Archive for March 20, 2009


AUSTRALIA’S carbon emissions surged in the last quarter of 2008 despite a crumbling economy. The increase defied predictions that the financial crisis could slow emissions. Research by the Climate Institute suggests that the 8000-tonne increase in emissions in the December quarter is what would have been expected if the economy had been growing by 2 to 3 per cent. Instead, it shrank by 0.5 per cent.

Earlier this month, Professor Ross Garnaut‘s, the economist behind the Garnaut review of climate change prepared for the Federal Government, said the downturn in global financial markets would slow emissions and “buy the world two years” as global production slowed. But Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said yesterday the rise in emissions showed Australia still had a carbon-heavy economy and new policies were needed. The Climate Institute research is based on energy use.

The Australian result was not the only indication that the financial crisis has yet to curb emissions, with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releasing data showing an increase of two parts per million of carbon in the global atmosphere, the seventh largest increase on record.

The global carbon make-up of the atmosphere now stands at 385ppm. The Garnaut review called for carbon to be stabilised in the atmosphere at 450ppm to avoid “catastrophic climate change.” But evidence presented by scientists in Copenhagen this week now suggests 450ppm point could be too high and would lead to significant ice melts in Greenland and the Artic shelf, causing sea levels to rise up to one metre globally.

The Age

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carbon-tradingEurope’s carbon trading scheme has proved to be “disastrous” and a “scam” in which companies have profited with no effect on emissions, a leading politician and a scientist said yesterday.

The environmentalist James Lovelock — who developed the Gaia theory of the planet as a “living organism” — and the former environment minister, Michael Meacher, said that market approaches to green issues, such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), were destined to be distorted by business pressures. Lovelock described similar market mechanisms that attempt to put a price on “services” provided by the natural world as akin to “slavery”.

“In principle [carbon trading] is not a bad idea but in operation it’s been disastrous. Business has frankly made billions out of artificial reductions of what is called hot air with absolutely no environmental benefit at all,” said Meacher, singling out the ETS for being distorted by commerce. “Governments under pressure from industry – the worst example is Germany – gave away far more allowances than industry actually needed.”

As a result, he said, the carbon price collapsed and the ability for companies to claim carbon credits by investing in developing world emissions-cutting projects via the Clean Development Mechanism meant western economies had done little to de-carbonise their industries.

Lovelock said the scheme had failed. “Carbon trading was an idea with potential but the danger is that it so rapidly develops into a scam,” he said.

The comments follow criticism of the ETS from industry insiders including the former chief executive of BP, Lord Browne, who said that the scheme has been ineffective. Vincent de Rivaz, the chief executive of the UK arm of EDF Energy, dubbed the carbon market the new “sub-prime”. Lord Turner, the UK government’s climate adviser, last week called for a floor price on European carbon permits.

Meacher expressed pessimism for future “market-driven environmental action”, whether it was reducing carbon emissions through trading or protecting biodiversity by applying a price to “ecosystem services” such as medicines from rainforests. “I have real doubts because the whole process is distorted at every level. Industry pressures governments by saying ‘if you do this it’ll affect national welfare, it’ll affect jobs and it’ll lead to industry going out of this country, you have to do what we say’. And, one after another, governments fall for it.”

Speaking at a debate on biodiversity organised by the journal Nature at Kings Place in London, Meacher also described the economic slowdown as a “priceless opportunity” to reduce climate change emissions and stop the destruction of tropical forests and coral reefs. “Those issues are only going to get on the agenda during a crisis,” he said.

Lovelock was dismissive of putting a price on services from ecosystems such as oceans and forests. “To talk of these ecosystems as something we can own and draw benefits from, and buy and sell, is just like the attitude not so long ago to slavery, and just as reprehensible,” he said.

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cover-imageOnly a few years ago, some companies were saying climate change wasn’t a problem. Now, as its impacts become apparent, many of the same corporations are suddenly scrambling to claim leadership on the issue. Desperate to avoid regulation that may hit their profits, they present a dizzying array of “false solutions,” quick fixes that perpetuate inequalities in our society while they cash in on the crisis. Upon closer examination, many of these technologies and policies are merely dangerous detours on the road to a just, livable planet, distracting us from the root causes of the crisis.

Rising Tide North America is pleased to announce the release of the first short yet comprehensive survey of these bogus climate change solutions.

The 20 page pamphlet — “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse” — covers topics as diverse as Clean Coal, Agrofuels, Geoengineering, Carbon Offsets and over a dozen other non-solutions to the climate crisis, all in concise, colorfully illustrated and information packed essays.

Download It! (PDF)

It’s Getting Hot In Here

google_orb_by_mouserunnerLONDON (Reuters) – Google Inc is soon to roll out free software which allows consumers to track their home electricity use and improve energy efficiency in a bid to help mitigate global warming.

Dan Reicher, Director for Climate Change and Energy Initiatives Google, told Reuters it was in talks with utilities companies in the United Sates, Europe and Asia to make the product available shortly to general consumers.

As part of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Google said in February it would use its software skills for the program that will show home energy consumption in real time on a user’s computer or a telephone.

“It will get rolled out very soon to regular energy consumers,” Reicher said, without providing exact timings. “When I began getting information about my own home, I discovered that I had a 35-year electric motor running for my heating system. That was using huge amount of electricity. I did not realize that’s the change I need to make in my home.”

