Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bush holds the line

He has always insisted that all the USA should do is invest in research

THE US will commit $US2 billion over the next three years for a new international fund to promote clean energy technologies and fight climate change, President George W. Bush will tell Congress today in his annual State of the Union speech. "Along with contributions from other countries, this fund will increase and accelerate the deployment of all forms of cleaner, more efficient technologies in developing nations like India and China, and help leverage substantial private-sector capital by making clean energy projects more financially attractive," the White House said in a fact sheet on Mr Bush's speech.

Mr Bush plans to reaffirm the United States' commitment to work with major economies and through the United Nations to complete an international agreement that will slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. "This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride," the White House said.


Another Greenie censorship attempt -- from Britain's red heart

A senior mayoral adviser ordered the authors of a report on road safety to rewrite it so it was politically acceptable, it was claimed today. His alleged intervention came after a three-year study by Transport for London into whether motorcyclists should be allowed to use bus lanes. A trial had found that accidents on two routes where motorbikes were allowed into bus lanes were nearly halved. But aide Kevin Austin allegedly ordered the rewrite to avoid the loss of the "green vote", because cycle groups opposed sharing bus lanes with motorcyclists.

Now the authors fear the new version will be a whitewash and conceal the road safety benefits shown by the trial, which took place in Brixton Road and Finchley Road. It found the bus lanes were much safer for pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers and motorcyclists when motorcycles were allowed access, with a 42 per cent fall in the rate of collisions. The report, presented to the Mayor in September, stated this, but officials claim they have been told to "bury" the findings and rewrite key sections to show the trial produced no safety gains.

City Hall insiders allege the order came amid fears that opening up bus lanes would alienate thousands of cyclists opposed to the move. A source told the Standard: "We have been told to cook the books and expect the new report to be a whitewash. The original report showed that the trial sites were far safer than on other 'control' roads, including for cyclists. "It meant the Mayor would have to open up bus lanes across London, followed by other regions closely watching the experiment. Now it has to be rewritten to appear the trial sites are no safer, so the Mayor can announce he will not proceed."

The study of the trial routes found accidents directly involving motorcycles fell by 45 per cent, compared with 19 per cent increase on a nearby 'control' route. Pedestrian casualties fell by 39 per cent against a three per cent rise on control routes. Collisions between cyclists and motorcyclists fell by 44 per cent. The draft report said: "These figures demonstrate that crashes involving powered two-wheelers and other vulnerable road-users become more infrequent even when considering the increased concentration of riders."

Cycling campaign group CTC said "noisy" motorcycles travelling at higher speeds would intimidate cyclists, threatening the increase in commuters turning to bicycles. But the draft report said: "The measure has no tangible adverse consequences to cyclists. In contrast to the level of concern... the number of casualties from collisions between cyclists and powered two-wheelers users is remarkably small."

A spokesman for the Mayor said: "There are serious issues of safety and efficiency involved in this issue so it required proper consideration based upon the collection and analysis of the relevant evidence. "Transport for London had concerns about the validity of some of the early results of the study. These concerns were shared by GLA officials. TfL therefore undertook further work. "All the results will be included in a final report, which will be submitted to TfL senior management and the Mayor. A decision will be made on the basis of full consideration of all of the evidence and this will be made public."


Global cooling hits China

Driving sleet, freezing temperatures and a blanket of snow across southern China have paralysed trains and aircraft, stranding tens of millions of people trying to get home for the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar. The worst weather in 50 years pummelled swaths of central, southern and eastern China as migrant workers and students, business travellers and officials assigned to provincial postings battled for tickets to join their families for the lunar new year holiday.

The human tide strains public transport every year even though the authorities pull dozens of extra trains into service and lay on additional flights to try to cope. With new year's day falling on February 7 this year, the bad weather has swept China just as the number of travellers is reaching its peak.

The China Meteorological Administration issued a red alert warning of more snowstorms and blizzards in central and eastern China, particularly around Shanghai, the country's commercial hub. It placed a notice on the central forecast website that said: “Cut unnecessary outdoor activities.” Among the worst-hit cities is southern Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province that borders Hong Kong. The province is one of China's most important manufacturing regions, with thousands of factories making everything from T-shirts to electronics staffed by millions of migrant workers from poorer inland provinces. Hundreds of thousands of those workers, many with young children, found themselves stranded at the Guangzhou railway station after snowstorms snapped power lines to passenger trains from neighbouring Hunan province, an important hub for trains on the main line between Guangzhou and Beijing.

Officials struggled to control an estimated 200,000 travellers at the station — a number expected to swell to 600,000 over the next couple of days. Temporary shelter was being arranged for the migrant workers in schools and conventions centres. Soldiers were deployed to stand guard around the station and police barked orders through bullhorns to try to maintain order. Notice boards inside the station were a sea of red, showing that almost every train had been cancelled. Radio announcements urged people not to go to the station since most trains had been cancelled and tickets were no longer being sold until new year's day.

Liu Si, who hoped to travel back to the western metropolis of Chongqing, had been stuck at the station for days. “The number 1059 train to Chongqing didn't go on the 26th, it didn't go on the 27th and there's no way it's going today on the 28th.” With officials warning that it could take until the end of the week to work through the backlog of passengers, Mr Liu was not optimistic of spending the festival with his family. “I've been in Guangdong a decade. I've never spent a Chinese New Year here. This year I might have to. It just won't feel right.”

