Thursday, December 13, 2007

US accused of trying to halt global climate change deal

· Americans call for targets to be made voluntary
· Agreement at Bali unlikely amid fierce EU opposition

The US was last night accused of trying to derail a global agreement on climate change by proposing that it becomes a voluntary agreement where countries set their own targets and timetables for reductions of greenhouse gases, rather than a legally binding one.

With just one day left of the 14-day talks in Bali, it looks increasingly likely that no agreement will be reached by ministers. The proposed text, tabled late last night and leaked at around midnight local time, would effectively allow any nation to opt out of the next round of the Kyoto agreement. Observers last night said it could take climate change negotiations back more than a decade.

"These are wrecking tactics," said Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK. "The stakes are now very high and they are proposing to destroy the protocol completely. The Bush administration is trying to kill real progress."

"This is an extraordinary attempt by the Bush administration to kill off the fight against climate change," said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK. "If they get this text through, then it will give a free pass to any nation that wants to keep polluting."

The proposed US text uses phrases like "as appropriate", "depending" and "may" in reference to emissions cuts, which would effectively make any agreement reached voluntary. Last night it was understood that the US move was being supported by Canada but fiercely opposed by the EU and Britain.

Commenting on earlier American intransigence, James Connaughton, the senior US negotiator in Bali, said: "The US will lead, and we will continue to lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

Negotiators will now have an almost impossible task to reach consensus on the so-called "road map" for a new deal to come into force by 2013. Discussions in the past few days between the representatives of more than 180 countries have been overshadowed by an increasingly bitter row over carbon targets between the US and Europe, which escalated all day yesterday when EU officials demanded that Washington "wake up" over global warming.

In what was taken as a threat to boycott US-led talks on climate change between the world's biggest polluters next month in Hawaii, they warned that attending that meeting would be "senseless" unless the Bali agreement contains clear targets.

The US does not want a suggestion that industrialised countries cut emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020 included in the final document, which will provide the foundation for a new treaty on global warming after the Kyoto deal expires in 2012.

Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment, said that the cut in emissions for rich countries was an "indispensable" part of the text.

The Portuguese environment secretary, Humberto Rosa, said the EU was disappointed that the US was not prepared to accept the targets but he denied it was boycotting the US-led meeting. "We're not blackmailing anyone," he said. "No Bali, no meeting - we take it as logical, not blackmail."

Earlier, the former US vice-president Al Gore urged delegates to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," he said, calling for the new treaty to be implemented two years early, in 2010. He suggested the US stance might change, telling delegates to "save a blank space in your document" which could be filled later by a more amenable president.

EU officials argue the targets are crucial, because the world needs an idea of where it is heading; whereas Washington feels countries have been quick to agree targets and then failed to meet them.

The UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, said he was worried that a final "Bali road map" would contain an agreement to negotiate a new climate deal by 2009, but no specific targets for emission reductions.

"What is a road map without a destination?" said Dimas. "Europe has long been leading the fight against climate change. Now is the time for other industrial nations to wake up and show leadership, not only in words but in deeds."

The US delegation said that although it rejects specific targets, it hopes to reach an "environmentally effective" and "economically sustainable" agreement.

American sabotage

The Bali summit: The US is trying to sound constructive at the latest climate talks, but its aim is to put the boot in

Tony Juniper

Guardian, UK

Alongside the more familiar themes here at the Bali climate talks are some quite new ones. Perhaps the most surprising is the apparent constructive cooperation of the Bush administration. Unlike previous climate negotiations I have attended, at this one the Americans say they want a deal, that they want to talk and that new negotiations should begin under the auspices of the United Nations climate change agreement. What a change! Last time I came to one of these they were even disputing that we had a problem, questioning the science of global warming.

But all is not what is seems, or what the US team would like it to seem. Behind the more conciliatory front the Bush crew are running a systematic wrecking operation, seeking to undermine the prospect for an agreement here.

For example, the US has enraged the developing countries by blocking any financial support for the transfer of environmentally sound technologies from richer countries to poorer ones. They have further provoked developing countries by weakening commitments to help with climate change adaptation. This of course requires money, for example to build sea walls, but here the Bush crowd removed words from the draft agreement that said how the rich countries should be "ensuring sufficient, predictable, additional and sustainable financial resources" for adaptation. They did this on the same day that the UN Development Programme published its annual Human Development Report in which it was estimated that many tens of billions of pounds are needed each year to help poor countries cope with the pollution of the rich. If you want to provoke an angry response, that's the way to do it.

The Americans have also sought to create friction with Europe, for example in seeking to strike out any idea of how much emission cuts are needed by when. They have resisted references to the need for a cut of between 25%-40% from rich countries and have tried to delete any mention of the need for emissions to peak and decline within about a decade. This is clearly a direct contradiction of their own view that any future agreements should be based on the latest science. They have muddied the waters on deforestation as well, deliberately creating confusion and thus the prospect of more misunderstanding and potential friction.

So far the Americans have done quite well, ably assisted by their supine henchmen: Japan and Canada. But the way they have been forced to act this time is quite different from the more public resistance they have demonstrated in previous meetings.

Perhaps the most important factor leading to this more sophisticated strategy is the dramatic shift in public opinion back home. Over the last two years US opinion has moved very far. No longer does the denial of global warming work, neither does the economic scaremongering that Bush and his backers have peddled through junk assessments as to what would be the cost of implementing the cuts mandated under the Kyoto Protocol. The Bush team know that the American people expect them to be positive, and that is why they have a smile on their face while putting the boot into the prospects for agreement.

The US is being cleverer still, however. Last summer President Bush announced just before the G8 Summit in Germany that he planned to start his own new climate change process. It would be about technology rather than targets and would include the big emitters. It was received with derision. I heard President Bush set out the proposal live while sitting in a Sky TV studio, where I gave an instant response as to what it meant. My first reaction was that it was a deliberate attempt to derail the UN and G8 climate change processes. Here in Bali it is clearer than ever that this is exactly what that process was set up to do.

Although it lacks support from just about anyone, the "major emitters initiative" l is being presented here as an alternative to new international laws. It is clear that the Bush team are seeking to hollow out the agreement here and to take the potentially most interesting areas and to hijack them into their non-binding process. High on the list in this respect is the technology transfer discussion. And on this subject the UK needs to be careful that it is not suckered into inadvertently helping the US.

Recently the Bush Administration dispatched people to the UK and Japan to encourage support for a new technology initiative that would be linked to the US-led major emitters process. The idea would be to mobilise some money to assist with technology in developing countries. Of course, if the money goes there and not (as the Americans intend it won't) through the UN process, then the UN track will be empty of resources while the non-binding process finishes up with the cash. Of course global political attention will follow the money and if the resources go to the non-binding process that could help deliver another blow to a long term climate change treaty.

Its quite clever, but it can be stopped.

Hilary Benn, who now leads the UK team at the talks, needs to make sure that he keeps his wits about him and is not fooled into believing that there is any sincerity behind the new and more kindly face of the American team. Margaret Beckett saw them off at the Montreal talks in 2005, diplomatically slapping the US chief negotiator in the chops. She could see that they were vulnerable to public opinion back home and knew that they could not be seen to be the people who brought the house of cards crashing down. It's the same now, only more so. If the Americans are exposed at home, they can be forced to stop blocking.

Under these circumstances, Benn now needs to find a way of helping to expose the US plan. He needs to find some key allies, among them China and Brazil, and to jointly flush out the Bush plot so that the American people can see what is going on. If he did that, he might help save these talks. If he sits on his hands, if he does only the diplomatic thing, then perhaps we will not get what we need from here.

The Americans have a new aim and different tactics, but in the end they are shooting for the same outcome: no meaningful international deal on climate change. I wonder if there will be some governments who will be prepared to challenge them in public. I wonder if Hilary Benn will lead the charge?

Germany and China tells US to WAKE UP! - "We may not get carbon deal", warns Benn.

Emissions wrangle 'should not overshadow progress'
· US resistance criticised by Germany and China

David Adam in Bali The Guardian, UK,

A stand-off between the United States and Europe over carbon reduction targets should not overshadow the "significant" progress made on a new climate deal, Hilary Benn said yesterday. The environment secretary said the so-called Bali roadmap, which negotiators hope to produce tomorrow as the first step towards a new treaty, did not need a fixed target to be considered a success. He said: "Of course there are people who hoped it would all be sorted out this week. But the roadmap will give us the means to get where we want to go, and we haven't had that previously, and that's a significant step."

