsequently swapped the CERs with Assigned Amount Units, cheaper carbon credits traded between governments and used to demonstrate their compliance with Kyoto targets. It then signed a deal to sell the CERs on to an undisclosed trading firm, which is expected to sell them on to businesses in Japan.
IETA president Henry Derwent said the arrangement set a potentially dangerous precedent. "If Member States 'recycle' credits, they will place companies and other organisations at risk of purchasing CERs… on the international carbon market that have been already submitted to compliance authorities," he said. " This apparent double-counting could damage the reputation of the EU-ETS."
The practice means that firms outside the EU could use the CERs to demonstrate that they have offset their carbon emissions, despite the fact that Hungarian companies have already used them once to demonstrate that they have funded emission reductions.
Moreover, the CERs could even be sold back into the EU where firms purchasing them would discover that they cannot be submitted to EU authorities for a second time to help count towards their emission reduction targets.
Derwent said that if the EU is to retain confidence in the CER market it is essential for any government considering recycling surrendered credits to attach a "due diligence" letter that explains their status to the buyer and which contractually obliges the buyer to pass the letter on in the case of further resales.
He added that the EU was working on legislative measures designed to close the loophole that allows double counting.
But Stig Scholset, senior analyst at research firm Point Carbon, told that it could take years for the loophole to be completely closed. "New legislation that is expected to come into effect in August will make it impossible for any surrendered CER to be held by a European account," he said. "But there is nothing to stop surrendered CERs being traded outside the EU, and if the EU does want to close the loophole completely it will have to start over with the development of new rules."
He added that only a relatively small number of surrendered CERs were likely to be traded, with just a handful of eastern European government expressing interest in the practice. But he agreed that if CER recycling continues unchecked it could undermine confidence in the integrity of emission trading and curb demand for new CERs from emission reduction project developers.

Airbus gets a crafty upgrade by flying the flag for biodiversity

A380 airliner to feature official logo for UN, despite aviation being a major source of emissions that threaten biodiversity

Fred Pearce, Thursday 18 March 2010 14.51 GMT
Who do you think might just have been granted the right to display the official logo of the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity? A conservation body, perhaps. Or a new brand of organic food?
Well, no. It's an aircraft manufacturer, actually. The world's largest aircraft manufacturer: Airbus Industries. The European company that is doing more than anyone else, Boeing included, to increase the number of flights we take, and thus the airline industry's contribution to climate change.
During 2010, the logo will appear on the side of Airbus's latest airliner, the A380, on scheduled services with the world's airlines. The largest passenger aircraft is specially designed for those long-haul flights across oceans and from Europe to the far east, where a single flight can more than double your annual CO2 emissions.
Airbus has won this green accolade by dint of hard cash. Airbus is helping fund a cherished project of the secretariat of the UN Convention on Biodiversity to educate young people across the world about the virtues of biodiversity, called the Green Wave Initiative. Airbus did not respond to questions from the Guardian about how much money is involved in the partnership, but the UN Environment Programme has described it as a "huge gesture of support".
The Green Wave is a neat idea. To mark the International Day of Biodiversity on 22 May, young people will be asked to plant a tree at 10am local time wherever they are in the world. Thus they will create a "green wave" that will spread from east to west round the planet.
But it is an even neater idea for Airbus, the current trailblazer for an industry whose year-on-year carbon dioxide emissions are rising faster than any other. At a time when climate change is widely recognised by ecologists as a leading cause of species loss around the world, Airbus's adoption of a green mantle courtesy of a major UN conservation organisation might seem, well, ironic.
Airbus has increased its cuddlability quotient by partnering with National Geographic on the green wave project. National Geographic is an organisation with a sky-high green image. The duo got a special thank you from UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon when they announceed the partnership last June.
Airbus has an answer to those who accuse it of greenwash. The company says that it is "pioneering greener flight". And it is undoubtedly true that the Airbus A380 superjumbo has got its emissions down, thanks to lighter materials and smarter flying technology.
Airbus says it will reduce emissions to less than 75 grams of CO2 for every passenger kilometre. But that will not apply if its wide open spaces are filled with extra business and first-class seats as many purchasing airlines promise. Look out for Singapore Airline's super-first class on the A380, with private suites, double beds and wardrobes and wide-screen TVs.
But even if Airbus achieves those low figures per passenger-kilometre in real operation, the big problem is that passenger-kilometres are going up far faster than aircraft efficiency is improving.
Emissions from the airline industry continue to rise by about 3% a year, taking up an ever greater share of total global man-made emissions. So a little humility might be in order from the world's most prolific manufacturer of new planes. But, no.
Announcing the adoption of the logo this month, Airbus's senior vice-president for public affairs and communications, Rainer Ohler baldly claimed that the aviation industry had "already reduced aircraft emissions by 70% in the last 40 years."
You don't need to be a statistician to spot the trick here. Not so much "hide the decline" as "hide the increase". Ohler meant airlines had cut emissions per passenger-kilometre by 70% since the days before jumbo jets. But, to be clear, aircraft emissions are soaring. In Britain, for instance, they have risen since 1970 by between four- and five-fold.
They will continue to soar, while the likes of Airbus continues to fill the skies with chunks of flying metal the size of a football pitch. And whatever logo they put on the side of their planes, species will continue to go extinct as a result.

