Thursday, September 28, 2006

Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth

By Robert J. Samuelson
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; A13

"Global warming may or may not be the great environmental crisis of the next century, but -- regardless of whether it is or isn't -- we won't do much about it. We will (I am sure) argue ferociously over it and may even, as a nation, make some fairly solemn-sounding commitments to avoid it. But the more dramatic and meaningful these commitments seem, the less likely they are to be observed. Little will be done. . . . Global warming promises to become a gushing source of national hypocrisy.''

-- This column, July 1997

Well, so it has. In three decades of columns, I've never quoted myself at length, but here it's necessary. Al Gore calls global warming an "inconvenient truth," as if merely recognizing it could put us on a path to a solution. That's an illusion. The real truth is that we don't know enough to relieve global warming, and -- barring major technological breakthroughs -- we can't do much about it. This was obvious nine years ago; it's still obvious. Let me explain.

From 2003 to 2050, the world's population is projected to grow from 6.4 billion people to 9.1 billion, a 42 percent increase. If energy use per person and technology remain the same, total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (mainly, carbon dioxide) will be 42 percent higher in 2050. But that's too low, because societies that grow richer use more energy. Unless we condemn the world's poor to their present poverty -- and freeze everyone else's living standards -- we need economic growth. With modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions more than double by 2050.

Just keeping annual greenhouse gas emissions constant means that the world must somehow offset these huge increases. There are two ways: Improve energy efficiency, or shift to energy sources with lower (or no) greenhouse emissions. Intuitively, you sense this is tough. China, for example, builds about one coal-fired power plant a week. Now a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris shows all the difficulties (the population, economic growth and energy projections cited above come from the report).

The IEA report assumes that existing technologies are rapidly improved and deployed. Vehicle fuel efficiency increases by 40 percent. In electricity generation, the share for coal (the fuel with the most greenhouse gases) shrinks from about 40 percent to about 25 percent -- and much carbon dioxide is captured before going into the atmosphere. Little is captured today. Nuclear energy increases. So do "renewables" (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal); their share of global electricity output rises from 2 percent now to about 15 percent.

Some of these changes seem heroic. They would require tough government regulation, continued technological gains and public acceptance of higher fuel prices. Never mind. Having postulated a crash energy diet, the IEA simulates five scenarios with differing rates of technological change. In each, greenhouse emissions in 2050 are higher than today. The increases vary from 6 percent to 27 percent.

Since 1800 there's been modest global warming. I'm unqualified to judge between those scientists (the majority) who blame man-made greenhouse gases and those (a small minority) who finger natural variations in the global weather system. But if the majority are correct, the IEA report indicates we're now powerless. We can't end annual greenhouse emissions, and once in the atmosphere, the gases seem to linger for decades. So concentration levels rise. They're the villains; they presumably trap the world's heat. They're already about 36 percent higher than in 1800. Even with its program, the IEA says another 45 percent rise may be unavoidable. How much warming this might create is uncertain; so are the consequences.

I draw two conclusions -- one political, one practical.

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they're "doing something." The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn't. But it hasn't reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn't adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. By some estimates, Europe may overshoot by 15 percent and Japan by 25 percent.

Ambitious U.S. politicians also practice this self-serving hypocrisy. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a global warming program. Gore counts 221 cities that have "ratified" Kyoto. Some pledge to curb their greenhouse emissions. None of these programs will reduce global warming. They're public relations exercises and -- if they impose costs -- are undesirable. (Note: on national security grounds, I favor taxing oil, but the global warming effect would be trivial.) The practical conclusion is that if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology. I once received an e-mail from an engineer. Thorium, he said. I had never heard of thorium. It is, he argued, a nuclear fuel that is more plentiful and safer than uranium without waste disposal problems. It's an exit from the global warming trap. After reading many articles, I gave up trying to decide whether he is correct. But his larger point is correct: Only an aggressive research and development program might find ways of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels or dealing with it. Perhaps some system could purge the atmosphere of surplus greenhouse gases?

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

Antarctic ozone hole nears record: U.N. agency

Friday, September 22, 2006; 12:04 PM

GENEVA (Reuters) - The hole over Antarctica's ozone layer is bigger than last year and is nearing the record 29-million-square-km (11-million-sq-mile) hole seen in 2000, the World Meteorological Organization said on Friday.

Geir Braathen, the United Nations weather agency's top ozone expert, said ozone depletion had a late onset in this year's southern hemisphere winter, when low temperatures normally trigger chemical reactions that break down the atmospheric layer that filters dangerous solar radiation.

"The ozone depletion started quite late, but when it started it came quite rapidly," Braathen told journalists in Geneva.

"It (the hole) has now risen to a level that has passed last year's, and is very close to, if not equal to, the ozone hole size of 2003, and also approaching the size of 2000," he said.

The Antarctic ozone hole was at its second-largest in 2003.

While use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) has waned, Braathen said large amounts of chlorine and bromine remain in the atmosphere and would keep causing large reductions in the Antarctic ozone layer for many years to come.

"We will for the next couple of decades expect to see recurring ozone holes of the size that we see now," he said.

The WMO and the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said in August that the protective layer would likely return to pre-1980 levels by 2049 over much of Europe, North America, Asia, Australasia, Latin America and Africa.

In Antarctica, the agencies said ozone layer recovery would likely be delayed until 2065.

Earth may be at warmest point in 1 million years

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
Monday, September 25, 2006; 4:58 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Earth may be close to the warmest it has been in the last million years, especially in the part of the Pacific Ocean where potentially violent El Nino weather patterns are born, climate scientists reported on Monday.

This doesn't necessarily mean there will be more frequent El Ninos -- which can disrupt normal weather around the world -- but could well mean that these wild patterns will be stronger when they occur, said James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.

The El Nino phenomenon is an important factor in monitoring global warming, according to a paper by Hansen and colleagues published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PDF).

El Ninos can push temperatures higher than they might ordinarily be. This happened in 1998 when a so-called "super El Nino" helped heat the Earth to a record high.

What is significant, the scientists wrote, is that 2005 was in the same temperature range as 1998, and probably was the warmest year ever, with no sign of the warm surface water in the eastern equatorial Pacific typical of an El Nino.

The waters of the western equatorial Pacific are warmer than in the eastern equatorial Pacific, and the difference in temperature between these two areas could produce greater temperature swings between the normal weather pattern and El Nino, they wrote.

They blamed this phenomenon on global warming that is affecting the surface of the western Pacific before it affects the deeper water.


Overall, Earth is within 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) of its highest temperature levels in the past million years, Hansen and the others wrote. They noted a recent steep rise in average temperatures, with global surface temperatures increasing about 0.4 degrees F (0.2 degrees C) for each of the last three decades.

Scientists attribute this rise to human activities, notably the release into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases -- notably carbon dioxide -- which let in sunlight and trap its heat like the glass walls of a greenhouse.

Human-caused global warming influences El Ninos much as it sways tropical storms, the scientists wrote.

"The effect on frequency of either phenomenon is unclear, depending on many factors, but the intensity of the most powerful events is likely to increase as greenhouse gases increase," they wrote. "Slowing the growth rate of greenhouse gases should diminish the probability of both super El Ninos and the most intense tropical storms."

Weak El Nino conditions were present this month in the tropical Pacific, and could strengthen to a moderate event by winter, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the phenomenon.

In the United States, private forecaster WSI Corp. predicted warmer-than-normal weather over the Northeast and Midwest for the rest of this year, spelling sluggish energy demand for the start of the heating season.

The warm outlook, after the mildest winter on record last year, is due to uncertainty over the El Nino -- a warming of Pacific waters around the equator that can drive weather patterns around the globe, WSI Corp. said.

Journal: Agency Blocked Hurricane Report

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 8:34 PM

WASHINGTON -- A government agency blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disputed the Nature article, saying there was not a report but a two-page fact sheet about the topic. The information was to be included in a press kit to be distributed in May as the annual hurricane season approached but wasn't ready.

"The document wasn't done in time for the rollout," NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John said in responding to the Nature article. "The White House never saw it, so they didn't block it."

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration _ part of the Commerce Department _ in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.

Leetmaa, head of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in New Jersey, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher is currently out of the country, but Nature quoted him as saying the report was merely an internal document and could not be released because the agency could not take an official position on the issue.

However, the journal said in its online report that the study was merely a discussion of the current state of hurricane science and did not contain any policy or position statements.

The report drew a prompt response from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., who charged that "the administration has effectively declared war on science and truth to advance its anti-environment agenda ... the Bush administration continues to censor scientists who have documented the current impacts of global warming."

A series of studies over the past year or so have shown an increase in the power of hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a strengthening that many storm experts say is tied to rising sea-surface temperatures.

Just two weeks ago, researchers said that most of the increase in ocean temperature that feeds more intense hurricanes is a result of human-induced global warming, a study one researcher said "closes the loop" between climate change and powerful storms like Katrina.