The US is trying to remove a reference to 25-40% cuts in carbon pollution by 2020 for developed countries, which remained in the draft roadmap released by the UN yesterday. Harlan Watson, US chief negotiator, said: "The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction."

The target is supported by Britain and Europe, which say it is necessary to avoid a 2C rise in global temperatures, and by developing countries such as Brazil and China, which want the US to show it is now serious about global warming.

Germany's environment minister Sigmar Gabriel said the Bali conference would be meaningless if it did not set clear targets. He said: "I do not need a paper from Bali in which we only say, 'OK, we'll meet next year again'. How can we find a roadmap without having a target, without having a goal?" The roadmap aims to set the framework and timetable to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the existing global treaty to regulate greenhouse gases, which expires in 2012.

The dispute came as heads of government and senior ministers took charge of the discussions for the first time, after a series of speeches that urged the world to quickly impose deep cuts in emissions, to head off scientific predictions of rising seas, worsening droughts and famines, and melting ice sheets. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, urged countries not to "betray our planet and our children". But he said it might be "too ambitious" to include fixed emission goals in tomorrow's roadmap.

Benn said the talks had agreed progress on how to avoid deforestation and how to help poor countries adapt to the consequences of global warming. He said a "clear majority" of countries had agreed to launch formal negotiations on a new treaty. Sources said Saudi Arabia, a regular obstructor at such talks, was still holding out. Talks on a way to transfer clean technology from rich to poor countries collapsed late on Tuesday night, but Benn insisted they could be revived.

China highlighted its efforts to control emissions despite rocketing economic growth and energy use. Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of the National Development Commission, said $20bn (£9.7bn) had been invested this year in renewables. He said rich countries should "show political will" by committing to cut emissions.

Musical interlude

A formal session to open the high-level section of the UN climate talks was interrupted by an invitation to enjoy one of the Indonesian president's songs. Heads of government squirmed in their seats as the song's video, complete with smiling children and burning forests, was beamed on to a screen and an aide urged them to sing along. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a minor pop star in Indonesia. Asked if he had enjoyed the performance, Hilary Benn said: "I've enjoyed all of it so far but I don't plan to sing."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Study details how U.S. could cut 28% of greenhouse gases

The United States is said to be brimming with untapped potential to cut gas emissions.

By Matthew L. Wald

International Herald Tribune, France

WASHINGTON: The United States could shave as much as 28 percent off the amount of greenhouse gases it emits at fairly modest cost and with only small technology innovations, according to a new report.

A large share of the reductions could come from steps that would more than pay for themselves in lower energy bills for industries and individual consumers, the report said, adding that people should take those steps out of good sense regardless of how worried they might be about climate change. But that is unlikely to happen under present circumstances, said the authors, who are energy experts at McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm.

The report said the country was brimming with "negative cost opportunities" - potential changes in the lighting, heating and cooling of buildings, for example, that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels even as they save money. "These types of savings have been around for 20 years," said Jack Stephenson, a director of the study. But he said they still face tremendous barriers.

Among them is that equipment is often paid for by a landlord or a builder and chosen for its low initial cost. The cost of electricity or other fuels to operate the equipment is borne by a tenant or home buyer. That means the landlord or builder has no incentive to spend more upfront for efficient equipment, even though doing so would save a lot of money in the long run.

Another problem, the report said, is that consumers often pay no attention to energy use in choosing gear. Computers, for instance, can be manufactured to use less power, but with most users oblivious to energy efficiency when they are shopping for a computer, manufacturers perceive no competitive edge in spending the extra money on efficiency.

"What the report calls out is the fact that the potential is so substantial for energy efficiency," said Ken Ostrowski, a leader of the report team. "Not that we will do it, but the potential is just staggering here in the U.S. There is a lot of inertia, and a lot of barriers."

The country can do the job with "tested approaches and high-potential emerging technologies," the study found, but doing the work "will require strong, coordinated, economywide action that begins in the near future."

The report focused on describing the problem, rather than on advocating fixes. But it did mention some possible solutions. Rules for utilities could be rewritten so they make as much money in promoting conservation as in selling electricity, the study said.

The task might also require emissions limits and other government mandates, as well as incentives like tax breaks to promote efficient buildings, cars and appliances, the study said. The McKinsey report said "lifestyle changes" by Americans could play a role in improved efficiency, even though they were not a major factor in the potential gains the report cited.

"A broad public education program around wasteful energy consumption could be mounted," the report said. Modeled on the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign of the 1960s, it could promote reduction in "carbon littering" by increasing people's awareness of the problem.

In contrast to improved efficiency, measures like capturing carbon dioxide from coal power plants and storing it would be relatively costly, and they account for less than 10 percent of the potential to cut emissions, the study said. The potential contributions from new nuclear plants and renewable energy supplies from wind or solar sources are also relatively modest, the report said.

The study, released Thursday in Washington, was conducted by McKinsey for DTE Energy, the parent company of Detroit Edison; Environmental Defense; Honeywell; National Grid; the Natural Resources Defense Council; Pacific Gas & Electric; and Shell.

Its release comes five days before a United Nations climate conference is to convene in Bali, Indonesia, and as the U.S. Congress approaches a vote on proposals to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.

Bikes for ministers at Bali talks

Indonesia plans to make ministers from around the world use bicycles to get about at the UN talks on climate change in Bali to help offset the event's carbon emissions, an Environment Ministry official said Friday, Reuters reported.

Delegates from nearly 190 countries will gather on the resort island on Monday to launch a concentrated effort to hammer out a new deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, a pact to curb global warming that expires in 2012.

To help offset an estimated 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide expected to be emitted during the 12-day event, the government will clear the conference site of cars and provide about 200 bikes instead to help people move around the area, said Agus Purnomo, the ministry official.

US resists setting target on cutting carbon pollution

· Call to reduce emissions by 25-40% is key issue
· Democrats would back limits, says Kerry

The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, will today begin attempts to persuade the US administration to agree firm targets on carbon pollution as part of a new deal on global warming. Benn arrived at UN climate talks in Bali last night, as the US said it was unwilling to approve a draft agreement which called on developed countries to reduce emissions by between 25% and 40% by 2020.

The US said the proposal, which is backed by Britain and the EU, was "totally unrealistic" and "unhelpful". Other countries, including Japan and Canada, are also believed to be against the idea.

The US said it was in Bali to be "constructive" and wanted the meeting to agree a roadmap to a new agreement on climate change which would be concluded by 2009. But it said it would not agree a firm target, presented either as an emissions reduction or as a maximum temperature rise. European negotiators argue that a target is needed to reflect the urgency of the problem and to encourage industry to invest in green technology. The high-level segment of the talks begins tomorrow, when senior ministers replace civil servants at the negotiating table.

In an unusual step, the UN published the text of the four-page draft agreement, based on the first week of informal discussions, on its website over the weekend. It is now being argued over by the 190 countries present. Observers said the draft would be repeatedly modified and updated through the week, until a final version is agreed on Friday.

The initial draft agreement calls for a response to the "unequivocal scientific evidence that preventing the worst effects of climate change will require [developed countries] to reduce emissions in a range of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and that global emissions of greenhouse gases need to peak in the next 10 to 15 years".

The senior climate negotiator for the US, Harlan Watson, said: "We have problems with defining the numbers up front. In our view, that pre-judges the outcome of the negotiations over the next two years." He said the US supported the concept of a "shared global goal" to address climate change, but did not want the Bali meeting to discuss exact numbers.

The 25-40% figure is based on the work of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was formally awarded the Nobel peace prize jointly with Al Gore yesterday. Watson said the IPCC calculation was based on "many uncertainties". The head of the UN climate secretariat, Yvo de Boer, said the 25-40% figure would be a "critical issue" at the talks, an important signpost in the fight against global warming. British officials said they expected the US to object to the proposal, but that the Bush administration had engaged in the talks more than in previous years. However, leaked papers revealed that US opposition to the 25-40% figure may be having an effect, with the target removed from a separate document on the future commitments of countries that have ratified the Kyoto protocol.

John Kerry, the US senator and losing presidential candidate in 2004, told the Bali event that a Democratic successor to George Bush in 2009 would bring the US fully on board. "Every single Democratic candidate for president has embraced mandatory caps ... and expressed their willingness to immediately be part of the Kyoto discussions and try to find a successor agreement to Kyoto," he said.

