Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

18.9.09

Green Newsclips for 18 September 2009: Low carbon economies; Polluted drinking water

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/ea19c726-a3e9-11de-9fed-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=ebe33f66-57aa-11dc-8c65-0000779fd2ac,print=yes.html

Low-carbon industries add power to economy
By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: September 18 2009 03:00 | Last updated: September 18 2009 03:00
Businesses selling low-carbon goods and services now generate more revenue than the aerospace and defence sectors combined, making the sector one of the new linchpins of the global economy, according to research by HSBC.
Listed companies in the climate change sector - including renewable-power generators, nuclear, energy management, water and waste companies - reached a global turnover of $534bn in 2008, according to HSBC. The aerospace and defence sector was worth $530bn, the international bank said.
Revenues in the lowcarbon sector soared by 75 per cent in 2008 despite the recession. Joaquim de Lima, global head of quant research for equities, said the results were "surprising and very encouraging", given the financial crisis.
"This shows how important this sector is becoming in the global economy," he said. He noted that the sector had surpassed the growth rates predicted in the Stern review of the economics of climate change, published in the UK three years ago. In the landmark report, Lord Stern estimated that the low-carbon goods and services sector would be worth $500bn by 2050.
"This seemingly huge figure has already been surpassed well ahead of time as more and more businesses adapt their business model [to climate change]," said Mr de Lima.
Mr de Lima predicted that on current trends, revenues from the sector would exceed $2,000bn by 2020.
An increasing number of companies are entering the sector, with 368 on the HSBC Climate Change Index compared with 154 in 2004. The US led the index, with its companies generating revenue of $111bn. Japan took second place with $105bn, Germany stood at about $80m and the UK at $14bn.
The number employed in climate-related activities worldwide since 2004 has more than doubled from just over 1m to about 2.4m.
The research included only listed companies with a market capitalisation of more than $350m that derived more than 10 per cent of revenues from "clean technology" or related services. Only the proportion of sales that came from clean technology was counted, some of which was estimated as many companies do not fully break out their sales from green activities.
Low-carbon energy generation produced the bulk of the revenues, at $300bn, followed by energy efficiency and energy management products.
This strong showing came in spite of reported difficulties for companies seeking financing for setting up renewable energy projects.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009. Print a single copy of this article for personal use. Contact us if you wish to print more to distribute to others.


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/us/18dairy.html?_r=1

Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells
By CHARLES DUHIGG

MORRISON, Wis. — All it took was an early thaw for the drinking water here to become unsafe.

There are 41,000 dairy cows in Brown County, which includes Morrison, and they produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, much of which is spread on nearby grain fields. Other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage.

In measured amounts, that waste acts as fertilizer. But if the amounts are excessive, bacteria and chemicals can flow into the ground and contaminate residents' tap water.

In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

"Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet," said Lisa Barnard, who lives a few towns over, and just 15 miles from the city of Green Bay.

Tests of her water showed it contained E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants found in manure. Last year, her 5-year-old son developed ear infections that eventually required an operation. Her doctor told her they were most likely caused by bathing in polluted water, she said.

Yet runoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources. The Clean Water Act of 1972 largely regulates only chemicals or contaminants that move through pipes or ditches, which means it does not typically apply to waste that is sprayed on a field and seeps into groundwater.

As a result, many of the agricultural pollutants that contaminate drinking water sources are often subject only to state or county regulations. And those laws have failed to protect some residents living nearby.

To address this problem, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has created special rules for the biggest farms, like those with at least 700 cows.

But thousands of large animal feedlots that should be regulated by those rules are effectively ignored because farmers never file paperwork, E.P.A. officials say.

And regulations passed during the administration of President George W. Bush allow many of those farms to self-certify that they will not pollute, and thereby largely escape regulation.

In a statement, the E.P.A. wrote that officials were working closely with the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies to reduce pollution and bring large farms into compliance.

Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation's rivers and streams, according to the E.P.A. An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

The problem is not limited to Wisconsin. In California, up to 15 percent of wells in agricultural areas exceed a federal contaminant threshold, according to studies. Major waterways like the Chesapeake Bay have been seriously damaged by agricultural pollution, according to government reports.

In Arkansas and Maryland, residents have accused chicken farm owners of polluting drinking water. In 2005, Oklahoma's attorney general sued 13 poultry companies, claiming they had damaged one of the state's most important watersheds.

It is often difficult to definitively link a specific instance of disease to one particular cause, like water pollution. Even when tests show that drinking water is polluted, it can be hard to pinpoint the source of the contamination.

Despite such caveats, regulators in Brown County say they believe that manure has contaminated tap water, making residents ill.

"One cow produces as much waste as 18 people," said Bill Hafs, a county official who has lobbied the state Legislature for stricter waste rules.

"There just isn't enough land to absorb that much manure, but we don't have laws to force people to stop," he added.

In Brown County, part of one of the nation's largest milk-producing regions, agriculture brings in $3 billion a year. But the dairies collectively also create as much as a million gallons of waste each day. Many cows are fed a high-protein diet, which creates a more liquid manure that is easier to spray on fields.

In 2006, an unusually early thaw in Brown County melted frozen fields, including some that were covered in manure. Within days, according to a county study, more than 100 wells were contaminated with coliform bacteria, E. coli, or nitrates — byproducts of manure or other fertilizers.

"Land application requirements in place at that time were not sufficiently designed or monitored to prevent the pollution of wells," one official wrote.

Some residents did not realize that their water was contaminated until their neighbors fell ill, which prompted them to test their own water.

"We were terrified," said Aleisha Petri, whose water was polluted for months, until her husband dumped enough bleach in the well to kill the contaminants. Neighbors spent thousands of dollars digging new wells.

At a town hall meeting, angry homeowners yelled at dairy owners, some of whom are perceived as among the most wealthy and powerful people in town.

