Thursday, 29 April 2010

Whale excrement could help fight climate change

Whale droppings could help fight global warming by 'fertilising' the oceans, according to a new study.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 3:48PM BST 27 Apr 2010

Researchers from the Australian Antarctic Division found that the naturally iron-rich whale excrement encourages growth of algae, therefore drawing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Advocates of "geo-engineering" have suggesed dumping iron filings in the sea to 'fertilise' the oceans but this offers a more natural process.

Steve Nicol, who helped carry out the research, said a larger population of baleen whales would boost the productivity of the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the absorption of carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming.
"The plants love it and it actually becomes a way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere," he said.
Mr Nicol said the idea to research whale droppings came from a casual pub chat among Antarctic scientists in Australia's island state of Tasmania.
He exlained that iron is micronutrient in the Southern Ocean that helps algae bloom at the surface, which in turn absorbs carbon dioxide.
When krill eat the algae, and whales eat the krill, the iron ends up in whale droppings, and the iron levels are kept up in surface waters where it is most needed for more algae rather than sinking to the bottom.
"The system operates at a high level when you have this interaction between the krill, the whales and the algae and they maintain the system at a very high level of production. So it's a self sustaining system," he said.
He said it was not yet known how much excrement it would take have a significant impact on the Southern Ocean.
His findings come as the International Whaling Commission prepares to meet to update the law on the protection of whales. It is feared the law will be changed to allow the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean for the first time in 25 years.

Lib Dem plans for the environment

Greenpeace have described the Lib Dems plans for the environment as the most ambitious of any party. But both Tory and Labour say their plans to cut carbon to zero without nuclear are unrealistic.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 5:31PM BST 28 Apr 2010

:: The only party to increase the target on cutting carbon emissions to 100 per cent by 2050, although 10 per cent will come from carbon offsets.

:: Reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40 per cent by 2020 with no offsets.
:: Unilaterally move towards 30 per cent reductions by 2020 and move for the whole of Europe to do likewise.
:: Push for international deal that limits temperature rise to 1.7C by boosting by asking rich countries to reduce greenhouse gases. Invest in clean energy for poor countries and sharing technology. Push for zero net deforestation by 2020. Adopt at EU or UK level a new law making it illegal to import or possess timber produced illegally in foreign countries.
:: Work with other countries to develop an international labelling system so consumers can see the impact of different products.
:: Robin Hood tax or cap and trade system for carbon emissions from aviation and shipping to pay for climate finance.
:: Create domestic laws to stop illegal timber being sold in Britain if EU legislation does not happen.
:: The Liberal Democrats plan to create a one-year green job stimulus plan, for which £3.1 billion of cuts in government expenditure would be used to create 100,000 new jobs in home insulation and renewable energy.
:: UK Green Investment Bank set up with government seed funding to attract in private finance. Investigate ways of raising seed capital such as auctioning airport slots.
:: Begin a 10 year programme of home insulation, offering a home energy improvement package of up to £10,000 per home, paid for by the savings from lower energy bills and make sure every new home is fully energy-efficient by improving building regulations.
:: Up to 40 per cent of UK electricity should come from clean energy by 2020, raising to 100 per cent by 2050, underpinned by guaranteed price support, and ensure that at least three-quarters of this new renewable energy comes from marine and offshore sources.
:: Update the National Grid so it can cope with new clean energy sources and better use sub sea connections so UK is prepared to join European Supergrid.
:: Investing up to £400 million in refurbishing shipyards in the North of England and Scotland so that they can manufacture offshore wind turbines and other marine renewable energy equipment.
:: 800,000 green internships.
:: Block any new coal-fired power stations unless they are accompanied by the highest level of carbon capture and storage facilities. Leaves you open to building them?
:: No new nuclear power stations
:: Central government will have to cut its energy use by 10 per cent by 2010 in line with 10:10 campaign. Also require companies to report and reduce their energy use.
:: Reform EU emissions trading scheme by bringing in a tighter cap on emissions, auctioning as many allowances as possible and encouraging other European countries to increase the use of reserve prices in allowance auctions.
:: Change the tariffs system so that the first essential use energy you use is cheapest and rewarding those who make an effort to use less. Social tariffs ensure the best price for those in need. Extend protection and support to 'off-gas-grid' consumers.
:: Encourage community-owned renewable energy schemes where local people benefit.
:: Setting aside extra money for schools who want to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. They will pay back the loan over time from energy savings, creating a rolling fund to help insulate every public building.
:: UK Infrastructure Bank to attract private finance investment in public transport and energy.
:: Launching an 'Eco cashback' scheme, for one year only, which will give you £400 if you install double glazing, replace an old boiler or install microgeneration. If you choose microgeneration, you will be able to sell the energy back to the National Grid at a profit, with a more attractive feed-in tariff than under current Government plans.
:: Bring 250,000 empty homes back into use. People who own these homes will get a grant or a cheap loan to renovate them so that they can be used: grants if the home is for social housing, loans for private use.
:: Compulsory water meters in areas of water stress.
:: Polluter pays taxes. For example replacing the per-passenger Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane duty and ensuring the air freight is taxed for the first time.
:: Invest £140 million in a bus scrappage scheme that helps bus companies to replace old polluting buses with new, accessible low carbon ones and create jobs.
:: Cancel plans for a third runway at Heathrow and other airport expansion in the South East and reduce pollution through tighter regulation on vehicle exhausts. Fully meet European air quality targets by 2012.
:: Invest in high speed rail and improve rail networks using money from cutting the roads budget.
:: Cut rail fares, changing the rules in contracts with Train Operating Companies so that regulated fares fall behind inflation by one per cent each year, meaning a real terms cut.
:: Make Network Rail refund a third of your ticket price if you have to take a rail replacement bus service.
:: A legally binding Supermarket Code of practice and an Independent Food Market Regulator to ensure a fair price for food.
:: Introduce farm apprenticeship scheme
:: End testing of household products on animals.
:: Reform of farm subsidies including taking £300 payments out of the system because they are too expensive to process.
:: Improve food labelling on a voluntary basis and then through Europe.
:: Full access code for the countryside. Everyone will have statutory access rights to most land and inland water – as long as they follow responsibility law.
:: Abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return planning decisions to local authorities.
:: Gardens will be greenfield sites so they cannot be built on.
:: Double the UK's woodland cover by 2050.
:: Extend feed in tariff to farms and provide loans for anaerobic digestion plants.
:: Create a statutory duty on manufacturers to accept the return of products and packaging, including plastic bags, furniture, electrical goods and mobile phones, so they can be recycled.

