Friday, October 31, 2008

Chemical released by trees can help cool planet, scientists find

Scientists discover cloud-thickening chemicals in trees that could offer a new weapon in the fight against global warming

Trees could be more important to the Earth's climate than previously thought, according to a new study that reveals forests help to block out the sun.

Scientists in the UK and Germany have discovered that trees release a chemical that thickens clouds above them, which reflects more sunlight and so cools the Earth. The research suggests that chopping down forests could accelerate global warming more than was thought, and that protecting existing trees could be one of the best ways to tackle the problem.

Dominick Spracklen, of the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University, said: "We think this could have quite a significant effect. You can think of forests as climate air conditioners."

The scientists looked at chemicals called terpenes that are released from boreal forests across northern regions such as Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. The chemicals give pine forests their distinctive smell, but their function has puzzled experts for years. Some believe the trees release them to communicate, while others say they could offer protection from air pollution.

The team found the terpenes react in the air to form tiny particles called aerosols. The particles help turn water vapour in the atmosphere into clouds.

Spracklen said the team's computer models showed that the pine particles doubled the thickness of clouds some 1,000m above the forests, and would reflect an extra 5% sunlight back into space.

He said: "It might not sound a lot, but that is quite a strong cooling effect. The climate is such a finely balanced system that we think this effect is large enough to reduce temperatures over quite large areas. It gives us another reason to preserve forests."

The research, which will be published in a special edition of the Royal Society journal Philosophical Transactions A, is the first to quantify the cooling effect of the released chemicals. The scientists say the findings "must be included in climate models in order to make realistic predictions".

Because trees release more terpenes in warmer weather, the discovery suggests that forests could act as a negative feedback on climate, to dampen future temperature rise. The team looked at forests of mainly pine and spruce trees, but Spracklen said other trees also produce terpenes so the cooling effect should be found in other regions, including tropical rainforests.

Time to bury the 'clean coal' myth

In the second of his Greenwash columns, Fred Pearce exposes how energy companies and governments are trying to rebrand coal as a clean fuel of the future despite the evidence

Who came up with the term "clean coal"? It is the most toxic phrase in the greenwash lexicon. George W Bush, by promising to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the pursuit of advanced "clean" coal technologies, certainly popularised it. But I'd love to know where it came from. Any thoughts out there?

It is, of course, oxymoronic. Coal is about acid rain and peasouper smogs, asthma and mercury contamination, radioactive waste emissions and ripping apart mountains, killing trees, lung cancer and, of course, global warming.

Coal emits more carbon dioxide for every unit of energy generated than any other fuel. Sure you can clean it up a bit – though the toxins you've taken out of the ground have to go somewhere. But clean coal? Just say no.

But the phrase rolls on. Google offers more than a million web pages. We will hear a lot more of it as the UK government wrestles with whether to approve a new billion-pound "cleaner coal" power station – Britain's first coal plant for three decades – at Kingsnorth in Kent.

E.ON, the company that wants to build the station, says Kingsnorth will be "ready" to capture carbon dioxide emissions before they go up the stack. Great, except there is no such technology right now.

This phrase "clean coal" has developed a life of its own thanks to remorseless commercial propagandising. This year a coalition of US coal mining companies and electricity utilities called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (and recently renamed the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity) is paying the advertising agency R&R Partners $35m (£22m) to promote "clean coal" through advertising and other promotional activity.

This is up there with the safe cigarette and "atoms for peace". The industry is fighting back against growing scientific calls to outlaw coal burning, and the rejection of dozens of coal power plants proposals by communities across the US, with several states effectively banning them.

You may have noticed the campaign's effect. Both John McCain and Barack Obama support clean coal. It's neat. Who could be against clean coal? It allows them to oppose dirty coal without antagonising anyone. You may not have spotted that Americans for Balanced Energy Choices sponsored two early presidential debates, during which – guess what – no questions were asked about global warming.

And here in Britain you can see the impact of the new mantra. In Putney, in southwest London, there is a branch of the International Energy Agency that used to be called the Coal Research Centre. It's changed its name – to the Clean Coal Centre. Thanks to its "industrial sponsors" it is able to "provide unbiased information on the sustainable use of coal worldwide." Right. Like the fact there isn't any?