Bolivia creates a new opportunity for climate talks that failed at Copenhagen

Bolivia will host an international meeting on climate change next month because it is not prepared to 'betray its people'
Pablo Solón Romero, Friday 19 March 2010 07.00 GMT
In the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate conference, those who defended the widely condemned outcome tended to talk about it as a "step in the right direction". This was always a tendentious argument, given that tackling climate change can not be addressed by half measures. We can't make compromises with nature.
Bolivia, however, believed that Copenhagen marked a backwards step, undoing the work built on since the climate talks in Kyoto. That is why, against strong pressure from industrialised countries, we and other developing nations refused to sign the Copenhagen accord and why we are hosting an international meeting on climate change next month. In the words of the Tuvalu negotiator, we were not prepared to "betray our people for 30 pieces of silver".
Our position was strongly criticised by several industrialised countries, who did their brazen best to blame the victims of climate change for their own unwillingness to act. However, recent communications by the European Commission have confirmed why we were right to oppose the Copenhagen accord.
In a report called International climate policy post-Copenhagen (pdf), the commission confirmed that the pledges by developed countries are equal to between 13.2% and 17.8% in emissions reductions by 2020 – far below the required 40%-plus reductions needed to keep global temperature rise to less than 2C degrees.
The situation is even worse once you take into account what are called "banking of surplus emission budgets" and "accounting rules for land use, land use change and forestry". The Copenhagen accord would actually allow for an increase in developed country emissions of 2.6% above 1990 levels. This is hardly a forward step.
This is not just about gravely inadequate commitments, it is also about process. Whereas before, under the Kyoto protocol, developed countries were legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a certain percentage, now countries can submit whatever targets they want without a binding commitment.
This dangerous approach to climate negotiations is like building a dam where everyone contributes as many bricks as they want regardless of whether it stops the river.
The Copenhagen accord opens the dam and condemns millions. Various estimates suggest that the commitments made under the accord would lead to increases of between three to four degrees celsius – a level that many scientists consider disastrous for human life and our ecosystems.
For Bolivia, the disastrous outcome of Copenhagen was further proof that climate change is not the central issue in negotiations. For rich countries, the key issues in negotiations were finance, carbon markets, competitiveness of countries and corporations, business opportunities along with discussions about the political makeup of the US Senate. There was surprisingly little focus on effective solutions for reducing carbon emissions.
President Evo Morales of Bolivia observed that the best way to put climate change solutions at the heart of the talks was to involve the people. In contrast to much of the official talks, the hundreds of civil society organisations, communities, scientists and faith leaders present in Copenhagen clearly prioritised the search for effective, just solutions to climate change against narrow economic interests.
To advance an agenda based on effective just solutions, Bolivia is therefore hosting a Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth on 19-22 April, and inviting everyone to participate. Unlike Copenhagen, there will be no secret discussions behind closed doors. Moreover the debate and proposals will be led by communities on the frontlines of climate change and by organisations and individuals dedicated to tackling the climate crisis. All 192 governments in the UN have also been invited to attend and encouraged to listen to the voices of civil society and together develop common proposals.
We hope that this unique format will help shift power back to the people, which is where it needs to be on this critical issue for all humanity. We don't expect agreement on everything, but at least we can start to discuss openly and sincerely in a way that didn't happen in Copenhagen.
• Pablo Solón is Ambassador to the UN for the Plurinational State of Bolivia. He is a sociologist and economist, was active in Bolivia's social movements before entering government, and is an expert on issues of trade, integration, natural resources and water.

Feed-in tariffs are not suppressing innovation in Germany or the UK

George Monbiot is still trying wage class war on a false premise
Jeremy Leggett, Thursday 18 March 2010 10.40 GMT

The Energy Roof at the Vauxhall Cross bus interchange in London uses Solarcentury technology
George Monbiot's third article on government grants for domestic solar panels ignores the errors that I and others have protested about in the opening assertion in his first article. He alleged that the UK government's feed-in tariff regime is "about to transfer £8.6bn from the poor to the middle classes". In saying that, he managed to get three things wrong. The actual sum raised from the tariff levy from all electricity consumers, not just households, to 2030 will be £6.7bn; it will be spread over 20 years; and it will be more than offset – if the government is true to its word – by energy efficiency savings stimulated in parallel market-building schemes.
Yet we see no retraction in George's latest, much less an apology for trying to turn feed-in tariffs into a new form of class war on a false premise.
That was just where the problems began in the first article. In his third, he rewords many of his original mistaken views. I address those one by one on my website.
The main new item in George's latest involves using a report from what he calls the "Ruhr University" to back his assault on the German feed-in tariff programme. He did not tell his readers – maybe he didn't know – that this study's "editorial office" is RWI, an organisation well known for being a thinktank helpful to the big German energy companies. There is an irony in a campaigner such as George deploying arguments against other campaigners using such a source. Elsewhere in his article George declares that "I detest the big energy companies that give us our electricity".
Here is what the German ministry for environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety has to say about RWI's arguments against the feed-in tariffs (or the EEG, as they are known in Germany): "Whereas the International Energy Agency and the European Commission comment that the EEG is an effective and efficient tool, and dozens of countries in the EU and beyond are following the German example, RWI remains stuck in its old way of thinking."
One of George's restated arguments, echoing RWI, is that
"we have to ensure that we get the biggest available bang for our buck: in other words the greatest cut in greenhouse gas production from the money we spend."
Let me reword my original retort, which he chooses to ignore. We need to think about how the photovoltaic (PV) bang for buck changes over time as economies of scale reduce costs, and we need to think about spawning a mix of survival technologies, not just one or two that happen to be the cheapest in March 2010.
Then there is the question of the relative investments in the feed-in regime and other carbon-cutting options, compared to the prize available. If government and business do nothing together to make the UK solar and other tariffs cost-neutral as promised – an unlikely assumption - the tariffs for all technologies will add a few hundred million pounds a year to the nation's electricity bills. Other forms of energy market support will add billions per year to taxpayers bills, with little or no chance of being rendered cost-neutral. Nuclear waste alone will add more than £3bn a year.
I asked Dr Rob Gross, a director of the UK Energy Research Centre and co-author of an immense study for the UK government on the cost-effectiveness of low-carbon technologies, to comment on George's latest. He said: "It is obvious to anyone who knows anything at all about technologies and innovation that PV is one of the most promising in terms of long run cost reductions … The impact of feed-in tariffs on consumers will be very small compared to the cost of big investments in CCS, grid, nuclear and offshore."
George argues that the German feed-in tariffs have done little to stimulate innovation in the German solar industry.
"In fact, the (Ruhr) paper shows the scheme has stimulated massive demand for old, clunky solar cells at the expense of better models beginning to come onto the market."
If George had ever visited a German solar factory, he would have seen plenty of innovation under way. When he speaks of "clunky old cells" he offers a telling insight into how little he understands of what is going on in the PV industry.
I asked Professor Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany's premier solar research institute, to comment on George's argument that research and development was preferable to feed-in tariffs. Weber responded that it is vital to understand that "the decreasing prices of PV are driven down not merely by R&D but rather by the increasing market. The learning curve is cost versus total installed volume and shows … that with each doubling of the globally installed volume, the price comes down by about 20%. This is of course driven by progress in R&D, but this is driven very strongly by market forces".
If we waited until R&D had produced PV capable of generating electricity at today's prices, says Weber, "it would never happen".
There has been innovation in the German PV industry, and there will be yet more, leading to further incremental improvements in efficiency, design and delivery. But that is always the case in a business revolution. If one had waited for improvements to end in the digital revolution one would still be waiting. So it will be in the solar revolution.
George sees little scope for German export of PV, and
"the UK's prospects of building the major export industry Jeremy dreams of are even slighter, as it will now have to take on Germany as well as China and Japan. We've missed the boat by years".The amount of solar PV installed around the world in 2009, despite the fast growth of the PV industry, was a mere 7 gigawatts last year: the equivalent of around seven typical coal-fired power plants. To say that the UK could not catch up with other nations if we had the will to develop a domestic industry, in a global market still this small, is plainly wrong.
Today, in a UK PV market a fraction of 1% the size of the German one, we already have a PV export industry of sorts. Crystallox manufactures ingots and wafers – the raw materials for cells - and exports worldwide. Sharp and Romag manufacture modules for export beyond the currently small domestic market. My company, Solarcentury, manufactures PV tiles and slates for the domestic market and export into Europe. George has ignored all Solarcentury's invitations to visit and see all this. If he had, he would appreciate that there is plenty of scope for British companies to expand into this industry.
The most eminent venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, Vinod Khosla, recently said the place will have to be named "Solar Valley" within 10 years. This is because the practitioners of the digital revolution are switching en masse into the embryonic solar revolution in the factories that are springing up around Sunnyvale. Given our national design and technology skills, what's to stop a big slug of that revolution being sited in the UK?
George makes much of the fact that Asian manufacturers are now exporting cheap PV into Germany. True, the Germans are under great pricing pressure now from the industries they have themselves helped create, with their attractive domestic feed-in tariff, in Asia. But that is globalisation at work. Whether this is a good idea, in a world approaching peak oil, is a whole other debate, and one wherein George and I might find a lot to agree on. But peak oil and the downsides of globalisation actually provide another compelling reason for trying as hard as we can to develop a variety of fully-integrated domestic renewables industries in the UK. And for that we will need feed-in tariffs, for a while.
Finally, let me comment on George's premise that anyone who has entered the world of business cannot be trusted, or should have their views discounted compared to "independents" such as himself. "I have no horses in this race," George announces, "I have no products to sell."
If we believe in the horrors that await a world making little or no effort to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, we all have to back horses. I have gone so far as to set up a company and a charity to back one of my (numerous) favoured horses. As George put it in his book Heat,
"while I (Monbiot) sit on my backside telling people what to do, he (Leggett) spends his time doing it."That was then. Now George seeks to wear the fact that he has "no products to sell" as a badge of superior credibility. Referee!