Why eco-friendly products are not as green as they appear

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Thursday, 29 April 2010
Faced with a choice between normal cleaning products and more expensive "green" alternatives, many shoppers pay more to do their bit for the environment.
But store chains and specialist manufacturers may be exaggerating some of their claims for "eco" cleaners and washing powders, a process dubbed "greenwashing". according to a survey by a consumer group today.
The claims of 14 "green" household cleaners, laundry tablets, nappies and baby wipes were put to the test by a panel of experts assembled by Which?.

While all the products made by the likes of Ecover, Green Force and Tesco did some good for the planet, almost half of them made claims that seemed not to be justified.
Which? assembled a panel of experts including Dr John Hoskins, a toxicologist and former adviser to the Commons Environment Select Committee, and Dr John Emsley, a chemist who has written extensively about the impact of chemicals in everyday life.
While they gave a thumbs-up to disposable nappies and wipes made by Sainsbury's, Asda, Earth Friendly and others, they disputed some of the claims made for laundry tablets and, especially, lavatory cleaners.
The world's biggest ecological cleaning product company, the Belgian Ecover, came in for some of the heaviest criticism. Of its lavatory cleaner and laundry tablets, Which? said: "Some claims are greenwash". Its panel "found no convincing evidence" to show that the cleaner had a different impact on aquatic life once it had been through a waste treatment plant. The scientists levelled the same charge at its laundry tablets, and those made by another company, Simply Active Eco Smart.
On Green Force's lavatory cleaner, the scientists had reservations about the claim "formulated to limit the impact on the environment" and said there was no convincing evidence that it was kinder to fish and other aquatic life than the market leader. While Sainsbury's Cleanhome cleaner claimed it was biodegradeable and kinder to the environment, the experts said some claims lacked evidence, again saying there was no convincing evidence it was kinder to aquatic life.
Some of Tesco's claims for its Naturally lavatory cleaner "lacked evidence" – particularly the claim that it contained no phosphates and left no chemical residues, since, the panel pointed out, this did not apply to normal cleaners either. Although they did not criticise the products, Which? said it was unclear whether the clean planet logos on Ariel Actilift and Persil Bio tablets related to environmental action by the manufacturer or shopper. Which? questioned the "greenness" of several other, bigger products. Tests showed the eco steam setting of the Bosch Sensixx Eco iron used the same energy as a low setting on a normal Bosch iron, and the Ainsley Harriott Eco Express Kettle was no quicker or more efficient than a normal kettle. There were many more fuel efficient cars on the market than the Ford Focus 1.6 Econetic, which did 49 miles to the gallon in tests.
Eco labels disputed the findings of the survey. Ecover said its lavatory cleaner and laundry tablets surpassed environmental laws, saying: "Our products are fully degradeable in anaerobic and aerobic conditions, going further than legislation and differentiating Ecover from market leaders."
Green Force said its sugar-based detergent was less toxic than soap and 20 times better than a typical alternative. Sainsbury's said its cleaner was endorsed by the Government-backed Ecolabel scheme. Simply said its Eco Label status showed it met toxicity criteria "which most, if not all, the leading brands cannot meet".
Tesco agreed to remove the claim about phosphates but stuck by its line on hazardous residues, saying that in the case of accidents citric acid and naturally derived detergents were "much kinder to the skin" than acids found in other products.