One resident said that he had seen cow organs dumped on a neighboring field, and his dog had dug up animal carcasses and bones.

"More than 30 percent of the wells in one town alone violated basic health standards," said Mr. Hafs, the Brown County regulator responsible for land and water conservation, in an interview. "It's obvious we've got a problem."

But dairy owners said it was unfair to blame them for the county's water problems. They noted that state regulators, in their reports, were unable to definitively establish the source of the 2006 contamination.

One of those farmers, Dan Natzke, owns Wayside Dairy, one of the largest farms around here. Just a few decades ago, it had just 60 cows. Today, its 1,400 animals live in enormous barns and are milked by suction pumps.

In June, Mr. Natzke explained to visiting kindergarteners that his cows produced 1.5 million gallons of manure a month. The dairy owns 1,000 acres and rents another 1,800 acres to dispose of that waste and grow crops to feed the cows.

"Where does the poop go?" one boy asked. "And what happens to the cow when it gets old?"

"The waste helps grow food," Mr. Natzke replied. "And that's what the cow becomes, too."

His farm abides by dozens of state laws, Mr. Natzke said.

"All of our waste management is reviewed by our agronomist and by the state's regulators," he added. "We follow all the rules."

But records show that his farm was fined $56,000 last October for spreading excessive waste. Mr. Natzke declined to comment.

Many environmental advocates argue that agricultural pollution will be reduced only through stronger federal laws. Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, has recently ordered an increase in enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, has said that clean water is a priority, and President Obama promised in campaign speeches to regulate water pollution from livestock.

But Congress has not created many new rules on the topic and, as a result, officials say their powers remain limited.

Part of the problem, according to data collected from the E.P.A. and every state, is that environmental agencies are already overtaxed. And it is unclear how to design effective laws, say regulators, including Ms. Jackson, who was confirmed to head the E.P.A. in January.

To fix the problem of agricultural runoff, "I don't think there's a solution in my head yet that I could say, right now, write this piece of legislation, this will get it done," Ms. Jackson said in an interview.

She added that "the challenge now is for E.P.A. and Congress to develop solutions that represent the next step in protecting our nation's waters and people's health."

A potential solution, regulators say, is to find new uses for manure. In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle has financed projects to use farm waste to generate electricity.

But environmentalists and some lawmakers say real change will occur only when Congress passes laws giving the E.P.A. broad powers to regulate farms. Tougher statutes should permit drastic steps — like shutting down farms or blocking expansion — when watersheds become threatened, they argue.

However, a powerful farm lobby has blocked previous environmental efforts on Capital Hill. Even when state legislatures have acted, they have often encountered unexpected difficulties.

After Brown County's wells became polluted, for instance, Wisconsin created new rules prohibiting farmers in many areas from spraying manure during winter, and creating additional requirements for large dairies.

But agriculture is among the state's most powerful industries. After intense lobbying, the farmers' association won a provision requiring the state often to finance up to 70 percent of the cost of following the new regulations. Unless regulators pay, some farmers do not have to comply.

In a statement, Adam Collins, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said farmers can only apply waste to fields "according to a nutrient management plan, which, among other things, requires that manure runoff be minimized."

When there is evidence that a farm has "contaminated a water source, we can and do take enforcement action," he wrote.

"Wisconsin has a long history of continuously working to improve water quality and a strong reputation nationally for our clean water efforts," he added. "Approximately 800,000 private drinking water wells serve rural Wisconsin residents. The vast majority of wells provide safe drinking water."

But anger in some towns remains. At the elementary school a few miles from Mr. Natzke's dairy, there are signs above drinking fountains warning that the water may be dangerous for infants.

"I go to church with the Natzkes," said Joel Reetz, who spent $16,000 digging a deeper well after he learned his water was polluted. "Our kid goes to school with their kids. It puts us in a terrible position, because everyone knows each other.

"But what's happening to this town isn't right," he said.

17.9.09

Green newsclips for 17 September 2009: EU moving to "Gross National Happiness", companies see sustainability as central, and banks are getting smarter. Too bad about all that melting ice, and those pesky tsunamis and quakes

http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=MzU2MDE

EU to introduce new indicator to complement GDP

Reuters, 8 September 2009 - The European Union will introduce an index in 2010 to track life qualities such as a clean environment, social cohesion and wellbeing to complement the gross domestic product (GDP) indicator in shaping policy.

The environmental index will chart progress in areas such as greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, water use and waste generation to better reflect economic and social progress, European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said on Tuesday.

Dimas said a broader index was needed to enable policymakers to meet new challenges and steer policies towards green growth, low carbon emissions and resource efficiency.

He said GDP, which measures the final market value of all goods and services produced within a country during a given period, was no more than an indicator of economic activity and not intended to measure wellbeing.

"It becomes a problem when GDP is understood to be the unique yardstick for progress," Dimas told a news conference in Brussels.

"It does not pick out issues that are vitally important to the quality of life, such as green environment, social cohesion or even how happy people are," Dimas said.

Brussels has been working on plans to develop indicators that look beyond GDP and other data as a measure of economic and social progress.

But Tony Long, director of the World Wildlife Fund's European policy office, said the organisation was disappointed at what he saw as the EU's lack of urgency in developing alternative indicators, 15 years since initial talks took place.

"We are no closer to implementing measures for environmental sustainability, societal progress and well-being," Long said in a statement.