Global Warming on Trial

By Dexter Wright

In 2005, the late Dr. Michael Crichton wrote a book of fiction called State of Fear. The plot of the storyline is the exposé of the fraudulent science behind the global warming theory in the middle of a fictitious court case. The book was a bestseller, and in a strange twist of circumstances, it landed Dr. Crichton in front of a Senate committee. Now it seems that life is indeed imitating art.
In the past few years, there have been many court cases concerning the actions of governments to the alleged threat of global warming. The latest has been filed by Texas against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with respect to the Endangerment Finding of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
Texas has filed two petitions in federal court. The first is a request for review of the endangerment finding, which is intended to examine the science behind global warming. The second is a petition for reconsideration of the finding. These court cases were brought about in the wake of the Climategate scandal. Climategate has revealed that significant portions of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) were based on fraudulent science.
The crux of the matter is that the EPA based the endangerment finding on the now-discredited IPCC report. To date, the IPCC have admitted to two significant erroneous claims. First, they admitted to the fact that the Himalayan glaciers are not melting away, and secondly, they have stated that the claim of the trends of natural disasters attributed to global warming is overstated. Subsequently, the IPCC have been prompted to publicly state that they are reviewing their own quality assurance procedures in light of these admissions.
But now all of this is going to be examined in a court of law. It should be noted that the laws of governments and the laws of science differ very significantly. For example, governments can repeal laws, like in the case of prohibition. By contrast, science cannot repeal the law of gravity. It is this kind of cold, hard fact that lawyers typically are not used to dealing with. If the case of Texas versus the EPA is decided on the scientific facts, as it should be, then the EPA will lose.
So what are the facts? The two graphs below show the transmittance of two gasses in the Infrared (IR) wavelength. One is CO2, and the other is water vapor (H2O). The dips in these graphs show where the two substances absorb the IR energy. Clearly, H2O absorbs more than ten times the amount of energy in the IR spectrum as does CO2. Furthermore, H2O is more than one hundred times more abundant in the atmosphere than CO2. The conclusion is that H2O is more than one thousand times as potent a greenhouse gas (GHG) as CO2.With such immutable facts facing the EPA, how will they explain their stance that CO2 is a greater danger to the public than water vapor? What's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
Scientific honesty is at the very heart of the global warming debate, and it will likely be the centerpiece for the legal questions to be presented in the dramatic setting of a federal courtroom. The weakness of the endangerment finding stops not with these two graphs, but with the entire methodology used in producing all of the IPCC reports, including AR4, on which the finding was based.
In Senate testimony to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Dr. Crichton stated that the verification techniques used in climate research did not meet the basic standard of independent verification. In explaining the scientific method to the committee, Dr. Crichton stated the following:
In essence, science is nothing more than a method of inquiry. The method says an assertion is valid -- and merits universal acceptance -- only if it can be independently verified. The impersonal rigor of the method means it is utterly apolitical. A truth in science is verifiable whether you are black or white, male or female, old or young. It's verifiable whether you like the results of a study, or you don't.
He went on to say:
For a person with a medical background, accustomed to this degree of rigor in research, the protocols of climate science appear considerably more relaxed. In climate science, it's permissible for raw data to be "touched," or modified, by many hands. Gaps in temperature and proxy records are filled in. Suspect values are deleted because a scientist deems them erroneous. A researcher may elect to use parts of existing records, ignoring other parts. But the fact that the data has been modified in so many ways inevitably raises the question of whether the results of a given study are wholly or partially caused by the modifications themselves.
Now that the horse is out, the IPCC is trying to close the barn door by establishing some sort of scientific standard in the wake of significant errors found in the AR4. Better late than never, or maybe not -- at least as far as the court case against the EPA is concerned.
In February of this year, the IPCC stated the following:
GENEVA, 4 February 2010
Materials relevant to IPCC Reports, in particular, information about the experiences and practices of the private sector in mitigation and adaptation activities, are also found in sources that have not been published or peer-reviewed (e.g., industry journals, internal organizational publications, non-peer reviewed reports or working papers of research institutions, proceedings of workshops, etc.). A lot of relevant information appears also in government reports and publications from international organizations. To make all references used in IPCC Reports easily accessible and to ensure that the IPCC process remains open and transparent, additional procedures have been agreed for the use of such sources, often referred to as "grey literature".
Authors who wish to include information from a non-published/non-peer-reviewed source, are requested to critically assess and review the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results into an IPCC Report.
But even this standard of accepting "grey literature" does not meet basic standards of publication in scientific journals or government technical memorandums. For example, the National Marine Fisheries Service states the following concerning literature cited in professional papers: "Literature cited comprises published works and those accepted for publication in peer-reviewed literature (in press)."
The EPA will have to explain why it was willing to accept substandard work to establish the endangerment finding. Their lawyers will have to explain why they accepted work that states within the pages of the AR4 an admission of guilt to the sin of data-manipulation. In table 6.1, it states the following: "All reconstructions, therefore, involve a degree of compromise with regard to the specific choice of 'target' or dependent variable."
In English, this means that the data were manipulated to achieve a predetermined "target." This hardly sounds like science...more like fiction. They say that the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. Maybe that explains the content of the leaked e-mail from Tim Osborn to the now-discredited Dr. Phil Jones of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in Great Britain. This e-mail sent on December 13, 2005 discusses ways to manipulate Antarctic data to achieve an outcome that "makes sense" with respect to tropical data.
Even if you do something to sort out the problem at the S. Pole, how about the isolated boxes around the coast of Antarctica, which will be given much less weight than an isolated box in the tropics which might also have only 1 station in.
The e-mail goes on to say that Antarctic data should be given only 79% of its true value: "Perhaps put it in every fourth box, giving a weighting of 0.79 (bit less than tropical, which is reasonable for spatial correlation reasons)?"
By giving greater weight to the tropical data, you can achieve your "target" of global warming...even if it's only fiction.

