Carbon emissions target urged by business leaders

Ministers must set a specific target for restricting carbon emissions from power generation, businesses have said. The plea is made in an open letter to Chancellor George Osborne signed by 50 businesses and organisations. They want a target for how emissions should be curbed by 2030, arguing that a failure to show commitment to reducing carbon emissions may harm the economy and their commercial prospects.

Mr Osborne has outlined plans to get energy from gas beyond 2030. Labour Leader Ed Miliband has backed a 2030 target for the power sector and the Liberal Democrats have supported a target under the Energy Bill, to be included in secondary legislation to allow flexibility. The government’s climate advisers have warned support for future gas plants without technology fitted to cut emissions is not compatible with climate change legislation and is harming investment in low-carbon power such as renewables and nuclear.

Companies and investors have joined with trade unions, environmental groups and industry bodies to warn the chancellor that support for gas power into the 2030s is undermining investment in UK electricity infrastructure. The introduction of a carbon intensity target for the energy sector would, they say, provide investors with the long term confidence needed to transform the electricity market and promote wider economic growth. Such a target would also be in line with recent recommendations from the independent Committee on Climate Change.

The letter was signed by 50 businesses and organisations, including Microsoft, Marks and Spencer, Alliance Boots and Asda. In it, they warn the Mr Osborne that uncertainty over the government’s commitment to low-carbon power generation is harming the development of green businesses. The letter states: “The government’s perceived commitment to the low carbon transition is being undermined by recent statements calling for unabated gas in the power sector beyond 2030 and the absence of a specific carbon intensity target.” It highlights a recent report by business group the CBI, which estimates that while a third of UK growth in 2011/2012 came from green businesses, policy uncertainty could lose the UK £400m in exports in 2014/2015 alone. “It is essential for government to provide investors with the long-term confidence they need to transform our electricity market and make investments capable of driving wider economic growth,” says the letter.

Peter Young, chairman of the Aldersgate Group which co-ordinated the move, called for an end to “any political uncertainty surrounding the UK’s energy future”. And Andy Atkins, executive director at Friends of the Earth, which backed the letter, said Mr Osborne’s support for gas power was looking “increasingly isolated”.

Asda, Aviva, British American Tobacco, EDF, Microsoft, Marks & Spencer, PepsiCo, Philips, Sky and the Co-operative are among the businesses to have signed the letter.

From the BBC

O2 Cuts Carbon Footprint with Charger-free Phone Launch

O2 will launch a new handset later in 2012, sold without a charger. The HTC phone will come only with a USB to Micro-USB cable in an attempt to reduce the vast number of phone chargers that become obsolete or otherwise unused each year. Of the 30 million phones sold in the UK each year, 70% of buyers already own a compatible charger for their new handset. As a result over 100 million chargers remain unused.

The move has been made possible by the prevalence of the micro USB charger. Ten mobile phone manufacturers made a commitment 3 years ago to work towards a micro USB-based, universal charger. Although progress has been slow, with Apple appearing to have abandoned its commitment altogether with the recent introduction of the ‘Lightning’ charger standard for its iPhone 5 range, many phones do now use micro USB chargers.

O2 has promised to sell anyone who wants one a charger to go with the new phone at cost price, just £3.50, a move Apple could learn from following anger at its price of $30 for an adaptor to switch from the previous iPhone connector to the new Lightning version.

Ronan Dunne, O2’s chief executive, said: “Right now, O2 with HTC has to go it alone on this matter – we both believe in it passionately enough that we can’t wait for the industry as a whole to join us in this crusade. The environmental cost of multiple and redundant chargers is enormous and I believe that, as the mobile phone has become more prevalent, we as retailers and manufacturers have an ever-greater responsibility to be a more sustainable industry.”

Phil Roberson, UK head of HTC, said: “A unified approach across all manufacturers and retailers would dramatically decrease the industry’s carbon footprint, not only in terms of manufacturing but also packaging and transport.”

Six Rubbish UK Summers in a Row. What’s Going on?

Not Really Beach Weather

Following yet another wet summer, we have updated our paper on seasonal trends since 2007.

