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Restricted circulation: An ocean current in the North Atlantic is getting weaker. That may be bad news for north-west Europe

Climate change

Restricted circulation

Dec 1st 2005
From The Economist print edition

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An ocean current in the North Atlantic is getting weaker. That may be bad news for north-west Europe

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THOSE who worry about climate change worry about many things: rising temperatures, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall and stronger storms, for example. One of the things they worry about most, though, is changes in the circulation of the ocean's currents. That is because these currents are the main way that heat is redistributed from the tropics, where there is a lot of it, to the polar regions, where there is not. If the currents shifted, it would mean that temperatures in some parts of the world changed much more than they would merely as a result of the local atmosphere warming up as heat-trapping greenhouse gases accumulate. Indeed, it could mean that in some places temperatures fell, rather than rising.

One of the places that both history, in the form of sediment records and ice cores, and computer models suggest is vulnerable to such a fall is north-west Europe. And a paper in this week's Nature, by Harry Bryden and his colleagues at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, Britain, suggests that history may be about to repeat itself. That is because Dr Bryden and his team have found evidence that the North Atlantic currents which keep the region warmer than its latitude suggests it deserves have weakened significantly over the past decade.

Most readers of this newspaper will be familiar with the Gulf Stream, which carries warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the edge of the Arctic Ocean. They may be less familiar with the Deep Southerly Return Flow (DSRF), an ocean-bottom current that returns part of this water back to warmer climes. As the map shows, the Gulf Stream splits in two. Part of its water returns past the coast of Africa in a loop known as the subtropical recirculation. The rest takes the DSRF route. The northern arm of the Gulf Stream and the DSRF together constitute what is known as the Atlantic Conveyor Belt.

Since 1957, the International Geophysical Year, the south part of the North Atlantic has been studied from time to time by taking measurements along latitude 25°N from the Canary Islands to Florida. This line marks the point where the maximum amount of heat is being shifted around, and is also a place where the separation of the individual currents is easy to follow (seabed features further north tend to break the currents into separate streams).

Five such transects have been taken, the three most recent being in 1992, 1998 and the one Dr Bryden is reporting, which was done in 2004. Within the usual margins of error, the results in 1992 were the same as those of the earlier two. In 1998, though, the DSRF showed an appreciable drop in flow. And in 2004 it had dropped further. The surface flow of the Gulf Stream past Florida, though, was unchanged. And, to complete the equation, the volume carried by the subtropical recirculation had increased to compensate for the drop in the DSRF. The result, when the numbers were crunched, suggests that the volume of water being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor Belt has dropped by 30%.

If that is correct, and more importantly, if it were sustained, the result for places such as Britain would be a 1°C drop in average temperature—enough to be noticeable. If it were not merely sustained, but got bigger (and the 2004 figure was larger than that for 1998), the temperature drop would be greater. And if the conveyor belt stops altogether, as it has in the past on more than one occasion, Britain's climate would come to resemble that of Newfoundland. The questions, of course, are why is this happening, and can anything be done?

The big chill?

The reason to believe global warming is the cause is that the computer models suggest it. The conveyor belt is powered by the pull of water sinking from the surface to the seabed in three places. It sinks because it is salty and, by the time it has reached northern latitudes, cold. It is therefore dense. But a warming climate will, the models agree, put more fresh water into the sea around these so-called sinking regions. This water will come from increased rainfall feeding rivers that flow into the areas, and also from the melting of the Greenland ice cap. Fresh water is less dense than brine, and the result is a mixture that will remain on the surface and therefore slow the conveyor down.

Dr Bryden's observations do not extend that far north, so whether this is actually the cause he cannot say. But measurements at one of the sinking regions, which were published four years ago, suggest the turnover rate has dropped significantly since 1957, and a three-year-old paper suggests that the surface waters of the North Atlantic are, indeed, getting fresher.

Everything, therefore, points to global warming being the culprit. It is probably no coincidence that the editors of Nature, who are no slouches when it comes to publicity, have published Dr Bryden's paper in the week that a meeting in Montreal is reviewing the implementation of the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But even if Kyoto were implemented in full, it would not save the conveyor belt if it really is slowing down.

The one positive thing about Dr Bryden's study is that it is the first of what should become a series of annual reports on the state of the North Atlantic. It should thus become clear soon whether this result is just a blip, and reasonably soon whether it is a shift that has run its course, or is part of a downward trend. If it is part of a trend, and you live in north-west Europe, it may soon be time to wrap up warm.