Not all agree, however, with opponents arguing that many other factors affect storms, which can increase and decrease in cycles.

The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.

In February, a NASA political appointee who worked in the space agency's public relations department resigned after reportedly trying to restrict access to Jim Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who has been active in global warming research.

Schwarzenegger Signs Global Warming Bill

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 8:34 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday signed into law a sweeping global warming initiative that imposes the nation's first cap on greenhouse gas emissions, saying the effort kicks off "a bold new era of environmental protection."

Standing on picturesque Treasure Island with San Francisco's skyline in the background, Schwarzenegger called the fight against global warming one of the most important issues of modern times.

"We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late," Schwarzenegger said during an address before signing the bill.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. George Pataki, as well as Democratic legislators, joined Schwarzenegger for the high-profile ceremony. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who struck a deal with Schwarzenegger over the summer to develop clean technologies, joined the ceremony via video link.

Blair called the bill-signing "a proud day for political leadership" and "a historic day for the rest of the world, as well."

California's efforts on global warming have been in the spotlight since Schwarzenegger and the state's legislative Democrats reached an accord last month on the Democrat-authored bill to cut greenhouse gases.

The negotiations culminated in the last week of the legislative session, handing the Republican governor a key victory during an election year in which he has sought to portray himself as a friend to the environment.

On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger called the bill signing a historic occasion.

"It will begin a bold new era of environmental protection in California that will change the course of history," he said.

He expected other states, the federal government and even other nations to follow.

"I'm convinced of that ... because nothing is more important than protecting our planet," he said.

Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent in the November election, state treasurer Phil Angelides, also supports the new law.

It imposes a first-in-the-nation emissions cap on utilities, refineries and manufacturing plants in a bid to curb the gases that scientists blame for warming the Earth. Two years ago, a state board adopted tight regulations on automobile tailpipe emissions, an initiative that is being challenged in federal court by automakers.

This week, Schwarzenegger also was expected to sign a second Democrat-sponsored global warming bill with consequences beyond the state's borders. That bill would prohibit California's large utilities and corporations from entering long-term power contracts with suppliers whose electricity sources do not meet the state's greenhouse gas emission standards.

The measure by Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata is intended to force coal plants in the western U.S. to install cleaner technologies.

California's efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions from industry and automobiles are part of a goal to reduce the state's emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, an estimated 25 percent reduction. California is the world's 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Schwarzenegger issued an executive order in 2005 calling for an even more ambitious reduction _ cutting the levels of greenhouse gases to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Schwarzenegger described the emissions-cap bill as one step in a long-term strategy by the nation's most populous state to combat global climate change. He said the state should further reduce industrial emissions and adopt initiatives such as placing greater emphasis on renewable energy and hydrogen-fueled cars.

The industrial emissions cap has been praised by environmentalists as a step toward fighting global climate change, but business leaders have warned that it will increase their costs and force them to scale back their California operations.

Schwarzenegger said it is possible to protect the environment as well as the state's economy. He expects the law will lead to a new business sector in California devoted to developing the technologies industries can use to meet the tougher emission requirements.

"We can save our planet and boost our economy at the same time," the governor said.

Warming Trend Is Hatching a Business

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006; D01

U.S. governors, impatient with federal inaction on global warming, are taking matters into their own hands. The result could add impetus to an emerging industry.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) yesterday signed legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. And seven Northeastern states, which together emit as much greenhouse gas as Germany, have banded together to set rules that would cut their emissions by 10 percent by 2019. Other states may join them.

"There isn't an actor at the table who wouldn't prefer a national program, but we can't afford to wait," says Franz Litz, climate change coordinator at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

So the state leaders are modeling their efforts on the European Union, which has turned limits on greenhouse gas emissions into a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry.

Companies are already scrambling to take advantage of the E.U. system, which is an outgrowth of the global environmental accord known as the Kyoto Protocol. Arlington-based AES Corp. has dispatched teams to negotiate with Asian palm oil plantations over installing equipment to suck methane -- one of the most potent of a half-dozen greenhouse gases -- out of waste lagoons. The electric power company wants to convert it into energy and less harmful gases. In return, the firm would get credits it could use or sell in Europe.

The European system sets a cap for the continent's emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Every company producing significant amounts of greenhouse gases is issued a designated number of "allowances." If power plants and factories spew out more than their quotas, they have to buy allowances from firms that spew less than their allotments. Polluting companies can also buy credits from firms that are cutting emissions in the developing world.

The result: Gases that were once worthless now have a commercial value every bit as solid as coal, pork bellies or Treasury bills -- only with this commodity, companies are paid for what they do not deliver. According to Point Carbon, a research firm, $12.6 billion of greenhouse gas emission rights, called European Union Allowances, were traded in the first half of this year. The value of all existing allowances exceeds $70 billion.

The Northeastern U.S. governors' Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative plans to begin a similar type of carbon trading by 2009. Schwarzenegger, who appeared last month beside British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said that linking a West Coast plan to Europe's was one option.

The idea of creating a market for trading air pollution rights began in the United States. Legislation passed in 1990 and implemented in 1995 established an acid rain program, which capped sulfur dioxide emissions and let companies trade their assigned shares. Sulfur dioxide emissions fell 30 percent. Economists say such plans meet environmental goals efficiently, without choosing between technologies.

The United States insisted that other countries adopt a cap-and-trade approach for greenhouse gases in the Kyoto accord but then never signed on while Europe moved ahead. Back then, the United States agreed to reach a target 7 percent below 1990 emissions by 2012. Now, the country is churning out 16 percent more than it did in 1990 and 25 percent more than either China or the E.U.

"It is ironic that 10 years after Kyoto was signed, there is a vibrant market in Europe, an emerging market in the developing world, and the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines," says VĂ©ronique Bugnion, Point Carbon's research director.

No one is on the sidelines in Europe. Power generators now count greenhouse gases -- measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide -- as one of their costs. "It's going to change the way you make decisions about deploying capital," says Garth Edward, trading manager for environmental products at Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which has 25 installations in the E.U. system. Energy efficiency projects, he said, "are going to move up the ladder faster."

Stockholm-based Vattenfall, Europe's fourth-largest utility, is building a pilot zero-emissions coal-fired plant in Germany using sequestration, which injects carbon dioxide into the earth instead of releasing it into the air. Vattenfall chief executive Lars G. Josefsson says removing the carbon dioxide will cost more than $25 a metric ton, but he says, "If we're going to have a problem with carbon dioxide, this is a good investment."

While the E.U. carbon trading scheme has given birth to an industry, it has also created controversy over how quotas are assigned and who gets stuck paying the bills. In Germany, utilities raised electricity rates, treating carbon emissions as a cost to pass along. Four utilities made $3 billion to $5 billion in windfall profits, Bugnion says.

There are disputes between countries as well as within them. Britain and Germany are cutting their greenhouse emissions sharply, while Spain's are still growing. Sweden relies mostly on hydro- and nuclear power for electricity; Germany relies overwhelmingly on coal. Countries are currently drawing up new caps for 2008-2012.

Setting baselines for emissions has been tough. Quotas are based on a company's emissions over the five years before the program began. Firms have sought higher baselines to get more allowances. In most nations, utilities were squeezed while industrial firms were given more than enough.

The numbers didn't add up the way people expected. In May, the E.U. revealed that actual emissions were well below the quotas, suggesting that baseline levels were set too high. That shocked the carbon trading market. The price of a ton of carbon dioxide crashed, dropping by two thirds and erasing $36 billion of value. Prices crept back up but tumbled in recent days.

The credits bought in developing countries pose other challenges. So far, companies find it cheapest to cut the most potent greenhouse gases, mostly in the developing world. A ton of methane, common in landfills and farms, equals 21 tons of carbon dioxide; a ton of hydro-fluorocarbons, a refrigerant byproduct, is worth as much as 11,700 tons of carbon dioxide.

Independent firms and investors are getting into the act. Ecosecurities, whose chief executive Bruce Usher is a former Wall Street derivatives trader, has become a broker and developer of projects in 26 countries, ranging from one to capture methane at a Chinese landfill to small hydropower dams in Honduras.

A London firm called Climate Change Capital has raised $830 million to reduce greenhouse gases for credits to be sold in Europe. AES is putting $325 million into a joint venture to produce 50 million tons of credits by 2012.

These credits need the blessing of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a United Nations agency in Bonn. That process could get messy, and political. One criterion: "additionality," the buzzword for a project that wouldn't have happened without the credit system. That can be hard to figure out when high oil prices make conservation and alternative energy attractive. In July, the CDM rejected four projects, including two proposed by Ecosecurities, without saying why.

