Climate Change Bulletin - Feb 2012 13 Feb 2012
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- Otago appointment brings health and recreation expertise Living
This is our 20th edition and this month we are back for 2012 and we take a look at what an economic recovery does to the United Kingdom’s CO2 emissions. We have some surprising news from the Roof of the World: the ice on the Himalayas is not melting away.
Also the green ratings game. Google is green but Apple…. well ?
We will also say goodbye to that controversial British political figure Chris Huhne and size up his replacement.
• Economic Recovery leads to more UK emissions.
• Ice melt a lot less than predicted off the World’s top peaks.
• A Belated Farewell to Chris Huhne.
• And who takes over as Britain’s Climate Change Czar.
• Cap and Trade in the gun with the Eurocrisis.
• Apple cored in green rankings.
• Windsor Palace and the Archimedes Screw.
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UK emissions rose 3.1% as economy recovered in 2010
The 8.7% fall in carbon emissions as industry activity slumped during recession was a blip, figures show
EU wants a 30% cut in carbon emissions, a target agreed by UK, but Tory MEPs are opposing it. Photograph: Jianan Yu/Reuters
The dramatic fall in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions caused by the recession has proved to be a blip, with national emissions rising 3.1% in 2010. The new energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, attributed the rise, the first in almost a decade, to increased home heating during a cold winter and shutdowns at nuclear power stations after technical problems.
"One year won't knock the UK off meeting its long-term emission reduction targets, but it serves to underline the importance of the coalition's policies for insulating homes to cut bills and emissions and moving to greener alternative forms of energy," said Davey, a Liberal Democrat who took over from Chris Huhne, who resigned on Friday after being charged over an alleged attempt to avoid prosecution for a speeding offence.
On Sunday, a letter to the prime minister from over 100 Tory MPs was made public, which advocated cutting subsidies to renewable energy, despite renewable energy's role in reducing emissions. But environmental groups see the rise in emissions last year as a warning and said the sharp jump in home heating emissions showed the government had to increase the ambition of its home insulation plans, dubbed the "green deal". "This was meant to be the decade when we slashed our emissions and sparked a green jobs bonanza, but instead we're seeing progress stalling," said Louise Hutchins from Greenpeace. "The fact that rise is partly down to the cold snap in 2010 is no excuse, after all Sweden has colder winters but their bills are lower because they have better insulated homes. To copy their success the government's flagship green deal will need more resources, and that requires greater political ambition."
Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: "If the government ever needed a wake-up call on greenhouse gas emissions here it is.
"It is alarming to see emissions from homes rising when people are struggling to pay their energy bills. The UK's overreliance on gas has pushed up emissions along with people's energy bills. It's a clear sign that the government needs to back investors in renewable energy and get us off the fossil fuel hook once and for all."
The UK's carbon dioxide emissions, which are the tenth largest of any nation in the world, have been falling over the past 20 years as power stations used less coal and more gas to generate power. The rise in 2010, of 18m tonnes of carbon dioxide, follows a steep year-on-year fall of 8.7% in 2009 when the financial crisis hit as economic activity.
The department of energy and climate change statistic, published on Tuesday, showed 11.8m tonnes of carbon dioxide came from the increased heating of homes, mainly by gas. Problems with the country's biggest reactor Sizewell B reactor in Suffolk, which meant it was shut down for six months in 2010, led to more coal and gas being burned. That added 5.6m tonnes to the UK's emissions of climate-warming gases. Other sectors, including business, agriculture and transport, remained all but unchanged.
Despite the rise, the UK's emissions are about 23% lower than in 1990, the benchmark year for the nation's international commitments to tackle global warming under the Kyoto protocol, meaning the current Kyoto pledge has been comfortably met. A legally binding domestic target of cutting emissions 35% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, also remains likely to be met. However, since 1990 manufacturing taking place in the UK has fallen sharply and goods imported from elsewhere have filled the gap. When the emissions linked to those imported goods are included, the UK's national carbon footprint has risen by 20%, though critics argue that the exporting country, which benefits from the employment, rightfully is responsible for these emissions.