BP looks 'beyond petroleum' with $ 8bn renewables spend

BP looks 'beyond petroleum' with $ 8bn renewables spend

The Independent, 29 November 2005 - BP unveiled plans yesterday to double its investment in alternative and renewable energy sources, saying it will spend $ 8bn (pounds 4.6bn) over the next decade.

The company, which is promoting its green credentials in a high-profile advertising campaign tagged 'beyond petroleum', will create a new business that supplies low-carbon electricity.

BP will focus on four areas: wind power, solar energy, hydrogen and gas- fired power generation. The company also aims to be the leading trader in clean power and carbon dioxide credits.

But Lord Browne of Madingley, the company's chief executive, admitted that BP plans to continue to raise, for years to come, its production of oil and gas. The burning of these hydrocarbon fuels is a central contributor to global warming.

'Of course, what we are announcing today is not an instant, magical transformation of the energy market. It is a very realistic, practical step in a new direction. For the foreseeable future, for decades to come, the world will need hydrocarbons, and we will continue to invest in order to produce and sell oil and gas in the cleanest, most efficient way possible,' Lord Browne said.

He said the 'beyond petroleum' marketing slogan was not meant in a literal sense. 'It is more a way of thinking,' he said.

Environmentalists welcomed the BP move, although activists questioned the inclusion of gas-fired power generation in BP's alternative energy business. Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, said gas was a conventional technology, so it should not count.

He said: 'This is a step in the right direction. But considering the scale of the company, this is still a modest initiative. BP's core business is still the production of fuel from oil, which is one of the main sources of climate change.'

BP's $ 800m-a-year plans for alternative energy compares with next year's total annual investment of some $ 15bn.

Lord Browne said: 'As a long-term business we should begin to look beyond that [hydrocarbons], beyond petroleum " to the energy needs of the world over the next half century. And that is what we are doing, starting today.'

BP's solar panel business is already behind only Japan's Sharp and Kyocera. It has two wind farms on company land in continental Europe and it plans to develop many more on BP property, especially in the US where it has a string of plants in the mid-west's 'wind belt'.

In hydrogen, the company hopes to build the world's first gas power plant in Scotland, where carbon is separated and buried under ground. It also is also developing hydrogen as a fuel for cars and buses.

BP argued that gas power was included in its alternative energy plans because modern combined-cycle-gas-turbine plants are about twice as clean as conventional coal-fired power stations.

Lord Browne said: 'Our aim is to become the leading player in alternative energy in the power sector on a global basis and to grow the business five or ten-fold over the next 10 years.' The company expects the installed generation capacity of renewable and alternative power to triple by 2020.

Shell, the other UK energy giant, has not laid out its long-term investment plans for renewables, although a spokeswoman said it had the broadest mix of activities in this area, including geothermal and biofuels projects. It is a top 10 player in the solar market and is one of the three leading wind-farm operators in the US. Earlier this year, Shell submitted a planning application to build the world's biggest wind farm, a pounds 1.5bn facility in the Thames estuary area that would create enough power for 750,000 homes.

Copyright 2005 Independent Newspapers (UK) Limited
The Independent

The sound of distant howling: Signs of climate change are hard to be sure about. But the latest do look alarming

Climate change and the North Atlantic

The sound of distant howling

Dec 1st 2005
From The Economist print edition



Signs of climate change are hard to be sure about. But the latest do look alarming

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AESOP'S most famous fable is about a shepherd boy who cried “wolf” so often when no wolf was around that when one did appear nobody took any notice of his warning. Some environmentalists risk falling into the same trap. They are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that they will cry “wolf” at any event that might plausibly be thought to support their view of the world.

That attitude makes it hard for responsible scientists studying important environmental issues to know when to raise the alarm. The climate is complex and no single piece of research is likely to prove the existence of a dangerous trend. It is a matter of judgment when enough bits of data have accumulated for action to be justified. So Harry Bryden and his colleagues at Southampton's National Oceanography Centre have been careful not to overstep the mark when commenting on their work on ocean circulation and its possible effects on parts of Europe, which has been published this week. Nevertheless, it is now possible to discern a dim howling in the distance.

Changing places

A lot of heat moves around in the oceans. The currents that do the moving change from time to time, and both computer models and evidence from sediments and ice cores suggest such change can happen in a matter of decades. Dr Bryden's data indicate that what history and the models describe may actually be happening at the moment to currents in the North Atlantic. If true, it would mean a cooler future for north-west Europe—possibly a lot cooler. And that future would be close; the change could happen over the course of two or three decades. Moreover, the most plausible explanation for the shift is, paradoxically, global warming (see article).