China has already said it may wait for 2010 before signing up to a new deal, to see how the new US president responds.

Bali negotiations

The Bali talks are aimed at agreeing a way to develop a new global treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol when it expires in 2012. That goal is made more complicated because some countries, including the US, have refused to join Kyoto. So there is a twin-track approach.

The simplest way would probably be for Kyoto members to agree new targets and timetables, which in time would draw in large developing countries such as China and India - the Kyoto track. But that would exclude the US, the largest polluter of all. So there are parallel negotiations on a broader new treaty to include them - the Bali roadmap track.

However it is achieved, a new treaty needs to be agreed by 2009-10, in time for it to come into force in 2013.

The real answer to climate change is to leave fossil fuels in the ground

All the talk in Bali about cutting carbon means nothing while ever more oil and coal is being extracted and burned

George Monbiot
Tuesday December 11, 2007
The Guardian

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the answer! Incredible as it might seem, I have stumbled across the single technology which will save us from runaway climate change! From the goodness of my heart, I offer it to you for free. No patents, no small print, no hidden clauses. Already this technology, a radical new kind of carbon capture and storage, is causing a stir among scientists. It is cheap, it is efficient and it can be deployed straight away. It is called ... leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

On a filthy day last week, as governments gathered in Bali to prevaricate about climate change, a group of us tried to put this policy into effect. We swarmed into the opencast coal mine being dug at Ffos-y-fran in South Wales and occupied the excavators, shutting down the works for the day. We were motivated by a fact which the wise heads in Bali have somehow missed: if fossil fuels are extracted, they will be used.

Most of the governments of the rich world now exhort their citizens to use less carbon. They encourage us to change our lightbulbs, insulate our lofts, turn our televisions off at the wall. In other words, they have a demand-side policy for tackling climate change. But as far as I can determine, not one of them has a supply-side policy. None seeks to reduce the supply of fossil fuel. So the demand-side policy will fail. Every barrel of oil and tonne of coal that comes to the surface will be burned.

Or perhaps I should say that they do have a supply-side policy: to extract as much as they can. Since 2000, the UK government has given coal firms £220m to help them open new mines or to keep existing mines working. According to the energy white paper, the government intends to "maximise economic recovery ... from remaining coal reserves".

The pit at Ffos-y-fran received planning permission after two ministers in the Westminster government jumped up and down on Rhodri Morgan, the first minister of the Welsh assembly. Stephen Timms at the department of trade and industry listed the benefits of the scheme and demanded that the application "is resolved with the minimum of further delay". His successor, Mike O'Brien, warned of dire consequences if the pit was not granted permission. The coal extracted from Ffos-y-fran alone will produce 29.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide: equivalent, according to the latest figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to the sustainable emissions of 55 million people for one year.

Last year British planning authorities considered 12 new applications for opencast coal mines. They approved all but two of them. Two weeks ago, Hazel Blears, the secretary of state in charge of planning, overruled Northumberland county council to grant permission for an opencast mine at Shotton, on the grounds that the scheme - which will produce 9.3m tonnes of CO2 - is "environmentally acceptable".

The British government also has a policy of "maximising the UK's existing oil and gas reserves". To promote new production, it has granted companies a 90% discount on the licence fees they pay for prospecting the continental shelf. It hopes the prospecting companies will open a new frontier in the seas to the west of the Shetland Isles. The government also has two schemes for "forcing unworked blocks back into play". If oil companies don't use their licences to the full, it revokes them and hands them to someone else. In other words, it is prepared to be ruthlessly interventionist when promoting climate change, but not when preventing it: no minister talks of "forcing" companies to reduce their emissions. Ministers hope the industry will extract up to 28bn barrels of oil and gas from the continental shelf.

Last week the government announced a new tax break for companies working in the North Sea. The Treasury minister, Angela Eagle, explained that its purpose is "to make sure we are not leaving any oil in the ground that could be recovered". The government's climate change policy works like this: extract every last drop of fossil fuel then pray to God that no one uses it.

The same wishful thinking is applied worldwide. The International Energy Agency's new outlook report warns that "urgent action is needed" to cut carbon emissions. The action it recommends is investing $22 trillion in new energy infrastructure, most of which will be spent on extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels.

Aha, you say, but what about carbon capture and storage? When governments use this term, they mean catching and burying the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. It is feasible, but there are three problems. The first is that fossil fuels are being extracted and burned today, and scarcely any carbon capture schemes yet exist. The second is that the technology works only for power stations and large industrial processes: there is no plausible means of dealing with cars, planes and heating systems. The third, as Alistair Darling, then in charge of energy, admitted in the Commons in May, is that the technologies required for commercial carbon capture "might never become available". (The government is prepared to admit this when making the case, as he was, for nuclear power, but not when making it for coal).

Almost every week I receive an email from someone asking what the heck I am talking about. Don't I realise that peak oil will solve this problem for us? Fossil fuels will run out, we'll go back to living in caves and no one will need to worry about climate change again. These correspondents make the mistake of conflating conventional oil supplies with all fossil fuels. Yes, at some point the production of petroleum will peak then go into decline. I don't know when this will happen, and I urge environmentalists to remember that while we have been proved right about most things we have been consistently wrong about the dates for mineral exhaustion. But before oil peaks, demand is likely to outstrip supply and the price will soar. The result is that the oil firms will have an even greater incentive to extract the stuff.

Already, encouraged by recent prices, the pollutocrats are pouring billions into unconventional oil. Last week BP announced a huge investment in Canadian tar sands. Oil produced from tar sands creates even more carbon emissions than petroleum extraction. There's enough tar and kerogen in North America to cook the planet several times over.

If that runs out, they switch to coal, of which there is hundreds of years' supply. Sasol, the South African company founded during the apartheid period - when supplies of oil were blocked - to turn coal into liquid transport fuel, is conducting feasibility studies for new plants in India, China and the US. Neither geology nor market forces is going to save us from climate change.

When you review the plans for fossil fuel extraction, the horrible truth dawns that every carbon-cutting programme is a con. Without supply-side policies, runaway climate change is inevitable, however hard we try to cut demand. The talks in Bali will be meaningless unless they produce a programme for leaving fossil fuels in the ground.


Big Oil lets sun set on renewables

Shell has quietly shed most of its solar power, while BP is buying into dirty tar sands

Shell, the oil company that recently trumpeted its commitment to a low carbon future by signing a pre-Bali conference communique, has quietly sold off most of its solar business.

The move, taken with rival BP's decision last week to invest in the world's dirtiest oil production in Canada's tar sands, indicates that Big Oil might be giving up its flirtation with renewables and going back to its roots.

Shell and BP are among the biggest producers of greenhouse gases in the world, but both have been keen to paint themselves green through a series of clean fuel initiatives.

BP, under its former chief executive, John Browne, promised to go "beyond petroleum" while Shell has spent millions advertising its serious interest in the future of the environment.

But at a time when interest in solar power is greater than ever, with the world's first "solar city" being built at Phoenix, Arizona, a small announcement from Environ Energy Global of Singapore revealed that it had bought Shell's photovoltaic operations in India and Sri Lanka, with more than 260 staff and 28 offices, for an undisclosed sum.

The sell-off, to be followed by similar ones in the Philippines and Indonesia, comes after another major disposal executed in a low-key way last year, when Shell hived off its solar module production business. The division, with 600 staff and manufacturing plants in the US, Canada and Germany, went to Munich-based SolarWorld. Shell has however formed a manufacturing link, with Saint-Gobain, and promised to build one plant in Germany.

The Anglo-Dutch oil group confirmed yesterday that it had pulled out of its rural business in India and Sri Lanka, saying it was not making enough money.

"It was not bringing in any profit for us there so we transferred it to another operator. The buyer will be able to take it to the next level," said a spokeswoman at Shell headquarters in London.

The oil group said it was continuing to move its renewables interests into a mainstream business and hoped to find one new power source that would "achieve materiality" for it. Shell continues to invest in a number of wind farm schemes, such as the London Array offshore scheme, which has government approval. Shell has also been concentrating its efforts on biofuels, but declined to say whether it had given up on solar power even though many smaller rivals continue to believe the technology has a bright future.

