Friday, 30 April 2010

Putting the pressure on algae to create biofuel

By Ben Coxworth
17:20 April 29, 2010

If you’ve read even a little bit about potential sources of biofuel, you’ll know that algae is one of the big ones. During photosynthesis, this unicellular aquatic plant turns sunlight and carbon dioxide into oil. It’s grown in ponds, where it’s not taking land away from food production, and yields much more oil than other biofuel crops, such as corn or soybeans. Researchers at the University of Michigan have recently come up with a method of getting algae to give up its oil more quickly and efficiently than has previously been possible - they pressure cook it.
The current method of creating algae fuel involves cultivating special oily types of algae, drying them out, then extracting their oil. UM’s method allows the use of regular, less-oily algae, which is added to water. The algae-water is heated to 149C (300F), and kept at a high enough pressure that it remains liquid instead of turning to steam. The high pressure and temperature cause the algae to react with the water and break down, plus they cause the algae’s proteins and carbohydrates to rapidly decompose. The result of both reactions, after 30 to 60 minutes, is crude bio-oil.
It’s the same basic process that created fossil fuels from prehistoric plants, only UM’s method takes minutes instead of millennia.
Presently, the oil has a tar-like consistency. The researchers looking at ways of making it flow better, along with the possible use of catalysts to increase its energy-density, and the reduction of its sulfur and nitrogen content to make it cleaner.

Global warming: The big questions are still unanswered

April 29, 8:58 PMEnvironmental Policy ExaminerThomas Fuller

I have noticed in the comments to this and other sites that people unfamiliar with the imbroglio surrounding global warming tend to ask the same questions, and tend to be confused by the conflicting answers they receive from partisans on either side.A sort of code has developed--a jargon among debaters--that doesn't really help newcomers very much. And surprisingly, a lot of people are still showing up who are new to all this. Talking about RC vs. CA in the context of paleoclimatic temperature reconstructions does not mean too much to people who have never heard of the weblogs Real Climate or Climate Audit, nor of the tension that exists between them.They say in baseball that you can't tell the players without a program, and as yet there is no program. Given the structure of this site, I'm not sure that's a problem I can solve, although I will give it some thought. For now, though, I think identifying the important questions that remain unsolved is the best I can do for newcomers.Sensitivity: Most of us accept that doubling the concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere will raise global temperatures by one or two degrees Celsius. But what happens to the rest of the atmosphere as it copes with this rise? The consensus holders, championed by Al Gore and James Hansen, believe that especially water vapor, another greenhouse gas, will increase and add its own contribution to global warming. Skeptics believe it will remain relatively unaffected.Consensus holders believe that their computer models, which captured the effects of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption quite nicely, tell us that sensitivity is about 3 degrees Celsius (with a generous plus or minus). (A sensitivity factor of 3 means that 1 degree of warming caused by CO2 will cause a total of 3 degrees of warming.) Skeptics say that without a piece of physical evidence, consensus holders are being very premature.Oceans: The oceans are a sink for both heat and CO2. Heat gets stirred into the ocean at a local level, interacting with salinity to create layers of differing heat levels at different levels. The oceans transport this heat and release it at odd times and odd places, helping cause phenomena like El Ninos and La Ninas. When the oceans warm, they release CO2. When they cool, they absorb more of it. (At least that's simple.) And the oceans hold a lot more CO2 than the atmosphere--93% of the CO2 shared between ocean, plants and atmosphere is in the oceans. It also moves through different layers of the ocean and can eventually be absorbed by microscopic organisms and turn into limestone at the ocean floor. Before that happens, though, it works at making the ocean slightly less alkaline, or more 'acidic.'But we really don't know what's happening down there. We know more about the moon than we do the ocean, in all honesty. (Well, we should--not as much is going on up there.) We don't know if the oceans are going to keep taking in all the CO2 we can belch out (but probably not) or if it will reach a point where it gives a lot of it back, which would be unwelcome indeed. We don't know if the extra CO2 we are emitting is going to have a huge effect on the alkalinity of the ocean, or a very small one. This is not to say that there are no coherent theories--there are, and the level of uncertainty is being reduced quite quickly. Which means within two decades or so we'll really have a good handle on it. (And while we're on the subject of oceans, when they warm, they expand and sea level rises--which it has been doing for quite a while, although there is disagreement on whether the rate of rise is increasing or not.)Clouds: Sunlight can bounce off the tops of clouds and go back into space. Clouds can cool the atmosphere. Clouds can trap heat underneath them. Clouds can warm the atmosphere. What's the net effect of clouds? We don't know. This is a big obstacle to understanding what's happening in the ol' global warming thing. Any one of these factors--sensitivity, the role of the oceans or clouds, could completely swamp other factors in determining whether global temperatures will rise or fall. They are that important. If all three swing in one direction it will be decisive without any question. Even if two end up being rather neutral, the third one--whichever one you choose--can swing the balance in either direction.Because we don't really know the answers to these big questions, you would think there's not too much to fight about. You would be an optimist. The consensus holders believe that the situation is so dire that we can't wait for the final figures to come in before we act. The skeptics disagree. And there is even a group in the middle (I am one of them) who think there will be some global warming, but it won't rise to the level of a catastrophe.As newcomers tour the blogosphere, they will encounter people who claim to know the answers to these questions. And certainly someday someone will come up with the right answers. But I would advise newcomers to beware those who are extremely confident and certain on these issues.