Get Used To ‘Extreme’ Weather, It’s The New Normal

It has been a summer full of reports of extreme weather, of unparalleled scope and severity. Among the highlights: one of the warmest years on record in the US, record-high temperatures in central and eastern Europe, the wettest summer in the UK, the heaviest rainfalls in northern India and the Philippines and the most severe droughts in the US and east Africa.

In short, climate change and weather extremes are not about a distant future. Formerly one-off extreme weather episodes seem to be becoming the new normal. Weather extremes are not that extreme any more. Heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires are the new reality of an ever warming world.

And this should not come as a surprise. Scientists have been warning for years that as the planet heats up, we will have to deal with more severe, more changeable, more unpredictable weather. The evidence is mounting that human-caused warming is pushing normal warming effects to extremes. Heatwaves have increased in duration and frequency. Some parts of Europe are now gripped by severe water shortages while other parts have suffered extreme precipitations causing floods and increased crop losses.

And although not every extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change, scientists are now much more confident about linking individual weather events to climate change. Take 2011’s record warm November in the UK, the second hottest on record. Researchers say that it was at least 60 times more likely to happen because of climate change than because of natural variations in the earth’s weather systems.

This summer continued the pattern. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic smashed the previous record, with just half the ice present compared to when satellite measurement began in 1979. Or take another example: Greenland’s July thaw, where satellite data showed that about 97% of the massive ice sheet surface covering the island was melting. “Was this real or was it due to a data error?” a Nasa scientist questioned. Unfortunately, the data was correct.

All this record-breaking news reveals that global climate breakdown is occurring more rapidly than most climate scientists had expected. Climate change is happening, and it exacerbates a whole range of other global problems, adding further instability in an already unstable world.

But isn’t it too costly to invest in a low-carbon world, some may ask? Well, yes it costs. But so does business-as-usual. It would be wrong to believe that to continue business-as-usual is the cheap option. It is not. On the contrary, it is very expensive. Just one example: the World Bank issued a global hunger warning recently after severe droughts in the US, Russia and the Ukraine sent food prices to a record high. According to the World Bank, prices for maize and sorghum increased by 113% and 200% respectively in some markets in Mozambique and in Sudan. This is the kind of cost that often gets ignored.

Businesses don’t need to be told about the financial losses caused by weather extremes. This summer’s drought in the US devastated the multibillion-dollar corn and soybean crops. Insurers in the US may face as much as $20bn losses this year, their biggest ever loss in agriculture. This is not exactly helping fight the economic crisis.

It is simply incredible what big risks some people are prepared to take on behalf of future generations. Despite the facts and evidence in front of us, there are still many interests advocating doing nothing or continuing with business-as-usual. Or just forgetting the climate crisis until we have solved the economic crisis.

And whereas some see the current financial turmoil as a bitter setback for international climate protection, I see intelligent climate action as a driver of new opportunities for jobs in Europe, for investments in energy efficiency technologies, for boosting innovation and competitiveness, for lowering energy bills.

To me, tackling the climate crisis helps, not damages, our economic security and prosperity. Both crises are interlinked and must be tackled together.

From The Guardian, by Connie Hedegaard. Hedegaard was appointed as Danish minister for the environment In August 2004. She has been European commissioner for climate action in the European Commission since February 2010.

Mass Slaughter of Farm Animals Set to Push Food Prices up 14%

The Guardian: The mass slaughter of millions of farm animals across the world is expected to push food prices to their highest ever levels. As well as hitting consumers’ pockets, the predicted 14% jump in food prices will also dash the Bank of England’s hopes of pushing inflation down to 2% by next year.

Farmers across the world have begun a mass slaughter of their pig and cattle herds because they cannot afford the cost of feed, which has soared following the worst US drought in living memory, according to a report published on Wednesday. Experts at investment bank Rabobank warn that the mass “herd liquidation” will contribute to a 14% jump in the price of the average basket of food by next summer. On Tuesday, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said lower food prices had help bring inflation down to 2.5% in August. That brings it closer to the Bank’s 2% target and should help consumers who have seen their spending power shrink as wages fail to match inflation. The Bank expects inflation to ease below the 2% target by early next year, but that could be scuppered by rising food, oil and commodity prices.