Is clean coal possible in future? Well, if you mean could we capture carbon dioxide emissions and bury them somewhere out of harm's way – in old coal seams or oilfields or salt mines – yes, it is possible. The former British chief scientist Sir David King called it "the only hope for mankind".

But the most authoritative study, The Future of Coal, published last year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), concluded that the first commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant wouldn't come on stream until 2030 at the earliest.

Last year too, the Edison Electric Institute, which represents most US power generators, admitted to a House Select Committee in Washington DC that commercial deployment will require 25 years research costing at least $20bn.

And that was before the US administration last December canned the biggest R&D project on the technology anywhere in the world. It said it was too costly and hinted that, for all their green talk, industry wasn't prepared to back it.

Oh, and if the technology did one day work – and could demonstrate that it could keep liquefied carbon dioxide buried for the thousands of years necessary – it would take decades to build the vast infrastructure needed to deploy on a large scale. Infrastructure that could only be paid for by maintaining a vast dirty coal-burning industry for the duration.

But politicians can be very ill-read if it suits them. The mythology of clean coal has penetrated deep into their thinking round the world because it is so convenient. In Australia, the new green-minded prime minister Kevin Rudd is super-keen on "clean coal" because he imagines it allows him to promise both to meet Australia's Kyoto protocol pledges and to assuage the concerns of industry.

Coal provides most of Australia's electricity and is it most valuable export. But you can't meet current emissions targets with a technology 20 years over the horizon.

Similarly German chancellor Angela Merkel, though a chemist by training, has fallen for the hope that she can both build dozens of new coal-fired power stations and meet her promise to cut German CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020. It won't happen.

The British government is as deep into clean-coal cuckoo land as any of them. John Hutton, until recently business secretary, claimed that a third of British electricity could be generated using CCS by 2030 – clearly pie in the sky. He should fire the adviser who wrote that for him. The mirage of clean coal is designed to coax the world into maintaining its addiction to the most dangerous (and profuse) fossil fuel of all. My bet is that if Kingsnorth is approved, it will never deliver so much as a tonne of carbon dioxide to anywhere other than the atmosphere.

• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please send your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below

Environment a 'priority' over economy

Peter Ker and Adam Morton 
The Age, November 1, 2008

THE environment is bigger and more important than the economy, even in the midst of the worst financial crisis the world has seen for several decades.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett expressed that view to a meeting of prominent environmentalists in Melbourne last night, saying the economy was a "subset" of the environment. He later announced a review of Australia's primary environmental legislation, the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act.

Mr Garrett said he faced a "constant challenge" trying to balance the environmental and economic needs of the nation through the act, but indicated the environment held sway.

"Given the serious environmental and economic challenges we face it is worth restating that the environment is not a subset of the economy: indeed it is the other way around," he said.

The written copy of Mr Garrett's speech had the word "not" underlined for extra emphasis.

"It is on the bedrock of a healthy and productive environment that our sustainable future rests," he told the gathering of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand.

The comments ended a week when the Federal Government vowed to push ahead with introducing an emissions trading scheme in 2010 despite pressure from the Opposition and industry to delay the move.

A government spokeswoman did not answer directly when asked last night if Prime Minister Kevin Rudd endorsed Mr Garrett's philosophical stance.

"The reality is that everyone in Australia knows that the environment and the economy are two incredibly important and vitally linked areas and the Government has been taking decisive action in both areas," spokeswoman Fiona Sugden said.

Mr Garrett has been criticised since entering Parliament for making decisions seemingly at odds with his reputation for being a crusading environmentalist. He came under intense pressure during last year's election campaign when Labor did not oppose the Gunns pulp mill proposal in Tasmania.

Last night, Mr Garrett said he wanted the act to work in a more proactive manner, and that the traditional method of deciding upon isolated applications risked "death by a thousand cuts" to the environment.

Mr Garrett said he preferred a system where large areas of land would be analysed in advance, development zones identified and projects allowed within those zones without needing further approval.

He said talks were under way as to whether such an approach could be applied to planning the urban growth areas on Melbourne's fringe. Such a system would lead to "better environmental protection, greater efficiency, greater business certainty and more effective community engagement".