Environmental groups have always accused Shell of using clean energy initiatives as "greenwash" to deflect criticism from its core carbon operations, especially tar sands. The latest pull-out has annoyed rival business leaders at London-based Solar Century and local Indian operation, Orb Energy, who fear the impact of a high-profile company selling off solar business. Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Solarcentury and a leading voice in renewable energy circles, said Shell was undermining the credibility of the business world in its fight against global warming.

"Shell and Solar Century were among the 150 companies that recently signed up to the hard-hitting Bali Declaration. It is vital that companies act consistently with the rhetoric in such declarations, and as I have told Shell senior management on several occasions, an all-out assault on the Canadian tar sands and extracting oil from coal is completely inconsistent with climate protection.

"This latest evidence of half-heartedness or worse in Shell's renewables activities leaves me even more disappointed. Unless fossil-fuel energy companies evolve their core activities meaningfully, we are in deep trouble," he said.

Damian Miller, former director of Shell Solar's rural operations and now chief executive of Orb Energy, said Shell was missing an opportunity by pulling out at a time when renewables markets were starting to mature in the developing world. He alleged some customers were complaining of being abandoned by Shell and worried about the servicing of equipment they could expect from Environ. "We see former Shell customers who are highly disappointed not to be receiving proper service for the solar systems they have invested in. These customers have often invested 20-30% of their annual income in a system to ensure they have some minimum amount of lighting and access to radio, TV, or a fan," said Miller.

He added that the oil majors, including Shell, had invested time and energy in promoting their plans for renewable energy in the press and on TV, but were not able to lead the transformation the world needs towards renewable energy and energy efficient solutions.

Shell declined to comment on these criticisms or talk about where its priorities lay. But the chief executive, Jeroen van der Veer, did make a number of comments last summer which could have paved the way for a change in policy. Alternative energy sources such as renewables will not fill the gap, he argued, forecasting that even with technological breakthroughs they could give supply only 30% of global energy by the middle of the century. "Contrary to public perceptions, renewable energy is not the silver bullet that will soon solve all our problems," he said.

Meanwhile, BP has been accused by Greenpeace Canada of lining itself up to help commit "the biggest environmental crime in history". This follows its decision to swap assets with Husky Oil, giving it an entrance ticket to the Alberta tar sands, which are said to be five times more energy-intensive to extract compared to traditional oil.

John Browne, the group's former chief executive, had said BP would not follow Shell into tar sands as he established an alternative energy division and pledged to take the group "beyond petroleum." The new boss, Tony Hayward, has pointed the corporate supertanker in a new direction although his public relations minders insist BP remains committed to exploring the potential of renewables.

"Tony Hayward has been part of the management team at BP for many years and has endorsed the low-carbon strategy that involved BP creating its alternative energy business late in 2005. We are spending $8bn (£4bn) over ten years and are pressing ahead with 450 megawatts of wind production capacity in the US," said a spokesman. "The tar sands deal in Canada does not represent a change in direction, it was just a very good opportunity which represents a broadening of the portfolio."

Greenpeace climate campaigner Joss Garman said: "If Shell is to survive the climate change age... it needs to become not just an oil company but an energy company. One wonders if Shell's executives have noticed what's happening in Bali or if we'll see slick adverts on TV boasting about their retreat from renewables. Probably not."

California greenhouse gas law may stand: judge

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's landmark law requiring cuts in greenhouse gas emissions may stand, a federal court judge in Fresno, California ruled on Wednesday, rejecting arguments by car makers that federal law should preempt the state's effort.

A spokesman for the auto industry, which had argued that California's law is unconstitutional, said an appeal is uncertain. "We're still reviewing the decision and a decision on whether or not to appeal hasn't been made yet," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

(Reporting by Jim Christie, editing by Richard Chang)

StatoilHydro says 25,000 barrels of oil spilled in N.Sea

From: By John Acher, Reuters


OSLO (Reuters) - About 25,000 barrels of oil spilled into the Norwegian sector of the North Sea at the Statfjord oilfield on Wednesday, field operator StatoilHydro and oil officials said.

The spill occurred in rough seas while oil was being loaded from a storage unit to a tanker, but the spillage has been halted, oil safety authorities said.

A meteorologist at the Storm forecasting centre said the spill may be drifting east to southeast. That could put it on a collision course with the southwest coast of Norway.

"This could be the second largest spill in Norwegian oil history," the Petroleum Safety Authority's (PSA) spokeswoman, Inger Anda, said. The biggest was a 75,000-barrel spill from the Bravo blowout in 1977.

By comparison, the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled about 240,000 barrels of crude off Alaska in 1989.

"During loading of oil from the Statfjord A platform in the North Sea about 4,000 standard cubic meters of oil was released into the sea," Norwegian energy group StatoilHydro said in a statement.

Neither production nor exports from Statfjord, the biggest oilfield ever found off Norway though now far off its peak, would be affected, StatoilHydro said.

Statfjord currently produces about 100,000 barrels per day and news of the spill initially helped to send oil prices higher.

The spill happened in rough weather while the tanker Navion Britannica was loading oil from a storage buoy, StatoilHydro said. The ship belongs to Vancouver-based tanker group Teekay Corp.

Winds at Statfjord are for the moment around 45 knots, and seas are around seven meters (23 feet), StatoilHydro said.

The Statfjord field lies about 200 km (124 miles) offshore, west of the port of Bergen near the UK boundary line in the North Sea.

The PSA said it established an emergency response centre.

The Storm centre official said southerly near gale to gale winds were expected in the area for the next 24 hours and seas of 4-1/2 to 7 meters and the spill seemed to be drifting east to southeast, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

StatoilHydro shares rose despite the spill and traded up 1.4 percent at 165 Norwegian crowns ($30.36) at 10:04 a.m. EST, outperforming a 0.2 percent rise in the Oslo bourse benchmark index and a 1.1 percent rise in the DJ Stoxx oil and gas index.

(Additional reporting by Wojciech Moskwa, Ole Petter Skonnord and Bart Noonan, Editing by Anthony Barker)

Beyond the Point of No Return-It's too late to stop climate change — so what do we do now?

by Ross Gelbspan

As the pace of global warming kicks into overdrive, the hollow
optimism of climate activists, along with the desperate responses of
some of the world's most prominent climate scientists, is preventing
us from focusing on the survival requirements of the human enterprise.

The environmental establishment continues to peddle the notion that we
can solve the climate problem.

We can't.

We have failed to meet nature's deadline. In the next few years, this
world will experience progressively more ominous and destabilizing
changes. These will happen either incrementally — or in sudden, abrupt

Under either scenario, it seems inevitable that we will soon be
confronted by water shortages, crop failures, increasing damages from
extreme weather events, collapsing infrastructures, and, potentially,
breakdowns in the democratic process itself.

Start with the climate activists, who are telling us only a partial truth.

Virtually all of the national and grassroots climate groups are
pushing hard to reduce carbon emissions. The most aggressive are
working to change America's entire energy structure from one based on
coal and oil to a new energy future based on noncarbon technologies —
as they should.

The Step It Up campaign inspired more than 1,500 protests in all 50
states this year, and is hoping to build on that impact by joining
forces with the 1Sky climate campaign. The Campus Climate Challenge is
planning a new and more energetic clean energy campaign. Focus the
Nation continues to exhort colleges and universities around the
country to green their campuses. Al Gore's dedication to bringing the
climate crisis to public attention won him a well-deserved Nobel
Prize, and he's using his newfound credibility to push even harder for
action against climate change. The large Washington-based
environmental groups are pressing to improve climate and energy bills
that are moving through Congress — even though the bills are clearly
inadequate to the challenge before us.

But even assuming the wildest possible success of their initiatives —
that humanity decided tomorrow to replace its coal- and oil-burning
energy sources with noncarbon sources — it would still be too late to
avert major climate disruptions. No national energy infrastructure can
be transformed within a decade.

All these initiatives address only one part of the coming reality.
They recall the kind of frenzied scrambling that is characteristic of
trauma victims — a frantic focus on other issues, any other issues —
that allows people to avoid the central take-home message of the
trauma: in this case, the overwhelming power of inflamed nature.

Within the last two years, a number of leading scientists — including
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), British ecologist James Lovelock, and NASA scientist
James Hansen — have all declared that humanity is about to pass or
already has passed a "tipping point" in terms of global warming. The
IPCC, which reflects the findings of more than 2,000 scientists from
over 100 countries, recently stated that it is "very unlikely" that we
will avoid the coming era of "dangerous climate change."