Rabobank said the slaughter of millions of pigs has already led to a 31% increase in the price of pork and the costs of other meats are also expected to soar as “US livestock herds are likely to be liquidated at an accelerating pace in the first half of 2013”. Nicholas Higgins, a Rabobank commodities analyst and author of the report, said: “There will be an initial glut in meat availability as people slaughter their animals to reduce their feed bills. But by next year herds will be so reduced that there won’t be enough animals to meet expected demand and prices will soar.”
US farmers, who are suffering from the worst drought since the 1930s, have already reduced their cattle herd to the smallest since 1973.

While all meat lovers will be affected by the record-breaking price rises, Higgins said bacon butty fans may suffer the biggest increases because it is easier for farmers to slash and rebuild pig herds that cattle. “Farmers cut back pigs because they can rebuild them the quickest. Replacement cattle take a lot longer to breed – a year and a half compared to six months for pigs,” he said. The report said the mass slaughter of pigs had led to a steep decline in the price of pork for delivery next month, but a 31% increase for pork delivered in July 2013. Because meat and dairy products already account for 52% of the cost of the average global basket of food Rabobank predicts the overall price of the basket will soar to a record 243 on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) index next summer. If Higgins’ prediction is correct it will be the highest the index has ever reached and 175% higher than it was in 2000. Higgins said he did not expect a repeat of the 2007-8 food riots in developing countries across the world because most meat is consumed in the west. “People are less likely to be irate over meat prices when they can switch back to staples – an option not available in 07/08 due to severe shortages of wheat and rice,” he said. “The risk [of riots and social unrest] is still there but it is not as high as 07-08. The prices will hurt here [in the west] more.” But he said western consumers are unlikely to significantly change their diets or become vegetarian in response to price rises.

Higgins said the major danger to global stability was the threat of countries stockpiling supplies. “We’ve already seen the first indications of that, with Indonesia hinting it is going to increase corn stock pile levels, South Korea considering a domestic purchasing regime and very strong wheat purchases in Iran disproportionately higher than in its past history.” While the food price spike is likely to lead to an increase in starvation and malnutrition across the world, global food traders are expecting bumper profits. The multimillionaire head of Glencore has said the US drought will be “good” for the commodities trader because it will lead to opportunities to exploit soaring prices.

Weather ‘Cost Rural Britain £1bn’

This year’s dreadful weather has cost rural Britain at least £1bn, according to an investigation by BBC One’s Countryfile. Data from farmers, tourist businesses, insurers and events organisers show the wettest summer for 100 years has hit the countryside hard. Factors include reduced visitor numbers at countryside attractions such as stately homes and camp sites. Meanwhile, some country events were cancelled due to bad weather.

Gary Rogers runs Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream but his fleet of vans have spent too much time in the yard. His on-farm dairy has tubs stacking up in the freezer. When customers shiver profits melt away. “It’s been a catastrophic year, worse than anybody’s known,” he said. “We’re 50% down on last year and last year was worse than the one before.” His personal experience is backed up by wider research. Information from tourist bodies like the National Trust, English Nature, Historic Scotland and the Camping and Caravanning Club shows visitor numbers down by up to 12%, cutting income by an estimated £478m.

A huge number of events have been cancelled too, from flagship gatherings like the Game Fair and the Great Yorkshire Show to smaller county shows and music festivals. The Country Land and Business Association has put the bill for this at £240m, though this has not been included in Countryfile’s total due to the difficulty of judging the overlap with the overall drop in visitor numbers.

Gary’s wife, Mandy Rogers, runs a beef herd alongside the dairy. She has seen costs rise as soggy fields mean damaged hooves and rising vet bills, but the biggest slice of new spending is buying in cattle feed as it is too wet to let her cows out to pasture. “This year was just a mud-bath really,” she says. “When they should have been eating grass, they were getting through a bale of silage a day.”