Act soon or face $15 trillion climate bill, Treasury warns

Adam Morton 
The Age, November 1, 2008

THE world could face a bill of more than $15 trillion if it chooses to let atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reach a dangerous level before trying to wind it back, Treasury modelling suggests.

Conversely, it could cost $610 billion to soften a more aggressive global climate change target if it proved too ambitious.

The stark contrast adds weight to claims by environmentalists and climate scientists that it makes economic sense for Australia to commit to deep emissions cuts by 2020 while pushing for a strong global climate deal.

Spelt out in modelling on the impact of emissions trading released this week, the figures support setting a bold short-term greenhouse reduction target to stabilise carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million (ppm).

It throws a question mark over the economics of government climate adviser Ross Garnaut's recommendation that Australia signal it would accept a 550ppm target — the only global deal he believes is possible in the short-term — as a pathway to 450ppm.

Climate Institute policy director Erwin Jackson said the modelling reinforced that the costs of stalling on climate change were not just environmental and human, but economic.

"The longer we delay action, the more likely it is that future governments and our kids will have to decide to massively restructure the economy very quickly, as opposed to the choice we can make today to take decisive, smooth action to reduce emissions," he said.

Like all economic modelling, the projected costs of changing stabilisation targets turn on contentious assumptions — in this case an ethical assessment of how the welfare of future generations should be balanced against that of people living today. Known as the social discount rate, there is little agreement between economist on how it should be valued.

Former World Bank chief economist Lord Nicholas Stern put it at 1.4%, a rate that puts more weight on the welfare of those yet to be born than anything modelled by Treasury.

A discount rate of 2% puts the cost of strengthening the stabilisation target from 550ppm to 450ppm at $15.1 trillion. Weakening the target from 450ppm to 550ppm would cost only $610 billion.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday warned that Australia could face tariffs from more climate conscious nations if it failed to cut emissions.

"You don't want to get to a stage in 10, 15, 20 years' time where suddenly you have to make a massive transformation," he said.

The Opposition is calling for the Government to delay emissions trading, saying the modelling failed to factor in the global financial crisis or the possibility no global deal would be struck.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Arctic ice thickness 'plummets'

By Mark Kinver 
Science and environment reporter, BBC News
Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The thickness of Arctic sea ice "plummeted" last winter, thinning by as much as one-fifth in some regions, satellite data has revealed.
A study by UK researchers showed that the ice thickness had been fairly constant for the previous five winters.
The team from University College London added that the results provided the first definitive proof that the overall volume of Arctic ice was decreasing.
The findings have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
"The ice thickness was fairly constant for the five winters before this, but it plummeted in the winter after the 2007 minimum," lead author Katharine Giles told BBC News.
Sea ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record in September 2007, when it extended across an area of just 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles), beating the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km, measured in 2005.
The team from the university's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling - part of the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation - found that last winter the ice had thinned by an average of 10% (26cm/0.9ft) below the 2002-2008 winter average.
Dr Giles added that the data also showed the western Arctic experienced the greatest impact, where the ice thinned by up to 19% (49cm/1.6ft).