Not surprisingly, most credits are generated in countries with the worst environmental track records. China accounted for 62 percent of the CDM credits sold during the first half of this year. That raises a sensitive question: Should Europe be effectively subsidizing investments in pollution control that its economic competitor China hasn't bothered to make? Moreover, China is collecting a 65 percent tax on the sale of credits.

"Scientifically, it makes sense to take [greenhouse gases] out wherever you can do it most cheaply, but politically, it might be better to do it in your country," said AES chief executive Paul Hanrahan.

There is one functioning U.S. carbon market. On Earth Day 2005, Richard Sandor founded the Chicago Climate Exchange, but participation is voluntary. Member companies must trim 6 percent of their emissions by 2010. "The only ones who opt in know they'll meet the targets," says Point Carbon's Bugnion. Members include Ford Motor Co., DuPont Co., Motorola Inc., International Business Machines Corp., American Electric Power Inc. and half a dozen municipal governments.

Mandatory carbon trading may still be adopted in the United States. Cap-and-trade measures have been drafted by a handful of lawmakers. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) co-sponsored an earlier bill.

"This is a big global problem, and we have a deficit in global governance," says Vattenfall's Josefsson. "If we could solve this, it could be a model for global governance."

Change sought in energy use

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer Portland Press Herald Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Portland-based environmental group hopes to convince Maine's political candidates to pledge support for alternative energy and conservation.

The group, Environment Maine, plans to collect petition signatures and approach state and congressional candidates with a proposed energy platform it says would reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce global warming pollution. "Our nation desperately needs to change its course on energy," said Jennifer Anderson of Environment Maine.

Environment Maine's proposed energy platform would, by the year 2025, reduce American oil use by one-third, increase clean alternative energy sources to 25 percent of all energy needs and reduce energy required by buildings and appliances by 10 percent, Anderson said. Elected officials can help achieve those goals in Maine by continuing to force cars to be cleaner and more efficient, expanding public transportation and encouraging alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels, she said.

The group doesn't support the development of more nuclear power, saying it brings a range of other problems and is unnecessary. And it hasn't taken a position on any specific wind-power projects, such as the proposed Redington Wind Farm in western Maine.

The group's energy platform has the support of other groups, including Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

"It's clear that making better energy choices today will improve our health for generations to come," said Dr. Peter Wilk, co-president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Energy policies have come up in the campaign for governor. At a forum in Portland earlier this month, Republican Chandler Woodcock defended nuclear power as a long-term energy option and said wind power, on the other hand, generates minimal energy. Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, Independent Barbara Merrill and Green Independent Pat LaMarche all said nuclear power should have no future in Maine, while wind power should. Only Merrill specifically endorsed the Redington Wind Farm, however.

Whether that debate expands or spreads into other races could depend on oil prices, as well as other factors, over the next several weeks, according to political scientists.

Supporters of Environment Maine's energy platform said falling oil prices will not eliminate problems such as dependence on foreign oil or climate change. The dropping prices helps illustrate the volatility in the market and the danger of remaining dependent on oil, said Ed Cervone, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

"We need to diversify our portfolio so that we can weather ups and downs (in oil supplies) and create a predictable climate for businesses," he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Lester R. Brown

Historically, water scarcity was a local issue. It was up to national governments to balance water supply and demand. Now this is changing as scarcity crosses national boundaries via the international grain trade. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, importing grain is the most efficient way to import water. Countries are, in effect, using grain to balance their water books. Similarly, trading in grain futures is in a sense trading in water futures.

Falling water tables are already adversely affecting harvests in some countries, including China, the world’s largest grain producer. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer under the North China Plain, forcing farmers to turn to the region’s deep fossil aquifer, which is not replenishable. Wheat farmers in some areas of the Plain are now pumping from a depth of 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet.

Overall, China’s grain production has fallen from its historical peak of 392 million tons in 1998 to an estimated 358 million tons in 2005. This drop of 34 million tons exceeds the Canadian wheat harvest. China largely covered the drop-off in production by drawing down its once vast stocks until 2004, at which point it imported 7 million tons of grain.

Water shortages are even more serious in India simply because the margin between actual food consumption and survival is so precarious. At this point, the harvests of wheat and rice, India’s principal food grains, are still increasing. But within the next few years, the loss of irrigation water could override technological progress and start shrinking the harvest in some parts of the country, as it is already doing in China.

After China and India, there is a second tier of countries with large water deficits—Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan. Three of these—Algeria, Egypt, and Mexico—already import much of their grain. However, in a parallel move with China, water-short Pakistan abruptly turned to the world market in 2004 for imports of 1.5 million tons of wheat. Its need for imports is likely to climb in the years ahead.

The Middle East and North Africa—from Morocco in the west through Iran in the east—has become the world’s fastest-growing grain import market. The demand for grain is driven both by rapid population growth and by rising affluence, much of the latter derived from the export of oil. With virtually every country in the region pressing against its water limits, the growing urban demand for water can be satisfied only by taking irrigation water from agriculture.

Egypt, with some 74 million people, has become a major importer of wheat in recent years, vying with Japan—traditionally the leading wheat importer—for the top spot. It now imports 40 percent of its total grain supply, a number that edges steadily upward as its population outgrows the grain harvest produced with the Nile’s water.

Algeria, with 33 million people, imports more than half of its grain, which means that the water embodied in the imported grain exceeds the use of water for all purposes from domestic sources. Because of its heavy dependence on imports, Algeria is particularly vulnerable to disruptions, in the event of a world grain shortage.

Overall, the water required to produce the grain and other farm products imported into the Middle East and North Africa last year equaled the annual flow of the Nile River at Aswan. In effect, the region’s water deficit can be thought of as another Nile flowing into the region in the form of imported grain.

It is often said that future wars in the Middle East will more likely be fought over water than oil, but the competition for water is taking place in world grain markets. It is the countries that are financially the strongest, not necessarily those that are militarily the strongest, that will fare best in this competition.

Knowing where grain import needs will be concentrated tomorrow requires looking at where water deficits are developing today. Thus far, the countries importing much of their grain have been smaller ones. Now we are looking at fast-growing water deficits in both China and India, each with more than a billion people.

Each year the gap between world water consumption and the sustainable water supply widens. Both aquifer depletion and the diversion of water to cities will contribute to the growing irrigation water deficit and hence to a growing grain deficit in many water-short countries.

Because overpumping to satisfying growing food demand virtually guarantees a future drop in food production when aquifers are depleted, many countries are in essence creating a “food bubble economy”—one in which food production is artificially inflated by the unsustainable mining of groundwater.

The effects of overdrafting were not obvious when farmers began pumping on a large scale a few decades ago. The great attraction of pumping groundwater in contrast to large-scale surface water systems is that farmers can apply the water to crops precisely when it is needed, thereby maximizing water use efficiency. Groundwater is also available during the dry season, enabling many farmers in mild climatic regions to double crop.

In the United States, 37 percent of all irrigation water comes from underground; the other 63 percent comes from surface sources. Yet three of the top grain-producing states—Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska—each get 70­90 percent of their irrigation water from the Ogallala aquifer, which is essentially a fossil aquifer with little recharge. The unusually high productivity of groundwater-based irrigation means that the food production losses will be disproportionately large when the groundwater runs out.

At what point does water scarcity translate into food scarcity? In which countries will the irrigation water losses from aquifer depletion translate into a drop in grain production? David Seckler and his colleagues at the International Water Management Institute, the world’s premier water research group, summarized this issue well: “Many of the most populous countries of the world—China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, and nearly all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa—have literally been having a free ride over the past two or three decades by depleting their groundwater resources. The penalty for mismanagement of this valuable resource is now coming due and it is no exaggeration to say that the results could be catastrophic for these countries and, given their importance, for the world as a whole.”

Since expanding irrigation helped triple the world grain harvest from 1950 to 2000, it comes as no surprise that water losses can shrink harvests. With water for irrigation, many countries are in a classic overshoot-and-decline mode. If countries that are overpumping do not move quickly to reduce water use and stabilize water tables, then an eventual drop in food production is almost inevitable.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Carbon Disclosure Project Finds Tipping Point in Awareness But Not Action on Climate Risks

Social Funds

CDP4 reveals almost three quarters of FT500 tracking their greenhouse gas emissions, but less than half of those who think climate change poses risks are reducing GHG emissions, writes's Bill Baue.

By now, most everyone accepts that climate change is real, is anthropogenic (that is, caused in large part by we humans), and is likely catastrophic unless we collectively take responsive action immediately. This year brought a tipping point to this perception in the US not only amongst the public, but also amongst corporations, according to the fourth Carbon Disclosure Project report (dubbed CDP4) issued yesterday in New York City. The numbers backing the CDP--225 signatories worldwide managing $31.5 trillion, up more than $10 trillion since last year and now representing almost a third of all global institutional investor assets--show that investors have reached a tipping point on climate change as well.