The biggest loss to farmers though is in poor yields as crops rotted and damp-loving diseases spread. The honey business was nearly cut in half. Even without the extra feed cost for livestock farmers, which is hard to calculate, the loss to agriculture approaches £600m.

Whether it is rambling or rearing animals, the USP of rural Britain is the outdoor life and this summer that life has been hard to make pay. The bill may yet spread to shoppers as poor harvests push up food prices.

From the BBC

Mike Rigby, CEO of Original Carbon, added, “the worry must be that such economic damage will be repeated or even become the norm. While this UK summer has been exceptionally wet – the wettest in 100 years – it comes after 5 other wetter than average summers in a row.” “A pattern appears to be developing,” he went on.

Arctic Ice Melting At ‘Amazing’ Speed

The loss of Arctic ice is massively compounding the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, ice scientist Professor Peter Wadhams has told BBC Newsnight. White ice reflects more sunlight than open water, acting like a parasol. Melting of white Arctic ice, currently at its lowest level in recent history, is causing more absorption. Prof Wadhams calculates this absorption of the sun’s rays is having an effect “the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man”.

The Cambridge University expert says that the Arctic ice cap is “heading for oblivion”. In 1980, the Arctic ice in summer made up some 2% of the Earth’s surface. But since then the ice has roughly halved in area. “Thirty years ago there was typically about eight million square kilometres of ice left in the Arctic in the summer, and by 2007 that had halved, it had gone down to about four million, and this year it has gone down below that,” Prof Wadhams said. And the volume of ice has dropped, with the ice getting thinner: “The volume of ice in the summer is only a quarter of what it was 30 years ago and that’s really the prelude to this final collapse,” Prof Wadhams said.

Scientists in the Arctic are warning that this summer’s record-breaking melt is part of an accelerating trend with profound implications. Norwegian researchers report that the sea ice is becoming significantly thinner and more vulnerable. Last month, the annual thaw of the region’s floating ice reached the lowest level since satellite monitoring began, more than 30 years ago.

It is thought the scale of the decline may even affect Europe’s weather. The melt is set to continue for at least another week – the peak is usually reached in mid-September – while temperatures here remain above freezing.
The Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) is at the forefront of Arctic research and its international director, Kim Holmen, told the BBC that the speed of the melting was faster than expected. “It is a greater change than we could even imagine 20 years ago, even 10 years ago,” Dr Holmen said. “And it has taken us by surprise and we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.” The institute has been deploying its icebreaker, Lance, to research conditions between Svalbard and Greenland – the main route through which ice flows out of the Arctic Ocean. During a visit to the port, one of the scientists involved, Dr Edmond Hansen, told me he was “amazed” at the size and speed of this year’s melt. “As a scientist, I know that this is unprecedented in at least as much as 1,500 years. It is truly amazing – it is a huge dramatic change in the system,” Dr Hansen said. “This is not some short-lived phenomenon – this is an ongoing trend. You lose more and more ice and it is accelerating – you can just look at the graphs, the observations, and you can see what’s happening.”

Key data on the ice comes from satellites but also from measurements made by a range of different techniques – a mix of old and new technology harnessed to help answer the key environmental questions of our age. The Norwegians send teams out on to the floating ice to drill holes into it and extract cores to determine the ice’s origin. And since the early 90s they have installed specialist buoys, tethered to the seabed, which use sonar to provide a near-constant stream of data about the ice above. An electro-magnetic device known as an EM-Bird has also been flown, suspended beneath a helicopter, in long sweeps over the ice. The torpedo-shaped instrument gathers data about the difference between the level of the seawater beneath the ice and the surface of the ice itself. By flying transects over the ice, a picture of its thickness emerges. The latest data is still being processed but one of the institute’s sea ice specialists, Dr Sebastian Gerland, said that though conditions vary year by year a pattern is clear. “In the region where we work we can see a general trend to thinner ice – in the Fram Strait and at some coastal stations.”

Where the ice vanishes entirely, the surface loses its usual highly reflective whiteness – which sends most solar radiation back into space – and is replaced by darker waters instead which absorb more heat. According to Dr Gerland, additional warming can take place even if ice remains in a far thinner state. “It means there is more light penetrating through the ice – that depends to a high degree on the snow cover but once it has melted the light can get through,” Dr Gerland said.