Japan, China, and the Low-Carbon Economy

Joel Makower, 18 Mar 10
I've had the good fortune to view the world through a Japanese lens over the past 10 days — specifically, the worlds of green business and clean technology, about which I've come to Japan to speak.
My host is the U.S. State Department, whose Office of International Information Programs invites a range of speakers to various foreign outposts at the host countries' request. (I did a similar speaking tour in Europe last fall, and another, in India, in 2000.) This latest trip took me to four cities — Tokyo, Fukuoma, Nagoya, and Osaka — to give presentations and to participate in two international symposia. My overall focus was on green innovation in the U.S. toward the goal of a "low-carbon economy."
That's a term that seems to be gaining currency in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, though it isn't uttered often in the U.S., where, at best, adherents of green business, renewable energy, and sustainable commerce typically refer to the more generic "green economy." "Low carbon" demonstrates the growing focus on climate change among business and governmental leaders in Japan and elsewhere.
It was an interesting time to be here. On Friday, Japan's Cabinet approved a major piece of climate legislation — Japan's first. And while it represents a major hurdle, it is less than it's cracked up to be. As the English-language Daily Yomiuri reported this past weekend:
The bill incorporates bold reductions first touted by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when he addressed the United Nations in September, saying Japan would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
The bill also includes policies that were rejected by past Liberal Democratic Party-led governments due to concerns by business circles. If the bill becomes law, it will mark a major turning point in the country's global warming policy.
However, details of the policies incorporated in the bill are still to be discussed, and there are differing opinions within the government. The government will be required to tackle a mountain of problems in the days ahead to resolve these issues.
Among those issues is that the 25 percent reduction goal has the precondition "that all major greenhouse gas-emitting nations will agree on a fair and effective international framework and ambitious goals," the paper reports. Suffice to say, that precondition doesn't seem forthcoming any time soon.
Nonetheless, Japan's enlightened business leaders are focused on how to move forward on a low-carbon economy, though my conclusion is that they don't have much more of a plan to get there than do the Americans. At the events I attended, there was much discussion about how to achieve the green vision of Hatoyama, the first prime minister who seems to "get it," when it comes to the economic potential of cleantech and a green economy, but whose vision is thwarted by the legislature. That was one recurring theme. Another was commiserating over how to motivate employees to engage in green practices. They expressed frustration in Japanese consumers' willingness to buy green products. They wondered how stable oil prices will affect progress, not to mention the impacts of the global economic recession. They asked repeatedly about President Obama's "New Green Deal," a remnant of the 2008 campaign that, far as I can tell, has disappeared into the ether.
For an American visitor, it seemed, much as I wrote during my visit here in 2007, that "I was six thousand miles from home, but I could have been anywhere in the U.S., given the stories I was hearing."
But far more than I expected, the conversation that took place seemed less about Japan than about China. Japan's neighbor to the southwest seems to be causing a mild case of dyspepsia in the Land of the Rising Sun. Though the events I attended featured only one Chinese speaker, there was much conversation, and more than a little handwringing, about the role China will play in the low-carbon economy.
The conversation about China has taken a dramatic turn over the past year or so. In the past, it had more to do with "What happens when 1.3 billion Chinese want to achieve the same standard of living as their Western (and Japanese) counterparts?" That's still a concern, of course. But the conversations I've been hearing lately, in both the U.S. and Japan, have more to do with "What happens when China produces the clean technologies we'll all be needing?"
That's Japan's concern. Indeed, it seems a cruel turn of fate from just a quarter-century ago, when American leaders were asking the same question about Japan. At the time, that country seemed to be eating our proverbial lunch, outperforming us in producing a wide range of goods that had been invented in America, from solar panels to televisions.
Japan now worries that China will be a similar threat, with its weak intellectual property laws, which mean that it can easily "own" the technological secrets of things invented elsewhere, made cheaply due to its low-cost labor and manufacturing prowess. Already, for example, Japan has dropped from the number-one producer of solar panels to the number-three producer, behind China and Germany, according to the Earth Policy Institute. (The U.S. is fifth, just after Taiwan and ahead of India.) As the Institute reported last week, "Chinese annual production skyrocketed from 40 megawatts in 2004 to 1,848 megawatts in 2008, nearly five times the output of the United States."
It's that state of affairs that has Japan — and the U.S. — fretting. Not just about climate change but also about the economic climate that may see their global competitiveness fall further and further behind.

Parasitic Nematodes Reported In Biofuel Crops

Posted on: Thursday, 18 March 2010, 09:56 CDT
Researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) at the University of Illinois have discovered widespread occurrence of plant-parasitic nematodes in the first reported nematode survey of Miscanthus and switchgrass plants used for biofuels.
Lead researcher Tesfamariam Mekete, a U of I post-doctoral research associate, said the team's first step was to identify potential pathogenic nematodes of these top two energy-yielding cellulosic-ethanol feedstock plants.
"Nematodes are a part of our soil systems," Mekete said. "However, when it comes to potential crops for biofuel production, we simply don't know which nematodes are present in these crops and at what levels."
The 2008-09 nematode survey included samples from 37 Miscanthus and 48 switchgrass plots in Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.
All sample sites had at least two nematode species that have been reported to reduce biomass in most monocotyledon hosts. The damaging population thresholds for these nematodes to Miscanthus and switchgrass are still unknown. However, the population densities encountered may present a potential risk to biofuels production when compared with threshold densities reported on other monocotyledon hosts, Mekete said.
Researchers discovered lesion (Pratylenchus), dagger (Xiphinema), needle (Longidorus), lance (Hoplolaimus), stunt (Tylenchorhynchus), spiral (Helicotylenchus), and ring (Criconema) in Miscanthus and switchgrass. These nematodes have previously been reported to cause damage to several plant species such as corn, bent grass, switchgrass and turf grasses.
"The high levels of nematodes found in our survey and the damage symptoms observed in infected roots suggest parasitism may contribute to the decline of biomass production," Mekete said.
Needle nematodes, discovered at high levels in the sandy soils of Havana, Ill., and Georgia, caused visible stunting of lateral roots and destruction of the fibrous root system. Mekete's team hopes to do further research in Havana to study the interaction between this nematode and biomass yield.
Researchers are now studying damage thresholds of lesion, root-knot and needle nematodes to Miscanthus and switchgrass under greenhouse conditions. Future studies will include host suitability and population dynamics of the most prevalent nematodes associated with these perennial grasses.
In addition to discovering information on the distribution, presence, abundance and identification of these nematodes, researchers also developed species-specific DNA tests to help identify nematodes so future research can focus on developing control tactics.
"Diseases and pests have the potential to cause significant constraints on biomass production, putting the crops at risk for reductions in biomass yield and quality," Mekete said. "Of the many pests and diseases, plant-parasitic nematodes are of great economic importance because they can directly influence plant biomass and predispose plants to attack by other soil-borne pathogens."
Portions of this research have been published in GCB Bioenergy. The research was funded by EBI. The research team included Tesfamariam Mekete, Kimberly Reynolds, Horacio Lopez-Nicora, Michael Gray and Terry Niblack of the U of I.