The truth is that we may already be witnessing the early stages of
runaway climate change in the melting of the Arctic, the increase in
storm intensity, the accelerating extinctions of species, and the
prolonged nature of recurring droughts.

Moreover, some scientists now fear that the warming is taking on its
own momentum — driven by internal feedbacks that are independent of
the human-generated carbon layer in the atmosphere.

Consider these examples:

* Despite growing public awareness of global warming, the world's
carbon emissions are rising nearly three times faster than they did in
the 1990s. As a result, many scientists tell us that the official,
government-sanctioned forecasts of coming changes are understating the
threat facing the world.
* A rise of 2 degrees C over preindustrial temperatures is now
virtually inevitable, according to the IPCC, as the atmospheric
concentration of carbon dioxide is approaching the destabilizing level
of 450 parts per million. That rise will bring drought, hunger,
disease, and flooding to millions of people around the world.
* Scientists predict a steady rise in temperatures beginning in
about two years — with at least half of the years between 2009 and
2019 surpassing the average global temperature in 1998, to date, the
hottest year on record.
* Given the unexpected speed with which Antarctica is melting,
coupled with the increasing melt rates in the Arctic and Greenland,
the rate of sea-level rise has doubled — with scientists now raising
their prediction of ocean rise by century's end from about three feet
to about six feet.
* Scientists discovered that a recent, unexplained surge of carbon
dioxide levels in the atmosphere is due to more greenhouse gases
escaping from trees, plants, and soils — which have traditionally
buffered the warming by absorbing the gases. In the lingo of climate
scientists, carbon sinks are turning into carbon sources. Because the
added warmth is making vegetation less able to absorb our carbon
emissions, scientists expect the rate of warming to jump substantially
in the coming years.
* The intensity of hurricanes around the world has doubled in the
last decade. As Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric
Research explained, "If you take the last 10 years, we've had twice
the number of category-5 hurricanes than any other [10-year period] on
* In Australia, a new, permanent state of drought in the country's
breadbasket has cut crop yields by over 30 percent. The
1-in-1,000-year drought exemplifies a little-noted impact of climate
change. As the atmosphere warms, it tightens the vortex of the winds
that swirl around the poles. One result is that the water that
traditionally evaporated from the Southern Ocean and rained down over
New South Wales is now being pulled back into Antarctica — drying out
the southeastern quadrant of Australia and contributing to the buildup
of glaciers in the Antarctic — the only area on the planet where
glaciers are increasing.

As one prominent climate scientist said recently, "We are seeing
impacts today that we did not expect to see until 2085."[1]

The panic among climate scientists is expressing itself in
geoengineering proposals that are half-baked, fantastically
futuristic, and, in some cases, reckless. Put forth by otherwise sober
and respected scientists, the schemes are intended to basically allow
us to continue burning coal and oil.

Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen, for example, is proposing to spray
aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight
hitting earth. Tom M. L. Wigley, a highly esteemed climate scientist
at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), ran scenarios
of stratospheric sulfate injection — on the scale of the estimated 10
million tons of sulfur emitted when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 —
through supercomputer models of the climate, and reported that
Crutzen's idea would, indeed, seem to work. The scheme was highlighted
in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times by Ken Caldeira, a
climate researcher at the Carnegie Institution.

Unfortunately, the seeding of the atmosphere with sun-reflecting
particles would trigger a global drought, according to a study by
other researchers. "It is a Band-Aid fix that does not work," said
study co-author Kevin Trenberth of NCAR. The eruption of Pinatubo was
followed by a significant drop-off of rainfall over land and a record
decrease in runoff and freshwater discharge into the ocean, according
to a recently published study by Trenberth and other scientists.

The noted British ecologist James Lovelock recently proposed the idea
of installing deepwater pipes on the ocean floor to pump cold water to
the surface to enhance the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Others suggest dumping iron filings into the ocean to increase the
growth of algae which, in turn, would absorb more carbon dioxide.

These proposals fail to seriously acknowledge the possibility of
unanticipated impacts on ocean dynamics or marine ecosystems or
atmospheric conditions. We have no idea what would result from efforts
to geoengineer our way around nature's roadblock.

At a recent conference, Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense
Council noted, "These types of proposals are multiplying around the
world, and there is no structure in place to evaluate if any of them
work. People are going after these gigantic projects without any
thoughtful, rational process."

What these scientists are offering us are technological expressions of
their own supercharged sense of desperation.

To be fair, the reality that faces us all is extremely difficult to
deal with — as much from an existential as from a scientific point of

Climate change won't kill all of us — but it will dramatically reduce
the human population through the warming-driven spread of infectious
disease, the collapse of agriculture in traditionally fertile areas,
and the increasing scarcity of fresh drinking water. (Witness the
1-in-100-year drought in the southeastern U.S., which has been
threatening drinking water supplies in Georgia and other states.)

Those problems will be dramatically intensified by an influx of
environmental refugees whose crops are destroyed by weather extremes
or whose freshwater sources have dried up or whose homelands are going
under from rising sea levels.

In March, the U.S. Army War College sponsored a conference on the
security implications of climate change. "Climate change is a national
security issue," retired General Gordon R. Sullivan, chair of the
Military Advisory Board and former Army chief of staff, said in
releasing a report that grew out of the conference. "[C]limate
instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact
American military operations around the world."

One frequently overlooked potential casualty of accelerating climate
change may be our tradition of democracy (corrupted as it already is).
When governments have been confronted by breakdowns, they have
frequently resorted to totalitarian measures to keep order in the face
of chaos. It is not hard to imagine a state of emergency morphing into
a much longer state of siege, especially since heat-trapping carbon
dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Add the escalating squeeze on our oil supplies, which could intensify
our meanest instincts, and you have the ingredients for a long period
of repression and conflict.

Ominously, this plays into the scenario, thoughtfully explored by
Naomi Klein, that the community of multinational corporations will
seize on the coming catastrophes to elbow aside governments as agents
of rescue and reconstruction — but only for communities that can
afford to pay. This dark vision implies the increasing insulation of
the world's wealthy minority from the rest of humanity — buying
protection for their fortressed communities from the Halliburtons,
Bechtels, and Blackwaters of the world while the majority of the poor
are left to scramble for survival among the ruins.

The only antidote to that kind of future is a revitalization of
government — an elevation of public mission above private interest and
an end to the free-market fundamentalism that has blinded much of the
American public with its mindless belief in the divine power of
markets. In short, it requires a revival of a system of participatory
democracy that reflects our collective values far more accurately than
the corporate state into which we have slid.

Unfortunately, we seem to be living in an age of historical amnesia.
One wonders whether our institutional memory still recalls the
impulses that gave rise to our constitution — or whether we have
substituted a belief in efficiency, economic rationalization, and
profit maximization for our traditional pursuit of a finely calibrated
balance between individual liberties and social justice.

From a more personal viewpoint, an acknowledgement of the reality of
escalating climate change plays havoc with one's sense of future. It
is almost as though a lone ocean voyager were suddenly to lose sight
of the North Star. It deprives one of an inner sense of navigation. To
live without at least an open-ended sense of future (even if it's not
an optimistic one) is to open one's self to a morass of conflicting
impulses — from the anticipated thrill of a reckless plunge into
hedonism to a profoundly demoralizing sense of hopelessness and a
feeling that a lifelong guiding sense of purpose has suddenly

This slow-motion collapse of the planet leaves us with the bitterest
kind of awakening. For parents of young children, it provokes the most
intimate kind of despair. For people whose happiness derives from a
fulfilling sense of achievement in their work, this realization feels
like a sudden, violent mugging. For those who feel a debt to all those
past generations who worked so hard to create this civilization we
have enjoyed, it feels like the ultimate trashing of history and
tradition. For anyone anywhere who truly absorbs this reality and all
that it implies, this realization leads into the deepest center of

There needs to be another kind of thinking that centers neither on the
profoundly dishonest denial promoted by the coal and oil industries,
nor the misleading optimism of the environmental movement, nor the
fatalistic indifference of the majority of people who just don't want
to know.

There needs to be a vision that accommodates both the truth of the
coming cataclysm and the profoundly human need for a sense of future.