As with previous iterations, CDP4 asked for carbon emission-related data, practices, and policies from the 500 largest companies in the world (FT500)--as well as from an additional 1,600 companies throughout the world this year. More than 940 of the 2,100 companies completed the 10-question CDP4 questionnaire. Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, a socially responsible investing (SRI) research firm, prepared a report on the results of the questionnaire responses by the FT500 companies.

The report reveals a degree of disconnect between corporate awareness of climate risks and opportunities, and corporate action to address these risks and opportunities.

Some 87 percent of responding companies said climate change represents "commercial risks and/or opportunities." However, less than half (48 percent) of these companies have implemented a program to reduce their GHG emissions, even though three quarters (73 percent) of respondents are tracking their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

"The findings of CDP4 confirm that awareness of the risks and opportunities posed by climate change has risen dramatically among investors and the companies they own," said James Cameron, chair of the CDP. "But awareness alone will not drive the changes in investment and corporate strategy needed if disastrous climate change is to be avoided, for that investors will have to put the CDP data to work."

Innovest has started the process of putting the CDP data to work. For example, Innovest compiled a Climate Leadership Index (CLI) based on "best-in-class" responses to the CDP4 questionnaire on a 100-point scale for the 10 industries most exposed to carbon risks and opportunities. Five companies scored 95 for their CDP4 disclosure: HSBC, Unilever, RWE, BP, and Rio Tinto.

Innovest also created a GHG regulatory model based on a hypothetical carbon regime modeled on the Kyoto Protocol. The model calls for a ten percent reduction of global GHG emissions by 2012 from a 2005 baseline to identify potential winners and losers in a carbon-constrained future.

"The best positioned company in our GHG regulatory model could have windfall revenues yielding $298 million or 10.6% of 2005 Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA)," the report states. "The worst could lose 25% of its EBITDA due to regulatory compliance costs."

Clearly, carbon regulation would punish some companies and reward others. For example, coal-based electric utility Southern Company would incur $1.12 billion to reach a ten-percent reduction in carbon emissions, assuming a reduction price tag of $25 per tonne. In contrast Entergy, which owns nuclear, hydroelectric, and wind as well as fossil fuel-based electric plants, would generate $298 million in credits to reach a ten-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2012.

However, these companies represent the extremes--for most companies, GHG reduction would be less costly than expected, according to the report.

"At a fixed marginal abatement cost of $25 per tonne, many companies could reduce their 'business as usual' 2012 emissions to 10 percent below 2005 levels for less than 1 percent of their reported 2005 earnings," the report states.

Of course, while these actions may be achievable, they may not be enough to solve the climate change dilemma. This may require even more radical action.

"For companies, this means better risk management, new and re-examined business models, and being more attuned to climate-driven opportunities on the upside," states the report. "For institutional investors--who are, after all, the companies' owners to a considerable extent--it means moving beyond awareness and disclosure and actually integrating climate risk research into their stock selection and portfolio construction processes."

"Until and unless this occurs, awareness and disclosure alone will not be sufficient to catalyze changes at a scale and a rate commensurate with the truly extraordinary nature of the challenge," the report concludes.

DOE Releases Climate Change Technology Plan


WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2006 - The U.S. Department of Energy has released a strategic plan detailing measures to accelerate the development and reduce the cost of new and advanced technologies that avoid, reduce, or capture and store greenhouse gas emissions.

To view the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) Strategic Plan, visit the CCTP Web site.

CCTP is the technology component of a comprehensive U.S. strategy introduced by President Bush in 2002 to combat climate change that include measures to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions through voluntary, incentive-based, and mandatory partnerships, advance climate change science, spur clean energy technology development and deployment, and promote international collaboration.

"This Plan was inspired by the President's vision to harness America’s strengths in innovation and technology to transform energy production and use in ways that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the long term," U.S Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said. “This Strategic Plan is unprecedented in its scope and scale and breaks new ground with its visionary 100-year planning horizon, global perspective, multi-lateral research collaborations, and public private partnerships.”

The CCTP Strategic Plan organizes roughly $3 billion in federal spending for climate technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase economic growth. It provides a long-term planning context, taking into account many uncertainties, and establishes principles for formulating research and development portfolios to identify areas for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and highlights an array of technology strategies and investment criteria.

This Plan complements other Administration efforts including short-term measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity, advance climate change science, and promote international cooperation through partnership including the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, Methane to Markets Partnership, and the International Partnership for a Hydrogen Economy.

The Plan sets six complementary goals: (1) reducing emissions from energy use and infrastructure; (2) reducing emissions from energy supply; (3) capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide; (4) reducing emissions of other greenhouse gases; (5) measuring and monitoring emissions; and (6) bolstering the contributions of basic science to climate change. The Plan outlines approaches toward attaining these goals, articulates underlying technology development strategies, and identifies a series of next steps toward implementation.

“Through this Plan, the Climate Change Technology program provides a framework for getting the broad range of government experts involved in climate technology research pulling in the same strategic direction,” Stephen Eule, DOE Director of CCTP, said. “The technologies outlined in the Plan - hydrogen, biorefining, clean coal, carbon sequestration, nuclear fission and fusion, and others - have the potential to transform our economy in fundamental ways and can address not just climate change, but energy security, air pollution, and other pressing needs.”

The Plan is the outcome of coordination through government working groups, expert review, and public comment. A draft Strategic Plan was released in September 2005 and over 250 comments were received during the public comment period. Through public comment, the Plan’s ambitious goals for advanced technology, both near- and long-term, are more clearly stated and, within a wide range of uncertainties, summarize both quantities and timing. Further, the final Plan seeks to outline transformational ways through technology to reduce the costs of addressing climate change.

Wal-Mart Launches 5-Year Plan to Reduce Packaging


NEW YORK, Sept. 25, 2006 - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. last week announced plans to measure its 60,000 worldwide suppliers on their ability to develop packaging and conserve natural resources.

This initiative, scheduled to begin in 2008, is projected to reduce overall packaging by five percent. The announcement came at the conclusion of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.

In addition to preventing millions of pounds of trash from reaching landfills, the initiative is projected to save 667,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. This is equal to taking 213,000 trucks off the road annually, and saving 323,800 tons of coal and 66.7 million gallons of diesel fuel from being burned. This initiative will also create $10.98 billion in savings, just from a 5 percent reduction in 10 percent of the global packaging industry. Wal-Mart alone is poised to save $3.4 billion.

"Packaging is where consumers and suppliers come together and can have a real impact both on business efficiency and environmental stewardship," said Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott. "Even small changes to packaging have a significant ripple effect. Improved packaging means less waste, fewer materials used, and savings on transportation, manufacturing, shipping and storage."

On November 1, 2006, Wal-Mart will introduce a packaging scorecard to more than 2,000 private label suppliers. This is a tool that will allow Wal-Mart buyers to have all the information about packaging alternatives or more sustainable packaging materials in one place, allowing them to make better purchasing decisions.

On February 1, 2007, tools and processes will be made available to all of the company's global suppliers. For 12 months, these suppliers will learn and share results within this process. And beginning in 2008, Wal-Mart will measure and recognize the entire worldwide supply base for using less packaging, utilizing more effective materials in packaging, and sourcing these materials more efficiently through a packaging scorecard.

Scott added, "When you bring the capabilities of the entire supply chain together, the ability to make a difference really pops. There's a multiplier effect. Instead of just looking at what Wal-Mart can do alone, we have the opportunity to inspire thousands of companies and millions of customers, as well."

Wal-Mart's packaging vision began to form when the company partnered with suppliers to improve packaging on its private label Kid Connection toy line last year. By reducing the packaging on fewer than 300 toys, Wal-Mart saved 3,425 tons of corrugated materials, 1,358 barrels of oil, 5,190 trees, 727 shipping containers and $3.5 million in transportation costs, in just one year. Now Wal-Mart is taking what it learned from Kid Connection and applying it to the more than 160,000 products that are seen globally by 176 million customers each week.

The Wal-Mart Sustainable Packaging Value Network, a group of 200 leaders in the global packaging industry, is leading the project. This group includes representatives from government, NGOs, academia and industry.

Carbon Capture, Water Filtration, Worth $250 Billion a Year


GATINEAU-OTTAWA, Sept. 25, 2006 - It's time to create a comprehensive accounting system for natural capital to recognize the full value of ecosystem services provided by boreal forests, an ecological economist will urge delegates to Canada's 10th National Forest Congress Sept. 25-27.

The forests' huge value as sinks and reservoirs of atmospheric carbon, for example, is unaccounted for today but needs to be recognized in future, according to Mark Anielski of Edmonton, who will make a presentation to Canadian and international forest officials, and experts from native peoples communities, the energy, farming and tourism sectors and other stakeholders assembling for the Congress at Lac Leamy, Gatineau-Ottawa.

Anielski and research colleagues estimate that environmental services from the boreal - from climate regulation via carbon capture and storage, water filtration and waste treatment, to biodiversity maintenance, pest control by birds, etc. – are worth about $160 per hectare, or $93 billion per year in Canada.