"The ongoing economic crisis is a perfect example of a failure to look beyond GDP -- as a result new indicator measurements must not only record statistics but be also able to sound the alarm when we are close to limits," Long added. (Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Victoria Main)

http://planetark.org/wen/54718

Arctic Ice Melts To Third-Smallest Area
Date: 18-Sep-09
Country:
 US
Author:
 Steve Gorman



The island of Big Diomede sits in the morning mist on the Russian side of the Bering Strait as seen from the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov August 28, 2009.
Photo: Jeffrey Jones

LOS ANGELES - The Arctic ice pack melted this summer to its third-smallest size on record, up slightly from the low points of the past two years but continuing an overall shrinking trend symptomatic of climate change, U.S. scientists said on Thursday.
Northern sea ice retreated to its minimum extent for 2009 on September 12, when it covered 1.97 million square miles (5.1 million square km), and now appears to be growing again as the Arctic starts its annual cool-down, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported.
That level falls 20 percent below the 30-year average minimum sea ice cover for the Arctic summer since satellites began measuring it in 1979, and 24 percent less than the 1979-2000 average, the Colorado-based government agency said.
The lowest point on record was reached in September 2007, and the 2009 minimum ranks as the third smallest behind last year's level. But scientists said they do not consider the slight upward fluctuation again this summer to be a recovery.
The difference was attributed to relatively cooler temperatures this summer compared with the two previous years, with Chukchi and Beaufort seas especially chilly by comparison with 2007. Winds also tended to disperse the ice pack over a larger region, scientists said.
"The long-term decline in summer extent is expected to continue in future years," the report said.
The U.S. government findings were in line with measurements reported separately by the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center in Norway, which reported this summer's minimum ice extent at just under 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).
Many scientists regard shrinking Arctic ice as among the most obvious signs of global warming. World leaders will meet at the United Nations in New York on September 22 to discuss a U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed in December.
MARITIME IMPLICATIONS
The shrinking polar cap poses a loss of crucial habitat for polar bears and has implications for maritime shipping, opening up new routes to navigation.
Once again this year, the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean along the coast of Siberia opened, enabling two German ships to navigate the passage with Russian icebreaker escorts.
Russian vessels have traversed the passage many times over the years, but the maritime fleets of other nations are showing more interest in the route as the summer thaw expands.
This year the Amundsen's Channel through the Northwest Passage also opened briefly, as it did in 2008, but the deeper Parry's Channel did not. Both opened in 2007.
Scientists have voiced concern for years about the alarming decline in the size of the Arctic ice cap, which functions as a giant air conditioner for the planet's climate system as it reflects sunlight back into space.
As a greater portion of the ice melts, larger expanses of darker sea water are exposed, absorbing more sunlight and adding to the global warming effect attributed to rising levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by human activity.
Scientists also have measured a thinning of the Arctic ice cover, as older, thicker ice more resilient to warming temperatures gives way to a younger, thinner layer that melts more easily in summer.

http://planetark.org/wen/54708

Global Warming May Bring Tsunami And Quakes: Scientists
Date: 17-Sep-09
Country:
 UK
Author:
 Richard Meares

LONDON - Quakes, volcanic eruptions, giant landslides and tsunamis may become more frequent as global warming changes the earth's crust, scientists said on Wednesday.
Climate-linked geological changes may also trigger "methane burps," the release of a potent greenhouse gas, currently stored in solid form under melting permafrost and the seabed, in quantities greater than all the carbon dioxide (CO2) in our air today.
"Climate change doesn't just affect the atmosphere and the oceans but the earth's crust as well. The whole earth is an interactive system," Professor Bill McGuire of University College London told Reuters, at the first major conference of scientists researching the changing climate's effects on geological hazards.
"In the political community people are almost completely unaware of any geological aspects to climate change."
The vulcanologists, seismologists, glaciologists, climatologists and landslide experts at the meeting have looked to the past to try to predict future changes, particularly to climate upheaval at the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago.
"When the ice is lost, the earth's crust bounces back up again and that triggers earthquakes, which trigger submarine landslides, which cause tsunamis," said McGuire, who organized the three-day conference.
David Pyle of Oxford University said small changes in the mass of the earth's surface seems to affect volcanic activity in general, not just in places where ice receded after a cold spell. Weather patterns also seem to affect volcanic activity - not just the other way round, he told the conference.
LONDON'S ASIAN SUNSET
Behind him was a slide of a dazzlingly bright orange painting, "London sunset after Krakatau, 1883" - referring to a huge Asian volcanic eruption whose effects were seen and felt around the world.
Volcanoes can spew vast amounts of ash, sulphur, carbon dioxide and water into the upper atmosphere, reflecting sunlight and sometimes cooling the earth for a couple of years. But too many eruptions, too close together, may have the opposite effect and quicken global warming, said U.S. vulcanologist Peter Ward.
"Prior to man, the most abrupt climate change was initiated by volcanoes, but now man has taken over. Understanding why and how volcanoes did it will help man figure out what to do," he said.
Speakers were careful to point out that many findings still amounted only to hypotheses, but said evidence appeared to be mounting that the world could be in for shocks on a vast scale.
Tony Song of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California warned of the vast power of recently discovered "glacial earthquakes" -- in which glacial ice mass crashes downwards like an enormous landslide.
In the West Antarctic, ice piled more than one mile above sea level is being undermined in places by water seeping in underneath.
"Our experiments show that glacial earthquakes can generate far more powerful tsunamis than undersea earthquakes with similar magnitude," said Song.
"Several high-latitude regions, such as Chile, New Zealand and Canadian Newfoundland are particularly at risk."
He said ice sheets appeared to be disintegrating much more rapidly than thought and said glacial earthquake tsunamis were "low-probability but high-risk."
McGuire said the possible geological hazards were alarming enough, but just one small part of a scary picture if man-made CO2 emissions were not stabilized within around the next five years.
"Added to all the rest of the mayhem and chaos, these things would just be the icing on the cake," he said. "Things would be so bad that the odd tsunami or eruption won't make much difference."
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/09/17/30-of-firms-see-sustainability-green-products-as-central-part-of-operations/

30% of Firms See Sustainability, Green Products as Central Part of Operations
Twice as many companies see sustainability as centrally oriented to their business operations, including the sale of "green" products or services, as compared to 2006, when just 15 percent indicated so. Now, 30 percent of firms indicate so.