Europe and North Africa ‘could be powered by green supergrid’

Peter Jones

All of Europe and North Africa could be powered by renewable electricity by 2050 with the North Sea at the heart of a European “supersmartgrid”, according to a reort by the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The report, compiled with a range of research institutes, says that the North and Baltic seas could sustain a large amount of offshore windpower with the North Sea also contributing big quantities of electricity from wave and tidal power.
This could be connected to a European “supersmartgrid” with more electricity supplies being generated by solar power in North Africa and more hydro development in Scandinavia and the Swiss Alps.
Kevin Reynard, a partner at PWC in Aberdeen, said that the report had cleared up some of the conventional criticisms of large scale renewables.

By connecting wind farms over a wide area using smart technology, the report argues that wind could produce reliable amounts of electricity.
“Opportunities to use clean, affordable natural sources of energy have been talked about for over 150 years and now is the time for positive action,” he said.
“We will need to see a big increase in renewables as well as the deployment of carbon capture and storage on a commercial scale if we are to reduce reliance on carbon within the power sector and meet our challenging longer term climate change goals.”
The study, which also involved the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and the European Climate Forum set out a policy, market, investment and infrastructure roadmap towards a 2050 goal of achieving a 100 per cent renewable power sector.
It contends that the costs of electricity from new renewable technologies, currently high in comparison with conventional coal or gas-fired power generation, will reduce as technologies improve to make them competitive and not reliant on subsidies.
But Mark Higginson, another partner at PWC, said: “The funding of large scale renewables projects remains a challenge due to the current state of the credit markets and lack of clarity over carbon pricing in the absence of clear government policy.
“We have the skills, capability and expertise here in the North East and Scotland as a whole to make it happen. Indeed, a number of major oilfield service companies are already beginning to gear up to service the renewables sector. We just need more government and industry support to further unlock this potential.”

Green groups divided over US climate bill stand off

Campaigners call for urgent effort to save US climate bill, while some insist proposed legislation remains fundamentally flawed