Sceptics could, and should, point out the uncertainties—in particular, that the conclusion relies on a mere two individual years' worth of data. Though these indicate a shift in the past decade after four decades of stability, it is just possible they could be blips. Given the murky and statistically uncertain nature of climatology, however, Dr Bryden's result is about as robust as can be expected.

More important, it is the first in what will be a series of results, since oceanography's rise in the scientific pecking order means its practitioners can now afford the instruments and infrastructure to monitor parts of the ocean continuously. The truth will soon out and it is not, therefore, necessary to cry wolf quite yet, though it may behove those paid to think about such things to put more effort into looking at how governments should respond if north-west Europe does get significantly colder in the next few decades.

Dr Bryden's finding, though, also provides a reason to think more clearly about the whole issue of climate change. The Kyoto protocol, which is the subject of a big international meeting in Montreal this week and next, is costly and unlikely to achieve its stated aims. But the meeting is also supposed to begin the process of sketching out what the post-Kyoto world might look like. This result may focus minds, whether that focus is directed towards trying to stop global warming or, if it is decided that climate change is unstoppable, working out the best ways to live with it. And if the next few years do confirm Dr Bryden's result, it will be a triumph for the modellers who predicted it, and a reason to take their cries about other climatic wolves far more seriously.


FT special report "Focus on Ethical Supply Chains"


Industries seek safety in numbers - Sectoral initiatives are the way forward for responsible sourcing, says Alison Maitland.
28 November 2005
Surveys REB1
Page 1

Faced with increasingly complex risks in their global supply chains, some of the world's largest companies are seeking strength in numbers. Industries from electronics to chocolate-making and toys to jewellery are learning to collaborate on labour and environmental standards, hoping to minimise the risks to their reputation.

"There is safety in numbers," says David Logan, a consultant who has advised Gap, Marks and Spencer, Cadbury Schweppes and other companies on child labour issues and socially responsible sourcing. "It deflects the attacks on singular brands. By pooling experience, companies start to get on the front foot instead of being on the back foot."

Exposure to social, environmental and ethical risks is nothing new to industries such as oil, clothing, wood products and diamond production. Big brands and retailers are the most vulnerable and most likely to recognise the need for action.

Even Wal-Mart, which has long resisted pressure from trade unions, environmentalists and shareholder activists, announced moves last month towards independent monitoring of conditions at its global subcontractors, and preference for environmentally responsible suppliers.

But interest is also growing in companies only indirectly involved in the supply chain, such as banks providing loans for small businesses with dubious working practices, says Karina Litvack, head of governance and socially responsible investment at F&C Asset Management. "Pressure groups and the media are getting savvier, and customers are getting more concerned."

This might be sufficient motivation for industries to work together on responsible procurement. But there are other reasons to do so. Efforts by western companies to impose their own codes of conduct have had limited success, with factories in emerging markets swamped by competing requirements - and by armies of auditors sent in to monitor compliance.

Under the countervailing pressure to meet tight deadlines at low cost, many subcontractors have learned to hide rather than improve poor practices. The Clean Clothes Campaign, a network of trade unions and non-governmental organisations, highlights in a report this month how social auditors are failing to detect forced overtime, discrimination and violations of freedom of association.

Doug Cahn, vice-president for human rights at Reebok, says the trend for industry collaboration on common standards could reduce this burden on factories and help remove the incentive to falsify records. It could also encourage the involvement of buyers which do not want, or have the resources, to act alone.

"One of the great dangers of recent years is that standards will be applied vigorously by some and not at all by others," he says. "It costs more to produce in factories where standards are adhered to. There must be a level playing field."

Mr Cahn concedes that collaborating with competitors is not straightforward - Reebok is part of the Fair Labor Association, a US monitoring group that includes companies such as Nike and Nordstrom, the department store chain, as well as campaign groups and universities.

He says that issues to be addressed by some supply chain partnerships include how effective and transparent they are, and whether they involve external stakeholders.

One of the most ambitious partnerships brings together leading companies in the electronics and telecommunications industries. On the computer side, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM launched an industry code of conduct for suppliers after a report last year by Cafod, the UK-based development charity, exposed abuses of workers making equipment and components in China and Mexico.

The electronics group, which now also includes Intel, Microsoft, Sony and contract manufacturers such as Flextronics, is collaborating on risk assessment and audit tools with the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an international coalition of telecommunications companies supported by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The telecoms companies include Alcatel, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Vodafone.