Clinton slams Russian plans to start up Iran's reactor

Russia said Thursday that it will start up the first reactor at Iran's Bushehr atomic power plant in mid-2010, prompting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call the move "premature" without Iranian assurances on its nuclear ambitions.
By News Wires (text)

REUTERS - Russia said on Thursday it would start up the reactor it is building at Iran's first atomic power plant in mid-2010, prompting immediate criticism from visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the startup, but Clinton said such a decision would be "premature" without Iranian assurances on its nuclear programme, which the West fears is aimed at producing atomic weapons.

Russia agreed to build the 1,000 megawatt reactor at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, 15 years ago, but delays have haunted the $1 billion project and diplomats say Moscow has used it as a lever in relations with Tehran.

"We continue work on developing atomic energy capacity both at home and abroad," Putin told a meeting on nuclear energy in the southern Russian city of Volgodonsk.

"The start-up of the first reactor of the Bushehr atomic power station is planned for this summer," he said.

Clinton said this would send the wrong message to Iran, a major oil exporter which faces possible new sanctions over its nuclear programme, which it says is to generate electricity.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking alongside Clinton after talks in Moscow, responded by saying the Bushehr plant was key to maintaining the presence of the U.N.'s nuclear agency in Iran.

Vladimir Pavlov, the official in charge of the project at state-run Atomostroiexport, the state-controlled company building the reactor, said "the physical launch of the station is scheduled for July."

Clinton was in Moscow for a meeting of Middle East peace mediators and talks with Russian officials including President Dmitry Medvedev.

Nuclear fuel

Iran has received nuclear fuel for the plant from Russia and will have to return all spent fuel rods to Russia -- an arrangement that had eased U.S. concerns that Iran could use it for weapons.

Russia says the plant is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons programme as it will come under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision. Iran will have to return all spent fuel rods to Russia.

Russia agreed to build the plant in 1995 on the site of an earlier project begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. The Siemens' project was disrupted by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has repeatedly delayed the plant amid international efforts to force the Islamic Republic to allay fears over its nuclear programme.

Russia has even been censured by some in Tehran for using Iran and the Bushehr plant as a "pawns" in the diplomatic poker game over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But officials in Moscow are this year much more upbeat about starting up the reactor at the plant.

Iran's nuclear energy chief, Akbar Saleh, said earlier this month that the Bushehr plant would be launched at the end of spring.

Russia is keen to complete the plant so that it gains authority in the Middle East as a major supplier of nuclear power plants and some analysts say Moscow could bid to build more atomic power stations in Iran.

Moscow has previously supported UN sanctions against Iran only after insisting they be watered down and has so far refused publicly to support calls by the United States for the threat of additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Putin, who many diplomats say takes the lead on formulating Russia's policy towards Iran, rarely comments on Iran though he last year warned the international community against intimidating Iran.

Drought Creating Drinking Water Shortage in China

Posted on: Wednesday, 17 March 2010, 10:15 CDT
Southwestern parts of China face a shortage of drinking water due to a rare drought that has dried up rivers and threatens to cripple farms in the Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces, as well as the Guangxi region and the city of Chongqing, the state-controlled Global Times is reporting.
According to information printed in a March 17, 2010 AFP article, the Global Times claims that rainfall in the above regions has been 60-percent below normal over the past six months.
A reported 17 million people in the Guizhou province were experiencing shortages of drinkable water, as 86 of the 88 cities in the region were under drought conditions.

The government is distributing emergency water supplies, according to the AFP story, and the Global Times reports that the drought conditions are the worst the country has faced in at least a century. Attempts to seed clouds and induce rainfall have been unsuccessful, according to Xinhua news agency reports, due to a lack of moisture in the clouds.
"Meteorologists have predicted the situation could worsen in coming months as hot and dry weather was expected to continue and water demand rises as farmers turn soon to their spring planting," writes the AFP.
According to a Bloomberg report posted online at, the drought has benefitted Chinese water supply companies, who witnessed their stocks rise on Wednesday.
"The drought has left people short of water and will benefit water companies because of demand for their resources," Shenyin Wanguo Securities Company economist Li Huiyong told the news service in a phone interview. "It is controllable and hasn’t affected most of the main grain producing provinces."

Students develop eco-friendly engine

Special Correspondent

A group of Mechanical Engineering students of the Sarabhai Institute of Science and Technology here have developed an electromagnetic engine that promises a clean alternative to fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
The students, V. Jayaram, Chanthu S. Krishnan, Akhilesh S.S. Nair and Sreejith P.S., modified a 60 cc sprayer engine to demonstrate the electromagnetic principle. The engine operates on the repulsive force between two magnets, one embedded in the piston and the other on top of the cylinder.
The electromagnet on the cylinder head is powered by a battery that can be charged using solar panels.
The engine is controlled by an electronic gadget that acts as the accelerator.
“We have demonstrated that any petrol or diesel powered engine can be modified for electromagnetic propulsion. Such a modified engine will be free of noise and air pollution.
The cost of modification may range between Rs.20,000 and Rs.30,000,” says Jayaram.
The team took about two years to design the engine. The students were guided by F.P. Joshua, Professor, and D. Praveen Kumar, Assistant Professor.
“Electromagnetic engines are more efficient than servo motors and permanent magnet DC motors,” says Jayaram.
He said the electromagnetic engine had the potential to revolutionise the automobile industry. “Once the engine is suitably modified, the fuel tank, timer chain, camshaft, air filter, fuel injection system and exhaust mechanism can be dispensed with, thereby freeing up space and reducing the weight of the vehicle considerably,” he added. The students are planning to file a patent application for the design.

