Thursday, 30 October 2008

UK unveils CO2 footprint standard

Reposted from:

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

bon label (Image: Carbon Trust)
The new carbon audit has been piloted by several UK businesses

A new standard that allows UK firms to measure the size of their goods' carbon footprints has been launched.

It is hoped the new audit will show customers how much CO2 has been emitted during the production, consumption and disposal of a range of products.

Some schemes that measure carbon emissions have been criticised in the past for being inconsistent, confusing or lacking transparency.

The system, known as PAS 2050, will be managed by BSI British Standards.

"PAS 2050 has been developed using BSI's rigorous consultation process, involving almost a thousand industry experts from within the UK and internationally," said Mike Low, director of BSI British Standards.

"The result is a robust framework within which businesses and public sector bodies will be able to assess the greenhouse gas emissions of their goods and services in a consistent manner."

Mr Low added that he hoped the new audit tool would be used by organisations of all sizes.

'Carbon labels'

The precursor to PAS 2050 was initially launched in 2006 by the Carbon Trust, a government-funded organisation, in response to a growing number of consumers who wanted to know the size of products' carbon footprint.

Consumers want to know that emissions are being cut by businesses and this standard will help businesses do that
Hilary Benn
UK Environment Secretary

Trials, involving companies such as Walkers and Boots, led to "carbon labels" appearing on some goods in April 2007.

Despite the issue creeping up the political agenda in recent years, a survey by the Trust in December found that just 1% of firms questioned knew the size of their operation's carbon footprint.

Carbon Trust chief executive Tom Delay said he hoped making the scheme publicly available would improve the situation.

"For the first time, businesses have a robust, consistent standard for measuring the carbon footprint of their goods and services,"
he observed.

"This… development will help businesses really understand the carbon impact of their products and to follow this up with tangible ways to cut carbon emissions across the supply chain."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) co-sponsored the scheme, and Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said he hoped firms would use the tool.

"Companies have said that they want to be able to count their carbon emissions in a better way, and we have responded to that," he added.

"Consumers want to know that emissions are being cut by businesses and this standard will help businesses do that."

Later this year, the Climate Change Bill is expected to become law and will commit future governments to reducing carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Polar warming 'caused by humans'

Reposted from:

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula (BBC)
The research has plugged a gap, say the researchers

The rise in temperatures at Earth's poles has for the first time been attributed directly to human activities,
according to a study.

The work, by an international team, is published in Nature Geoscience journal.

In 2007, the UN's climate change body presented strong scientific evidence the rise in average global temperature is mostly due to human activities.

This contradicted ideas that it was not a result of natural processes such as an increase in the Sun's intensity.

At the time, there was not sufficient evidence to say this for sure about the Arctic and Antarctic.

We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes
Peter Stott, Met Office
Now that gap in research has been plugged, according to scientists who carried out a detailed analysis of temperature variations at both poles.

Their study indicates that humans have indeed contributed to warming in both regions.

Researchers expected this result for the Arctic - because of the recent sharp increase in the melting of sea ice in the summer in the region - but temperature variations in the Antarctic have until now been harder to interpret.

Today's study, according to the researchers, suggests for the first time that there's a discernable human influence on both the Arctic and Antarctica.

Best fit

The research team took the temperature changes over the polar regions of the Earth and compared them with two sets of climate models.

One set assumed that there had been no human influence the other set assumed there had.

The best fit was with models that assumed that human activities including the burning of fossil fuels and depletion of ozone had played a part.

According to one of the researchers involved with the study, Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office, formally showing that the Antarctic was being influenced by human activities was the key development

"In the recent IPCC report for example," he said, "it wasn't possible to make a statement about the Antarctic because such a study had not been done at that point.

"But nevertheless when you do that you see a clear human fingerprint in the observed data. We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes that we are seeing in our in the climate system."

Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said: "Our study is certainly closing a couple of gaps in the last IPCC report.

"But I still think that a number of people, including some politicians, are reluctant to accept the evidence or to do anything about it until we specifically come down to saying that one particular event was caused by humans like a serious flood somewhere or even a heatwave.

"Until we get down to smaller scale events in both time and space I still think there will be people doubting the evidence."

Saturday, 25 October 2008

MPs rebelling over climate bill

Boeing 777
The government has committed to an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050

source: BBC

The government is fighting to head off a backbench rebellion over its plans to exclude aviation and shipping from the UK's greenhouse gas targets.