The Nasa climate scientist James Hansen has calculated that, in order to keep the global temperature rise within the 2C limit accepted by the world's nations, industrialised countries would have to cut their emissions by 6% a year from 2013 onwards. Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation said: "The market set up to give incentives to cut carbon is not delivering in anything like the speed or scale necessary. The UK's 3% rise is so wrong, it takes the breath away."
Historically, greenhouse gas emissions have move in lock-step with GDP, as higher economic activity uses more energy, which generates more emissions. The Stern review in 2006 of the economics of climate change calculated that a 1% change in GDP brings a 0.9% change in emissions. However, the 2010 data for the UK shows that the 3.1% in carbon emissions occurred with just 2.1% of GDP growth.
No Ice lost off Himalayan Peaks in the past decade
Hopar glacier in Pakistan. Melting ice outside the two largest caps - Greenland and Antarctica - is much less then previously estimated, the study has found. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.
The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.
The study is the first to survey all the world's icecaps and glaciers and was made possible by the use of satellite data. Overall, the contribution of melting ice outside the two largest caps – Greenland and Antarctica – is much less then previously estimated, with the lack of ice loss in the Himalayas and the other high peaks of Asia responsible for most of the discrepancy.
Bristol University glaciologist Prof Jonathan Bamber, who was not part of the research team, said: "The very unexpected result was the negligible mass loss from high mountain Asia, which is not significantly different from zero."
The melting of Himalayan glaciers caused controversy in 2009 when a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change mistakenly stated that they would disappear by 2035, instead of 2350. However, the scientist who led the new work is clear that while greater uncertainty has been discovered in Asia's highest mountains, the melting of ice caps and glaciers around the world remains a serious concern.
"Our results and those of everyone else show we are losing a huge amount of water into the oceans every year," said Prof John Wahr of the University of Colorado. "People should be just as worried about the melting of the world's ice as they were before."
His team's study, published in the journal Nature, concludes that between 443-629bn tonnes of meltwater overall are added to the world's oceans each year. This is raising sea level by about 1.5mm a year, the team reports, in addition to the 2mm a year caused by expansion of the warming ocean.
The scientists are careful to point out that lower-altitude glaciers in the Asian mountain ranges – sometimes dubbed the "third pole" – are definitely melting. Satellite images and reports confirm this. But over the study period from 2003-10 enough ice was added to the peaks to compensate.
The impact on predictions for future sea level rise is yet to be fully studied but Bamber said: "The projections for sea level rise by 2100 will not change by much, say 5cm or so, so we are talking about a very small modification." Existing estimates range from 30cm to 1m.
Wahr warned that while crucial to a better understanding of ice melting, the eight years of data is a relatively short time period and that variable monsoons mean year-to-year changes in ice mass of hundreds of billions of tonnes. "It is awfully dangerous to take an eight-year record and predict even the next eight years, let alone the next century," he said.
The reason for the radical reappraisal of ice melting in Asia is the different ways in which the current and previous studies were conducted. Until now, estimates of meltwater loss for all the world's 200,000 glaciers were based on extrapolations of data from a few hundred monitored on the ground. Those glaciers at lower altitudes are much easier for scientists to get to and so were more frequently included, but they were also more prone to melting.
The bias was particularly strong in Asia, said Wahr: "There extrapolation is really tough as only a handful of lower-altitude glaciers are monitored and there are thousands there very high up."
The new study used a pair of satellites, called Grace, which measure tiny changes in the Earth's gravitational pull. When ice is lost, the gravitational pull weakens and is detected by the orbiting spacecraft. "They fly at 500km, so they see everything," said Wahr, including the hard-to-reach, high-altitude glaciers.
"I believe this data is the most reliable estimate of global glacier mass balance that has been produced to date," said Bamber. He noted that 1.4 billion people depend on the rivers that flow from the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau: "That is a compelling reason to try to understand what is happening there better."
He added: "The new data does not mean that concerns about climate change are overblown in any way. It means there is a much larger uncertainty in high mountain Asia than we thought. Taken globally all the observations of the Earth's ice – permafrost, Arctic sea ice, snow cover and glaciers – are going in the same direction."