That vision needs to be framed by the truly global nature of the
problem. It starts with the recognition that this historical era of
nationalism has become a stubborn, increasingly toxic impediment to
our collective future. We all need to begin to think of ourselves —
now — as citizens of one profoundly distressed planet.

I think that understanding involves a recognition that a clean
environment is about far more than endangered species, toxic
substances, and the "dead zones" that keep spreading off our
shorelines. A clean environment is a basic human right. And without
it, all the other human rights for which we have worked so hard will
end up as grotesque caricatures of some of our deepest aspirations.

Fortuitously, the timing of the climate crisis does coincide with
other worldwide trends. Like it or not, the economy is becoming
globalized. The globalization of communications now makes it possible
for anyone to communicate with anyone else anywhere else in the world.
And, since it is no respecter of national boundaries, the global
climate makes us one.

At the same time, the coming changes clearly suggest that, to the
extent possible, we should be eating locally and regionally grown food
— to minimize the CO2 generated by factory farming and long-distance
food transport. We should also be preparing to take our energy from a
decentralized system using whichever noncarbon energy technologies are
best suited to their natural surroundings — solar in sunny areas,
offshore wave and tidal power in coastal areas, wind farms in the
world's wind corridors, and geothermal almost everywhere. (It may even
be feasible to maintain a low-level coal-fired grid, of about 15
percent of current capacity, as a back-up for days the wind doesn't
blow or the sun doesn't shine.) But it's critical to stop thinking in
terms of centralized energy systems and to begin thinking in terms of
localized, decentralized technologies.

At the level of social organization, the coming changes imply the need
to conduct something like 80 percent of our governance at the local
grassroots level through some sort of consensual democratic process —
with the remaining 20 percent conducted by representatives at the
global level.

For some years, I have been promoting a policy bundle of three
specific strategies as one model for jump-starting a global transition
to clean energy. Those policies, which are spelled out in my book
Boiling Point and on my website, include:

* Redirecting more than $250 billion in subsidies in industrial
countries away from coal and oil and putting them behind carbon-free
* Creating a fund of about $300 billion a year for a decade, to
transfer clean energy to poor countries; and
* Adopting within the Kyoto framework a mandatory progressive
fossil-fuel efficiency standard that would go up by 5 percent a year
until the 80 percent global reduction is attained.

The initial impulse behind these strategies was to craft a policy
bundle to stabilize the climate — and at the same time create millions
of jobs, especially in developing countries. Initially, I, along with
the other people who helped formulate them, envisioned these solutions
as a way to undermine the economic desperation that gives rise to so
much anti-U.S. sentiment. They would, we hoped, turn impoverished and
dependent countries into trading partners. They would raise living
standards abroad without compromising ours. They would jump the
renewable energy industry into a central driving engine of growth for
the global economy and, ultimately, yield a far more equitable, more
secure, and more prosperous world.

Unfortunately, given all the apathy, indifference, and antagonism to
taking real action, nature has now relegated that earlier vision to
the rear-view mirror.

But this kind of global public-works plan, if initiated in the near
term, could still provide a platform to bring the people of the world
together around a common global project that transcends traditional
alliances and national antagonisms — even in today's profoundly
fractured, degraded, and combative world. Along the way, it could also
provide decentralized stand-alone energy sources for disconnected
social communities in a post-crash world.

The key to our survival as a civil species during an era of profound
natural upheaval lies in an enhanced sense of community. If we
maintain the fiction that we can thrive as isolated individuals, we
will find ourselves at the same emotional dead end as the current crop
of survivalists: an existence marked by defensiveness, mistrust,
suspicion, and fear.

As nature washes away our resources, overwhelms our infrastructures,
and splinters our political alignments, our survival will depend
increasingly on our willingness to join together as a global
community. As the former Argentine climate negotiator, Raul
Estrada-Oyuela, said, "We are all adrift in the same boat — and
there's no way half the boat is going to sink."[2]

To keep ourselves afloat, we need to change the economic and political
structures that determine how we behave. In this case, we need to
elevate the ethic of cooperation over the deeply ingrained reflex of
competition. We need to elevate our biological similarities over our
geographical differences. We need, in the face of this oncoming
onslaught, to reorganize our social structures to reflect our most
humane collective aspirations.

There is no body of expertise — no authoritative answers — for this
one. We are crossing a threshold into uncharted territory. And since
there is no precedent to guide us, we are left with only our own
hearts to consult, whatever courage we can muster, our instinctive
dedication to a human future — and the intellectual integrity to look
reality in the eye.

Ross Gelbspan is retired from a 30-year career as an editor and
reporter at The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Washington Post, and The
Boston Globe. He is author of The Heat Is On and Boiling Point, and he
maintains the website


[1] Author's conversation with Dr. Paul Epstein, of the Center for
Health and the Global Environment of Harvard Medical School,
September, 2006.

[2] Raul Estrada-Oyuela, Argentine negotiator, at the U.N Convention
on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan, December, 1997.

(c)2007. Grist Magazine, Inc.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Greenland ice sheet melting at record rate

From: Reuters


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Greenland ice sheet melted at a record rate this year, the largest ever since satellite measurements began in 1979, a top climate scientist reported on Monday.

"The amount of ice lost by Greenland over the last year is the equivalent of two times all the ice in the Alps, or a layer of water more than one-half mile deep covering Washington DC," said Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Using data from military and weather satellites to see where the ice is melting, Steffen and his colleagues were able to monitor the rapid thinning and acceleration of ice as it moved into the ocean at the edge of the big arctic island.

The extent of the melt area was 10 percent greater than the last record year, 2005, the scientists found.

Greenland is about one-fourth the size of the United States and about 80 percent of it is covered by the ice sheet. One-twentieth of the world's ice is in Greenland; if it all melted it would be equivalent to a 21-foot (6.4 meter) global sea level rise, the scientists said.

One factor in the speed-up of Greenland's ice melt is an increase in cylindrical shafts in the ice called moulins.

These huge tunnels in the ice act like drains and appear to let the ice sheet respond more rapidly than researchers expected to spikes in temperature at the beginning of the annual warm season, Steffen said.

In recent years, melting has started earlier in the year than normal. Air temperatures on the ice sheet have risen by about 7 degrees F (3.9 degrees C) since 1991, mostly because of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the scientists said in research presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

This is in keeping with persistently gloomy news about the state of the Arctic this year. In October, a U.S. government "report card" found less ice, hotter air and dying wildlife.

In May, a U.S. expert at the National Snow and Ice Center in Colorado found that Arctic ice cap is melting much faster than expected and is now about 30 years ahead of predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Editing by Sandra Maler)

Cambodia plans hunting safaris for VIP tourists

From: Reuters


By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia is considering laying on hunting safaris for well-heeled foreign tourists in its remote jungle-clad northeast, to the consternation of green groups who say it could be a recipe for disaster.

Officials said on Tuesday a Spanish firm called Nsok Safaris had already drawn up plans for a five-star jungle camp to house hunters after trophies on a list of 30 mammals, birds and reptiles in a 100,000-hectare (250,000-acre) forest reserve.

The area, in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces, is home to several indigenous hill-tribes whose first main contact with the outside world was during the Vietnam War when their territory was crossed by the myriad paths of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Dany Chheang, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry's Wildlife Protection Office, said allowing foreigners to pay to shoot game was far better for conservation than having poachers take it illegally.

"Illegal hunters are burning dollars every day," he told Reuters. "We have not explored all the potential of our natural resources. Now is the time to do so."

"The money we net will be invested in preserving the animals and forest. It is better for sustainable development than letting local hunters deal with cheap black markets."

He did not say what the 30 approved species were. The forest area is thought to be one of southeast Asia's last wildernesses and is home to wild elephants and tigers.

Environvmental group WWF, which has been promoting wildlife conservation in war-scarred Cambodia since 1998, said it was concerned about the plan, which has been in the pipeline for two years but which has remained shrouded in secrecy.

WWF's Cambodia program manager, Bas van Helvoort, said little was known about animal population numbers in the two provinces, and so allowing them to be hunted could be disastrous.

"Putting species up to be hunted is not going to contribute to making them safe," van Helvoort said. "This has been done in Africa but it is very carefully selected and very controlled."

So far, Phnom Penh -- which is routinely accused of allowing rampant illegal logging -- appears oblivious to the concerns.

"These are our natural resources. We do not need permission from wildlife conservation experts to run our business," Dany Chheang said.