Melting point
The recent record losses of ice cover in the Arctic has led to suggestions that the region could have reached a "tipping point" but some uncertainty over the causes had remained, explained co-author Seymour Laxon.
"The extent can change because the ice can be redistributed, increasing the amount of open water," he told BBC News. "But this does not reduce the overall amount of ice."
"To determine whether the reduction in sea ice extent is the result of ice being piled up against the coast or whether it is the result of melting, you need to measure the thickness."
"I think this is the first time that we can definitively say that the bulk overall volume of ice has decreased," observed Dr Laxon.
"So this means melting; it doesn't mean that the ice has just been pushed up against the coastline."
Dr Giles explained that the measurements gathered by satellite provided a continuous data-set and had a number of advantages over other methods.
"Drilling, submarines or aircraft; all of these techniques can be limited by time and space," she said.
"You can only sample relatively small areas, and you cannot have a continuous time series - it's a very harsh environment, so field experiments in winter are logistically difficult."
"We have been using satellite data, which means we get coverage all across the Arctic Ocean (apart from the very centre) and we get it continuously, so we have great coverage both in terms of time and area."
The measurements were recorded via a radar altimeter onboard the European Space Agency's (Esa) Envisat satellite.
The altimeter fires pulses of electromagnetic waves down on to the ice, which reflects them back up to a receiver on the satellite.
The time taken for the waves to complete this journey is recorded, and it is a fairly straightforward calculation to work out the height of the ice above sea level.
As one tenth of the ice sits above the water, it is then possible to work out the overall volume and thickness of ice in that location.
Dr Laxon said the project's findings are being used to help climate modellers refine their projections of what is going to happen in the future.
"The time when Arctic sea ice is going to disappear is open to a lot of debate," he said.
"About five years ago, the average projection for the sea ice disappearing was about 2080.
"But the ice minimums, and this evidence of melting, suggests that we should favour the models that suggest the sea ice will disappear by 2030-2040, but there is still a lot of uncertainty."
The researchers hope to keep the data series, funded by the EU and the Natural Environmental Research Council (Nerc), running for as long as satellite-based measurements are available. 

Polar warming 'caused by humans'

By Pallab Ghosh 
Science correspondent, BBC News
Page last updated at 18:24 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

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.
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."

Man-made climate change seen in Antarctica, Arctic

Thu Oct 30, 2008 6:11pm GMT

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Both Antarctica and the Arctic are getting less icy because of global warming, scientists said on Thursday in a study that extends evidence of man-made climate change to every continent.

Detection of a human cause of warming at both ends of the earth also strengthens a need to understand ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland that would raise world sea levels by about 70 meters (230 ft) if they all melted, they said.

"We're able for the first time to directly attribute warming in both the Arctic and the Antarctic to human influences," said Nathan Gillett of England's University of East Anglia of a study he led with colleagues in the United States, Britain and Japan.

The Arctic has warmed sharply in recent years and sea ice shrank in 2007 to a record low. But Antarctic trends have been confusing -- some winter sea ice has expanded in recent decades, leaving doubts for some about whether warming was global.

The U.N. Climate Panel, which draws on work by 2,500 experts, said last year that the human fingerprint on climate "has been detected in every continent except Antarctica," which has insufficient observational coverage to make an assessment.

The scientists, writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, said the new findings filled that gap.

The study, comparing temperature records and four computer climate models, found a warming in both polar regions that could be best explained by a buildup of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, rather than natural shifts.


The link with human activities had been elusive in the polar regions because there are fewer than 100 temperature stations in the Arctic and just 20 in Antarctica, they said.

The scientists said temperatures had risen about 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) in the past 40 years in the Arctic.

Temperatures in Antarctica, an icy deep freeze bigger than the United States, had gained by a few tenths of a degree. The Arctic is warming fast because darker water and ground soak up ever more heat than ice and snow that reflect the sun's rays.

The study also formally linked greenhouse gas emissions to rising temperatures in the Arctic, where big natural variations included a sharp temperature rise in the 1930s and 1940s.

The human cause had been hinted at by the U.N. Climate Panel last year, which said a human impact "has likely contributed to recent decreases in Arctic sea ice extent."

Scientists urged more study of ice and temperatures.

The U.N. Climate Panel projects that sea levels will rise by between 18 and 59 cm (7-23 inches) this century, part of shifts also likely to include more droughts, floods, heatwaves and more destructive storms.

"We really need to pay closer attention to what's going on with these ice sheets," Andrew Monaghan, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, told a telephone news conference with Gillett.

Asked if the findings would affect his view of the likely pace of melting, he said: "I would say that it would lean toward a little bit bleaker side of the picture."

Emission cuts to squeeze smelters

Adam Morton 
The Age, October 31, 2008

Aluminium smelting in Australia will be among the big losers as the world moves to cut greenhouse emissions, with its output projected to be halved by mid-century.

Under Professor Ross Garnaut's recommendation that Australia accept a deal to cut emissions by 10% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, aluminium production would plummet by 35% in the first decade of emissions trading and continue to decline.

Treasury modelling released yesterday found tackling climate change would have little impact on the economy, but that the impact would differ markedly across sectors.