In the update to a similar 2006 survey, McGraw-Hill Construction and Siemens Building Technologies found that 75 percent of firms view sustainability as consistent with their profit missions, according to the 2009 Greening of Corporate America Report.

Survey respondents said they expect that green practices tied to core business strategies will reduce energy costs (75 percent), retain and attract customers (70 percent), and provide market differentiation by contributing to the firm's financial performance (61 percent).

Following are some tables and figures from the survey, which was conducted among 203 firms earlier this year.

http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/09/17/moving-from-standards-to-sustainability/

Moving From Standards to Sustainability
Thatcher Young 
Sustainability Director
ignition Inc.

In many industries, the lack of standards has gotten us into trouble. For years, the financial services sector went unregulated, resulting in a financial meltdown. The impact of this meltdown is still being felt across our economy.
Similarly, years of loosely enforced environmental regulations led to the precarious state we're now in with our planet. But, we are beginning to see businesses across a variety of industries showing great desire to change — both internally and externally with their customers and spheres of influence. They want to take real, measurable steps to better the environment, and are looking beyond regulations towards sustainability standards to get them where they want to go.
Organic foods, green buildings, travel and tourism, and my industry (experiential marketing) are all stepping up to the plate.
The problem is that while standards are a necessary and logical next step, there's still a major gap in understanding between the benchmarks businesses should aim for, and the actions they need to take to meet these benchmarks. For businesses to achieve standards compliance, they need a clear picture of how sustainability standards can be translated into action-a road map.
For a number of years, I worked with Georgia Department of Natural Resources as a member of the "Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia" team, helping companies throughout the state develop their own road maps. I was inspired to see just how motivated businesses became once a sustainability plan was understood and a simple, measurable action plan was in place. Now, for the experiential marketing industry, we're working with the BS 8901 standard for sustainable events to create a roadmap that demonstrates how to integrate this standard into our client campaigns. .
Along the way, we've learned some lessons that might be transferrable to other companies looking to create their own roadmaps to compliance with sustainability standards. Regardless of whether or not a standard within your industry exists, sustainability management can be broken down into more easily digestible pieces by looking at what you can and cannot control as a company.
1. Direct control
There are countless items that you can control internally. Among them are your energy and water usage, the products you choose to buy, whether or not you recycle, and whether you host teleconferences rather than travel for meetings. The list goes on.
2. Influence
There is also a wide array of items that your business can influence, even without having direct control. These include things like how your employees get to work, whether your property manager installs energy efficient light bulbs in the building, and how your suppliers transport your purchases.
3. Example
Even if you have no direct control or influence, you can still play a critical leadership role by the very actions that you are taking. These actions set an example, and demonstrate that sustainability is an achievable and worthwhile goal.
Most companies start the journey towards sustainability by doing an internal evaluation of what their business has direct control over. This evaluation will vary based upon the type of services or products you provide, but some common areas to consider include purchasing habits, material and product use, energy and water use.
An internal assessment can look daunting, so by strategically identifying the areas you consider most important, you can break down your own organizational sustainability goals into a more manageable system. Most importantly, choose an area of impact and take action. Once you see real results you will be motivated to dig deeper.
Focusing on the things over which your businesses has direct control is a great way to get started, but where most businesses have the ultimate potential to create a paradigm shift is within the "influence" and "example" spheres. There are immeasurable ways that you can educate others and ultimately influence the behaviors of your employees, suppliers and partners, and customers.
For example, retailers have been talking about adding labels to their products, similar to nutrition labels on food, to inform consumers of the product's environmental footprint. This type of action is an "influence" action, since it's up to the suppliers to add the label to their products, and to consumers to use the label as a basis for selecting products. It's still a step in the direction of where we need to be.
Another recent success is Wal-Mart's new sustainability index, which will influence other competitors and companies throughout the supply chain to make a change. We're hoping that our sustainable experiential marketing guidelines will have a halo effect on our clients, suppliers, vendors, and partners – and lead to long-term, positive changes in our industry.
And, since experiential marketing is a consumer-facing business by its very nature, we'll continue to bring sustainable campaigns to life in the streets, every day – increasing our sphere of influence even further.
There's no real end to the journey towards sustainability – it's a continuous process of setting and reaching for new goals. But, by creating and following a roadmap, and finding ways to expand your channels of influence, businesses can dramatically enhance their sustainability efforts, and guide others towards embracing a more sustainable future.
Thatcher Young is the Sustainability Director at ignition Inc., an experiential marketing agency behind Coca-Cola's Olympic Torch Relays and the Live Earth concert. He previously served as Sustainability Advisor and Sustainability Outreach Manager to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

http://3blmedia.com/blog/John-Howell/"Smart"-Banks

"Smart" Banks?

Submitted by John Howell on September 16th 2009

"Bank" used to be one of those oh-so-solid words that made you feel grounded. As in "bank on it" or "you can take it to the bank." You could count on it.

But since the fall of 2008, the start of the Economic Collapse of the New Millennium, "bank" has taken on new, negative meanings.

"Bank" now stands for loan shark lending, IBG deals ("I'll Be Gone" after the commission is booked), overleveraged assets, consumer gouging, and Just Plain Stupid business practices.

The wonderful term "zombie banks" has entered the language, describing institutions that are open for business—they look "alive"— but are paralyzed by their failed financial policies.

SustainLink is trying to change our view of all banks as working for the Dark Side by introducing a new phrase: "eco-intelligent banks." By "eco-intelligent," SustainLink means those select financial institutions with a commitment to sustainable practices.

 A research and score-carding firm, SustainLInk has launched a profiling service that reports on banks and credit unions that are doing good business in a good way. SustainLink reviews banks to evaluate them for their triple bottom line strategies. Only those that qualify as "eco-intelligent" are profiled on SustainLinks' site.