The Finance Ministry was still working with agriculture officials on the finer points of the plan, such as trophies and fees, he added.

Madrid-based Nsok Safari's Web site advertises hunting expeditions in Cameroon and Tanzania.

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Roger Crabb)

Peatlands are Quick and Cost-Effective Measure to reduce 10% of greenhouse emissions


Bali, 11 December 2007- Clearing, draining and setting fire to peatlands emits more than 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year - equivalent to 10% of global emissions from fossil fuels, according to Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change, the first comprehensive global assessment of the link between peatland degradation and climate change.

"Just like a global phase out of old, energy guzzling light bulbs or a switch to hybrid cars, protecting and restoring peatlands is perhaps another key "low hanging fruit" and among the most cost- effective options for climate change mitigation," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems that accumulate plant material under saturated conditions to form layers of peat soil up to 20m thick - storing on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems. Peatlands occur in 180 countries and cover 400 million hectares or 3% of the world's surface.

Steiner said, "the new Assessment, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), shows that peatlands are a critical part of the global climate regulation system, storing twice as much carbon as the biomass of the world's forests - a fact that has escaped the attention of many of the world's negotiators. Peatlands worldwide," he added, "are under severe threat from human activities and climate change especially permafrost, mountain and coastal peatlands".

UNEP and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) together with the GEF, the Global Environment Centre (GEC) and Wetlands International today called for the international community to take urgent action on to protect and restore peatlands through integration into climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Continued burning, degradation, drainage and exploitation of peatlands all over the globe particularly, in Southeast Asia due to forest fires, constitute a "time bomb" of massive amounts of below-ground stored carbon ready to be released in the atmosphere - which can undo much of the mitigation efforts already underway. The assessment identifies several other major areas in Northern Europe and Russia and North America with serious peatland degradation.

"The Assessment, compiled by an multidisciplinary expert team and, represents for the first time key information on the relationship between peatlands, biodiversity and climate change has been analysed on a global level."according to Faizal Parish - Director of Malaysia-based Global Environment Centre which coordinated the preparation together with Wetlands International.

Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International, which has been undertaking pilot projects for peatland restoration in China and Indonesia linked to the Assessment said, "Fortunately despite the high emissions from degraded peatlands, it is possible to drastically reduce emissions through very cost-effective water management, restoration and fire prevention measures"

"An Expert meeting organized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) earlier this year concluded that investments in conservation and restoration of peatlands can be up to 100 times more cost effective as other carbon sequestration measures" said Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the CBD. "In addition to their climate functions - peatlands are also critical for biodiversity conservation with key species such as Orang Utan and crane species being found mainly in peatland areas."

He further added that peatlands also provide major ecosystem services and that in July of this year CBD Parties welcomed the assessment and have requested rapid follow up in partnership with the UNFCCC and other organizations. He concluded,"We now need to raise the profile of these ecosystems in the debate on linkages between wetlands, biodiversity and climate change as the conclusions of the assessment demonstrate one of the clearest opportunities for win-win outcomes. "and that, "the most important need is for this progress to be reflected in real changes to the policies, management and use of peatlands on the ground."

In South East Asia Governments have taken action by endorsing the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy 2006-2020 (APMS) which outlines 25 objectives in 13 focal areas to prevent peatland degradation and fires in the region.

According to Faizal Parish, "Peatland fires in SE Asia have burnt 3 million ha of peatland in the last 10 years generating average emissions of 1.4 billion tonnes per year and regularly blanketing the region in smoke with major impacts on the health and livelihood of millions of people. Addressing these problems will solve key local issues as well as addressing global concerns. Similarly the destruction of mountain peatlands in Africa, Asia and Latin America threatens the water and food supply for large rural and urban populations."

"Permafrost and steppe peatlands are already being impacted by climate change," added Steiner. "Melting permafrost may increase methane emissions in some areas and enhance fires in others. Increasing temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce the area of peatland and enhance emissions. With proper management peatlands can be more resilient to climate change - but this needs to be adequately incorporated into climate adaptation strategies,"he said.

Marcel Silvius cautions "We need to avoid ill-advised climate mitigation measures on peatlands." "Cultivation of biofuel crops such as soy, oil palm or sugar cane on peatlands generates much more CO2 emissions than saved through fossil fuel substitution. Construction of windfarms and hydropower reservoirs on peatlands also generates significant emissions and large-scale development of biofuel feedstocks on peatlands is stimulating massive increases in emissions."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The fight for Sumatra's forests

As politicians gather in Bali, a pioneering project is taking on the illegal loggers

Some 20 miles along a quagmire of a dirt road from a former logging camp deep in the Indonesian forest, the patrol of muddy vehicles halts at an all too familiar sound. The buzz of a single chainsaw drifts through the trees, and is quickly drowned out by the growl of an engine, as two forest guards leave the convoy and steer their motorbike along a nearby path to begin their pursuit.

An hour later, the riders return with broad smiles and throw a confiscated chainsaw into the back of a jeep. It is a minor victory, but a victory nonetheless, against the vast army of illegal loggers that has reduced their country's dense carpet of rainforest to tatters in just a few decades.

The patrol is part of a pioneering project by an unlikely alliance of international charities and local people in Sumatra to reverse the environmental damage caused by decades of uncontrolled logging in the region, and to restore an area of degraded rainforest the size of Greater London to its former glory. This week, they invited the Guardian to join them.

It is a local battle with global implications. At a UN climate summit on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, the world's politicians are searching for a way to slow the destruction of tropical forests as part of the fight against global warming. If their grand plans are to be realised, then countless more minor victories must be won on the ground, and millions more chainsaws silenced.

The stakes could not be higher. Barely 600,000 of the 20m hectares (50m acres) of rainforest that originally covered Sumatra remain, and the numbers of trees felled still increases each year. Across Indonesia, an area of jungle the size of 300 football pitches is cleared every hour.

It may sound a familiar story, but the world has a new reason to worry about the destruction of rainforests. The practice produces massive amounts of greenhouse gases. So much that, if they are factored into global emissions, Indonesia becomes the world's third largest producer of carbon dioxide. Up to a quarter of all man-made greenhouse emissions are now thought to come from deforestation, more than from the world's transport systems combined.

The Bali politicians are trying to agree a way to reward tropical nations that safeguard their surviving forests with billions of pounds' worth of carbon credits, which could be included in a new deal on climate to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

The situation on the ground in Sumatra demonstrates how difficult that ambition could be. Sean Marron, executive head of the Harapan rainforest project, a joint effort by conservation groups Burung Indonesia, the RSPB and Birdlife International, says: "All projects that aim to protect the carbon locked up in forests will face a conflict between long-term environmental goals and short-term local interests. Illegal extraction of timber can be very lucrative and is often controlled by powerful individuals, so getting them to stop is very difficult."


In taking on the timber thieves, the Harapan project, named after the Indonesian word for hope, has already made some powerful enemies. Guards and patrols have been threatened with machetes. Last week, shots were fired as soldiers working with the loggers reclaimed a truck loaded with illegal wood seized by the police. Dozens of illegal loggers are known to still operate within the Harapan boundary. Piles of cut timber wait at the roadside, ready to be collected under cover of darkness.

Muhammad Zubairin, the project's head of administration and operations, says: "It is not only a question of funding. It depends whether there is good governance and alternative economic opportunities for local people. This will only happen when the politicians, police and local communities share the same commitment to avoid further deforestation." Previous government promises to save the forests have had little effect, he adds.

On a nine-hour bumpy drive around the reserve, the problems are not hard to find. The last primary forest was cleared from this region in the 1980s, and the low jumble of trees that grew back in patches is being whittled away. Blackened areas show where trees and undergrowth have been burned to allow better access and the planting of oil palm. Across vast tracts of cleared land, a few solitary tall trees stand as a memorial. Often the loggers will destroy dozens of young saplings to grab a few mature trees.

Gibbons still yell in the bright morning sunshine but their habitat - home to 260 bird species and dozens of mammal types, including some of the only remaining Asian elephants - is being stolen around them. The destruction is not bad news for all the reserve's residents. Tracks at the side of the road suggest the forest's rare Sumatran tigers, some of only 200-300 left in the world, are flourishing, probably because the broken landscape encourages the wild pigs they hunt. But there are more losers than winners, and hornbills, the emblematic bird of the Asian rainforest, are under threat because they only build their nests in the tallest trees.