“If the ice is thinner there is more light penetrating and that light can heat the water.” The most cautious forecasts say that the Arctic might become ice-free in the summer by the 2080s or 2090s. But recently many estimates for that scenario have been brought forward. Early research investigating the implications suggests that a massive reduction in sea ice is likely to have an impact on the path of the jet stream, the high-altitude wind that guides weather systems, including storms. The course and speed of the jet stream is governed by the difference in temperature between the Tropics and the Arctic, so a change on the scale being observed now could be felt across Europe and beyond.

Kim Holmen of the NPI explained how the connection might work. “When the Arctic is ice free, it is not white any more and it will absorb more sunlight and that change will influence wind systems and where the precipitation comes. “For northern Europe it could mean much more precipitation, while southern Europe will become drier so there are large scale shifts across the entire continent.”

That assessment is mirrored by work at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, based in the British town of Reading. The centre’s director-general, Alan Thorpe, said the link between the Arctic melt and European weather was complicated but it is now the subject of research. “Where Arctic sea ice is reducing in summer – and if we have warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the north-west Atlantic – these twin factors together lead to storms being steered over the UK in summer which is not the normal situation and leads to our poorer summers.”

But the research is in its earliest stages. For science, the Arctic itself is hard to decipher. The effects of its rapid melt are even tougher.

From the BBC

Scientists Discover ‘Grand Canyon’ Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet

A rift in the Antarctic rock as deep as the Grand Canyon is increasing ice melt from the continent, researchers say. A UK team found the Ferrigno rift using ice-penetrating radar, and showed it to be about 1.5km (1 mile) deep. Antarctica is home to a geological rift system where new crust is being formed, meaning the eastern and western halves of the continent are slowly separating. The team writes in Nature journal that the canyon is bringing more warm sea water to the ice sheet, hastening melt.

The Ferrigno rift lies close to the Pine Island Glacier where Nasa scientists found a giant crack last year; but the newly discovered feature is not thought to be influencing the “Pig”, as it is known. The rift lies beneath the Ferrigno Ice Stream on a stretch of coast so remote that it has only been visited once previously.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) project revisited the area two years ago in the person of Aberdeen University glaciologist Robert Bingham. The plan was to make ground observations that could link to the satellite data showing unexpectedly pronounced ice loss from the area. The team towed ice-penetrating radar kit behind a snowmobile, traversing a total of about 2,500km (1,500 miles). “What we found is that lying beneath the ice there is a large valley, parts of which are approximately a mile deeper than the surrounding landscape,” said Dr Bingham. “If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you’d see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the [US] Grand Canyon. “This is at odds with the flat ice surface that we were driving across – without these measurements we would never have known it was there.”

The Ferrigno rift extends into a seabed trough, called Belgica. The scientists suggest that during Ice Ages, when sea levels were much lower than at present, the rift would have channelled a major ice stream through the trough. Now, they suggest, the roles are reversed, with the walls of the Belgica trough channelling relatively warm sea water back to the ice edge. Penetrating between the Antarctic bedrock and the ice that lies on it and lubricating the join, the water allows ice to flow faster into the sea.

“We know that the ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is governed by delivery of warm water, and that the warm water is coming along channels that were previously scoured by glaciers,” said Prof David Vaughan of BAS. “So the geology and the present rate of ice loss are intricately linked, and they feed back – if you have fast-flowing ice, that delivers ice to the edge where it can be impacted by warm water, and warm water makes the ice flow faster,” he told BBC News. Prof Vaughan doubted there would be more such features around the West Antarctic coast, though in the remoter still regions of the east, it was a possibility.

Ice loss from West Antarctica is believed to contribute about 10% to global sea level rise. But how the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets respond to warmer temperatures is the biggest unknown by far in trying to predict how fast the waters will rise over the coming century and beyond. A total melt of either sheet would raise sea levels globally by several metres. East Antarctica, by contrast, is so cold that the ice is projected to remain solid for centuries.