The first group of these "smart banks" has been chosen. You can see the proud winners at www.sustainlink.net.

And since we're talking about money, here's where some financial advantage comes in. SustainLink also connects sustainable improvement to incentives for borrowers, including a lower cost of capital. That means business borrowers may qualify for lower interest rates if they improve in certain areas. Anyone up for some sustainable cheap money?

Estimates are that deposits into "eco-intelligent" banks will increase by 38% during the next year. It makes sense that the smart money will go into smart banks, such as those identified by SustainLink. You can count on it.
 


Carbon Newsclips for 19 September 2009: Big polluters & big spenders

http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=MzU2NTQ

World's big polluters kick off climate talks in Washington

AFP, 17 September 2009 - Representatives of the world's 17 biggest carbon polluters were due Thursday to kick off a week of high-level and high-stakes talks on climate change at a meeting in Washington.

The aim of the talks, which will be held for two days at the State Department before moving to New York next week and then to Pittsburgh, is to try to patch up differences and generate momentum for a much heralded meeting in Copenhagen in December, where a UN conference hopes to produce an ambitious new pact rolling back global warming.

The meetings come as Washington tries to resume a leadership role on climate change, and follow a warning from UN chief Ban Ki-moon that world leaders need to "get moving" on climate change.

"It is absolutely and crucially important for the leaders to demonstrate their political will, leadership, and to give clear political guidelines to the negotiators," Ban told British newspaper The Guardian Wednesday, adding that he was "deeply concerned" that talks on global warming are not making much headway.

The Guardian also reported that Europe has clashed with the US administration over how to cut emissions and tackle global warming -- reports which, if true, suggest talks will be tense over the next week.

The European Union, France, Italy, Germany and Britain will be among participants at the talks at the State Department, along with Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and host, the United States.

Participants at the talks are part of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, an initiative launched in March by US President Barack Obama, who has made a U-turn from the stance on climate change held by his predecessor George W. Bush.

Bush famously rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the previous UN framework on climate change.

In July, Michael Zammit Cutajar, who chairs the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) working group on long-term cooperative action, said the United States has undergone an important mood-shift and is on the path toward "strong climate action."

"The mood is completely different now... There's a sense that the country's on the move toward strong climate action," he said, weeks after the US House of Representatives approved a bill that sets long-term limits on greenhouse gas emissions, a prime contributing factor to global warming, and aims to shift the US economy to one that runs on cleaner energy.

But in spite of the mood shift, finding common ground with other nations has not been easy -- and that could mean difficult and even inconclusive talks in Washington, New York and Pittsburgh.

Last week, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern -- who will represent the United States at the talks in Washington -- told the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming that persistent disagreement between developed and developing nations has kept an international solution on climate change at arm's length.

The main aim of the week of meetings in the United States is to chart a path towards success at a major UN climate change conference due to be held from December 7-18 in Copenhagen.

Nations at the Copenhagen conference are supposed to craft a pact for curbing global warming beyond 2012, when Kyoto Protocol obligations on cutting emissions expire.

Denmark, the host of the December meeting, will attend the talks at the State Department, as will the United Nations.

Failure to tackle climate change at a key UN conference in Copenhagen could be "catastrophic" for health, the heads of 18 doctors' associations also warned.

In an exceptional joint appeal published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and The Lancet, they called on governments to act decisively to roll back the threat from global warming.

Scientists have repeatedly warned climate change could affect health in many ways, ranging from malnutrition caused by drought to the risk of cholera from flooding and the spread of mosquito-borne disease to temperate zones.


http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=MzU2NDU

Global investors call for binding climate policy

Reuters, 16 September 2009 - Banks, pension funds and other investment groups representing more than $13 trillion in assets called for a strong global agreement on climate policy on Wednesday, saying it would lead to a flood of investment into the low-carbon economy.

"Without the policies to encourage clean energy, investors are stuck at the starting gates," Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors and environmentalists, and the director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk.

More than 180 investor groups called for a global target of emissions reductions of 50 to 85 percent by 2050, including higher cuts by wealthy countries, and plans in developing countries to make measurable emissions reductions.

Many investors have complained that until climate policies are agreed upon it will be hard to finance and invest in billion dollar projects such as nuclear or natural gas-fired power plants.

The investors also called for revisions to the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism, a Kyoto protocol program, that allows polluters in rich countries to claim emission cuts by investing in clean projects such as small hydropower and alternative energy in developing countries.

The call for action came ahead of a climate conference at the United Nations next week in which global leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and China's President Hu Jintao, are slated to talk about tackling climate change. The meeting is seen as a chance for leaders to break a deadlock between rich and poor countries on how to share the burden of cutting emissions blamed for global warming.

The gathering will come ahead of a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in December where 190 countries aim to hammer out a new agreement to the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.

In addition, the U.S. Senate hopes to pass its version of the climate bill that the House narrowly approved in June. The future of the bill is uncertain however.

Deep divisions between rich countries and rapidly developing ones such as China and India could keep a deal at Copenhagen at an arm's length.

Lubber said investors will keep up the pressure should the U.S. climate bill and global agreement fail this year.

"The plan is to stay the course and try harder next year, should there be no deal," she said.

Nicholas Stern, a former British Treasury official and World Bank chief economist, said the fact that the leaders of the top two greenhouse polluters, China and the United States, were coming to next week's U.N. meeting was a sign of progress. He said the Copenhagen meeting could at least end with a basic framework of where to go in the future, if no deal is struck.