The freakish weather has already affected 67 million people and economic losses so far have been placed at 18.2 billion yuan ($2.6 billion). Chinese New Year sees the biggest human migration on earth, with an estimated 2.47 billion journeys over the holiday season this year — almost double the entire population of 1.3 billion. More than a dozen airports around the country were closed because of icy conditions, including one of China's busiest airports — the Hongqiao hub for domestic flights serving Shanghai. In a sign of official anxiety that the travel chaos could trigger social unrest, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local officials to mobilise all possible resource to ensure people get home. He said: “More heavy snow is expected. All government departments must prepare for this increasingly grim situation and urgently take action.”



It was appropriate that, just as our MPs were voting last week to hand over yet more of the power to run this country in the EU treaty, the EU itself should be unveiling easily the most ambitious example yet of how it uses the powers we have already given away. The proposals for "fighting climate change" announced on Wednesday by an array of EU commissioners make Stalin's Five-Year Plans look like a model of practical politics.

Few might guess, from the two-dimensional reporting of these plans in the media, just what a gamble with Europe's future we are undertaking - spending trillions of pounds for a highly dubious return, at a devastating cost to all our economies. The targets Britain will be legally committed to reach within 12 years fall under three main headings. Firstly, that 15 per cent of our energy should come from renewable sources such as wind (currently 1 per cent). Secondly, that 10 per cent of our transport fuel should be biofuels. Thirdly, that we accept a more draconian version of the "emissions trading scheme" that is already adding up to 12 per cent to our electricity bills.

The most prominent proposal is that which will require Britain to build up to 20,000 more wind turbines, including the 7,000 offshore giants announced by the Government before Christmas. To build two turbines a day, nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower, is inconceivable. What is also never explained is their astronomic cost. At 2 million pounds per megawatt of "capacity" (according to the Carbon Trust), the bill for the Government's 33 gigawatts (Gw) would be 66 billion (and even that, as was admitted in a recent parliamentary answer, doesn't include an extra 10 billion needed to connect the turbines to the grid). But the actual output of these turbines, because of the wind's unreliability, would be barely a third of their capacity. The resulting 11Gw could be produced by just seven new "carbon-free" nuclear power stations, at a quarter of the cost.

The EU's plans for "renewables" do not include nuclear energy. Worse, they take no account of the back-up needed for when the wind is not blowing - which would require Britain to have 33Gw of capacity constantly available from conventional power stations.

The same drawbacks apply to the huge increase in onshore turbines, covering thousands of square miles of countryside. They are only made viable by the vast hidden subsidies that wind energy receives, through our electricity bills. These make power from turbines (including the cost of back-up) between two and three times more expensive than that from conventional sources.

This is crazy enough, but the EU's policy on biofuels is even more so. The costs - up to 50 billion by 2020 - would, as the EU's own scientific experts have just advised, "outweigh the benefits". To grow the crops needed to meet the target would require all the farmland the EU currently uses to grow food, at a time when world food prices are soaring. Even Friends of the Earth have called on the EU to abandon its obsession with biofuels. Yet the Commission presses on regardless.

As for the "emissions trading scheme" (a system originating with the Kyoto Protocol, whereby businesses can buy or sell "carbon credits", supposedly to allow market forces to ensure that targets are met), the Commission last week predicted that by 2020 this could be raising 38 billion a year from electricity users. Of this, 6.5 billion a year would be paid by the UK, equating to 260 pounds for every household in the country.

The Commission itself predicts, in recently leaked documents, that this will have major consequences for the EU's economy, and that heavy industries, such as steel, aluminium, chemicals and cement, will have to raise their prices substantially, some by as much as 48 per cent. Yet when it was pointed out that this will put EU industries at a competitive disadvantage, the Commission's only response was to suggest tariffs on imports from countries such as China or America that are not signed up to Kyoto.

It looks like the most expensive economic suicide note in history. But just as alarming is how little this madness has been exposed to informed analysis. It seems, finally, that the price we pay for membership of the EU and the price of our obsession with global warming are about to become very painfully synonymous. And no one seems to have noticed.


Australian government told "Manyana" on greenhouse targets

("Manyana" is Spanish for "tomorrow" and is often used to refer to not worrying about the future)

The economist advising the Rudd Government on climate change has warned nations against locking in to strict interim greenhouse-gas reduction targets in their zeal to tackle global warming. Professor Ross Garnaut is examining the economic costs of tackling climate change and is due to deliver his report to the Federal Government in the second half of this year. At December's international climate talks in Bali, the Rudd Government refused to commit Australia to interim emissions-reduction targets until the Garnaut review was complete.

Prof Garnaut said it was more important to achieve an overall greenhouse-gas reduction target longer-term - for example over 40 years - than to meet short-term targets in particular years. Instead, the market should decide how quickly to cut emissions, he said. "By focusing on a particular date you may diminish the environmental impact of what you're trying to do and you may increase the economic costs of it," he told ABC radio today. "We're trying to address the question of how we can meet the strong environmental goals in a way that minimises cost. "You have to ask a question about how strongly you focus on particular dates and how much you look at the overall impact over a number of years."

He denied this amounted to a recommendation that governments set looser rather than tighter emissions-reduction targets. "You're looking at a binding total amount of emissions over a long period of time," Prof Garnaut said. "If you just focus on one year or particular years then you can do an awful lot of emitting in other years and so you don't meet the environmental objective that's absolutely crucial - and that's the total amount of emissions going into the atmosphere." However, he acknowledged there was a danger that countries could leave it 10 or 20 years before doing anything if they refused to commit to interim emissions cuts.



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