Grace launched in 2002 and continues to monitor the planet, but it has passed its expected mission span and its batteries are beginning to weaken. A replacement mission has been approved by the US and
Source: The Guardian
So long Chris Huhne, and thanks for all the fights
Why green businesses will miss the controversial former energy and climate change secretary
You can say what you like about Chris Huhne, and a lot of people have over the past week, but he has certainly overseen an eventful 20 months for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the UK's burgeoning green economy.
As this weekend's countless (and possibly premature) political obituaries have made plain, Huhne was not to everyone's taste – there are plenty of people delighting in the resignation of a man who often created the impression that he said what he liked, and liked what he said. But despite a number of high-profile mis-steps he was, for the most part, a good friend of green businesses, and a powerful and vocal advocate for the low-carbon economy.
Huhne's personal and political faults have been well documented in recent days. He is an abrasive politician, driven not so much by overly aggressive instincts, but more by an unshakable self confidence in his own judgement that his opponents routinely deride as arrogance.
The stories of bruising exchanges with colleagues and opponents are legion. There was the infamous cabinet table row with Cameron and Osborne over dirty tactics in the AV referendum, the attack on the Conservative's 'Goebbels-like' campaign against the alternative vote, and ill-tempered scraps with Nick Clegg and Menzies Campbell for the Lib Dem leadership. There were whispers of officials who were disgruntled over Huhne's tendency to spend time engaged in political plotting, not to mention a fair few egos bruised by a willingness to challenge civil servants' advice. Then there were the attacks on both the "climate sceptics and armchair engineers" opposed to the government's green agenda, and the coalition of solar firms that challenged his department's ill-starred handling of cuts to incentives.
It is easy to understand why so few tears have been shed over such a high-profile setback to a promising political career.
And yet green businesses and green NGOs have plenty of reasons to regret the resignation of the energy and climate change secretary (to give him his full title). I understand the problems caused by newspaper space restrictions, but the media make a significant error when they describe the post as energy secretary. Being energy secretary would be a pretty easy job, being energy and climate change secretary is a historic challenge.
Huhne undoubtedly blotted his copy book with the chronic mishandling of cuts to solar feed-in tariffs, and angered old-school environmentalists with his support for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. But his willingness to promote the green agenda, meet and engage with green business leaders, and stand up to high-profile critics of environmental policies, including his nemesis at Number 11, means Huhne leaves the UK's burgeoning low-carbon economy in better shape than it would otherwise have been.
And Ed Davey replaces Huhne as energy secretary
Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey has been confirmed as the new secretary of state for energy and climate change, after Chris Huhne stepped down from the post to fight criminal charges.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today announced that Davey would take up the cabinet role, moving from his current position as minister for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Clegg said the MP for Kingston and Surbiton would be the "right man for the job", maintaining Davey had a "lifelong commitment to environmental and green issues" and that he had shown a formidable grasp of government policy".
He paid tribute to Huhne's "groundbreaking policies" and left the door open for him to return to "a key government position" if he avoids prosecution.
Davey has in the past voted strongly for laws designed to tackle climate change, including backing plans to bring aviation and shipping into the Climate Change Act. He also backed a law that would cap emissions from power stations.
To read an excellent analysis of what Ed Davey faces, go to this link : http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/james-blog/2144408/green-business-questions-ed-davey-answer
Europe fights to save cap-and-trade as crisis hits
Europe's main weapon in the battle against climate change is now fighting for its own survival.
In early January, investors in the continent's cap-and-trade system still had to pay some €14 for the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide into the air. By the begging of January, the price of one emission allowance had tumbled to a meagre €6.41 - making it much cheaper to pollute and slashing the financial incentives for companies to invest in low-carbon technologies.
Analysts warn that the prospect of another recession in the debt-ridden continent, and the accompanying decline in emissions, could push prices below €2 by the end of next month.
The troubles in the carbon market, a system being watched closely from California to China, is linked to the struggles of Europe' other ambitious project, the euro. And just as financial investors have looked to the European Central Bank to save the currency through massive intervention in the bond markets, analysts say the emissions market may need similar centralised help.