Forestry would grow expediently, boosting business by at least 166% under a global deal as investors planted trees to soak up greenhouse gas and earn tradeable carbon permits.

Under a deal in which Australia cuts emissions by 25%, revenue from forestry would increase by an extraordinary 875%.

But the electricity-intensive aluminium industry, which includes Alcoa's Victorian smelters at Portland and Point Henry, would gradually shut down and shift to countries where energy generation is cleaner and cheaper.

Even under a trajectory that cuts emissions by only 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, aluminium would lose nearly half its business by 2050.

"Australia's share of global trade increases for coal, and is broadly maintained for iron and steel. Australia's share of global trade falls for aluminium, given its relatively higher emission intensity of production," the Treasury report says.

It says the aluminium sector would benefit most from the Government's plan to help the most intensive emitters adjust by giving them 90% of carbon permits for free. But its output goes into free fall assuming a global deal is reached and the shielding is lifted. The related alumina sector would also be heavily affected, losing at least about 15% of output.

Coal-fired electricity generation would be cut by more than half as Australia shifted to cleaner energy forms, while coal mining would lose a quarter of its business by mid-century as demand fell in a lower-carbon world.

Across the country, the trade forecast remains steady under emissions trading, reflecting the strength of the domestic economy.

Third World to do our dirty work

AUSTRALIA plans to minimise the cost of tackling climate change by paying developing countries such as Indonesia to cut their greenhouse emissions, long-awaited modelling by Treasury shows.

The modelling, released yesterday, gives the Federal Government an economic green light to push on with emissions trading and start cutting greenhouse gas emissions from 2010.

But detailed figures in the study make it clear that meeting our emission targets will be cheap because, among other things, we will buy half or more of our emission permits from other countries.

While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged a 60% cut in emissions by 2050, the modelling shows Australia could technically fulfil the pledge with a cut in its emissions of just 24%, relative to 1990 levels. The other 36% would be made up by the purchase of emission permits from developing countries.

The modelling assumes a heavy trade in permits, with China, India, Indonesia and other developing countries selling surplus emission permits to rich countries. The poorer countries would gain their permits largely by conserving forests from large-scale clearing.

Australia's actual emissions, on this scenario, would fall only from 554 million tonnes in 1990 to 420 million in 2050. Carbon capture and storage technology would allow coal exports to keep expanding, while emissions from transport and agriculture would each grow by almost 50%.

The modelling found that:

* Tackling climate change will have a minimal impact on Australia's future prosperity, cutting the average growth rate in per capita output between 2010 and 2050 from 1.2% to 1.1%.

* Households will pay $1 a day in higher gas and electricity charges when emissions trading begins in 2010. Pensioners and single-parent families will face the biggest rise in living costs, 1.3%, but will be compensated.

* It would cost no more to cut emissions deeply by 2020, as proposed by Canberra's climate adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, than to take a more gradual approach, as proposed by the Government's green paper.

* Delaying action, as urged by the Coalition, would increase the ultimate cost by encouraging investment in energy-intensive technology that would be a burden in the long run. To put off tackling emissions until 2017 would increase the cost of doing so by 10%.

* Virtually no industries are likely to move overseas because of Australia taking early action. The aluminium sector will eventually shift overseas, but only because countries with abundant renewable energy will have cheaper electricity.

Treasurer Wayne Swan hailed the report as "a rigorous piece of work" that showed Australia could tackle climate change at the same time as boosting growth and jobs.

But the Coalition attacked the modelling for not factoring in the global financial crisis.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said it also had two other shortcomings: it failed to take into account a scenario where the rest of the world did not cut emissions, and it did not examine the cost of abatement through solar and wind power and developing carbon capture and storage. He maintained his call for a delay until 2011 or 2012.

Coalition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb said he suspected the Government was "withholding the real impact of the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression to help them blunt growing apprehension about their rush to impose their emissions trading scheme".

Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne accused Treasury of making pessimistic assumptions about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but said the modelling still backed its call for fast and early emission cuts.

But Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said the modelling was unrealistic, massively underestimating the cost of changes to the electricity sector and developing carbon capture and storage technology.