Carbon Capture and Storage: Economic Costs Revisited

Posted by Rembrandt on April 29, 2010 - 10:20am in The Oil Drum: Europe
This is an updated version of post by Rembrandt from 2007.-Gail
Capturing carbon dioxide from coal (and gas) fired electricity plants, and subsequently transporting carbon dioxide from the plant and storing it underground in (abandoned) oil/gas fields, in other geological formations or on the ocean floor, seem like an excellent solution for continued fossil fuel use in the coming decades.
When I looked at the situation in 2007, the European Union hoped to have 12 large CO2 capture and storage demonstration projects at coal plants of at least 250 MW of capacity in place by 2015, requiring an investment of 5 billion euro. Progress has been slow, however. At the end of 2009, after 13 months of discussion, the European Union finally made the decision to invest 1 billion euro in six demonstration projects. In February, 2010 another 300 million euro was made available, which would be sufficient for two more CO2 capture and storage demonstration projects. The expectation behind these investments are that they will lead to significant cost reductions, making the technology affordable by 2020.
Even as these projects get off the ground, there are two large drawbacks:
The process is quite energy intensive, and thus will use up coal supplies faster.
Because of the additional energy cost the process will remain quite expensive, it is not certain that costs can be reduced sufficiently
In this post, I will talk about the second item, the high economic cost. In my previous post, I quantified the impact the extra energy cost might be expected to have on coal depletion.
In 2007, I participated in an evening group discussion about possibilities for the Dutch economy relating to capturing and storing carbon dioxide. After two interesting talks, one outlining the technical possibilities for storage in the Netherlands and the other the commercial possibilities, one of the other participants made a remark that was spot on. No matter how wonderful the idea of capturing and storing carbon dioxide may sound, it will always be costly to do so relative to current electricity production costs.
The additional costs were estimated by the IPCC in a 2007 special report on carbon dioxide capture and storage at 1 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (with these cents computed in US$), with the difference depending on the type of power plant, the technology employed for capturing, the reservoir in which the CO2 is stored, the transporting distance and other variables. The largest share of the costs originate from the extra energy needed to capture a pure stream of carbon dioxide for storage. The IPCC estimates the costs using a broad range of publications for different power plants as follows:
“Application of CCS to electricity production, under 2002 conditions, is estimated to increase electricity generation costs by about 0.01–0.05 US dollars per kilowatt hour (US$/kWh), depending on the fuel, the specific technology, the location and the national circumstances. Inclusion of the benefits of EOR [enhanced oil recovery] would reduce additional electricity production costs due to CCS by around 0.01–0.02 US$/kWh”
More specifically:
“The application of capture technology would add about 1.8 to 3.4 dollar cents per kWh to the cost of electricity from a pulverized coal power plant, 0.9 to 2.2 dollar cents per kWh to the cost for electricity from an integrated gasification combined cycle coal power plant, and 1.2 to 2.4 dollar cents per kWh from a natural gas combined-cycle power plant. Transport and storage costs would add between –1 and 1 dollar cents per kWh to this range for coal plants, and about half as much for gas plants. The negative costs are associated with assumed offsetting revenues from CO2 storage in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) or enhanced coal bed methane (ECBM) projects. Typical costs for transportation and geological storage from coal plants would range from 0.05–0.06 dollar cents per kWh.”