Danny Bradbury for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 28 April 2010 11.57 BST
Environmental groups have delivered a mixed reaction to Senator Lindsey Graham's controversial decision to withdraw support for the proposed climate change bill he had been working on, with campaigners arguing over whether or not the bill should be saved.
Senator Graham effectively abandoned his support for the bill over the weekend following a row over Democrat Senate Leader Harry Reid's determination to push for an immigration bill ahead of the mid-term elections. The climate change bill, that he worked on with Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, has now been postponed until the row can be resolved.
Many of the leading green groups called on the Senate to work to get Graham back on board as quickly as possible, arguing that the next few months represent the best chance of the US passing any form of climate change legislation.
The US Climate Action Partnership, which has lobbied for a climate bill on behalf of a coalition of green groups and big businesses including Ford, GE, GM, Shell and Siemens, issued a statement urging that Senate and the administration to move forward with the legislation.
"The US faces a critical moment that will determine whether we will be able to unleash billions in energy investments or remain mired in the economic status quo," the group said. "The US Climate Action Partnership urges the US Senate and this Administration to make comprehensive climate and energy legislation a top priority this year."
The demand for action was echoed by Frances Beinecke, president of the New York branch of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We need to get it back on track," she said. "We can't afford to lose any more time. Americans want action on legislation that will create jobs, cut our oil imports in half and reduce the carbon pollution that threatens us all."
In contrast, Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, attempted to downplay the implications of Senator Graham's walk out, describing the incident as "a murmur, not a heart attack", raising hopes that a compromise could yet be reached.
But he insisted that the proposed climate bill represents the only current proposals capable of ensuring the US meets its stated climate goals, dismissing alternative plans put forward by a number of Senators last week.
"The energy-only bill from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee isn't enough to get the job done," he said. "For one, it would not spur renewable electricity development beyond what we already expect to achieve under current state and federal policy. The bill is simply not an alternative to comprehensive climate and energy legislation."
However, some environmental groups still think that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill is so flawed that it should be canned permanently.
Kevin Kamps, who heads up subsidies research at Beyond Nuclear, lamented what he saw as excessive support for the nuclear industry in the proposed legislation. He argued that the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House of Representatives last June represents a better option. "The House Bill is not perfect by any means but it's so much better than the Senate Bill," he said, adding that the alternative Cantwell-Collins draft bill also offered an alternative approach.
Kamps, who called the Kerry bill "dirty energy" legislation, said that the environmental movement is increasingly turning to state-level initiatives to address climate change issues, as Congress proves increasingly gridlocked. "In fact, Congress wants to intervene in state and regional activities," he complained. "In Kerry-Lieberman-Graham, they were going to dismantle the state and regional level cap and trade initiatives."
Kassie Siegel, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, similarly urged the legislation to turn its back on the current Senate machinations and concentrate on using the existing Clean Air Act as a tool to address climate change - something the Obama administration tried to pave the way for last year through an endangerment finding on carbon dioxide from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would enable it to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act.
"It makes absolutely no sense to roll back the successful laws we already have in exchange for a weaker framework," she advised.
However, the crucial endangerment finding is currently facing numerous legal and Senate changes that are attempting to strip the EPA of its right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and the administration has long-maintained that it would prefer to pass dedicated climate change legislation.

Next government has 100 days to move Britain on to low-carbon track

If we want sustainable economic growth and jobs, our financial recovery is doomed to failure if it does not address our environmental deficit

Peter Young, Wednesday 28 April 2010 14.56 BST
What is most striking about the election campaign to date is the fudging of the really big issues by the party leaders. There has been very little policy detail about the things that really matter, such as tackling the UK's huge budget deficit.
Yet even if that were forthcoming, any proposed solution to our financial deficit is doomed to failure if it does not address our environmental deficit.
Ignoring environmental concerns simply isn't an option if we want sustainable economic growth and job creation. Left unchecked, rising emissions, resource destruction and pollution will erode and ultimately destroy our ability to create the future wealth on which all economies depend. Environmental regulation must be at the heart of the new government's action plan, steering the UK towards a low-carbon future.
Paradoxically, it is the business community that is having to convince the political community of this intrinsic association between the environment and the economy. Our members, who include wide-ranging industrial and commercial leaders such as, BT, PepsiCo, Biffa, Johnson Matthey, Mitie and the National Grid, have long recognised the link between high environmental standards and economic growth and now the government must play catch-up.
The election is unusually critical: the next parliament is now being widely cited as the "last chance parliament" for any sort of rescue from debilitating climate change, as well as inheriting the legacy of the worst financial crisis in living memory.
Environmental commitments still risk becoming add-ons and isolated policies which are not sustainable in a wider economic recovery plan. At the Aldersgate Group we have identified three key actions for the new administration to take during its first 100 days, to shift the UK onto a safe low-carbon, high-growth trajectory.
1. Getting the carbon price right
We are currently not factoring in the true costs of pollution in everyday spending decisions, making investments in greener products and services riskier and more expensive than they should be. The first budget of the new parliament should include a floor price mechanism to underpin the EU carbon price, reduce perverse subsidies for environmentally damaging activities and issue a long-term commitment and timetable for green fiscal reform.
2. An immediate green investment bank
Establishing an immediately functioning green investment bank that mobilises capital from pension funds and other institutional investors to help stimulate green jobs and industry. The new government should set up a shadow green bank institution without delay, start lending using existing assets, and aim to pass primary legislation to establish the bank within 12 months of the election.
3. Low-carbon industrial targets
The UK should not only have targets for reducing carbon emissions but also specific targets for job creation, manufacturing capability and export growth in targeted industries. To help meet these targets the first budget should include enhanced capital allowances and tax breaks for green manufacturing.
Given the pressure on public finance, some may consider these recommendations to be expensive. But the cost of inaction will be far greater, and soon accelerate beyond our means. In contrast, government intervention and early market making will drive investment – the race to develop domestic environmental industries will define economic prosperity in the 21st century.
• Peter Young is the chair of the Aldersgate Group