The Business Council of Australia reacted cautiously, but noted that the Treasury modelling stressed the importance of achieving a global climate deal and had not examined the impact on individual companies.

Environmental lobby groups said the modelling left the Government with no excuse not to set a strong emissions reduction for 2020.

Act fast on emissions: Swan

The Age, Tim Colebatch, Canberra 
October 30, 2008

AUSTRALIA could lower the cost of tackling global warming by 15% if it moves quickly rather than waiting until the world is ready to act, according to Treasury modelling to be released today.

The long-awaited modelling, to be presented by Treasurer Wayne Swan and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong in Brisbane this morning, gives the green light to the Government's plans to introduce emissions trading from 2010.

It concludes that to delay action would make Australia significantly worse off in the long run by encouraging companies to invest in emissions-intensive technology that will ultimately become a liability.

In remarks prepared for a speech today, Mr Swan says the modelling leaves a clear message: "Acting early is an economic imperative. Economies that defer emission pricing become relatively more emissions-intensive, so when an emission price is eventually introduced, they face greater costs, particularly because global investment is redirected to early movers.

"The modelling suggests that by 2050, GDP costs for economies that act early are 15% lower than for countries that wait for the world to act together."

The finding is politically significant, because the Coalition, which is clearly divided on the merits of emissions trading, has united on a call for the Government to delay its introduction to 2011 or 2012.

Yesterday Senator Wong reaffirmed the Government's commitment to starting the scheme from 2010, and Mr Swan will confirm that today. The Government plans to release its blueprint in December.

The modelling concludes that Australia can reduce carbon emissions while increasing output and living standards.

It also says:

■Putting a price on carbon emissions will reduce global demand for emissions-intensive goods and services, such as coal, but Australia is likely to increase its share of the coal trade as its coal is relatively cleaner than that of most countries.

■The Government's plans to compensate emissions-intensive industries with free emission permits will remove the incentive for them to move overseas.

The release of the Treasury report coincides with analysis commissioned by the ACTU and the Australian Conservation Foundation that found Australia could have more than 700,000 new green-collar jobs by 2030 if the Government backs industries in which the country has a competitive advantage.

Titled Green Gold Rush, it is designed to "explode the myth" that tackling climate change would destroy the economy. It found developing six green industries, including renewable energy and green buildings, could generate $382 billion and employ 847,000 people.

ACF executive director Don Henry said it challenged the "shrill doom and gloom" of Australia's biggest industrial emitters. "Our own analysis has been that many of them have been crying wolf," he said.

Meanwhile, the European Union, in a significant change of tack, is now calling on developing countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by between 15% and 30% by 2020, relative to business as usual.

EU leaders put their new demand to Asian leaders last week at their annual summit in Beijing, receiving a muted response. Asian leaders agreed to the principle of cutting emissions without endorsing the numbers.

The EU had argued that only the wealthy countries needed to accept emissions targets at this stage. Its change follows data on global emissions growth, which suggests that emissions from developing countries are growing so fast that action by rich countries alone after 2012 will not be enough to hold global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Emissions trade price tag: $7 a week

By Online parliamentary correspondent Emma Rodgers

ABC News Online, Posted 2 hours 23 minutes ago
Updated 1 hour 34 minutes ago

Treasury modelling released by the Federal Government today shows there would be a minimal reduction of growth under an emissions trading scheme.

But it also shows that households will spend around $5 a week extra on electricity and $2 a week on gas, and lower-income households will be more affected.

The modelling says annual growth would slow by 0.1 per cent and early action is key to keeping costs low.

It also says the introduction of a scheme would be likely to produce a one-off spike in inflation of around 1 to 1.5 per cent, but there would be minimal impacts on future levels of inflation.

It is expected that rural and metropolitan households will incur roughly the same rise in costs.

Releasing the modelling today, Treasurer Wayne Swan said real household incomes would stay strong but will be around 0.2 per cent less under a scheme.

"The Government is of course committed to helping households adjust to the scheme by compensating them for the impact," he said.

The Government has already promised to offset fuel price rises under the scheme for the first three years.

The modelling also says that, based on international action to cap greenhouse gas concentrations at 550 parts per million (ppm), an initial carbon price could be set at $23 per tonne in 2010.