Figure 1 - Costs of Carbon Capture and Storage in dollars per kWh from the IPCC report

Figure 2 - Costs of Carbon Capture and Storage in dollars per ton of CO2 avoided from the IPCC report
When I did my analysis in 2007, the industrial base price of electricity in the Netherlands was about 7 eurocents per kWh or 9.6 dollar cents per kWh. This was in the high range relative to other European countries. For the most likely application--a pulverized coal power plant--the additional cost of capture and storage would amount to 20% to 30% over and above the industrial base price. This is confirmed by a recent study to published in Energy Policy, volume 35, Issue 9, September 2007, pages 4444-4454: “Cost and performance of fossil fuel power plants with CO2 capture and storage“. The authors, E. Rubin et al, estimate a cost increase of 15% to 30%. They base this on a wide range of previous publications.
To cover these costs in the long run in a market environment, companies are looking at two distinct options. First, there is the hope that carbon capture and storage can be paid by the pricing of carbon dioxide through the European emissions trading scheme. Second, the possibility of enhanced oil recovery by carbon dioxide injection in oil fields could offset some of the costs incurred.
The European emission trading scheme is an initiative under the Kyoto protocol. It provides Europe with a market to trade greenhouse gas emission allowances or emission reduction units. Each individual company is given an assigned amount of Kyoto Protocol Units or Carbon Credits which can be increased or decreased through several mechanisms. Every carbon credit is equivalent to a reduction of one ton of greenhouse gas emissions. Within the trading scheme, a party is allowed to transfer their carbon credits to or from another party. An unlimited number of units may be acquired by emissions trading while only a limited number may be transferred to another party. At the moment, carbon capture and storage is not incorporated as a possibility for mitigation under the emissions trading scheme.
The European carbon credit market passed its test phase and became effective in 2008. During the test stage before 2008, it did not function very well because too many credits were handed out, thereby putting a downward pressure on the price of a ton of carbon. We can see this in Figure 3 below. In April 2006, when news came out that countries had a surplus of credits, their value began dropping significantly. During 2008 when more players entered the market and the market became effective, the cost of a ton of CO2 rose significantly, up towards 40 euro, but from June onwards the price dropped significantly due to investor expectations being adjusted by developing events in the economy. As the economy has only slowly picked up somewhat, and energy consumption is still low relative to early 2008 levels, the price of CO2 is still very low as shown in Figure 4 below.

Figure 3 - Price development per ton of Carbon dioxide under the European emission trading scheme, source:

Figure 4 - Price development per ton of Carbon dioxide under the European emission trading scheme from November 2007 to March 2010, source:
Now, in 2010, the price for a carbon credit lies between 12 and 18 euros per ton CO2. In relation to the costs of carbon capture and storage this is much too low. In Table 2, the cost estimates from the IPCC for a pulverized coal power plant are shown to be between 30 to 70 dollars per ton CO2 or 20 to 50 euros. The present price makes the technology an economic disaster at any location. It is difficult to predict whether the price of carbon will increase because the development of the market is heavily dependent on economic developments and political negotiations. For instance, will more countries outside the European Union join in the trading in the future? Will the amount of carbon credits handed out be adjusted to the new economic situation?
Next to emissions trading, there are high hopes for enhanced oil recovery. In my opinion, these hopes are overblown, given that the technique can only be applied commercially at very few oil fields. This was recently highlighted by Statoil and Shell. The companies dropped plans to store CO2 at the Draugen oilfield in Norway because economic analysis showed that it was uneconomical to do so. Nonetheless, enhanced oil recovery is often considered as a possible option as explained in the case study below.
Pioneering Carbon Capture and Storage: Rotterdam Harbour
One of the 12 large CO2 capture and storage demonstration projects that the European Commission wants to develop by 2015 could very well be located in the Dutch harbour of Rotterdam. In 2007, the environmental agency of the Rijnmond Region, in which Rotterdam Harbour lies, calculated that it would be possible to capture and store up to 20 million tons of carbon emissions from the Rotterdam region annually for only 24 euro per ton of CO2 (PDF in Dutch, 3.6 MB, 56 pages), a price that is much lower than normal thanks to efficient usage of energy. A significant amount of heat created by local industry is wasted which can be applied for usage in the capture process. The environmental agency has assumed that this waste heat can be utilised for free as input in the capture process, hence the huge reduction in costs for capture and storage. However, it still remains to be seen whether the local companies will comply with giving away their waste heat for free--no one has asked the companies formally thus far.
In the analysis of the agency, if a price of 24 euros per ton of CO2 can be realized (which is much higher than the current trading range of 12 to 18 euros), then this project would be viable under the European emission trading scheme. Additional funding could be gained by the application of enhanced oil recovery according to the environmental agency of Rijnmond. In the agency's analysis, they assume that two additional barrels of crude oil will be produced for every ton of injected CO2. They also assume an oil price of 30 dollars per barrel. However, this income flow is very variable. When applicable at an oil field, the injection of carbon dioxide will only be maintained for a few years. Beyond that period, it is not expected to not deliver additional production benefits, so the income flow can be expected to slow down and then come to a halt. Furthermore, time is running out, because many fields that appear to be suitable for carbon dioxide injection for enhanced oil recovery will be closed down in the period of 2008 to 2012. By 2018, very few oil fields will be available for injection purposes.
While the idea of carbon dioxide capture and storage seems excellent, the costs are a large hurdle that might cancel this option altogether. Only with continued political support will this technological mitigation option for climate change become viable. The best option in pursuing this technology is full support of carbon dioxide capture and storage in the European emissions trading scheme, to make pioneering projects such as the one proposed at Rotterdam harbour viable. For larger application beyond a few projects, the price of a ton of carbon needs to increase, or the costs of capture and storage will need to come down significantly. Whether this will happen in the long term future is doubtful.

Madagascar passes decree banning rainforest timber trade

Rhett A. Butler,
April 27, 2010
Madagascar's transitional government has finally signed a decree banning the logging and trade of precious hardwoods, a month after announcing the moratorium. The decree comes in direct response to mounting pressure from the international community over ongoing destruction of Madagascar's national parks by illegal loggers. Timber trafficking was associated with an increase in commercial poaching of wildlife — including endangered lemurs ̬ and violence against conservation workers and local communities by marauding bands of loggers. The decree specifically prohibits the "cutting, exploitation and export of rosewood and ebony in Madagascar." The document states that "All persons engaged in the cutting, exploitation and export and rosewood and ebony are liable to criminal prosecution." The decree is signed by the the Deputy Prime Minister, Albert Camille Vital, and the Ministers of the Environment and Forests, Finance and Budget, Justice, Commerce, Interior Security, and the Secretary of State in charge of the Gendarmerie. While the moratorium has been welcomed by environmentalists, some remain skeptical that it will be enforced by the current government. Some prominent advisers to the administration— which seized power during a military coup a year ago — have been linked to the timber trade.

Private water suppliers poised to grow as demand set to surge

Global Water Intelligence analysts expect the water supply market to grow about 20% in the next five years• Experts call for hike in global water price