The company cited studies showing that access to home energy information typically saves between 5 percent and 15 percent on monthly electricity bills. “The beauty of the tool we are developing is that is going to be an open source,” Reicher said.

It has to be seen how useful this tool is but since it’ll be free it might be worth giving it a go.


greenpowerAUSTRALIA could build a low-carbon economy based on solar, wind and geothermal power by the middle of the century for less than half the cost of the Federal Government’s economic stimulus package, says a report commissioned by WWF Australia.

As Earth Hour approaches, the event’s organiser, WWF, is trying to shift debate back to what it sees as the modest cost of turning Australia into a society based on renewable power. Many industry groups argue that moving away from cheap fossil-fuel energy would damage manufacturing and employment. The WWF-commissioned report calculates the price for transforming the nation’s energy base, using technology that exists, would be $28 billion between 2010 and 2050 – less than half the Government’s stimulus handout, but spread over 40 years.

It was prepared by Climate Risk, a corporate analyst that advises the federal and local governments and businesses on climate modelling. It shows that a transition to renewable power is affordable, but that the proposed carbon trading scheme and renewable energy target could not achieve it. Extra government investment in energy of about $100 million a year from 2010 would be enough to make solar, wind and geothermal power dominant in the electricity and manufacturing sectors by the middle of the century.

One of the authors, Dr Karl Mallon, said: “What we’re trying to do is look past the current debate and take a nuts-and-bolts view, an industry and engineering approach, on what we would have to build and how it could be paid for. “We’re talking about building new electricity generation on the scale of new Snowy hydro schemes, which create lots of jobs but need very firm government direction. The market would never have built a Snowy scheme because of the investment risk.”

Paul Toni of WWF Australia said: “Earth Hour shows that millions of Australians want this government to act to battle climate change. This report shows they can. ” Earth Hour is supported by 217 towns and cities in Australia. The WWF says hundreds of millions of people around the world will turn off lights and appliances on Saturday week to show support for action against climate change.

Sydney Morning Herald
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The corporate regulator is suing Telstra for blocking access to its competitors such as Optus, Primus and TPG. The company is legally required to give competitors access to its exchanges so that they can install equipment to provide voice and broadband service to their customers. In typical Telstra fashion it seems that the company claimed there was no room for those installations, a claim the ACCC rejects as having been false. The regulator also alleges that Telstra engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by posting notices on its website, listing exchanges that supposedly had no room for competitors’ equipment. In a suit filed in the Federal Court in Melbourne the regulator accuses Telstra of having contravened the Trade Practices Act through its actions.

The timing for the court case is interesting; it comes two weeks before the Federal Government is expected to reveal its preferred tender for the 10 billion dollar-plus national broadband network. Telstra was excluded from the tender process because it refused to provide the appropriate documentation. That failure as well as the court case might bring Telstra closer to not just remaining shut out from any chance of building the network but also getting closer to having the government structurally split the business. Telstra’s shares fell yesterday to an all-time low.

The top rats are leaving the ship. Most of the American executive cowboy team, named the amigos, have left (although some of them still receive consultant’s fees!) after it became clear that their confrontational course failed and amongst other things led to a strong decline of so-called shareholder value. CEO Sol Trujillo will leave a year early in May, with a 13 million plus dollar golden handshake (as failed CEOs tend to do). All this is just another case of corporate rip-offs that customers have to pay for with overpriced charges. One can only hope that Labor will do at least one good thing during its electoral term and break up the company.

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Think of the Czech Republic and you’re more likely to think of beer, castles or Kafka than solar power. But the Eastern European country is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets, says Jenny Chase, a senior associate with London-based research firm New Energy Finance.

The country installed 50.8 megawatts of solar power last year, up dramatically from only 3 megawatts in 2007, she says. The bulk of that capacity — 31.5 megawatts — got installed in December, which represented more than fivefold growth from the 5.81 megawatts installed in November.

Of course, even with that nearly 17-fold growth, the Czech Republic makes up a tiny slice of the world market. Spain installed a whopping 2.46 gigawatts last year, overtaking Germany — which installed 1.86 gigawatts — as the top market, according to a Solarbuzz report. That makes the Spanish market more than 48 times the size of the Czech market.

But as the Spanish market proves, new government policies can lead to dramatic changes from year to year. Spain saw a solar boom in 2007, when the government passed a 400-megawatt feed-in tariff program. Feed-in tariffs set a higher price for renewable energy, and Spain offered 42 euro cents per kilowatt-hour. The program, intended to last until 2010, reached its cap within the first year, then grew to an estimated 1.2 gigawatts during a grace period in 2008, while the country scrambled to come up with a new program, Chase says. (See stories about Spanish projects here, here and here.)

The Spanish solar market is now suffering from severe shrinkage after the country set a 500-megawatt cap and a price of between 32 and 34 euro cents (43 to 45.7 U.S. cents) for this year. The smaller market has contributed to a drop in solar-panel prices worldwide, Chase says [that’s the problem when governments rely too much on market forces driving measures to combat global warming].

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, which first passed its feed-in tariff in 2005, is now offering the highest price for solar power in Europe as it aims to get 8 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The country is paying 12.79 koruny, which comes to about 63.8 cents, for each kilowatt-hour of solar power.