Last week, 19 companies, including oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Philips Electronics NV and supermarket chain Tesco PLC, sent a letter to the European Commission urging it to reduce the number of emission allowances in the system and figure out how to protect the market from future economic shocks. The commission and national governments jointly manage the cap-and-trade system.
"The lower price is really undermining the development of technologies that will be needed in the decades to come," said David Hone, Shell's climate change adviser.
Shell, which is mostly known for selling oil and gas, has been one of the pioneers of carbon capture and storage, projects in which CO2 emissions are stored underground so they don't get released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. But investing in new technologies like carbon capture and storage only becomes commercially viable at a carbon price of between €25 and €30, Hone said.
"Over the last few months, we have seen some of these projects disappear," he added.
In October, the UK government shut down the carbon capture project in Longannet in eastern Scotland in which Shell was one of the partners.
While the prospect of another recession is the main reason for the recent drop in carbon prices, experts say that - just like with the euro - serious flaws in the system are exacerbating the problems and could lead to its failure if they can't be fixed.
The economic crisis has lowered emissions and thus hit the price of carbon allowances. But the drop has been so dramatic because there were too many allowances in the system to begin with.
To get industry and sceptical government on board, the Commission set a very high cap for emissions when it launched the system in 2005.
Since then, most allowances have been given out for free to the 11,000 power stations and factories covered by the system based on their historical emissions. Companies that emit less carbon dioxide than they are allowed can sell their spare permits to firms that exceed their limit. As of next year, airlines will also be included in the system.
But the big test for Europe's carbon market - and whether it can provide the necessary incentives for cutting emissions - will come in 2013, when governments start selling a growing number of allowances at auctions.
"Without intervention not only the ETS is over, but Europe's climate policy is over. It will put Europe back into the dark ages".
Apart from failing to encourage the necessary cuts in emissions and technological innovation, the collapse in the carbon price could also worsen Europe's debt crisis.
Between 2013 and 2020, when companies have to pay for more and more of their allowances, the cap-and-tade system could raise as much as €190 billion for government across the EU if prices recover.
"This is a pretty important revenue stream for most member states," says Rob Elsworth, of Sandbag Climate Campaign in London. "And they are watching revenues just disappear."
Experts are hopeful that states will garner the political will to save the carbon trading system, which has pioneered the market-based approach to saving the environment.
"If you take away this green-economy narrative,what's really left of Europe?"
Greenpeace praises Google, slams Apple in latest green IT ranking
Google has today taken top spot in Greenpeace's annual Cool IT Leaderboard ranking technology firms' environmental efforts, seizing the crown from networking giant Cisco.
The influential campaign group said Google had climbed to the top of the table on the back of its high profile investment in renewable energy projects and its vocal support for US clean energy policy and EU efforts to increase the ambition of its climate change targets.
However, the group again turned its fire on Apple, refusing to include the firm on the leaderboard on the grounds that it does not meet the ranking's criteria.
"[Apple] has not demonstrated leadership or elected to pursue market opportunities to drive IT energy solutions that many of its competitors have, despite record profits and large cash reserves," the campaign group said in a statement.
Facebook was also excluded from the list, but Greenpeace confirmed it would be included in next year's list after the social networking giant announced late last year that following a high profile campaign against the company's reliance on coal-fired power it would adopt a new policy to source renewable energy wherever possible.
Greenpeace International IT analyst Gary Cook said that the ranking of 21 global technology firms highlighted the crucial role IT firms can play in cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.
"Technology giants have a real opportunity to use their power and influence to change how we produce and use energy - Google tops the table because it's putting its money where its mouth is by pumping investment into renewable energy", he said in a statement.
"The IT sector might like to consider itself forward-thinking, but it is keeping far too quiet while the dirty energy industry continues to exert undue influence on both the political process and financial markets".
Google was followed in the table by Cisco, which dropped from its previous top spot, and Ericsson and Fujitsu in joint third place.
Dell was also praised for sourcing over a fifth of its energy from renewable sources, while Japanese telecommunications company Softbank was also highlighted for the role it played in demanding a shift towards renewable power following the Fukushima disaster.
Business software giant Oracle received the lowest ranking of the firms listed, primarily due to its refusal to disclose information on renewable or carbon intensive energy use.