Several European banks were among the investor groups calling for climate action, but there were fewer U.S. banks. Lubber said the U.S. banks were not as far along as European banks in recognizing climate change risks but were beginning to catch up, because they recognize opportunities in investing in alternative energy and efficiency.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/040577c6-a317-11de-ba74-00144feabdc0.html?nclick_check=1

Finance groups demand tough climate targets
By Fiona Harvey in London
Published: September 17 2009 03:17 | Last updated: September 17 2009 03:17


Some of the biggest names in finance called on governments on Wednesday to strike a tough deal on emissions reductions in Copenhagen this December, in an effort to boost investment into climate change.
The investors, with a combined $13,000bn in assets under management, demanded higher commitments on emissions reductions than nations are likely to agree. Signatories include investors such as HSBC, Hermes, ING Group, Société Général, Swiss Re, Allianz Global Investors and numerous US and European public sector pension funds.



They called on rich countries to agree to cut their emissions by between 25 per cent and 40 per cent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels – a cut much deeper than the US has said it would sign up to but in line with what scientists have estimated will be necessary to avoid dangerous consequences from climate change.
Investors and companies should see climate change as a threat to the global economy and a business opportunity, Lord Stern, author of the influential review of the economics of climate change, said at a conference on Wednesday to launch the investment groups' call.
"Building a low carbon economy creates opportunities for investment in new technologies that promise to transform our society in the same way as the introduction of electricity or railways did in the past," he said.
The signatories also want developed nations to cut their emissions by between 80 per cent and 95 per cent by 2050, and called on the developing world to participate in a plan for global emissions to be slashed by 50 per cent to 85 per cent by the same date.
Big developing countries such as China and India have opposed such a global target, fearing it would be used as a weapon to try to force upon them more stringent emissions curbs than they are prepared to undertake.
A system of carbon trading would also be needed, the group said, and the current system under the United Nations – called the clean development mechanism – should be reformed.
The companies were brought together by several groups, including the Investor Network on Climate Risk in the US and the European Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.
Their call reflects a growing belief among many businesses that a worldwide agreement on climate change and greenhouse gases is essential to create a level playing field among companies and to give them greater certainty and clarity in making investments, such as in building programmes.




http://www.wbcsd.org/plugins/DocSearch/details.asp?type=DocDet&ObjectId=MzU1OTg

Wal-Mart – Thinking outside the big box

Ethical Corporation, 7 September 2009 - Wal-Mart has plans to give each of its retail products a sustainability rating in the next five years. The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, with $401bn in sales last year, has pledged to create a global, industry-wide sustainable product index. 

The ambitious plan, unveiled by chief executive Mike Duke to 1,500 suppliers in July, aims to establish a sustainability rating system for each item on Wal-Mart's shelves. This will help shoppers understand the social and environmental impact of products. It should also drive innovation among suppliers. 

Duke says Wal-Mart will achieve its goal in three steps. First, it will ask all of its global suppliers – more than 100,000 companies – to answer a set of 15 questions to see what sustainability policies, procedures and targets they have in place. 

US-based top-tier suppliers, such as consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, have been asked to return the evaluation results by October 1. Timelines for suppliers in other countries are being worked out

Second, Wal-Mart will provide an undisclosed amount of start-up funding to a consortium of universities to create a sustainability index. The consortium will work with suppliers, retailers, NGOs and government to develop a global database of information on the lifecycle of products – from raw materials to disposal. This database will be used to create the index. 

Wal-Mart has already signed up Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas to jointly administer the consortium. The company is looking to partner with leading technology firms to create a platform to power the index. 

The final step is to use the information from the index to develop a "simple, convenient, easy to understand" sustainability rating for each product that consumers can use to inform buying decisions. The company expects to reach this stage in five years. 

Wal-Mart says it does not intend to create or own the index. Rather, it has invited other retailers and large suppliers to join the initiative and make it an industry-wide index. 

A major chunk of the information for the index needs to come from manufacturers that may be wary of disclosing too much of their production processes. To overcome this resistance, Wal-Mart has said the consortium will not ask for proprietary information on manufacturing processes or procedures. 

Still, gathering credible and verifiable data will be a challenge given the complexities and several layers of global supply chains, says Sean Ansett, managing partner at responsibility consulting firm At Stake Advisors. 

Wal-Mart believes the plan makes business sense. "This initiative can lower costs, raise quality and bring customers the products they need to save money and live better in the 21st century, and, in the process, make us a better business," said Duke at the high-profile launch. 

It is too early to say whether other large retailers, some of which pride themselves as corporate responsibility leaders, will be willing to join a Wal-Mart-initiated project. But large suppliers such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, General Mills and Tyson would seem to have little option but to answer Wal-Mart's questions and provide data to the consortium. 

Wal-Mart's commitment to sustainable products is raising the bar for sustainability standards in retail, which rival stores will have to match or exceed to stay competitive


Green Energy On A Roll But Experts Warn Of Bubbles

this, straight from the "in case you didn't think it was obvious" file... -JFB

http://planetark.org/wen/54722

Green Energy On A Roll But Experts Warn Of Bubbles
Date: 18-Sep-09
Country:
 SWITZERLAND
Author:
 Martin de Sa'Pinto