Juliette Jowit in Paris, Wednesday 28 April 2010 14.47 BST
Private companies are poised for a surge in demand to take over water supplies, despite widespread opposition to privatisation of what is seen as a life-giving public service.
Global Water Intelligence analysts expect the water supply market to grow about 20% in the next five years, and demand is especially strong in North Africa, the Middle East and China, GWI's publisher Christopher Gasson told the Guardian.
Another big growth area is likely to be the US, where "hundreds" of public water authorities thought to be talking to private operators, said Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of the global water division of engineering group Black & Veatch.
Renewed growth is being driven by poor services and the need for huge investment to repair and expand supplies, which in a recession is even harder for governments and municipal authorities to fund, said Gasson. It is also encouraged by less historical opposition to private suppliers in much of the big-growth regions, and the continuing "marketisation" of China, he said.
"There's been a move towards private sector finance and operation because of this failure to deliver," said Gasson. "If you have a contractor and the contractor doesn't deliver you can beat him over the head, but if you have a public employee who's got a job for life it's much more difficult to demand performance."
Private companies are seen as a source of finance, and a useful scapegoat to raise bills to help pay for the investment, because the decision would be made by state regulators rather than local politicians, said McCarthy: "It takes a bit of pressure off the local officials if they can shift that to somebody who's less impacted by the politics."
Despite huge controversy over privatisation of water suppliers in the last couple of decades – most famously violent protests in Bolivia over huge big bill increases – a World Bank report last year showed the population served by private companies has continued to expand, from almost zero in 1991 to more than 160m in 2007.
GWI's annual market report forecasted private company spending on water supplies would rise from about $45bn (£30bn) last year to nearly $70bn in just five years' time, and private finance of other water infrastructure more than double from about $30bn to more than $70bn.
However, still only about 10% of the world population is supplied by private operators, although more than four out of 10 people have no network supply at all.
The resurgence of privatisation interest, and continuing controversy over the issue, prompted GWI to chose it as the theme for the main debate at its major annual industry meeting in Paris this week.
AquaFed, the private industry lobby group, defended the continuing growth of public supplies, citing the World Bank study of 36 contracts in Africa, Latin America and Asia, which found private operators improved continuity of service and water quality, reduced leaks, and did not charge prices higher than public managers under the same conditions.
"Everybody needs access to water and sanitation in a way that's affordable," GĂ©rard Payen, Aquafed's president, told the debate, referring to calls for water to be treated as a human right. "[But] the right which is recognised but not effective for people is useless."
Many delegates described the debate as "sterile", "pointless", or a "red herring"; they argued there were good and bad examples of water operators from both public and private sectors, and private suppliers could be controlled by good regulation.
Passionate opposition remains however, and not everything is going the private operators' way: officials in Gary, Indiana, in the US, want to terminate their private contract early, claiming they can do the job for half the price; and the concession to supply 2 million residents in central Paris was recently awarded to a public authority, after 25 years of private operation.
Maude Barlow, chair of Food & Water Watch campaign group, told delegates that although private companies could help build networks and big infrastructure, they should not be able to make a profit from supplying water.
"I don't think anybody should be making money from delivering water because it can be done in the public sector on a not-for-profit basis," said Barlow. "No corporation can survive on that basis ... You make decisions about life and death because you have to make a profit, and that's the issue here."
Oxfam said it was concerned about big private operators "cherry picking" the most profitable customers, and suing governments if they tried to terminate contracts for poor performance or exorbitant prices – as Bechtel tried to do in Bolivia.
"Market-led solutions have often undermined the provision of essential services and have had a negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable communities," said a spokesman. "Water privatisation is the most notorious example."

Cape Wind to become America's first offshore windfarm

Green light for 130-turbine project in Nantucket Sound overcomes nearly a decade of resistance from the Kennedy clan and local environmental opposition

Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington, Wednesday 28 April 2010 17.30 BST
The Obama administration gave the go-ahead today to America's first offshore windfarm in the Nantucket Sound, overcoming nearly a decade of resistance from the Kennedy clan and other famous denizens of the favourite holiday destination of America's liberal elite.
The announcement provides a much-needed boost for President Obama's green energy credentials in the week that his proposed climate change laws were relegated down the agenda and the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster highlighted the potential dangers of any expansion of near-shore drilling.
The Cape Wind project will comprise 130 turbines that are expected to generate 75% of the electricity for Cape Cod and nearby islands like Martha's Vineyard. It could trigger a major expansion in America's use of wind power, which currently generates only 2% of supply.
Announcing the decision in Boston, the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said: "This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast as we build a new energy future. Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter – the US will once again lead the world on technology."
He acknowledged the path to approval had "not been easy" but said: "It has been examined at all levels and on all sides." He promised future decision making on windfarms would be streamlined.
Opponents of the project had argued that the pristine waters of Nantucket Sound, home to whales and sea birds, was an unsuitable spot for a windarm, and that it should be sited further offshore. They argued the 440-foot towers would interfere with local aircraft, complicate ferry services, and crowd out local fishermen. The turbines, as near as 5km to shore, would also intrude on two submerged Indian burial grounds, and wreck the views from the dunes of Cape Cod. But reviews by 17 state and federal agencies, as well as two environmental impact reports, found little of concern.
The Cape Wind project had also encountered strong local opposition, led by the late Ted Kennedy, who used to sail in the Nantucket Sound. The solid bloc of opposition from the Kennedys - even from the environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr - made Cape Wind a tricky project for Democrats. Even John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator, leading the push for climate and energy legislation in the Senate, hesitated to come out for the project. The Koch family, the reclusive owners of a private oil company who have homes in the area, also funded a lobbying campaign against the project.
However, Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, said that after facing down 11 previous court challenges, the developers were now confident of finally going ahead. "The favourable decision will really help kick the door open on a whole new industry in this country of offshore renewables," Rodgers said. "Just thinking practically I think Cape Wind is the one offshore wind project that could actually be build and commissioned during the Obama administration. It is going to have a big impact on how much will get done on their watch, actually putting steel into water and putting people to work."
The run-up to today's decision had been seen as a test of the Obama administration's commitment to its green agenda. Obama has put energy security at the heart of his presidency, arguing that reducing America's reliance on imported oil will create jobs and secure future prosperity.
He has made a point of visiting wind turbine and battery manufacturers around the country, as well as solar farms. In a visit to a wind turbine blade manufacturer in Iowa on Tuesday, Obama said: "If we pursue our full potential for wind energy, and everything goes right, wind could generate as much as 20% of America's electricity 20 years from now."
But Obama has also frustrated environmentalists by proposing $36bn in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry, and expanding offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast. The White House compounded that anger this week by shifting its legislative to-do list from climate change to immigration, scuttling six months of work by Senators to draft a compromise energy and global warming bill.

International failure to meet target to reduce biodiversity decline

Pressures on the natural world have risen since the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity, say conservation groups• Gallery: Readers' blossom photos

Juliette Jowit, Thursday 29 April 2010 18.13 BST
The world has failed to meet the target set by international leaders to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by this year, experts will announce next month.
Instead, a coalition of 40 conservation organisations claims there have been "alarming biodiversity declines", and that pressures on the natural world from development, over-use and pollution have risen since the ambition was set in the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity.
The first formal assessment of the target, published today in the journal Science, will be the basis of a formal declaration by the CBD in Nairobi on 10 May, at which governments will be pressed to take the issues as seriously as climate change and the economic crisis.
A growing number of studies have shown that it is almost impossible to calculate the value of the "ecosystem services" from the natural world, from food, rich soil and fuel for local people, to clean air and water, and plants used for the international pharmaceutical industry.
"Since 1970 we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%," said Professor Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the United Nations Environment Programme, one of the contributing organisations.
"These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human well-being and sustainable development."
The Science study compiled 30 indicators of biodiversity, including changes in populations of species and their risk of extinction, the remaining areas of different habitats, and the composition of communities of plants and animals.
"Our analysis shows that governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002: biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems," said Stuart Butchart, the paper's lead author.
"Our data show that 2010 will not be the year that biodiversity loss was halted, but it needs to be the year in which we start taking the issue seriously and substantially increase our efforts to take care of what is left of our planet."
Examples of successful policies that have helped preserve and sometimes restore species and ecological areas are also highlighted in Science, and politicians are called on to fund more such initiatives.
These include new protected areas, including the Juruena national park in Brazil; projects leading to the recovery of species such as the European bison, and even animals on the brink of extinction, such as the black stilt, a wader bird from New Zealand.
Ahmed Djoghlaf, the CBD's executive secretary, said: "While many responses have been in the right direction, the relevant policies have been inadequately targeted, implemented and funded. Above all biodiversity concerns must be integrated across all parts of government and business, and the economic value of biodiversity needs to be accounted for adequately in decision-making."
The failure to meet the CBD target will not be a surprise to experts or policymakers, who have warned for years that too little progress was being made. Last month the head of the IUCN species survival commission, Simon Stuart, told the Guardian that for the first time since the dinosaurs species were believed to be becoming extinct faster than new ones were evolving.
Natural England, the government's countryside agency, also warned that more than two species a year were becoming extinct in England.
Three weeks ago, in another paper in Science, the eminent ecologist E O Wilson led calls from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and nine other conservation groups for a "barometer of life" to track the changing fortunes of 160,000 of the world's 2m known species.