Global solar photovoltaic installations set record

Denver Business Journal - by Sacramento Business Journal
Even during a dismal economy, solar photovoltaic installations reached a record in 2009, according to market-research firm Solarbuzz.
A record 6.43 gigawatts were installed last year, a 6 percent increase compared to 2008, with a majority of the growth in Europe, according to the industry report. The photovoltaic industry generated $38 billion in revenue last year worldwide, an 8 percent increase from 2008.
European countries accounted for 74 percent — or 4.75 gigawatts — of the installations last year. Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic were a large majority of the growth in Europe, with Italy becoming the second-largest market.
The United States became the third-largest market for installations at 485 megawatts, a 36 percent increase compared to 2008, according to SolarBuzz.
Spain, one of the fastest-growing markets previously, was the biggest disappointment, falling to only 4 percent of the installations in 2008.
Despite a cash crunch and the recession, analysts expect fast-paced growth for the industry during the next five years, with the solar photovoltaic market 2.5 times larger than by 2014.
“Looking forward, the industry will see a return to high growth, but in a low-margin environment,” said Craig Stevens president of Solarbuzz. “Our analysis demonstrates that a wide range of start-up markets will help offset a slowdown in German demand in the second half of 2010.”
Colorado has been a center of business activity for solar power, spurred in part by the federal stimulus program. Blake Jones, president of Boulder’s Namaste Solar Electric Inc., appeared at the stimulus bill's signing ceremony with President Barack Obama in February 2009 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Jim Welch, CEO of Louisville-based Bella Energy Inc. and president of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, said last year that there are 10,000 jobs linked to the solar industry in Colorado.
Solarbuzz, whose U.S. headquarters is in San Francisco, is a unit of NPD Group Inc.

Experts claim carbon capture plans ‘not possible’

academics say space needed for storage has been underestimated
By Tim Pauling
Published: 18/03/2010
Plans to inject carbon dioxide gas into the ground to mitigate the greenhouse effects of fossil fuel power plants is not possible “at any cost”, according to leading petroleum experts.
Two Texan academics have concluded that the space needed to store the CO has been vastly underestimated and that the underground reservoir needed for one commercial power station would have to be “enormous, the size of a small US state”.
Longannet power station has been chosen by the government as one of two sites to pioneer carbon capture technology. If successful, it could herald the start of a new industry storing CO under the North Sea.
The idea is to strip the carbon out of greenhouse emissions and inject it into old oil and gas fields.
But a paper in the Journal of Petroleum and Science, by Christine Ehlig-Economides and Michael Economides, claims the amount of underground reservoir space needed is five to 20 times more than previously estimated. “Our very sobering conclusion is that underground carbon dioxide sequestration via bulk COinjections is not feasible at any cost,” they say.
But supporters of carbon capture pointed out that the paper by the professors at Texas A&M University and the University of Houston was just one of many on the issue.
Aberdeen Central MSP and Labour energy spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “The American academics seem to have come to a very pessimistic conclusion. I don’t think their level of pessimism is borne out by the work so far done in Europe.”
Dr Sam Gardner, climate change policy officer at WWF Scotland, said: “We welcome research on carbon capture and storage (CCS) that helps to improve our understanding of what is potentially a critical technology in a global transition to a low-carbon energy supply.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “There is no solution to climate change without a solution to coal. Coal is the most abundant, least expensive but most polluting fossil fuel and CCS is the only technology capable of cutting fossil fuel emissions by up to 90%.
“Our current estimates suggest the UK continental shelf has sufficient capacity to store UK CO emissions from fossil fuel power stations for 100 years or more.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Independent research looking at the opportunities for carbon capture and storage in Scotland clearly shows we have a vast capacity to capture safely and store emissions from industrial coal-fired plants for the next 200 years.”
Meanwhile, the UK Government has awarded Scottish Hydro Electric owner Scottish and Southern £6.5million towards the cost of a £21million pilot plant to clean emissions from coal-fired power stations at Ferrybridge, near York.

Carbon capture funding announced

19 March 2010
E.ON and ScottishPower have today (March 15th) been awarded government funding in order to develop technologies for clean coal power stations.
The funding is intended to support projects at Kingsnorth and Longannet which are exploring the possibilities of commercial scale carbon capture and storage.
Detailed engineering and design work will assist in ascertaining the potential of carbon capture.
Energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband commented: "These two promising projects are at the forefront of the UK's efforts to build one of the first commercial-scale clean coal plants in the world."The award of design-stage funding demonstrates our commitment to this breakthrough technology. It has the potential to support tens of thousands of jobs and bring billions into the economy."
Mr Miliband added that it was essential to encourage the development of carbon capture technologies because it is the only method in existence which can tackle carbon emissions from fossil fuel power stations.
Both E.ON and ScottishPower have expressed excitement at helping the UK to become a global leader of clean coal power.
Posted by Emily Thomas

HSBC bankers turn climate crunch champions

Bankers may not be the world's most popular people, but at HSBC they have the good of the planet at heart – the bank has invested $35 million in sending employees to assess the potential effects of climate change and preach the green gospel to colleagues back at the office. Serena Allott joins a group of volunteers in India.

Published: 8:00AM GMT 18 Mar 2010

HSBC employees Maria Qsous and Varun Santosh with Dr Indu K Murthy Photo: CHIARA GOIA
A small crowd has gathered on the ragged road that runs out of Sirsi, a town in the southern Indian province of Karnataka. Crouched at its edge they laugh with delight as they examine a touch-me-not plant – Mimosa pudica – the leaves of which close up when touched or warmed or shaken. These people are bankers but here, far from their computers and air-conditioned offices, they are spending a fortnight working alongside scientists conducting the largest ever field study on the long-term effects of climate change and human behaviour (farming and logging, for example) on the world's forests.
They are a disparate group from Jordan, Dubai, Qatar, Sri Lanka and India; 11 all told, most of them young men. Their common bond is their employer, HSBC, which has flown them here to train as 'climate champions'. After two weeks of field work, lectures, films and workshops they will emerge, a green task force whose mission is to spread the word about climate change among their colleagues and embed the principles of sustainability into HSBC's corporate DNA.