Sea ice loss driving Arctic warming cycle, scientists confirm

Study identifies cycle of ice loss and temperature rise that could see Arctic's icy cover disappear sooner than expected

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Arctic is locked into a destructive cycle that could see its icy cover rapidly disappear, scientists have confirmed. A new analysis shows that dwindling levels of sea ice are responsible for unusual levels of global warming in the region. The findings reinforce suggestions that a positive feedback between ice loss and temperature rise has emerged in the Arctic, which increases the chances of further rapid ice loss and warming.
The study could re-ignite claims that the Arctic has passed a key tipping point, which could see ice disappear much sooner than expected. While most estimates say the summertime Arctic will not be ice-free until the middle of the century, some models suggest it could vanish within a decade.
James Screen, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who led the study, said: "The concept of Arctic sea ice having a tipping point is still hotly debated. Our results cannot prove whether we have passed a tipping point or not. What we can say is that the emergence of these strong ice-temperature feedbacks can only increase the likelihood of further rapid warming and sea ice loss."
Temperatures in the Arctic have risen twice as fast as the rest of the world in recent decades, a phenomena known as Arctic amplification. Scientists have long suspected that loss of sea ice was responsible, but other factors such as changes in wind, clouds and ocean currents have also been blamed.
Writing in the journal Nature, Screen and his colleague Ian Simmonds, say they used new data to show that the projected ice-temperature feedbacks are now being observed. "Previous studies have been hampered by a lack of quality data for the Arctic," Screen said. "The ice temperature feedbacks have likely strengthened in the last decade or so due to the dramatic declines in sea ice. Prior to this, the signal may have been harder to detect."
Part of this change is down to the albedo effect, with white, reflective ice replaced by dark water, which absorbs more of the sun's heat. The removal of ice has also led to more summer evaporation of water, which acts as a powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and speeds temperature rise.
Screen said: "The albedo effect is very important here, but there are other factors related to the loss of sea ice that likely play a role."

The main parties are spouting greenwash – we are the real deal

There is only one Green party and in this election we can make a difference

Darren Johnson
The Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010
Your article about eco policy in the election campaign did not mention the Green party's policies (Last chance to save planet, say parties vying for green vote, 26 April). You focused on the two parties who'd launched their green manifestos the previous day, but comparing only Labour and Lib Dem eco policies was a bit like assessing which of two bald men was the best advert for a comb.
The article describes the Lib Dems' "£400 eco cashback scheme for new double glazing, boilers or solar panels". Had you compared this with the Green party's manifesto, you would have discovered that to meet the right CO2 targets, we need a £4bn-a-year programme to ensure all UK homes are energy-efficient. Similarly, the Lib Dems' "pledge to redirect £3.1bn" to green job-creation; but we believe that to achieve the necessary emissions reductions the UK would need a £44bn investment package, creating over a million green jobs.
And the article did not consider the parties' track record: for example, while the Lib Dems say they want more renewable energy, they have opposed windfarm proposals in Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon and Worcestershire. You say the Lib Dems would tackle aviation emissions, but don't point out that they've avidly supported airport expansions in Birmingham, Carlisle, Exeter, Liverpool, Manchester and Norwich.
And on their proposed fiscal measures to reduce road traffic, you don't say that they have voted against such schemes in Edinburgh, Manchester and York; not to mention that they've supported new road-building, from Newbury to the M74 and the proposed new Lancaster bypass.
You note that the Lib Dems say they want a zero-carbon economy by 2050. It would have been reasonable to observe that even if the Lib Dems' policies and practice were capable of achieving this, the target is in fact 20 years too late to satisfy the science. Perhaps the most reliable thing Nick Clegg says in the article was this: "Choose the only party that was taking a stand on saving the planet well before it became fashionable." On behalf of the Green party I'd like to say: thank you, Nick.
Meanwhile, what of Labour? Yes, it passed the Climate Change Act; yet it has attached to it the wrong targets and the wrong policies. But as you reveal, Labour is weaker than the Lib Dems on aviation, road-building, coal and nuclear. And Labour wants just 5,000 eco trade apprenticeships, whereas the Green party has identified a need for 350,000 training places.
On a proper comparison, one would surely have to conclude that there is still only one Green party. And this time, in places like Brighton, Norwich and Lewisham, the Greens are in with a real chance of a breakthrough, according to pollsters YouGov and ICM. If even a few Greens are elected they will be influential – able to cut through Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative greenwash in the House of Commons and force the debate to get real.