Green party takes a punt on victory in Cambridge

Candidate Tony Juniper says Green party poised for breakthrough in open race as newspaper polls put them ahead
Amelia Gentleman, Thursday 29 April 2010 18.50 BST
Tony Juniper, the Green party's candidate for Cambridge, is campaigning on a bicycle with a wheelbarrow-shaped front carriage, sturdy enough to carry leaflets weighing up to a quarter of a tonne. The leaflets are printed on 100% recycled paper, using, where possible, vegetable dyes. The electricity in his headquarters comes from a company that supplies renewable energy, and the wood for his campaign billboards comes from sustainable forests.
The former director of Friends of the Earth hopes to inspire the whole of Cambridge to adopt similar values and has a vision of transforming the city into a model of environmental sustainability, with residents living in solar-powered homes, bicycling to local shops and eating more locally produced food.
After a slow start, Juniper believes the campaign in central Cambridge has become a four-way race. Two online polls conducted by the Cambridge News have this week put the Greens ahead. One published on Monday said that if the city followed the trend of the paper's respondents (who come from a much wider geographical area, across Cambridgeshire) the Greens would be first past the post with 24.2% of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democrats' candidate, Julian Huppert, with 23%.
Online polls are unreliable, however, and today had Juniper at around 50/1 to win, favouring the Liberal Democrats instead. Both Huppert and the Labour candidate, Daniel Zeichner, dismiss the newspaper's poll, but they concede that the Green party's support has strengthened locally.
Cambridge has no core loyalty to any party, leaving all candidates fighting hard for the undecided voters.
The constituency was Conservative until 1992, when it was taken by Labour, who held it until 2005. Labour support disintegrated amid disaffection over the Iraq war and the seat was won in the last election by a Lib Dem, David Howarth, who has now stood down. With the race so open, candidates from all parties are participating in an intense schedule of well-attended public debates.
The Green campaign has been aided by a benefit gig performed by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and an appearance by Ken Livingstone, who did not formally back Juniper but said it would be good to see Green MPs in parliament.
Juniper talks as much about the economy and social justice as issues related more directly to the environment, working to convince voters that this is a party with a strong position on all issues. But his central argument hangs on the need to combine mending the economy and addressing the environment.
"The other parties say we need to do the economic growth now and the environment later. That is how the conversation has gone for 30 years. I fear that if we don't get some Greens in there soon, that's how it will continue," he said.
"We will have 9 billion people living on Earth by 2050 at a time when we have to cut greenhouse emissions by 80%. You can't do it with everybody living like Europeans. And you won't be able to do it politically if you have a few people living like Europeans and everybody else living in abject poverty. The scale of the transformation needed is unprecedented."
Cutting carbon emissions at a local level can be done by creating a greater sense of community, and encouraging local, sustainable farming and business.
"We will have local people trading with each other, more people having a direct link with the people who provide their services," he said.
Nationally, the Green party is focusing on winning three seats – and Cambridge is not one of them.
The Lib Dems' local website has a graph on its front page saying "Cambridge is a two-horse race", and pointing out that the Lib Dems took 44% of the vote in the last election, while Labour took 34%, and the Greens 2.9%.
"We have been canvassing data from thousands of voters around the constituency showing that Cambridge continues to be a Labour/Lib-Dem marginal, as it has been for a decade," Huppert said.
The Greens' share of the vote in the last election was low, Juniper argues, because they did not mount an organised campaign. This time they have an energetic team in the constituency, with more than 120 campaigning volunteers. "It is an audacious punt, it is ambitious, but I think we can win," he said.
Zeichner thinks it unlikely. "I wouldn't attach too much significance to an online poll, but there is no doubt that the Greens are going to do well. I would describe Cambridge as a three-and-a-half-way marginal," he said.