The climate champions project is a collaboration between HSBC, the Earthwatch Institute, the Climate Group (an international NGO), the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). 'Climate change is important to our clients, many of whom are engaged with real environmental challenges in sectors such as energy, forestry or transport,' Nigel Pate, the head of environmental partnerships in HSBC's London office, says. 'The world is totally dependent on fossil fuels and we can't go on in that way. We will have to completely change the way the global economy operates, but to do so will involve a major investment in new infrastructure around the world. Banks have an important role to play in financing this shift, and we want our employees to be on the front foot to spot those opportunities.'
This is one reason for HSBC's investment in its climate champions. The other lies with the employees themselves. 'Anecdotal feedback from the UK and the United States shows that in the war for talent, particularly among graduates, social responsibility ranks very highly on their scale of interests,' Pate says. 'We are now catering for a generation who expect us to behave well and ethically.'
In a previous collaboration called Investing in Nature, launched in 2002, 2,000 HSBC employees were sent to volunteer with the Earthwatch Institute, before launching environmental projects within their own community. Earthwatch, which operates in 50 countries worldwide, was set up almost 40 years ago to give ordinary people the chance to work alongside environmental scientists in the field on a variety of projects, such as identifying medicinal plants in Kenya, collecting information about wildlife in the Amazon basin and studying caterpillars in the forests of Arizona. Rather than having a special programme devised for them, the Investing in Nature volunteers simply joined in with what was already on offer, and those that did appreciated it. A survey carried out towards the end of the five-year project showed that 91 per cent of those who had taken part were more likely as a result to recommend HSBC to others as an employer.
In the wake of this success, the HSBC Climate Partnership was formed. Of the $100 million that HSBC has invested in the partnership, $35 million will go to Earthwatch. Some of this will be spent on environmental projects (tree planting or river cleaning, for instance) in cities where HSBC has offices and where its employees will be encouraged to get involved. But the bulk of it is for training the climate champions, each of whom will spend a fortnight at one of five regional centres: this one in India, and others in China, Brazil, Britain and the USA. These have been set up specifically for this task, and they are all sited in biodiversity hotspots (regions with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat).
Anyone from any part of HSBC can apply to be a climate champion; selection is made on the basis of a lengthy application form. 'We are looking for people who have demonstrated a commitment to combating climate change, who have already shown initiative and leadership,' Rachel Phillips, the head of learning at Earthwatch, says. Levels of interest vary regionally. Most people applying to the British centre (which covers all of Europe) get a place; Marie Walker, a 39-year-old Australian managing e-strategy in London, who attended the centre at Wytham Wood in Oxfordshire last September, believes she was accepted because she persuaded her local council to halve the number of recycling bins they need by making smaller households share rather than having one set each.
In India – perhaps because opportunities such as this are valued more – many more people apply and the acceptance rate is one in five. Gurkiran Kaur, 43, from Uttar Pradesh, is a mother of two who taught science for 15 years before taking an HSBC job resolving credit card disputes. She applied three times before being accepted, whereas 23-year-old Sunil Sanjay from Bangalore, who processes mortgages and wears an earring, a necklace and a T-shirt bearing the words god is too big to fit into one religion, was lucky first time. 'I play for the office cricket and football teams. People know me, I'm not a celebrity but I'm not like a complete stranger,' he says. The candidates from the Middle East were fairly confident that they would be accepted because so few of their colleagues applied – only four out of 400 in Jordan, where most people apparently know little and care less about climate change. Tarek Kakish, 32, who works in human relations there, says, 'I have heard taxi drivers say it is the will of God and if the fiery day comes it is our punishment. They don't believe there is anything to be done about it.'
This view is gaining prevalence. Dr Monowar Khalid, the field director of the Sirsi centre, points to HSBC's climate confidence monitor (an annual global survey of 12,000 people), which shows that although 48 per cent of people worldwide are now taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, the number of people who think climate change can be successfully managed has fallen by six per cent in the past two years.
It is the job of climate champions to reverse this outlook, and their training begins with the study of forests – the lungs of the earth. Carbon emissions from the destruction and degradation of forests are thought to contribute to about 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. (In other parts of the HSBC Climate Partnership, WWF is focusing on water conservation and the Climate Group on low-carbon technology in cities.)
'We need a clearer understanding of what climate change will do to forest ecosystems, biomass and biodiversity,' says Dr Dan Bebber, the head of climate change research at the Earthwatch Institute and a research fellow at St Peter's College, Oxford. 'Any study of climate change on forests has to consider the people who use and manage their resources. In Europe 99 per cent of forests are heavily managed and two thirds of forests worldwide are impacted by humans in some way. For instance, logging in the tropics increases the forests' susceptibility to drought, which in turn makes them highly flammable – we have seen large areas of tropical forest succumb to fire in recent years.'
In centuries past, forest composition has changed – species have died off or migrated – with climatic variations, but now these changes may be influenced by human activity such as farming. 'By measuring trees repeatedly over a number of years we can see which ones are growing and which aren't, which ones are thriving and which are dying off. It will give us a feel for the way things are changing,' Bebber says. 'The overall aim is to gain information on the best management practices to maintain forests under climate change.'
Tree measurements are the backbone of this study. The work is repetitive and labour-intensive but with the help of the climate champions it is estimated that 60 years' worth of data will be gathered in five years. (At the end of which it is hoped that HSBC will renew its commitment or that the project will be taken on by another corporation.)
At all of the centres the research is essentially the same, with regional variations (in Wytham Wood volunteers also trap and record small mammals). In each forest, sample plots of one hectare (100 x 100m) are marked out, and all sizeable trees therein tagged, numbered, measured and identified. The plot is then subdivided. A 10 x 10m patch is cordoned off in which all the smaller trees (shrubs, at least 1.5m high with a girth of less than 5cm) are marked and measured, and in a 2 x 2m patch the smallest (herbs, less than 1.5m high) are recorded in terms of number and species. The leaf litter and dead wood in the smallest plots are also collected and weighed, and soil samples are taken so carbon content can be gauged. The density of the forest canopy is observed.
At Sirsi – where the project is being run in conjunction with the Indian Institute of Science – volunteers work in the field from about 9am until at least 2pm each day, with one short break. The data gathered then have to be input (a slow process when as many as 800 trees may be measured in a morning), before the evening's lectures at which facts, both gloomy and terrifying, come thick and fast. The following is a sample selection:
If sea levels continue to rise they will displace the 200 million people who live on coastal plains, and have a severe impact on capital cities including London, New York and Sydney.
Species migrate when threatened by climate change. Hence Nairobi, which was built above the altitude at which mosquitoes live, is now experiencing malaria – as are parts of France.
A two-degree increase in temperature means a 66 per cent decrease in wheat production in Britain, and in India a drop in farm revenue of between nine and 25 per cent.
By 2050 the global population will have reached 9.5 billion, leaving 1.63 hectares of land per person as against 7.91 in 1900.
If governments were to act now to correct climate change it would cost $184 billion, or one per cent of global GDP. If they wait until 2050 it will cost between $920 and £3,680 billion, or between five and 20 per cent of global GDP.