GENEVA - Investors betting on renewable or clean energy and related green themes are looking for healthy and sustainable returns, but the road is full of pitfalls for the unwary, investment managers warned on Thursday.
Attendees at the Jetfin Green 2009 alternative investment conference in Geneva heard that some alternative energy sources are now in a position to compete with more established sources, even in the absence of government subsidies.
"Renewable energy technologies are at a point where they are cost competitive with the grid, Copenhagen aside," said Walther Lovato, a portfolio manager at California-based asset manager Passport Capital.
He was referring to a summit to be held in Copenhagen in December, when world leaders will attempt to agree a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, potentially leading to more subsidies for green energy.
At present government expenditure and subsidies are already a significant driver of the alternative energy industry.
"Some $500 billion has been focused on alternative energy... with a growing emphasis on energy efficiency," said Sandy Christie of BlackRock Investment Management, UK.
The focus on efficiency was not always there. As recently as 2008 the U.S. Congress voted to continue levying tariffs on imported ethanol and subsidizing domestic ethanol production from corn, in spite of data showing that production was more expensive and the fuel less efficient than sugar-based ethanol.
But ever since it became clear that subsidies could not create a profitable business, U.S. producers such as Pacific Ethanol have been shunned by investors.
Indeed most investors said they now avoid companies which rely on government support and warned that investors can get burned when subsidies distort views of a company's viability.
For example, solar industry experts blamed Spanish subsidies of photovoltaic cells for pushing up prices. The solar industry increased production to meet demand, but when the subsidies were withdrawn, demand for the cells fell and prices collapsed.
With prices continuing to weaken, shares at even large and profitable solar companies such as Suntech Power and First Solar have underperformed the broader market.
SOME FROTH
Fund managers warned that bubbles tended to develop when investment themes begin to gather speed, and green investing was no exception.
"We saw an ethanol bubble and a biofuels bubble a few years ago and we've just seen a solar bubble," said Roland Pfeuti, head of private equity at SAM, owned by Dutch asset manager Robeco.
Fund managers said these bubbles were fueled by "hot" money, when speculative investors piled into popular investment themes in the hope of making a quick profits, but sell out quickly when these fail to materialize.
Even so, the financial crisis has killed off many of the weaker companies, with only the financially viable and those able to raise cash in challenging market conditions surviving, and many are now poised for profitability, said one conference attendee.
Christie was one of many managers who favored wind energy, which he described as "cost competitive and scaleable," and solar energy where module production costs and prices had come down to viable levels.
Fund of funds managers and other end investors said they had increased or intended to increase their allocations to financially viable green themes, which were no longer a marginal asset class.
"The trend toward green investing is completely irreversible," said Tim Mockett, managing director of the property team at UK-based Climate Change Capital.
"We call it the new mainstream."
(Editing by David Cowell)

16.9.09

Where to find the most credible business sustainability knowledge on the web

Thanks to Tom for the original note


 Dear colleagues,

Did you know environmentally responsible firms experience lower stock market risk? Consumers will pay a premium for sustainability when they think they can make a difference? And, effective internal CSR marketing can attract and retain top employees?

These and other business sustainability insights are now available on the Network for Business Sustainability's new website at www.nbs.net. Check out our one-page managerial summaries of academic papers, we call 'Research Insights.'

Take a look—we are confident our new website will become the place for business sustainability knowledge worldwide.

To join the Network for Business Sustainability, email info@nbs.net.

Cheers,
Tom Ewart
Managing Director
Network for Business Sustainability
Business. Thinking. Ahead.
www.nbs.net
www.twitter.com/NBSnet
Facebook

Climate Change Risks Could Cost Nations nearly 20% of GDP

Climate Change Risks Could Cost Nations nearly 20% of GDP



While one study shows that climate change risks could cost nations nearly 20 percent of their GDP by 2030, another one indicates that some countries including Mexico and Argentina are leading the way to a low-carbon economy.
Climate change risks could cost nations up to 19 percent of their GDP by 2030, with developing countries most vulnerable, according to a new report from theEconomics of Climate Adaptation Working Group. The report also finds that cost-effective adaptation measures already exist that can prevent between 40 and 68 percent of the expected economic loss with even higher levels of prevention possible in highly target geographies.
The report, "Shaping Climate-Resilient Development," offers a methodology to determine the risks that climate change imposes on economies. By determining a location's total climate risk and using a cost-benefit analysis to create a list of location-specific measures to adapt to the identified risk, the Working Group was able to evaluate current and potential costs of climate change and how to prevent them.
Climate risk was calculated by combining existing climate risks, climate change and the value of future economic development, according to the report.
The methodology was tested in localities in eight countries: China, United States, Guyana, Mali, United Kingdom, Samoa, India, and Tanzania, which together represent a wide range of climate hazards, economic impacts, and development stages. Click here for the report with test cases.
The test cases were evaluated under three climate change scenarios: today's climate (assuming that there is no additional impact from climate change); moderate climate change (based on the average forecast of climate change for the particular hazard in the location studied); and high climate change (based on the outer range of the climate change considered possible by 2030).
As an example, in Florida the report estimates an annual expected loss of $33 billion from hurricanes, which is more than 10 percent of GDP under a high climate change scenario.
The findings from the eight case studies indicate that there are cost-effective measures such as improved drainage, sea barriers, and improved building regulations that could reduce potential economic losses from climate change in all regions. The report also shows that the implementation of adaptation measures on average cost less than 50 percent of the economic loss avoided.
Leading up to the G20 summit in Philadelphia in September, where world leaders will discuss ways to finance climate change initiatives and drive the global economy out of a recession, thinktank E3G said Mexico and Argentina are leading a shift to make the global economy more climate friendly, according to an index of carbon competitiveness, reports Reuters.
The report finds that only Mexico and Argentina are improving their output per unit of carbon in line with national emissions trajectories, according to Reuters.
The E3G report, "G20 Low Carbon Competitiveness," also ranks France, Japan and Britain among the top G20 nations that would be most competitive under carbon limits, by measuring national wealth per unit of carbon emissions, according to Reuters.