Globally, the estimates produce a rough value of ecosystem services rendered by boreal forests (almost 10 million northern square km spanning Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Alaska) of US $250 billion per year, a huge figure unrecognized in national income accounts or measures such as Gross Domestic Product.

"If these ecosystem services were counted in Canada, they would amount to roughly 9% of GDP. Ignoring these values would be like leaving out the combined annual contribution to GDP made by Canada's health and social services sector and half of the public services sector."

"Resource extraction and development in the boreal are vital to human well-being, of course. The point of our research is that services provided by the boreal ecosystem make a quantifiable contribution to well-being as well – values that are important to reflect in national and regional economic balance sheets and measures like Gross Domestic Product."

Among his recommendations: all levels of government, together with industry and local communities, should develop a natural capital accounting system to reveal the total value of ecosystems and to guide land-use planning, resource management and economic development policies. It would include, among other things, a comprehensive inventory of the boreal's natural capital.

"The boreal is like a giant carbon bank account. The forests and peatlands store an estimated 67 billion tonnes of carbon in Canada alone – almost eight times the amount of carbon produced worldwide in year 2000. The Canadian boreal on average absorbs and sequesters each year an additional amount of carbon worth $1.8 billion (based on figures about the price of carbon emissions created by the global insurance industry).

"Among other questions to be addressed is whether and how that contribution to global well-being by Canada and other boreal countries should be recognized by other nations," Anielski says.

The goal of the Congress, which coincides with Canada's National Forest Week (Sept. 24-30), is to advance an integrated, multi-disciplinary stewardship of forest resource management – an approach that reflects a broad variety of stakeholder concerns and considerations. The theme is "Sustainable Land Management in the Boreal."

"Canada's boreal represents one-quarter of all forest in the world. Its survival depends on achieving long-term, sustainable and integrated land-use management policies and practices," says Congress Chair Barry Waito, Chairman and CEO of the Canadian Forestry Association.

"Canadians need to understand the challenges presented by highly compelling interests and values that sometimes compete, and the importance of balancing economic development, ecosystem sustainability, Aboriginal interests, and community and social values."

This year marks the centenary of the first National Forest Convention, convened by the Canadian Forestry Association in 1906 and presided over by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who also served as Honourary President of the CFA. Valery P.Roschupkin, head of Russia's state forest service, and other international guests are among 200-300 expected attendees at the Congress, which will emphasize the boreal's national and international significance throughout a three-day series of presentations and panel discussions.

The Congress will facilitate discussions between industry leaders and analysts, government policy makers, Aboriginal leaders and other interested Canadians on cooperative and integrated boreal management.

Hon. Gary Lunn, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, Arthur Carty, National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, and Bob Bailey of the NWT, Chair of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, are the lunchtime keynote speakers at noon Mon., Tues. and Weds., Sept. 25-27 respectively.

Among the intended outcomes is a commitment from stakeholders – including the forestry, energy, mining, agriculture and tourism industries, Aboriginal people and communities – to create a cross-sectoral council to examine national and international goals for stewardship and sustainable land management. The proposed council would help realize a resolution to set objectives by consensus, agreed at the 1st National Forest Congress in 1906.

Yale to Train Corporate Directors on Climate Change


NEW HAVEN, Conn., Sept. 26, 2006 - Yale University, along with two other U.S. organizations, has announced a unique collaborative effort to educate hundreds of independent corporate board members about the potential liabilities and strategic business opportunities that global climate change can create for companies.

"Climate change is no longer the purview of scientists only," said Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "The widespread ramifications of unchecked climate change require that more leaders in our society understand its implications." The announcement was made at a plenary session of the 2006 annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative hosted in New York this week by former President Bill Clinton.

The collaboration draws together institutions with complementary expertise in the area of climate change: Marsh, the world's leading risk and insurance services firm; Yale University, one of the nation's leading academic institutions, and Ceres, the nation's largest coalition of investors and environmental groups working with companies on environmental and social issues.

"Corporate directors are going to need a strategic and analytical underpinning to navigate the transformations that climate change will require in their businesses in the coming years," said Speth. “These changes offer great economic opportunity to those directors who act in a timely way. As a result of its combined academic, nongovernmental, and corporate leadership, our new initiative will be well positioned to deliver needed training and support to participating corporations.”

Brian Storms, chairman and CEO of Marsh, said, “Increasingly, corporate leaders are asking us to help them better understand their total spectrum of risk, and how it affects their overall business strategies. “Aligning with Yale and Ceres to educate top corporate leaders about one of the most critical business risks of our time demonstrates our strong commitment to addressing this important issue, as well as our growing focus on delivering world-class risk advisory services.”

Initial training of more than 200 independent U.S. board members of Fortune 1000 companies will begin this winter through a newly created curriculum — the Sustainable Governance Forum. The training sessions will be offered across the country through September 2008. Marsh, Yale, and Ceres are combining their intellectual capital and research to develop the training with a $250,000 contribution by Marsh being used to produce the materials. Courses and materials are being designed to provide insights into the practical financial, legal, business and investment implications of climate change for corporations. An earlier seed grant of $50,000 from the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation helped to launch the new initiative.

Many companies focus on avoiding the liabilities related to climate change. However, Storms believes there are as many opportunities as risks associated with climate change. “Those companies that understand true enterprise risk will be the ones that seize upon the growth prospects that threats like climate change create,” he said. “As more companies have begun to understand this and seek advice, we’re seeing increased business.”

“This training program will prepare corporate directors for what is perhaps the biggest challenge companies will face in the 21st century,” said Ceres President Mindy Lubber, who also directs the $3 trillion Investor Network on Climate Risk. “Major investors are increasingly demanding that companies sharpen their focus on the impacts from climate change, whether from new regulations, physical changes or growing global demand for low-carbon technologies. This program will help ensure that independent directors ask the tough, smart questions of the companies they oversee.”

Lubber said focusing on climate is the first step in educating corporate directors on a broad array of environmental and social issues businesses will face in the coming years. “As competition for business resources intensifies — from materials to labor, water to oil — this program will work to help board members address these challenges,” she said.

The concept for the new collaboration took shape at a high-level conference on climate change hosted late in 2005 by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The school has long been committed to advancing rigorous science on climate change and has recently undertaken new initiatives to disseminate this science to major decision makers, including the corporate directors addressed by this new collaboration. The full program of action from Yale is described in a recently published book by Yale Associate Dean Dan Abbasi, entitled, “Americans and Climate Change: Closing the Gap Between Science and Action” ( .

Interface Launches Sustainability Consulting Practice

ATLANTA, Sept. 26, 2006 - Carpet company Interface, Inc. has launched InterfaceRAISE, a corporate consulting resource that will amplify Interface's efforts to educate others seeking to implement the necessary steps for becoming sustainable.

Having already piloted the InterfaceRAISE concept with leaders at Wal-Mart, General Mills, Sara Lee and NASA, Interface has taken another sizeable step in its mission to "lead others forward through the power of its influence," sharing best practices and tailoring its own tools for successful application in numerous other industries.

"This new Interface business was formed in keeping with Interface's desire to share its passion for sustainability with others, a formalization of what we have been doing for years," said Neel Bradham, vice president of business development, Interface, Inc. "At a time when historic trends are reshaping the competitive landscape and encouraging more businesses to take notice, InterfaceRAISE provides the ideal platform for educating stakeholders on the full scope of sustainability and its virtues for adding value to the bottom line."

As the name implies, InterfaceRAISE was founded to "raise" awareness and reinforce the importance of integrating sustainability into core business strategy. To achieve its transformative potential, sustainability must be embedded into business, rather than bolted on as a sideline. While such an approach certainly helps reduce negative impacts on the environment, it also offers significant opportunity to "raise" business value in terms of enterprise reputation, cost reduction, access to talent, associate engagement and innovation.

Andy Ruben, vice president for corporate strategy and sustainability at Wal- Mart, acknowledges, "People and companies need to look at their ability to make change in the world. Interface has value for being a living model that continues to evolve its sustainability practice. Their influence is their journey, and the length of their journey, and at what depth the company integrated sustainability and change. That has influence."

Doug McMillon, President and Chief Executive Officer of SAM'S CLUB, observes, "Visiting Interface and seeing the creativity applied to establish more sustainable practices made it undeniable that the rest of us can do the same. We don't have to spend time wondering if we can do something. Instead, we can move on to figuring out how."

InterfaceRAISE will serve as a resource to companies looking to drive business value through sustainability education, cultural transformation and innovation. It will also serve as an internal support mechanism for Mission Zero and customer events, such as the recent Biomimicry Retreat hosted by InterfaceFLOR (Interface's commercial modular carpet business) at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.