They are being left out because there is no system for sharing responsibility for international emissions.

Fifty-six Labour MPs are demanding the sectors be included, enough to defeat Gordon Brown when the Climate Change Bill goes to a Commons' vote next week.

Campaigners say it is "unfair" to give the sectors "special treatment".

Friends of the Earth said a climate change law which left out emissions from planes and ships was like "a drink-driving law that doesn't count whisky".

'Acid test'

Last week, Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband announced a government commitment to an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

But that did not include emissions from international flights and shipping after the government-commissioned Turner Report said it would be too difficult to share out responsibility for the gases they produce between different countries.

Rebel MPs now say they want that decision overturned.

They want an amendment to the Climate Change Bill to state that if emissions from aviation and shipping continue to grow, the government must compensate with extra CO2 cuts elsewhere.

This law is a world first - we now need to make sure it's world-class
Nigel Griffiths MP

BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said he understood ministers may be about to concede that principle, but will insist there is still uncertainty about how to account for international emissions.

The amendment was tabled by Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths, who said he was "very encouraged" by discussions he has had with Climate Change Minister Joan Ruddock.

'World first'

"Addressing issues of aviation and marine shipping emissions is now the acid test of the government's aim to achieve a genuine reduction in CO2 emissions," he said.

"This law is a world first - we now need to make sure it's world-class."

Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said: "Giving special treatment to the shipping and aviation industries is unfair and doesn't make sense.

"Ed Miliband has promised he will deal with emissions from planes and ships, but voluntary commitments are not enough.

"This pledge needs to be set in law - only then will the public have confidence that this and future governments are going to deliver."

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Tougher climate target unveiled

Ed Miliband says greenhouse gas target is 'tough but doable'

The government has committed the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the middle of this century.

Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said the current 60% target would be replaced by a higher goal.

He told MPs the government would not "row back" on green issues in the light of the current economic crisis.

He also warned the big energy companies they face a crackdown on "unfair" pricing policies in his first statement as head of the new department.

Mr Miliband told MPs the government accepted all the recommendations of the report from Lord Turner's Committee on Climate Change.

The target does not include aviation or shipping emissions - but Mr Miliband said they would "play a part" in the government's overall strategy.

European row

It came as European Union leaders agreed to stick to their plan to cut greenhouse gases - despite a surprise demand by Poland and six other member states to drop them to ease the impact on industry struggling with the global credit crunch.

Speaking at the end of a two-day summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it".

Our children and our grandchildren will really not thank us if we just carry on and let this problem get worse

Ed Miliband
Climate change and energy secretary

But although all 27 leaders agreed to stick to the aim of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020, Mr Sarkozy acknowledged he faced a tough task in getting a unanimous deal on how to share out the burden of the switch to cleaner energy by the December deadline.

Mr Miliband also stressed the importance of sticking to climate change commitments despite the economic downturn.

He told MPs: "In our view it would be quite wrong to row back and those who say we should, misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face."

'Tough but do-able'

He said he wanted to achieve a cross-party consensus on climate change, but added: "We all know that signing up to an 80% cut in 2050, when most of us will not be around, is the easy part.

"The hard part is meeting it - and meeting the milestones that will show we're on track."

Mr Miliband also announced that the government was ready to legislate to force energy companies to introduce fairer pricing for customers with pre-payment meters if they would not do so voluntarily.

He also signalled new help to encourage small-scale electricity generation though technology such as home-based solar panels and wind turbines.

He told the Commons the Energy Bill would be amended to introduce a "feed-in tariff" to guarantee prices for micro-generation projects which are able to supply electricity to the national grid.

It's like telling everyone you're going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes
Steve Webb
Liberal Democrat

Speaking later to BBC News, he said the 80% target was "tough but it is do-able" and could be met through measures including renewable fuels, nuclear power and individuals "doing things differently".

He said changes to the climate were "happening much quicker than we anticipated or even feared a few years ago" and it was "right to step up the pace".

"Our children and our grandchildren will really not thank us if we just carry on and let this problem get worse. The costs that they will face will be all the greater if we do that," he added.

Airport expansion

In a letter to Mr Miliband,

Lord Turner said the tougher target would be "challenging but feasible", and could be achieved at a cost of 1% to 2% of GDP in 2050.

He also said

a cut of 80% on 1990 levels by 2050 should cover all the major greenhouse gases - not just carbon dioxide - and all sectors of the UK economy, including shipping and aviation.