Cook urged more IT firms to use their status as innovators to step up investment in greener technologies and business models.
"The IT industry must use its influence, innovative spirit and technological know-how to overcome the dirty energy companies who are holding on to the status quo, and holding us back from a transition to a renewable energy economy", he said. "What we're seeing is a lot of talk from companies about moving toward clean energy, but so far, not much of action."
Merry waves of Windsor: Green Queen uses water power to run her castle
Prince Philip insisted it would never work.
But two giant turbines – based on a 2,000-year-old design by Greek mathematician and engineer Archimedes of Syracuse – were lifted into the River Thames to generate power for Windsor Castle.
Lowered into Romney Weir by crane after months of preparation, the pair of 40-ton steel 'screws' will provide almost all the electricity needs of the royal estate.
And although the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh gave the green light to the environmentally friendly hydroelectricity scheme, the man behind the project yesterday revealed that Prince Philip had been typically forthright in his scepticism.
David Dechambeau, managing director of Southeast Power Engineering, recalled an exchange with Philip.
He said: 'When I told him I was the one putting in the hydropower system for Windsor Castle, he looked at me and said, 'No you're not".
'So I said, "Yes I am" and he said, "No you're not" and I realised this is an argument I can't win.
'So I said, "I don't understand" and he said, "No you don't understand, people have been trying to do this for 20 years, you'll never get it done". I said, "I understand sir, well I can tell you I will put that hydropower system in this year no matter what. I'll promise you".
'That was a little bit more than a year ago so I didn't quite make the promise on time but I hear from the Royal Household that he asks about the progress of this system often and he is truly supportive and very interested in the technical details.'
The support is perhaps even more surprising as Prince Philip is known for his strong views on renewable energy. Earlier this month he told the director of a wind farm company that the turbines were 'useless' and would never work.
Mr Dechambeau proposed the scheme to the palace in 2006 and found courtiers supportive. He said water power was more to the Duke's liking as it was 'quiet and not really in anybody's view'.
The Archimedes screws have cost £700,000 each to make and another £1million to install. They will provide the palace's power needs – the equivalent of 400 homes – for up to 90 per cent of the time.
In Ancient Greece, pumps using the Archimedes design were used to carry low-lying water to irrigate higher areas.
The scheme to provide hydro-electric power to Windsor Castle seemed to be dead in the water after Npower Renewables announced it was pulling out of the development.
However, Southeast Power Engineering Ltd (Sepel) volunteered to fill the breach and continue the project, which is situated just over 200 yards from the castle's imposing walls on the River Thames near Eton.
The Queen and Prince Philip have not yet visited the pioneering hydro-electric scheme at Romney Weir that will be keeping them warm in the New Year but the team behind the scheme are hopeful they will see it for themselves.
'Prince Philip is very interested in it all,' said Mr DeChambeau.
'I understand from members of the Royal Household who I have met and who have come down to the weir, that he often asks about the progress.
'The amount of power the castle actually needs can vary day to day. There is no fixed amount.'
Mr DeChambeau explained that Sepel has entered into a commercial agreement with Windsor Castle to provide them with hydropower.
'The benefits of using water as an energy source is that the cost remains stable, unlike the price of gas and coal which fluctuates,' said Mr DeChambeau.
'I know the Royal family were very interested in providing a long-term power source at a stable price.'
With the last of the two turbines now in place, the project team needs to get them wired up and ready to begin converting the energy from the fast-flowing Thames.
The 4m-diameter turbines will be powered by falling water from the weir.
It is estimated that they will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 790,000 kilos per year and be operational within just over a month.
The Deputy Treasurer at the Royal Household, said: 'We are constantly looking at new ways of saving and supplying energy so as to remain environmentally friendly as possible well into the future.'
'Accordingly, the household was very keen to support this project.Once, completed, it is hoped that the scheme will supply half of Windsor Castle's electricity.'
Source: Daily Mail
And don’t forget we have a Facebook site where you can also catch up on the latest Climate Change stories and more from the British High Commission: http://www.facebook.com/ukinnewzealand
(British High Commission)
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