At the helm of InterfaceRAISE as Managing Director, is Jim Hartzfeld, one of the "chief architects" of Interface's Sustainability Journey and a long time resource for Interface associates and customers worldwide on the company's efforts and philosophies pertaining to sustainability. Jim is also past chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Interface cannot achieve sustainability alone," said Hartzfeld. We've proven our leadership through the way we embrace sustainability with one collective voice and through our efforts to share our experiences. InterfaceRAISE is the focal point of a continuing effort to distill the latest concepts and practical experience of Interface and other partners into ever more powerful tools and perspectives. Hartzfeld adds, "We created InterfaceRAISE to use our first-hand experience to help companies climb up their learning curve faster than by doing it alone, by showing them our scars and medals, like a Sherpa in a climbing expedition."

Branson's $3B climate pledge

Toronto Star
Sep. 22, 2006. 06:59 AM

British multi-billionaire and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson says he'll invest an estimated $3 billion (U.S.) over 10 years in renewable energy projects and technologies that help crack down on global warming.

Ironically, the money is the anticipated profits of his emission-spewing travel businesses, such as airline Virgin Atlantic and railway operator Virgin Trains, both heavy users of fossil fuels.

Branson announced the financial commitment in New York yesterday on the second day of the annual Clinton Global Initiative summit, hosted by former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

The money will be managed through a new investment company called Virgin Fuels.

"I really do believe the world is facing a catastrophe and there are scientists who say we are already too late, but I don't believe that is the case," said the 56-year-old entrepreneur.

"We have to wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels. Our generation has the knowledge, it has the financial resources, and as importantly, it has the willpower to do so."

In a statement, he described the contribution as a "small way to enable our children to enjoy this beautiful world."

Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore's public fight against climate change seems to be gathering deep-pocketed and loyal followers. Branson said that Gore visited his home several months ago and inspired him to action.

The flamboyant Brit, whose financial commitment is believed to be the largest amount yet targeted at climate change, joins a growing club of high-profile "green" investors that includes Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Gates, through his investment company, recently invested nearly $100 million toward the construction of ethanol refineries in the United States. Brin and Page have investments tens of millions of dollars in clean-technology ventures, including solar-cell maker Nanosolar Inc. and electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc.

Google, the search engine company, has also created a for-profit philanthropic organization called that has been given $1 billion for investments that tackle everything from global warming to world disease.

According to a report in The New York Times last week, one of's first projects is aimed at encouraging auto makers to design low-emission hybrid cars that can be plugged into a power socket and run on ethanol when necessary.

Branson has his eyes on similar initiatives. In the January issue of Fortune magazine, he hinted at the possibility of developing a Virgin hybrid car, on top of investments in ethanol and other alternative fuels and energy technologies.

"Hopefully we will build a fuel company that is a major competitor to oil companies," he told the magazine.

Virgin Fuels has already invested $60 million (U.S.) in California ethanol producer Cilion Inc., which plans to have eight production plants in operation by 2008.

In the next 10 years, Branson said, Virgin Fuels will invest in renewable energy projects within the Virgin Group and make outside investments in biofuel research and development, production and distribution.

The $3 billion contribution is "groundbreaking," said Clinton. "Richard's commitment is groundbreaking not only because of the price tag — which is phenomenal — but also because of the statement that he is making: clean energy is good for the world and it's good for business."

Down the street from Clinton's conference in midtown Manhattan, venture capitalists attending one of the largest clean technology conferences caught wind of Branson's news.

"It's the buzz in the back alleys," said Nicholas Parker, chairman of the Cleantech Venture Network, organizer of the conference.

"Everybody's wondering how Branson's going to put the money to use."

Parker said there's a question of whether Virgin's travel businesses will actually produce $3 billion in profit over 10 years. But accounting aside, he called Branson's financial pledge another mainstream indication that industrial capitalists are concerned about fuel availability, prices and emissions.

"People are saying that it's time to stop mucking around on climate change, and that we're going to give leadership on this."

Hybrids aren't the only way to get more m.p.g.

By Jim Mueller, Special to the Tribune. Tribune auto reporter Jim Mateja contributed to this story
Published September 24, 2006

Mention fuel economy and the talk turns to gas/electric cars and trucks, the hybrids that can top 50 m.p.g. in city driving.

Not far behind are hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, the technology of tomorrow that promises water vapor as the only tailpipe emission. They got a boost when BMW announced last week that it is putting the system in a 7-Series car.

Both are solutions to the problems of whipsawing gas prices, dependence on foreign oil and air pollution. But they are not the only ones. More modest, and some would say more practical, efforts are ongoing.

Dave Hermance, executive engineer with Toyota's Advanced Technology Vehicles, said consumers can expect increases of 5 percent in miles per gallon as engines are further refined.

Hermance pointed to advances such as dual variable valve timing and direct injection technology, where fuel is burned better to squeeze more energy from each drop of gas.

"There is a 5 to 7 percent fuel economy benefit in cars like Lexus and Avalon with dual VVT," he said. "And direct injection allows leaner combustion. The challenge there is holding the emissions line, managing exhausted NoX [nitrogen oxide levels]."

Then there are more efficient automatic transmissions--those with six speeds or continuously variable systems that allow an infinite number of gear ratios--so engines don't work so hard to maintain highway speeds. Fuel savings? Another 2 to 4 percent, he said.

"Improved aerodynamics and mass reduction are other ways to increase fuel economy," Hermance said. "Taking weight out of the car by using more aluminum and carbon fiber--but those are expensive materials. We're also paying attention to underbody airflow and the frictional loss in bearings. Weight counts when you're accelerating. Friction matters when cruising." Reduce both and boost fuel economy.

Toyota's work on hybrids, a segment in which it is a leader, continues too. "We are making the systems smaller, more powerful and more cost effective," Hermance said.

Dave Lancaster, a General Motors technical fellow for his experience and expertise in engineering, talked along the same lines. But Lancaster stressed the entire vehicle even more.

"Powertrains generate energy," he said. "We also need to consider energy losses: The mass of a car and brake drag and tire and wind resistance. Properly inflated tires and a correct alignment do benefit gas mileage."

Fuel injection has better controlled the way gas is burned since hitting its stride in the 1970s. "Direct injection, which we now have in the [Pontiac] Solstice and [Saturn] Sky, permits us to run a higher compression ratio," Lancaster said. "The engine breathes better."

Lancaster mentioned the 5.3-liter Vortec V-8 as an example of GM engineers tweaking technology to improve mileage. That's the engine with cylinder deactivation that goes from 8- to 4-cylinder operation when optimal.

"There's considerable fuel savings," he said. "I took a [Chevy] Suburban a few weeks ago to drive my daughter to college and the fuel economy display showed 23 miles per gallon keeping it at 70 to 75 miles per hour on V-4 mode." A Suburban, he noted, is EPA rated at 15 m.p.g city/21 m.p.g. highway though he pointed out that the cylinder deactivation makes a direct comparison less precise.

As for hybrids, Lancaster touts GM's development of different systems for various vehicles: a two-mode introduced in transit buses and adapted to pickups and SUVs and another that provides a battery boost at takeoff.

This is in keeping with CEO Rick Wagoner's take on the technology.

"We try to plan a variety of scenarios over a variety of [gas price] levels. When it gets to a $4.50 to $5 a gallon scenario, the hard part is planning how much production capacity you need for hybrids, how much do you ramp up diesels, how many 4 cylinder engines do you substitute for V-6s."

Mark Chernoby of DaimlerChrysler's Advanced Vehicle Engineering Group echoed Hermance and Lancaster, and tossed in the benefits of diesel engines. "Customers don't all come in one size," he said. "Drivers can expect 30 percent better fuel efficiency driving a diesel. And there is a place for diesels in the U.S. market."

Citing their 40 percent market penetration in Europe, Chernoby points out that diesels are not slow and smelly anymore.

"Our challenge is getting that message across, while building the diesel engines that meet stricter U.S. emissions requirements."

And Chernoby's not talking biodiesel, or E85 for that matter. "E85 and biodiesel are more about reducing dependence on foreign oil" than improving mileage, he said. "E85 provides less energy than gas and gets less mileage."

He acknowledged that city drivers tend to benefit the most out from hybrid, but carmaker have to go beyond that.

"Longer term, we will need to move away from oil-based engines toward hydrogen," Chernoby said. "That's when you'll see significant jumps in fuel efficiency."

Bio-Diesel Seeds Arrive

New Era (Windhoek)
September 25, 2006
Posted to the web September 25, 2006

By Wezi Tjaronda

The very first big consignment of Jatropha seeds, used to produce bio-diesel, arrived in Namibia from India last week.

The 10-tonne container load was ordered by Agra to provide would-be producers who have been enquiring about where they might obtain the seeds for cultivation. Farmers all over the country and as far and Kakamas in South Africa want to grow the plant, which several countries are growing to make themselves less dependent on fossil fuels.