Indonesia has joined countries such as Costa Rica in pushing for the carbon credit scheme to protect forests to be approved.

Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's environment minister, told the Bali meeting: "It is vital not just that we take this action now, but also that this issue forms a central part of the future climate regime." A University of Michigan study suggested that Indonesia alone could earn £250m a year from the sale of carbon credits to western countries and companies to offset their pollution.

Marron says the idea will be hard to get off the ground unless the developing nations tackle another issue: land rights.

In the fading light, the patrol enters a village, deep within the forest reserve. Built illegally inside the last 18 months, the settlement has 100 buildings where the trees once stood, and is intended to house 480 families.

Each has paid more than £100 for two hectares of land to a coordinator, believed to be a local official, and each has been swindled, as the land was not his to sell. The Harapan team says the villagers are economic migrants and wants the police to move them away and to demolish their homes.

A handful of people from the village sit smoking on the steps of its well-built wooden mosque, an incongruous sight among the remaining trees. Drawn by the attention, more emerge from the shadows to confront the patrol. "We have come here for a better livelihood and to change our destiny," one man says. "We are poor, the legal status of this land means nothing to us."

Families and firms warned of rising temperatures

Tania Branigan, political correspondent
The Guardian, UK,
Saturday December 8 2007

Climate change is already hitting the UK, with temperatures in central England rising by around 1C since the 1970s thanks in part to human activity, a government- funded report has warned.

The research was published yesterday by the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, as officials gathered in Bali to begin negotiations on a new international deal to combat climate change.

The report forms part of a £2m programme which will help families and businesses to find out how changes will affect them.

It warned that 2006 was the warmest year to date on the central England temperature register - which has measurements stretching back to 1659 - and said it was likely that human activity had been a "significant influence" on recent warming. Ten of the 15 warmest calendar years on record, including the top three, occurred in the last two decades.

It also found that sea surface temperatures around the UK coast have risen by about 0.7C over the past three decades. But it added that it could not attribute the warmer climate in Scotland and Northern Ireland - where temperatures have risen by 0.8% since 1980 - to specific causes.

Based mainly on data from the Met Office, the report is the first of five from the UK Climate Impact Programme 08, which will launch a climate change projection website late next year.

The site could allow homeowners to calculate the likelihood they will experience flooding due to increased rainfall, or ensure that engineers account for the impact of higher temperatures when working with metal structures, for example.

Benn said the report showed climate change was already affecting the UK as well as other countries around the world. "Climate change is the biggest challenge we face as a global community and to which no one is immune," he said.

"All of us - governments, businesses and individuals - need to be able to plan for the future. This [project] will put us face to face with what the climate might look like in our own backyard and challenge us to think about how to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change."

Water becomes the new oil as world runs dry

Western companies have the know-how - and the financial incentive - to supply water to poor nations. But, as Richard Wachman reports, their involvement is already provoking unrest

The midday sun beats down on a phalanx of riot police facing thousands of jeering demonstrators, angry at proposals to put up their water bills by more than a third. Moments later a uniformed officer astride a horse shouts an order and the police charge down the street to embark on a club-wielding melee that leaves dozens of bloodied protesters with broken limbs.

A film clip from the latest offering from Hollywood? Unfortunately not. It's a description of a real-life event in Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city, where a subsidiary of Bechtel, the US engineering giant, took over the municipal water utility and increased bills to a level that the poorest could not afford.

Welcome to a new world, where war and civil strife loom in the wake of chronic water shortages caused by rising population, drought (exacerbated by global warming) and increased demand from the newly affluent middle classes in the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America.

At a City briefing by an international bank last week, a senior executive said: 'Today everyone is talking about global warming, but my prediction is that in two years water will move to the top of the geopolitical agenda.'

The question for countries as far apart as China and Argentina is whether to unleash market forces by allowing access to private European and American multinationals that have the technological know-how to help bring water to the masses - but at a price that many may be unable, or unwilling, to pay.

As Cochabamba illustrates, water is an explosive issue in developing countries, where people have traditionally received supplies for free from local wells and rivers. But in the past 15 years rapid industrialisation, especially in places such as China, has led to widespread pollution and degradation of the local environment.

A report out today from accountancy giant Deloitte & Touche says humans seem to have a peculiar talent for making previously abundant resources scarce: 'this is especially the case with water,' it observes.

According to the firm's findings, more than 1 billion people will lack access to clean water by next year. Paul Lee, research director at Deloitte, and one of the authors of the report, says: 'Demand for water is expected to be driven by economic growth and population increases. India's demand for water is expected to exceed supply by 2020.'

The World Wildlife Fund has forecast that in the Himalayas, the retreat of glaciers could reduce summer water flows by up to two-thirds. In the Ganges area, this would cause a water shortage for 500 million people. Lee says: 'The lack of the most important form of liquid in the world is therefore a fundamental issue and one that the technology sector can play a major role in addressing.'

He and others, including the World Bank, believe that private industry can - sometimes - solve problems by taking water out of government hands and removing subsidies. If water becomes more expensive, so this argument goes, people are more reluctant to waste it, although Taylor agrees that government needs to make certain that the poorest sections of society are protected, and that there is 'proper [price] regulation'.

By allowing prices to rise to help meet the cost of supply, companies could upgrade infrastructure and, in many cases, build new systems from scratch.

Even in Britain it is recognised that efficiency is vital to avoid leaks. In the developing world, leakage can account for the loss of up to 50 per cent of all clean water supplies in major cities.

But protecting the poor is not always easy. Take the example of desalination. Although it offers a solution for countries where demand exceeds supply, the technological process uses a huge amount of energy, making it 'too expensive for many African and Asian countries', says Lee.

Max Lawson, senior policy adviser for Oxfam, says: 'We are sceptical that private-sector involvement is the solution for very poor countries. In fact, there is an argument that much greater public sector involvement and cash is needed to channel supplies to where they are most needed.' But Abel Mejia at the World Bank in Washington says the organisation does not favour one form of investment over the other: 'We lend to private companies and governments, but we are not ideologically motivated. Solutions may need a mix of private and public money.'

The World Development Movement lobby group has in the past criticised the World Bank's enthusiasm for private firms controlling water projects; it prefers public-private partnerships, run on a not-for-profit basis.

But it is in China - the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gas - that the water problem is most pronounced, as fears grow that the country is turning into an ecological disaster area. The head of the country's national development agency said recently that a quarter of the length of China's seven main rivers was so poisoned that the water was harmful to the skin. Moreover, water-related issues are sparking popular protests after the sanctioning of dams and irrigation projects that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people who have no recourse to compensation. Beijing has passed legislation to punish companies that pollute supplies but, in China, such laws can be difficult to enforce.

So pressing are issues surrounding water that China has invited Western companies to run systems in many towns and cities. One of the biggest is French-owned Veolia, once part of the Vivendi utilities empire. In parts of China, water provided by Veolia no longer has to be boiled, but the cost to consumers has doubled. For the middle class, the price is still relatively low - but most Chinese are not middle class. Many say up to half their income is now being swallowed by water bills. That leaves Beijing between a rock and a hard place because, like many emerging economies, it desperately needs Western know-how and technology to solve its water problems, but it is anxious to avoid the kind of civil unrest that the Bolivian government experienced in Cochabamba.

In the City of London, there is a growing realisation that investing in water technology companies offers opportunities for savvy shareholders, and possibly for ethical investors. 'There is also an appetite from institutions for water-related investments - they know it's going to be big,' says Julian Sevaux, managing partner at Stanhope Capital.

Olivia Bowen, an independent financial adviser at the Gaeia Partnership, says: 'New climate change funds have recently come to market; some are well established, such as Impax's Environmental Markets Fund.'

GE and Dow Chemical are among big US companies diversifying into water services, while the UK-based Thames Water is expanding overseas.

But the crux of the problem remains: according to a report from Credit Suisse, annual world water use has risen sixfold during the past century, more than double the rate of population growth. By 2025, almost two-thirds of the global population will live in countries where water will be a scarce commodity. And that could lead to conflict, as United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon warned last week.

Asia looks vulnerable, with China planning to syphon off Tibet's water supply to make up for shortages in the parched north. Elsewhere, the Israel-Palestine conflict is at least partly about securing supplies from the River Jordan; similarly, water is a major feature of the strife in Sudan that has left Darfur devastated. When it comes to this most basic of commodities, the stakes could hardly be higher.


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