State of emergency is declared as US oil slick nears the coast

Jacqui Goddard in the Gulf of Mexico, Tim Reid in Washington and Frank Pope, Oceans Correspondent
The massive oil spill pouring from a ruptured rig in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the coast of Louisiana, threatening an environmental catastrophe in the region.
The first fingers of oily sheen reached the mouth of the Mississippi River on Thursday evening local time, 24 hours ahead of previous estimates by the US Coast Guard
As the sun began to set over the fragile wetlands surrounding the Mississippi, the oil was slipping into the South Pass of the river and already lapping at the shoreline in long black lines.
Although US government agencies and BP set up 100,000 feet of booms to protect coastal areas from the slick, rough seas sent five foot waves of oily water over the top of the booms into the river.

The slick is on its way to becoming Americas's worst environmental disaster in decades, endandering hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife in one of the world's richest marine environments.
Even before the spill neared the coast, wildlife experts said a toxic mix of chemicals was poisoning the waters of endangered marine life and fisheries, including one of only two breeding grounds world-wide for Atlantic bluefin tuna.
"It is of grave concern," said David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."
Fear turned to fury among local residents as BP, which has leased the Deepwater Horizon rig from owner and operator Transocean, stood accused of playing down the scale of disaster after as it emerged that five times more oil was surging into the Gulf from the seabed than had been calculated previously.
There is a growing sense among the fishermen and tourist guides dependent on the wetlands for their livelihood that the Government has once more failed them, just as it did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama was briefed on the disaster and ordered Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, and Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, down to the Gulf Coast today.
Mr Obama said: "While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence, to address the incident."
The operation now involves 1,100 people and more than 70 vessels. Last night, the Governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency
Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, said he was terrified that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or BP.
"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive,' said Mr Thomas. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."
US experts are now fearful that it could take weeks, or even months, to shut off the ruptured pipe — yesterday a third leak was discovered — meaning that within two months the spill would surpass the 11 million gallons that leaked from the Exxon Valdez tanker in the notorious spillage off the Alaska coast in 1989, America’s previous worst oil disaster.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday so officials could begin preparing for the oil's impact. He said at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume's path.

The 100-mile by 45-mile slick also threatens the Alabama coast.
It also emerged yesterday that the oil rig did not have a remote-controlled shut-off switch used in other oil-producing nations, such as Norway and Brazil, which could have closed down the well after the explosion.
The device, known as an acoustic switch, is not required under US law, but the lack of one added to questions about BP’s operation of the Deepwater Horizon. It exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20. The cause of the blast, which killed 11 of the 111 workers on board and set the rig ablaze before it eventually sank, has yet to be determined.
Mr Suttles said that Deepwater Horizon was equipped with other safety devices that should have prevented this type of spill, in which the oil is coming out of fractures on a severed pipe connected to the wellhead, 5,000ft below the surface.
Dozens of vessels were trying to contain the spill, using a variety of methods. Crews triggered a series of controlled fires to burn off the thickest parts of the slick, while booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants were trying to stop the rest from reaching shore. Heavy seas, forecast to last into next week, are hampering the operation.
BP was due to start drilling a new “relief” well that would allow them to stop the flow from the seabed, although officials said that it would take at least two months to complete.
A separate effort was also under way to try to place a dome on the ruptured wellhead but that, too, could take weeks.
BP has also tried, unsuccessfully, to close the wellhead using submersible robots.
More than 400 species are threatened by the oil, including wading birds and sea otters. The Gulf’s abundant oyster and shrimping grounds are also in danger of severe damage.
Marine and coastal life from the smallest plankton to the resident sperm whales will all be affected, experts say. Valuable fisheries for oyster and menhaden fish are at risk, as is the breeding of endangered turtles and bluefin tuna.
If the slick spreads, the rare manatees of the Florida panhandle could be under threat.
Much depends on where the slick ends up and the success of the efforts to contain it.
If it is taken by the Gulf’s defining current, which is known as the Loop, the oil may also reach the Florida Keys and endanger the region’s coral and resident marine populations.
The type of oil leaking from the sea floor is complicating matters. It is called sweet crude, which contains heavy compounds, known as asphaltenes, that do not burn easily or evaporate, even on the warm Louisiana coast.
With light crude, both burning and chemical dispersants work well, but neither tactic is very effective against sweet crude, raising fears that nothing can be done to stop the oil reaching shore.