Having looked at a number of options including plants oils like sunflower, canola, soy, cotton and others that yield plant oil seeds and seed cake, the country has come to the conclusion that Jatropha carcus is the most viable option that Namibia could use. Suitable areas for the plant are those that receive between 450 mm and 500 mm of rainfall, which include the Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, Kavango and Caprivi regions.

Although the plant could also be irrigated, the country has opted for dry land production because irrigation water is earmarked for crop production under the Green Scheme.

The Research Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry said Thursday that trial fields have been planted to establish the yield and survival pattern of the plant.

The ministry officials were present when the container was opened to take samples for scientific testing, whose objective is to ensure that the seeds have no disease and also to do germination tests to confirm a 60 percent germination rate.

Agra will be the sole distributor for the seeds through its branches in the country.

Agra's agronomist, Francois Wahl, told New Era last week that once the seed has been launched, more people will plant it, which will widen the trial area.

Jatropha seems well suited for the Namibian climate as the plant thrives under hot conditions and is able to survive long periods of drought.

Agra said the plant bears fruit after the second rainy season after the seedlings are transplanted, while fruits are produced in winter when the shrub is leafless. Each plant can produce several crops during the year if soil moisture is good, growing a capsule of about 2.5 to 4 cm, splitting into halves after the seeds mature and the fleshy exocarp dries.

It is envisaged that approximately 63 000 hectares of the Jatropha will be planted in Namibia by the year 2013, which would contribute N$189 million to GDP.

The oil is likely to be used in the bio-energy sector for blending into commercial diesel, decentralized on farms blending the product into agricultural diesel, for exports to niche markets, running envisaged 12 small 1MW decentralized power stations, and others uses such as soap making and substitution for paraffin.

Last month, a National Bio-Energy Roadmap workshop recommended that Jatropha carcus, the most feasible bio-oil crop for Namibia, be gazetted under the Agronomic Industry Act of 1992.

It also recommended that appropriate regulations of liquid fuel standards in terms of the Petroleum Products Act should be gazetted.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Power from Not-So-Hot Geothermal

Technology Review

By Prachi Patel-Predd

A large share of the geothermal resources suitable for power generation--those with temperatures higher than 300°F--are deep underground, beyond the reach of current technology. Lower-temperature resources, which are common across the United States, are generally used for heating, but could be a bountiful source of power as well, if researchers were able to find an economical way to convert them into electricity.

Engineers at the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), a unit of United Technologies based in East Hartford, CT, say they have developed a low-cost system that can utilize low-temperature geothermal resources. The technology could be particularly useful in generating electricity from waste hot water generated at oil and gas wells.

The modular, 200-kilowatt power plant from UTRC can convert temperatures as low as 165°F into electricity. The technology is similar to steam engines, except that steam or hot water vaporizes a hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant that drives the turbine. And the refrigerant has a lower boiling point than water. "It's hard to run a steam engine at 165 degrees [Fahrenheit]," says Bruce Biederman, who leads the project at UTRC. "The size of the equipment would be enormous and your turbine would be very poor in efficiency."

The UTRC power plant can be thought of as a reverse cooling system, and the new turbine is essentially a refrigerator compressor running backwards, Biederman says. Instead of using power to create a temperature difference, like a refrigerator does, it converts a temperature difference into electricity.

The company is now testing a unit at a remote hot springs resort 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. Biederman expects a commercial power plant to be ready by early next year, after they've tested the reliability of the demonstration system.

According to him, the system could utilize the large amount of hot water pumped out of the ground at oil and gas wells. In Texas alone, more than 12 billon barrels of water are produced from wells. Oil companies usually discard the waste water by re-injecting it into the earth; but they could use it to generate electricity. Biederman is planning to set up demonstration projects at oil and gas wells in Texas and Nevada next year.

This reverse cooling concept isn't new; but until now no one has made an efficient turbine at a reasonable cost, he says. UTRC has kept down costs by modifying refrigeration units that its sister company, Carrier Corp., makes, and using its production line in Charlotte, NC.

The system's small size also keeps costs down, and makes it more usable, says Maria Richards, who coordinates the geothermal laboratory at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "The fact that it can fit on the back of a flatbed truck and be driven to a well site makes it much more convenient and less expensive," she says. "It's [like comparing] a mainframe computer and a laptop." And, as with other renewables, increasing fuel costs are spurring interest in geothermal power units, she adds.

Gwen Holdmann, vice president of new development at the Alaskan hot springs resort where the technology is being tested, says they spent $2.2 million on the UTRC geothermal power plant, and that it should pay for itself in five years. "It could even be a quicker payback if the cost of fuel keeps rising," she suggests. Before the power plant was installed, the resort was burning $1,000 worth of diesel fuel per day to generate electricity, she says. The plant eliminates those costs and the harmful emissions from diesel generators.

Right now, geothermal power plants are located mainly in the western United States, where high-temperature steam or hot water appears naturally at the surface. Drilling wells to reach high-temperature resources deep underground can cost millions of dollars, yet still be cost-effective because they're efficient for power generation, Richards says. So far, however, it hasn't been economical to use lower-temperature geothermal resources for power.

But existing oil and gas wells, where electricity generated from waste hot water could run the oil pumps, would be the ideal location for the UTRC power modules, Richards says. "They're already drilling wells, the wells are already being used, and they're producing something that is a secondary source of energy."

An Entrepreneur Sees Green

NY Times

With his usual promotional flair and with former President Bill Clinton at his side, Sir Richard Branson announced last week that over the next decade he would put $3 billion in personal profits toward development of energy sources that do not contribute to global warming.

The pledge by Sir Richard, the serial entrepreneur and adventurer, came during the Clinton Global Initiative, a three-day meeting in New York where the world’s wealthy seemed to try to out-do each other in their philanthropic commitments.

But is Sir Richard giving his money away, or investing it?

He will be looking for a return on his money. His earnings from his Virgin Group’s airline and railroad companies will be used to invest in new and existing companies that make energy that could replace fossil fuels. It’s an open question whether any of these projects will succeed; the history of alternative energy development is littered with failures or, at best, niche successes. “Some will be profitable, some will not be profitable,” Sir Richard said, acknowledging the difficulty of forecasting investment success in the field.

He has already started chipping away at the $3 billion figure: Earlier this month, Mr. Branson announced the creation of Virgin Fuels, which will invest $400 million in development of nonpetroleum fuels. Some $70 million of that has already been invested in Cilion, a new company based in California that plans to build ethanol plants.

Other investors in Cilion include Yucaipa Companies, the private equity firm of the supermarket billionaire Ronald W. Burkle, and Advanced Equities Financial, a venture capital investment bank.

State red tape trips up green energy efforts

- Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Sunday, September 24, 2006

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares this week to sign into law the nation's most ambitious effort to address global warming, a key component of California's push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- increasing the use of renewable power to create electricity -- has faltered.

Despite overwhelming public and political support for renewable power, ratepayer contributions of $319 million, and a 2002 law mandating a dramatic increase in the use of sun and wind to create megawatts, California has boosted its use of renewable energy by less than 1 percent of the state's overall electricity use in the past four years.

In the meantime, Texas has surpassed California as the nation's leader in wind power. PG&E, which ran television commercials in the Bay Area earlier this year promoting its environmentally friendly practices, has actually reduced the amount of renewable power in its portfolio during the past two years. And the world's largest wind-power company -- which is investing $2 billion around the country on wind projects this year and next -- is not spending any of that money in California, complaining that overly complicated and time-consuming regulations are slowing development.

While the state's major utilities argue they are on the way to a renewable energy building boom, independent analysts predict California probably will not meet a regulatory deadline -- one frequently touted by Schwarzenegger -- that calls for 20 percent of the state's electricity use to be fueled by renewable power by 2010.

Missing the deadline may threaten the targets set in the new global warming law Schwarzenegger is expected to sign with much fanfare this week. Reducing carbon dioxide and other gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, as the new law mandates, probably will not happen without major changes to the way electricity is produced.

The struggle California has faced in tapping into clean electricity sources is partially rooted in the state's energy crisis, which still looms over the energy industry here and has slowed the development of all new power. But it also suggests the difficulty politicians, regulators and businesses may encounter as they make the dramatic move away from a carbon-based fuel economy.

For now, the promise of a future powered by the sun, wind and Earth remains a reality only on paper, much to the disappointment of many of the people involved in trying to green the state's electricity supply.

"After four years, the public rightfully should expect more," said John Geesman, a member of the California Energy Commission who is overseeing the commission's effort to implement parts of the 2002 law that calls for increased renewable power.

Harnessing the wind

Along the Sacramento River and near the Carquinez Strait in rural Solano County, 100 new wind turbines, standing 250 feet tall, tower over herds of sheep and rolling hills as they quietly spin wind into electricity.

Each turbine creates enough power to light more than 750 homes for less than what Californians are paying for electricity from a power plant that produces carbon dioxide and other gases scientists say cause global warming.