But because of practical problems in allocating emissions of international transport to the UK, they should not be included in the Climate Change Bill's five-yearly carbon budgets, he said.

Instead the overall target should be "at least 80%", with greater reductions in sectors covered by the bill if aviation and shipping did not make sufficient cuts by the middle of the century, he said.

But Lib Dem climate change and energy spokesman Steve Webb said Mr Miliband's decision not to include aviation and shipping in the 80% target made a mockery of his commitments.

"It's like telling everyone you're going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes.

"As we saw when the government gave the green light for Stansted expansion, there is a huge gap between what ministers say on climate change and what they actually do."

Shadow climate change secretary Greg Clark, for the Conservatives, welcomed Mr Miliband's announcements.

He said: "The choice between aggressive and ambitious action on carbon reduction and a successful, powerful economy is, in fact, not a choice at all - they are one and the same."

Mr Miliband's statement was also welcomed by environmental campaigners, including the RSPB, World Development Movement, WWF and Christian Aid.

Friends of the Earth executive director, Andy Atkins, said his group was "absolutely delighted" but added: "We cannot leave the cuts in aviation and shipping emissions to chance.

"The government must listen to the concerns of the public and majority of MPs who want to see a law that covers all the UK's emissions."

But the National Housing Federation warned that unfair energy pricing would continue under Mr Miliband's plan.

A spokesman said: "It is excellent news that Ed Miliband has quickly come to the conclusion that the prepayment meter rip off is unacceptable.

"But even with the measures he envisages, prepayment meter customers will still pay as much as £88 more than others - as Mr Miliband seems to have accepted the argument by the energy regulator Ofgem that a premium for maintaining the meters is acceptable."

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Call to maintain climate targets

By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

Coal power station chimney
The meeting being held is in advance of the EU summit

Ed Miliband, the new energy and climate secretary, has urged Europe's leaders to withstand recession fears and maintain climate change ambitions.

It was still possible to cut greenhouse gases in Europe 20% by 2020,

he said.

Mr Miliband also argued EU targets would also help the economy by creating new jobs in clean technology.

There were huge gains to be made through efficiency measures which would improve energy security without needing to increase energy imports, he added.

This case is also being made strongly by the French presidency.

Mr Miliband is attending the EU council of energy ministers, a meeting which will set the tone for next week's EU summit, where there will be multiple pressures to water down the climate package in response to the recession.

Aircraft fuel

The energy and climate secretary will propose an element of watering down himself, suggesting aviation should be withdrawn from the EU's targets to increase renewable energy sources in all sectors by 20% by 2020.

He thinks this is irrational because the only existing source of alternative fuel for planes is biofuel, which is itself increasingly blamed for environmental destruction.

Otherwise, he argues, the climate package should stand.

"We need to stick to our climate change targets, to stick to our targets on renewables. We also need to show we can tackle climate change in a way that is fair and affordable for ordinary families," he said.

Ed Miliband (Image: PA)
Ed Miliband is head of the new government department

Mr Miliband said he would be continuing the UK's bid for a reduction in VAT on energy-saving goods, a suggestion treated with scepticism by the Germans until now.

He also stressed that climate change policy had to be seen as an opportunity.

"What people are increasingly realising is that energy affordability and climate change come together. If we can find ways of saving energy it cuts their bills but it also contributes to [cutting] our carbon emissions," he said.

The crunch will come next week when Poland and other east European nations will press for the continuation of free allocations of carbon permits for their power sector. Germany and Italy will argue that export sectors should also be handed out free permits.

Both would drive down the cost of carbon permits in the EU emissions trading system and therefore reduce the impetus for industry to make energy efficiencies.

Environmentalists' worries

There is cynicism among environmentalists about the bid from the power firms to be given free permits.

Power firms across the EU are believed to have gained a windfall worth tens of billions of pounds because they have increased their prices to consumers as if they had to buy permits in the EU trading scheme even though they have been receiving the permits free of charge.

Another proposal lodged with the commission would allow some EU sectors, such as transport, to trade away 65% of their carbon targets by buying carbon permits from developing countries.

Environmentalists also warn the EU's claims to lead the world in a new global climate deal next year may be crumbling in the face of the recession.

This fear was raised earlier this week by the economist Lord Stern, author of the Stern Review on climate change.

He said climate should be seen in the same way as the credit crunch, which could have been averted if people had put the right measures in places 10-15 years ago.