In all, nearly 30 companies, as well as industry groups and institutional investors, are involved in the partnership.

"Supply chain risk assessment, questionnaires and audit methodologies are costly," says Chris Tuppen, who heads sustainable development at BT and chairs GeSI. "By doing it across the industry, you can share these costs."

The partnership, which has attracted interest from the motor and pharmaceuticals industries, also aims to supplement policing of subcontractors with advice and support on implementing better practices and communications with workers.

Joint industry initiatives must take account of competition law so that collaborators are not creating a competitive advantage for themselves, says Mr Tuppen. For this reason, the GeSI/EICC supplier questionnaire is available for open use by the industry.

However, collaboration need not stifle initiative, as Nike proved earlier this year when it published the names of all its contract manufacturers on the internet and called on other companies to follow suit.

It is too early to tell what impact the electronics and telecoms tie-up will have. But Cafod, while it welcomes the code, criticises it for not meeting International Labour Organisation standards on workers' rights.

Freedom of association is one issue on which European and US companies in the partnership agreed to differ.

"Early on we made a covenant that we weren't going to let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'," says Brad Bennett of Intel, who chairs the electronic industry code of conduct (EICC) implementation group.

Business in general should be taking ethical procurement more seriously, according to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, the UK-based professional association.

The association's most recent statistics, gathered two years ago, found that only 29 per cent of UK companies regarded social, environmental and ethical factors as essential in their purchasing decisions.

"The Third World is often just seen as a source of very cheap goods and that's about as far as it's got," Ian Taylor, CIPS president, told a recent roundtable debate.

"The buyer's job description of the future will have a very big risk component and a big part of that risk component will be about sustainable procurement and supply chains."

But business cannot act alone. Governments in supplier countries have a role to play in enforcing local labour laws and ensuring that factory inspectorates work effectively.

Some seem keen to seize the initiative. China has developed its own "social compliance" standard for the textile sector.

Multinationals could lobby governments for better law enforcement, says Mr Logan, director of the Corporate Citizenship Company, a UK-based consultancy.

"The long-term solution is to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to manage their own framework of laws.

"Western businesses have a vested interest in the uniform application of clear and good laws."


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Business as usual is not an option: Only a wider mix of solutions will lead to real change

Business as usual is not an option: Only a wider mix of solutions will lead to real change

Geneva, 28 November - The WBCSD heads off to COP 11 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Montreal) with a solid business delegation, demonstrating that the participation of a wide variety of sectors and regions must play into the equation in order to mitigate the energy and climate challenges.

"The future is in a mixed framework of possibilities. Any climate change policy in isolation will falter," says Laurent Corbier Director of Energy and Climate at the WBCSD. "Energy and climate change programs need to incorporate a wider framework of solutions to progress."

For members of the WBCSD, 180 of the worlds leading enterprises, energy and climate is at the top of agenda. The organization advocates that action must be planned on different time horizons, addressing short, mid and long term.

The prominence given to the topic is reflected in a series of side events at COP11 emphasizing action in three core areas.
1.        Improving awareness and understanding. At COP11 this comes out in the launch of new publications including the "Pathways to 2050" and " The Sustainable Forest Products Industry, Carbon and Climate Change: Key Messages for Policy Makers." These documents translate the scale and complexity of the energy and climate challenge into simple, illustrative pathways.

2.        Deploying tools and best practices techniques for the global business community to measure, manage and compare performance in reducing greenhouse emissions. In 2001 the GHG Protocol was released by the WBCSD and World Resources Institute. Today a new GHG Protocol for Projected Accounting has been developed and will be launched at COP11. Another side event will review the achievements of the Mexican National GHG accounting and reporting program.

3.        Providing a business platform for dialogue through various initiatives to a wider audience.

Pulling together the different streams of its work program and regional chapters to step up the debate, WBCSD’s delegation includes the electricity utilities, forestry and cement teams. These will each be presenting their work and messages at individual side events. In addition local chapters from Mexico, India, Brazil and the Philippines will be sharing their experiences on various issues such as a GHG pilot program in Mexico.

Some of the events are co-hosted with various partners such as IETA, the International Chamber of Commerce, World Resources Institute, Consel Patronal de l’Environnement de Qubec and more.

For a full list of events please see

Media contact at COP 11:

Thorsten Arndt
Manager, Communications
World Business Council for Sustainable Development
4, chemin de Conches
1231 Conches, Geneva, Switzerland
Phone: +41 (79) 3453 260