The new turbines are a rarity in California.

Since the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard went into effect four years ago, requiring utilities to contract for much more renewable power, only 241 megawatts of new projects have been built.

One megawatt is enough to light between 750 and 1,000 homes, and experts say the state needs as much as 8,000 new megawatts to meet the 2010 deadline.

A small charge that is assessed to every utility ratepayer in the state in their monthly electric bill to help subsidize renewable power has generated $319 million so far. None of it has been spent.

Power developers, regulators and independent observers all complain that the standard the 2002 legislation set up has required years to develop and calls for new projects to clear too many regulatory hurdles.

"We like to say this project was built in spite of the RPS, not because of it," said Jim Caldwell, director of regulatory affairs for PPM Energy, which owns the new Solano County wind project. The company bypassed the state's regulatory process and simply built the project without a guarantee that any utility would buy the power.

"If we would have gone through the process, we thought we'd never get the damn thing built," Caldwell said.

The gamble paid off: The company is selling half of the power generated in Solano County to PG&E, and the rest to other municipally owned utilities.

"It is an extraordinarily complicated process compared to any other state in the country," said Ryan Wiser, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who has studied efforts by 21 states to mandate increases in the use of renewable power. Wiser wrote a paper on California's process titled "Does it Have to be this Hard? Implementing the Nation's Most Complex Renewables Portfolio Standard."

Wiser said that here, unlike anywhere else, two state agencies -- the California Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Commission -- have regulatory oversight of renewable projects, forcing developers and utilities to work with two distinct bureaucracies.

And each project faces multiple, and sometimes redundant, monthslong proceedings in front of regulators before getting approval, while most other states only require one.

There is a clear reason why California lawmakers set up a process with heavy-handed oversight. The law was signed a year after the state's calamitous energy crisis, and lawmakers -- many of whom had voted for power deregulation in 1998 -- wanted to ensure regulators had control over everything from how much renewable power would cost to how the state's transmission system would be affected by new projects. Both topics take months to work through during proceedings at the PUC.

Despite good intentions, the result is that renewable-power projects take several years to complete in California. Compare California's 241 new megawatts of renewable power to Texas' more than 2,200 megawatts of wind energy since it adapted renewable targets in 1999.

Texas' legislation enacting the renewable requirement was 10 paragraphs long. California's legislation was 13 pages.

The world's largest wind developer, FPL Energy in Florida, announced earlier this year that it would not propose new wind projects in California during the next two years, even as it invests $2 billion around the country. The company won a bid through the California RPS process in 2004 to add 30 megawatts of wind power to an existing project, but a company official pointed to the project's estimated completion date -- April 2008, four years later -- as an example of why investing in California is difficult.

"We are committed to California, but we look at where we can actually move forward and build projects," said Diane Fellman, director of regulatory affairs for FPL Energy.

Doubts persist

There are other factors that also have slowed California's progress and have many believing the state will not meet the 2010 deadline.

Transmission lines to renewable-rich areas need to be upgraded. Despite more than a decade of discussions on ways to hook up PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric to the windy Tehachapi region in Kern County and a key solar area, the Imperial Valley east of San Diego, the process to build new power lines is still ongoing.

And there are questions about whether some of the projects the utilities have selected to pursue are viable. Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, for example, have signed deals for hundreds of megawatts with an Arizona company that uses a solar technology that has never produced power on a large scale.

"There are some real doubts about whether some of the projects will really happen," said Wiser.

Wiser and analysts at Cambridge Energy Research Associates have stated in recent reports that it seems unlikely California utilities will actually be generating 20 percent of their electricity by 2010. And Sean Gallagher, director of the energy division for the Public Utilities Commission, acknowledged that "it is not at all clear that we will make the deadline."

PG&E, however, insists it will meet its mark.

"We think we're on our way to hitting the target," said spokeswoman Darlene Chiu.

Recent trends don't bode well for PG&E, however. While the utility has increased its use of renewable power in the past six years, between 2003 and 2005 its use of renewables actually went down, from 12.4 percent of its portfolio in 2003 to 11.9 percent last year, according to the company.

Chiu said the utility has signed numerous contracts that will come to fruition in the next few years.

Others note that there may finally be progress in improving transmission lines this year, which is a key step in significantly increasing the use of renewable power.

Clean power is probably a key to Schwarzenegger's greenhouse-gas-reduction goals -- power plants are second only to motor vehicles in California as the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming. Administration officials have said this year that to cut carbon dioxide and other emissions by 25 percent by 2020, the state will need to generate one-third of its electricity from clean energy sources by then.

Most involved in the energy industry believe a significant increase in wind, solar and geothermal power is possible in California.

Renewable energy is incredibly popular -- a Public Policy Institute of California poll earlier this year showed that 83 percent of adults interviewed supported more government spending to boost renewable energy. The state has plenty of sun and wind -- experts suggest the Tehachapi region could generate enough wind power to light 3 million homes. And, with the price of natural gas having tripled in the last few years, wind power is cheaper to produce than electricity supplied by a natural-gas-fueled power plant.

"The frustrating thing is this: Of all the places in the country, California is blessed with all kinds of natural resources that we need to produce renewable energy," said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of a trade group representing some renewable-power developers. "We're awash in riches. And there does not appear to be any significant political resistance to more renewables. But we're stumbling when it comes to turning all of this into real, steel-in-the-ground projects."

Ottawa gets tough on emissions

From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — The Conservative government will force the automotive sector to comply with tough mandatory vehicle-emission requirements, using California's stringent standards as its model.

The plan to reduce these emissions will take effect in 2010, when the current voluntary deal signed last year by the Liberals expires.

The cabinet approved the broad outlines last week of Green Plan Two, which will lay out plans to regulate limits on a host of pollutants where only voluntary targets currently exist, sources say.

The Harper government will focus its environmental policy on fighting smog and improving air quality, with less emphasis on reducing greenhouse gases -- largely carbon emissions -- that are at the heart of the Kyoto accord.

The Globe and Mail

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose hinted at the new measures on vehicle emissions in the House of Commons yesterday, saying she is looking at matching the mandatory emissions rules found in some U.S. states.

"We are . . . engaging the eight United States on their [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative] climate-change system, and we are in talks with California about its new legislation," Ms. Ambrose said.

Sources later confirmed details of Green Plan Two.

California has the most stringent vehicle-emission rules in North America and eight northeastern states operating as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, including New York and New Jersey, have indicated they will follow California's lead. However, California and the auto sector are now in a bitter legal battle over the environmental rules.

The previous Liberal government opted for a five-year voluntary deal with Canada's auto sector last April after much internal debate and intense lobbying by the sector.

The original Green Plan was the environmental package of Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government.

Mark Nantais, the president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, said he had heard the Harper government was heading in this direction but has not received official confirmation.

Mr. Nantais said current and previous voluntary deals have worked well and the targets have been met.

"We've got a proven track record on voluntary fuel efficiency," he said.

Mandatory rules will add red tape and ultimately increase costs for Canadian consumers at little or no benefit to the environment, Mr. Nantais said.

"You're imposing huge costs on consumers for virtually no return," he said.

If new cars become more expensive, Canadians will drive older, less fuel-efficient cars longer, thereby worsening environmental problems, he predicted.

Canada's voluntary deal calls on auto makers to cut 5.3 megatonnes in annual greenhouse-gas emissions by 2010.

Johanne Whitmore, a climate-change policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, said she is skeptical of the existing Canadian plan because of its voluntary nature and because it allows car companies to reduce greenhouse gases in ways other than fuel efficiency, such as using tire-pressure monitors.

"We can't take the Canadian [voluntary deal] seriously," she said. Ms. Whitmore said she would welcome mandatory rules but that the 2010 target was "too far away."

Using data from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Ms. Whitmore said the best-case scenario for Canada's voluntary deal would see fuel efficiency improve to seven litres per 100 kilometres, from nine when the deal was signed. California's mandatory rules call for fuel efficiency to improve from nine litres per 100 km in 2010 to seven litres per 100 km by 2012.

Even though the government is expected to announce its environmental plan soon, sources say the cabinet has yet to make a final decision on a central question: Namely, how it will address carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and oil and gas sectors.

The most likely scenario currently on the table is that a new Clean Air Act will signal an intent to regulate a host of pollutants, but the time needed to consult industry and the provinces, as well as to pass the act through the Commons and Senate, will likely mean most of the new pollution limits won't take effect for at least two years -- and 2010 for the regulations affecting the auto makers.

Some expressed concern yesterday that the government's tough talk will be diluted by far-off timelines that delay action on climate change. Liberal environment critic John Godfrey held a news conference yesterday urging the Tories to regulate immediately using the existing Canadian Environmental Protection Act, rather than delay the process with new legislation.

"It would mean, in practical terms, further delay," said Mr. Godfrey of the proposed Clean Air Act.