Map reveals species most at risk from climate change * 17:30 08 October 2008 * news service * Catherine Brahic

We heard this week that

a quarter of all mammals are threatened with extinction.
One of those, the polar bear, made headlines earlier this year for being the first animal to be listed on the US Endangered Species Act, because of its vulnerability to climate change.

This begs the question: aren't all species vulnerable to climate change? Why protect the polar bear but not the ringed seal?

This is the question that a huge endeavour led by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) is attempting to answer. Its first results were presented in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday.

The verdict is bleak: of 17,000 assessed species, over 7000 could become threatened with extinction because of climate change. Read the report (PDF)

"Climate change is already happening, but conservation decision-makers currently have very little guidance on which species are going to be the worst affected," says Wendy Foden, who led the efforts. Yet, "Climate change is going to affect everything we do in terms of conservation," adds Jean-Christophe Vié, deputy head of the species programme at the IUCN.

In order to assess which species need protection first, experts working with the IUCN have spent the past few years reviewing 17,000 species of birds, amphibians and warm-water corals to assess how susceptible they are to climate change.

Life history traits

They first had to decide what made a species likely to suffer from the effects of climate change.

For instance, a frog called the spotted snout-burrower (Hemisus guttatus), relies on the rain to kick off a season of explosive breeding each year. If the rains change, or fail, the species may not survive.

A hummingbird, the black-breasted puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) lives in the forest atop two mountains in north-west Ecuador. As temperatures rise around it, it will eventually be unable to climb any higher in search of cooler habitats.

The experts identified 90 such "life history traits" – essential elements of a species' behaviour or lifestyle – that were likely to be affected by a change in their local climate. These included:

  • Requirements for a specialised habitat: some amphibians depend on a stream or pond, so if that dries out there is no way they can survive;
  • Specific environmental tolerances: many corals cannot survive if the water temperature or pH exceeds a certain threshold;
  • Dependence on environmental cues: many species depend on changes in day length or rainfall to start breeding;
  • Dependence on interactions with other species: without prey a specialised predator cannot survive; lichen depend on trees, and many plants on their pollinators;
  • Ability to disperse: as their historical habitats become increasingly hostile, species will need to move to new territories but may not be able to do so if there is something – a body of water, perhaps – in their way.

Foden's team then determined which of the 90 life traits each of the 17,000 species had. The study included all known amphibian and bird species, as well as all reef-building corals that are found in warm waters.

"We looked at these three groups because we know their global distribution," explains Vié. This meant the team could map all susceptible species within those groups and see where in the world biodiversity is most at risk of climate change.

Scary research

They could also compare their new maps to existing maps showing where species are threatened by other factors such as deforestation and poaching. "Honestly, it is quite scary research," says Vié.

Half of all amphibians, one-third of all birds and over two-thirds of assessed corals are susceptible to climate change.

Within each group, some species are more likely to suffer. Among the birds, all albatross and penguin species were deemed susceptible. Herons, egrets, ospreys, kites, hawks and eagles, on the other hand, are less so.

Ultimately, the real threat to a species depends not just on whether or not it is susceptible to climate change, but also on whether it inhabits a region that is likely to change with global warming. Efforts to use regional climate change models to map out this overlap are already underway in some parts of the world (see Climate maps offer wildlife hope of sanctuary).

Conservationists may then have to apply their creativity to finding new ways of protecting species. "Protected areas are fixed pieces of land or sea," Vié, "but the new threats – shifting diseases, rising temperatures, changing rainfall – do not stop at the edge of protected areas."

Debates are raging within the conservation community over what protection methods are reasonable.

The last remaining members of some species may have to be removed from the wild and housed in artificially-controlled environments – this has already happened with some species of frogs threatened by the chytrid fungus. In situations where species are not able to move to more clement habitats, they may need a helping hand (see Threatened species 'need help' finding cooler homes).

Threatened ecosystems, threatened economies

Disappearing animals may not seem so important compared with the threat of water shortages and lethal heat waves, but Vié points out how the welfare of biodiversity and humans is intrinsically linked. "If you lose coral reefs, hundreds of millions of people will be affected – they will have no food, no income from tourism."

He says one outcome of the mapping exercise could be to anticipate what regions are going to need humanitarian aid in future.

Climate Change - Want to know more about global warming – the science, impacts and political debate? Visit our continually updated special report.

Endangered species - Learn more about the conservation battle in our comprehensive special report.

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