But if Australia were to adopt a more ambitious target of 450 ppm, the cost of carbon per tonne would more than double.

It also says that the costs to trade-exposed industries would not be substantial enough to cause them to move offshore, and industries such as coal, iron and still will continue to grow but at a slower rate than they would without a carbon scheme.

Mr Swan says the trade-exposed industries will be able to sustain demand because they will be polluting less than their global competitors.

But the modelling does says that the introduction of a scheme could lead to the closure of some coal-fired electricity generators.

However Mr Swan says by 2050 the alternative energy sector will grow by around 3,000 per cent due to the introduction of a carbon price.

"Low emissions technologies and production processes will become more competitive and low emission goods will become more attractive to consumers," he said.

Mr Swan says the figures also show that it will be cheaper to act now to reduce carbon emissions.

The modelling suggests that costs to economies that act now would be 15 per cent less by 2050 than those who wait to act.

The report says early global reduction of carbon pollution will bring down long-term costs.

However, the modelling works on the assumption that the drought will be over and dams full in two years' time, and that carbon capture storage technology will be available in 10 years.

It also does not include the impact of the global economic crisis.

The Government will release a white paper with the final details of the scheme by the end of the year and wants to introduce the scheme in 2010.

The Opposition has labelled the start-up date of 2010 as "grossly irresponsible" and has demanded the effects of the global financial crisis be factored into the white paper.

Tags: climate-change, f

Australians ranked among world's worst eco-offenders

Adam Morton 
The Age, October 30, 2008

AUSTRALIANS have the world's fifth largest ecological footprint — and it is getting bigger.

An international report by conservation group the World Wildlife Fund has found the average Australian uses more land and water than people from all countries bar the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Kuwait and Denmark.

The Living Planet Report 2008 says it takes 7.8 hectares to maintain the lifestyle of each Australian, up 16% from the last report two years ago.

Globally, the report compares the disaster awaiting the planet to the global financial crisis, saying it is heading for an "ecological credit crunch".

It estimates the demands being placed on the Earth are more than a third higher than it can sustain, with a growing number of countries slipping into permanent or seasonal water stress.

"Most of us are propping up our current lifestyles and our economic growth by drawing — and increasingly overdrawing — on the ecological capital of other parts of the world," WWF international director-general James Leape said. "If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles."

WWF Australia chief executive Greg Bourne said the report painted a dire picture for the country, showing wildlife was declining and natural resources were being wasted at an accelerating rate.

Most of Australia's footprint is due to high carbon emissions and poor grazing practices, the report finds.

The nation's water use is above the global average.

"We currently have the technology and capital to turn around our destructive excesses. The real question is: do we have the will?" Mr Bourne said.

Australia has 99 mammal, 108 bird and 53 reptile species under threat because of habitat loss, invasive alien species, over-exploitation and pollution.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prince Charles says climate the real crisis

ABC News Online,

Posted Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:00pm AEDT

Prince Charles urged the world to fight climate change, saying that while the global credit crunch will be temporary, the effects of the "climate crunch" were irreversible.

The heir to the British throne issued his appeal on a visit to Tokyo, where he and his wife Camilla are marking the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Britain.

"Given the current turbulence in the international financial system and the immediate and damaging effect it is having on the whole world, the credit crunch is rightly a preoccupation of vast significance and importance," Charles said.

"But we take our eye off the 'climate crunch' at our peril," he said in a speech at Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

"While we hope and pray that the underlying strengths of the global economy will once again enable it to bounce back, the effects of climate change will be far from temporary and will, indeed, be irreversible," he said.

Global markets have been battered in recent weeks by a global crunch in credit as some of the world's top financial institutions crumble under the weight of toxic subprime housing loans.

Charles, who has long championed environmental causes, cited predictions by UN scientists that temperatures could rise by more than six degrees Celsius by 2100 if no action is taken.

Charles called it a "level unprecedented in human experience."

"The scale of the challenge is clear, nothing less than an urgent, full-scale transformation to a low-carbon society is needed," he said.


Climate change facts among all the hot air

Sunshine Coast Daily Online, 12:00a.m. 29th October 2008

Hard facts on climate change and carbon trading have finally emerged from the fog of speculation, confusion and misinformation surrounding the issues and their implications for business.