“Since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report [in 2007], which highlighted uncertainties connected with ice sheets, almost every significant piece of research we’ve produced has increased the significance of the ocean for West Antarctica and Greenland,” said Prof Vaughan. “There are changes in precipitation now and in future; but the really big, potentially fast, changes are connected to the oceans, and the goal for us is to model that system.”

From the BBC

Huge Iceberg Breaks off from Greenland’s Petermann Glacier

The Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland has calved an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan, scientists say. Images from a Nasa satellite show the island breaking off a tongue of ice that extends at the end of the glacier.

In 2010 an ice island measuring 250 square km (100 square miles) broke off the same glacier.

Glaciers do calve icebergs naturally, but the extent of the changes to the Petermann Glacier in recent years has taken many experts by surprise. “It is not a collapse but it is certainly a significant event,” Eric Rignot from Nasa said in a statement. Some other observers have gone further. “It’s dramatic. It’s disturbing,” University of Delaware’s Andreas Muenchow told the Associated Press. “We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before,” Mr Muenchow added. However, the calving is not expected have an impact on sea levels as the ice was already floating.

Icebergs from the Petermann Glacier sometimes reach the coast off Newfoundland in Canada, posing a danger to shipping and navigation, according to the Canadian Ice Service. Scientists have also raised concerns in recent years about the Greenland ice shelf, saying that it is thinning extensively amid warm temperatures.

Cold Weather Stops Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Target Being Met

The Scottish government failed to meet its own climate change targets in 2010, according the latest official figures.
They showed greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.9% on 2009 figures, after taking emissions trading into account. Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson said exceptionally cold weather conditions in Scotland in 2010 was to blame. The government is attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020. Mr Stevenson said “Scotland faced its coldest winter temperatures in almost a century – and quite rightly people across Scotland needed to heat their homes to keep warm and safe”. He added: “The Scottish government remains fully committed to delivering ambitious and world-leading climate change targets. We always knew it would be a challenging path to follow when these were set and that year to year fluctuations were inevitable”.

The minister said that significant progress had been made since 2010, including;

by 2010, 62% of Scottish households were already living in homes with a good energy efficiency rating, up from 55% from 2009
progress was made in tree planting, with rates increasing by almost 50% in 2010/11 compared with 2009/10

a recently launched consultation proposes ambitious targets to cut Scotland’s total waste from households and businesses by 5% by 2015 and 15% by 2025

2011 was a record year for renewable energy output with 35% of Scotland’s electricity coming from renewables

and the climate challenge fund, with £47.5m awarded since 2008, funds 525 projects across 383 communities

Later this year the Scottish government plan to lay before the Scottish parliament its second report on proposals and policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will outline how the targets can be met well into the next decade.

The 2010 figures were the first in which annual emissions reduction targets to be set under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act. Responding to news of the figures, the Scottish Green Party’s Patrick Harvie said: “The government can’t get away with expressing shock that Scotland has cold winters some years; this failure of government policy can’t be pinned on bad weather when they have delayed year after year the national, street-by-street effort we need to insulate Scotland’s leaky homes. “Cutting energy bills and carbon emissions at the same time should be a no-brainer.”

Mike Robinson, from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said the country was proud of its “political leadership” in setting legislation on the issue, but it needed to “translate into credible action on the ground”. He added: “These figures underline the need for greater leadership in actually delivering reductions. World-leading climate legislation needs world-leading climate action.”

Scottish Labour’s climate change spokeswoman, Claudia Beamish, said the figures showed that the Scottish government had failed to deliver on the “very first target under the Climate Chance Act”. She added: “The minister blames the increase on the weather, and the UK committee on Climate Change has previously said that the figures for 2009 were the result of the economic downturn. Yet long term trends on transport and household emissions show an increase year on year. When will the Scottish government take action and deliver the step change necessary?”

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said climate change would not stop for a “bit of frost on the ground”. He added: “The Scotland Act will see the devolution of new tax raising powers, such as stamp duty and landfill tax. These could be used to encourage energy efficient homes and drive forward the Zero Waste initiative in Scotland.”

From the BBC