After supper there were screenings of films such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Leonardo DiCaprio's The Eleventh Hour – both intended to alarm. 'The movies especially have been very thought-provoking,' said Sumandh Patchi, 21, from Uttar Pradesh, where he chases payments on loans and credit cards. He applied to be a climate champion having measured his carbon footprint and found, to his horror, that because he travelled 10 miles to work by car each day it was 1.7 tons a year, half a ton more than most people's in India. 'It's the bad news that is motivating me, there are so many changes going on, why is nobody responding to them? In the months leading up to my coming here I made changes: I now scooter to work, or share a company cab with four other people. Why can't politicians – those who can really make a difference – make changes too?' he says.
Personally, I felt rather brainwashed by the barrage of bad news but when I mentioned this to Malina Thadani, the head of group communications and corporate sustainability in India, she said, 'I think the climate champions are most influenced by the work they do in the forest. These are people who live in cities, who sit in front of screens all day. To spend time so closely involved with nature has a profound effect on them.'
Sirsi is in the Western Ghats, a 1,000-mile range of rolling hills regarded as one of the world's top 10 biodiversity hotspots: it boasts 139 species of mammal, 508 birds, 179 amphibians and more than 5,000 flowering plants. To stand in the dappled light of the forest with the warmth of the sun on your shoulderblades is to experience tranquillity. Maria Qsous, 23, and in marketing in Jordan, said her enjoyment of the field work turned to awe when a 300-year-old tree was pointed out to her. 'I just stood there staring at it, thinking, "Wow." And the tragedy is that someone could cut that down without even thinking about it.'
The climate champions I met were like sponges, soaking up the information fed to them. In one lecture, climate change sceptics were briefly mentioned and dismissed as people who manipulate figures to suit their own ends. This was in the week that the brouhaha surrounding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's use of apparently manipulated statistics began, but the remark went unchallenged. 'Some of the information is quite loaded, but now we are part of it,' said Hussain Abalooshi, 24, from Dubai, when I put this to him. He worked chasing credit card debt before moving into corporate sustainability. 'Changing roles has changed my life, it has made me more aware of the needs of the environment and the community. Before I came to Sirsi, educating people was just my job. Now those efforts will be coming from my heart.'
At Wytham Wood the climate champions were more inclined to question things, according to Marie Walker (who trained with people from Germany, Armenia and France as well as Britain). 'Dan Bebber gave us very interesting information but he admitted that they cannot be sure what the long-term effects of climate change will be, whether it will be hotter or colder and by what degree.'
I already had proof of this fallibility: Bebber told me just before Christmas that the Isle of Wight, where I live, would never see snow again; two weeks later I was careering down a neighbour's hill on a toboggan. But experts say it is this very unpredictability that makes climate change so problematic.
Dr Khalid – who delighted in telling how, staying in a hotel in Bath during last July's heatwave, he rang reception begging for a fan: 'I am an Indian and even I am sweltering, I told them' – says if new trends were emerging rather than extreme episodes it would be much easier to prepare for them. As it is, while the Times of India was reporting that 440 people in Delhi have died of cold this winter, in Karnataka the betel nut farmers were lamenting that the cool snap they rely on to protect their crops from fungus had not occurred. (As I wrote this article, the world watched as Washington, DC, was brought to a standstill by 'snowmageddon', while, on the other side of the continent, Vancouver – hosting the Winter Olympics – was warm and wet.)
It is the same worldwide. Tarek Kakish told me Jordan's winter temperatures have risen from 12C to 20C, and this year the rains that should have started in December had yet to make an appearance halfway through January. Marie Walker, who comes from Townsville in Australia, says her home town has recently seen mud storms, caused by gale-force winds picking up red sand from the desert, followed by hail.
All this is grist to the mill of the climate champions, who are armed with the facts they need to woo others to the cause, and then, through role play, brainstorming and workshops, given the skills with which to do so. 'I am shocked by how ignorant I was before I came here,' said Ayjay Joseph, 24, who works in the IT department in Dohar, Qatar. 'The work has been hard – I came expecting to have some free time, but there hasn't been any. I know I will be able to make the information interesting when I get home and I will do my best to convince people. It will be a hard process across the Middle East, where climate change is not considered a major issue. It will be difficult to convince Arabs that water and electricity are threatened when they are available practically for nothing.'
On the night before I left Sirsi, the team practised their presentation skills, taking it in turns to explain what each office was doing to reduce its carbon footprint. There was hot competition. Energy-saving ideas ranged from the simple but effective (halving the size and ply of tissues) to the high-tech (person-sensitive lighting). Banning paper cups in favour of china or tin mugs seemed universal, as did programming printers to use both sides of a piece of paper. In some offices printers were activated by each employee's ID lanyard, which then recorded how many sheets of paper they were using each month.
Watching me scrawling notes on my reporter's pad, Vinay Sharmer, 27, a softwear engineer, leant over and asked politely if I would mind using both sides of the page. His office in Pune was deemed to have made the most impressive changes. Initiatives, many of which have been brought about by previous climate champions, each of whom must instigate a project, include a windmill on the roof that generates the electricity used to light the lifts; solar panels that heat the hot water used in the cloakrooms; a biogas plant that saves the purchase of 10 gas bottles per month; and an award-winning internet portal for car-pooling. Lights are turned off between 12pm and 2pm when many people are out at lunch and after 7pm a pop-up message asks if a computer monitor is still being used – if there is no reply the monitor is switched off. Sharmer had been part of an energy marshalling project in which the three HSBC buildings in the city competed to see who could save the most energy. Initiatives included switching the air-conditioning on in stages to reflect the number of people in the building, promoting the use of bicycles, and setting up an hourly cab service between the three buildings. The total energy save was 14 per cent.
Whether these actions will help avert to global warming or not, they are admirably frugal – a quality that has fallen out of fashion in the past 50 years. 'There are now climate champions in more than 50 countries and there are hundreds of little initiatives going on in offices worldwide,' HSBC's Nigel Pate says. 'It is hard to add them all up, but I do know that in the United States one climate champion's paper reduction exercise saved his office $100,000 a year. Our programme is seen as pioneering. With Earthwatch, we were delighted to host Ed Miliband [the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change] at Wytham Wood. He came three months before the Copenhagen summit and I think it gave him the message that big business really is serious about climate change. It's going to be a major drive in our business for decades to come.'
Within its sector HSBC is now a leader in the field of climate change. It is part of the Climate Group, which brings together governments and influential businesses, including Barclays, Coca-Cola and IBM, with a commitment to tackling climate change; it has signed up to the Equator Principles, a benchmark for the financial industry to manage social and environmental issues in project financing; and it is ranked first in the top holdings list in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for 2010. (BP, which is ranked second, has pledged to invest $8 billion in its low-carbon business by 2015, has a $500 million 10-year commitment to the US-based Energy Biosciences Institute, and a $73 million investment in commercialising clean energy with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.)
As I finished talking to Pate an email pinged into my inbox from Varun Santosh, 22, and as keen as mustard. He had finished at Sirsi and was back at his desk in Bangalore, where he is a business analyst. 'We measured a whopping 4,230 trees belonging to 70 different species! This is a record for all teams across all five centres to date by a large margin,' he wrote. 'Moreover we have come up with a team goal to collectively plant 2,500 native saplings at our respective sites by July 1 2010.' I wish them luck.