General manager of Origin Energy, Peter Israel, spoke at a recent Australian Institute of Company Directors briefing in Maroochydore and he was keen to separate fact from fiction, with backing from numerous reputable sources.

"I looked at what the economic modelling is telling us as to what an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will do to Australian business and there is a lot of hot air about the issue," he said.

"For example, the Garnaut Report and the Climate Roundtable work indicate the economy will grow only slightly less quickly when you have an ETS - it is 0.1% per year reduction in GDP.

"People think it's doom and gloom and we will all be broke, but already hundreds of organisations are focusing on some element of the carbon economy … banks and large consultants are investing money in new forms of low emission generation like wind and high efficiency gas.

"McKinsey and Co. indicate the cost per household of an aggressive reduction target (where you cut emissions by 30% by 2020) is just under $300 a year, or 80 cents a day - so that really is minimal.

"PricewaterhouseCoopers put out a release saying by the middle of the century the carbon-related economy will be worth about $15 trillion US - so low emissions technology, products and services to do with greening the environment will become even more important."

Mr Israel said the ETS, which will be introduced in 2010, is targeted at the big end of town, especially power stations, fuel refineries and resources companies.

It aims to capture 75% of the nation's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, which number only about 1000.

"But it will start coming down to the middle of the economy and SMEs will get opportunities to become more sustainable in the way they go about their business," he said.

"Employees and customers are expecting that these days, they are demanding to know how much C02 your company produced to make your product.

"Companies need to be thinking about how carbon-intensive their production is.

"Everybody will have carbon costs associated with their products priced into those products, so we'll all start to choose with our hip pockets and the products that use the least carbon will be more popular."

Mr Israel advised businesspeople to do an emissions audit on the internet, at sites like

"Over the next year, spend time looking at their emissions footprint, whether they are captured by the ETS or not and what other things they can do to become more sustainable."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

State to study health impact of climate change

Peter Ker 
The Age, October 27, 2008

FEARS that climate change will damage the health of Victorians have prompted a major investigation by the state's health officials.

Amid warnings that climate change could lead to more cases of heat-related illness, mosquito-borne viruses, food poisoning and depression around the world, Victoria's Department of Human Services has confirmed it has commissioned its own investigation into the extent to which Victorians might be affected.

In a move described as both "heartening" and "long overdue" by prominent health experts, work on the project is due to begin in January under the working title "climate change impacts on population health and vulnerabilities".

The study has been asked to identify the Victorian health system's major "vulnerabilities" to climate change, as well as the adaptive capacity of Victorians and their Government.

It has also been charged with establishing how certain the relationship is between climate change and health issues.

The Age believes that DHS has already started pilot programs into the development of "heatwave emergency systems".

DHS held a conference on the issue last October. Spokesman Bram Alexander said the large number of heat-related deaths in Europe over recent years had drawn attention to the role of climate change in health policy.

"Severe heatwaves in Europe have caused deaths in recent years, and we are keen to be well prepared for the impacts that climate change may have upon public health and the challenges it may bring," he said.

"Climate change could have varying impacts on public health in different parts of Victoria. Regions like Mildura may need a different approach to that in South Gippsland."

The investigation was likely to run for several years, Mr Alexander said. It would formulate strategies for five, 10 and 15-year increments.

The move follows calls from a wide range of groups, including the Australian Medical Association, the Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation, for governments to better address the issue.

This year the World Health Organisation declared the theme of this year's World Health Day to be "protecting health from climate change".

Experts have warned that climate change may bring a new range of "green" crimes, from rorts of environmental labelling to fraud on the multibillion-dollar emission trading scheme and theft of water and other scarce materials and even increased domestic violence.

The warning is contained in a report from the the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on the impact of climate change on Australia's eight police forces and 45,000 officers.

Authors Anthony Bergin and Ross Allen said that in a booming emissions-trading market, there would always be a high possibility of fraud by a "green shoe brigade".

The authors said weather extremes could encourage criminal behaviour, including increased domestic violence and a rise in other anti-social behaviour that could increase after disasters.

Last year Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said climate change could eclipse terrorism as the security issue of the century.