Green Newsclips for 16 September 2009: US wants to design the carbon regulation infrastructure from scratch... And the climate change/ human health equation

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/15/europe-us-copenhagen/print

US planning to weaken Copenhagen climate deal, Europe warns
Exclusive: Key differences between the US and Europe could undermine a new worldwide treaty on global warming to replace Kyoto, sources say
David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 September 2009 17.54 BST

Ban Ki-moon speaks at the Bali climate change conference in 2007. The UN secretary general told the Guardian on Monday that negotiations ahead of Copenhagen had stalled and need to 'get moving'. Photograph: Adek Berry/AFP
Europe has clashed with the US Obama administration over climate change in a potentially damaging split that comes ahead of crucial political negotiations on a new global deal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The Guardian understands that key differences have emerged between the US and Europe over the structure of a new worldwide treaty on global warming. Sources on the European side say the US approach could undermine the new treaty and weaken the world's ability to cut carbon emissions.
The treaty will be negotiated in December at a UN meeting in Copenhagen and is widely billed as the last chance to save the planet from a temperature rise of 2C or higher, which the EU considers dangerous.
"If we end up with a weaker framework with less stringent compliance, then that is not so good for the chances of hitting 2C," a source close to the EU negotiating team said.
News of the split comes amid mounting concern that the Copenhagen talks will not make the necessary progress.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN general secretary, told the Guardian last night that negotiations had stalled and need to "get moving".
Ahead of an unprecedented UN climate change summit of almost 100 heads of government in New York next week, Moon said the leaders held in their hands "the future of this entire humanity".
He said: "We are deeply concerned that the negotiation is not making much headway [and] it is absolutely and crucially important for the leaders to demonstrate their political will and leadership."
The dispute between the US and Europe is over the way national carbon reduction targets would be counted. Europe has been pushing to retain structures and systems set up under the Kyoto protocol, the existing global treaty on climate change. US negotiators have told European counterparts that the Obama administration intends to sweep away almost all of the Kyoto architecture and replace it with a system of its own design.
The issue is highly sensitive and European officials are reluctant to be seen to openly criticise the Obama administration, which they acknowledge has engaged with climate change in a way that President Bush refused to. But they fear the US move could sink efforts to agree a robust new treaty in Copenhagen.
The US distanced itself from Kyoto under President Bush because it made no demands on China, and the treaty remains political poison in Washington. European negotiators knew the US would be reluctant to embrace Kyoto, but they hoped they would be able to use it as a foundation for a new agreement.
If Kyoto is scrapped, it could take several years to negotiate a replacement framework, the source added, a delay that could strike a terminal blow at efforts to prevent dangerous climate change. "In Europe we want to build on Kyoto, but the US proposal would in effect kill it off. If we have to start from scratch then it all takes time. It could be 2015 or 2016 before something is in place, who knows."
According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), world emissions need to peak by 2015 to give any chance of avoiding a 2C rise.
Europe is unlikely to stand up to the US, the source added. "I am not sure that the EU actually has the guts for a showdown and that may be exactly the problem." The US plan is likely to anger many in the developing world, who are keen to retain Kyoto because of the obligations it makes on rich countries.
Under Kyoto, greenhouse gas reductions are subject to an international system that regulates the calculation of emissions, the purchase of carbon credits and contribution of sectors such as forestry. The US is pushing instead for each country to set its own rules and to decide unilaterally how to meet its target.
The US is yet to offer full details on how its scheme might work, though a draft "implementing agreement" submitted to the UN by the Obama team in May contained a key clause that emissions reductions would be subject to "conformity with domestic law".
Legal experts say the phrase is designed to protect the US from being forced to implement international action it does not agree with. Farhana Yamin, an environmental lawyer with the Institute of Development Studies, who worked on Kyoto, said: "It seems a bit backwards. The danger is that the domestic tail starts to wag the international dog."
The move reflects a "prehistoric" level of debate on climate change in the wider US, according to another high-ranking European official, and anxiety in the Obama administration about its ability to get a new global treaty ratified in the US Senate, where it would require a two-thirds majority vote. The US has not ratified a major international environment treaty since 1992 and President Clinton never submitted theKyoto protocol for approval, after a unaminous Senate vote indicated it would be rejected on economic grounds.
The US proposal for unilateral rule-setting "is all about getting something through the Senate," the source said. "But I don't have the feeling that the US has thought through what it means for the Copenhagen agreement."
The move could open loopholes for countries to meet targets without genuine carbon cuts, they said. Europe is not concerned that the US would exploit such loopholes, but it fears that other countries might.
The US State Department, which handles climate change, would not comment.
Stuart Eizenstat, who negotiated Kyoto for the US, said: "There has been a sea change in US attitudes [on climate] and the new president is deeply committed on this issue. But the EU needs to understand the limitations in the US. The reality is that is it impossible for my successor to negotiate something in Copenhagen beyond that which Congress will give the administration in domestic cap-and-trade legislation."
Nigel Purvis, who also worked on the US Kyoto team, said: "It's not welcome news in Europe but the Kyoto architecture shouldn't have any presumed status. Many decisions were taken when the United States was not at the negotiating table. Importing the Kyoto architecture into a new agreement would leave it vulnerable to charges of repackaging."
He denied the US move would weaken the agreement. "It is important for the US to negotiate an agreement it can join, because another agreement that did not involve the United States would set back efforts to protect the climate. Is it weaker to have a system that applies to more countries? I would argue not."

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009



http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/climate-change-will-damage-your-health-1787948.html

Climate change will damage your health
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
World's doctors unite in challenge to politicians over 'biggest health threat of this century'

Human society faces a global health catastrophe if climate change is not effectively tackled at the UN conference in Copenhagen in December, leading doctors from around the world warn today.

Calling on medical practitioners everywhere to put pressure on politicians in advance of the meeting, the doctors say that the world's poorest people will be hit first by the health effects of global warming, but add that "no one will be spared".

Their stark challenge to governments follows a report in May which said climate change would represent "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century".

Malaria, dengue fever and other tropical diseases would increase, the study predicted, spelling out how rising temperatures will cause health crises in half a dozen areas: there will be increased problems with food supplies, clean water and sanitation, especially in developing countries. Meanwhile, the migration of peoples will combine with extreme weather events such as hurricanes and severe floods to make for disastrous conditions in human settlements.

The doctors make their appeal as momentum begins to build for the UN conference, which will be held in the Danish capital from 7-18 December, and which will see the world community attempt to draw up a comprehensive new climate treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Its crucial objective will be drastic worldwide cuts in the emissions of industrial gases such as carbon dioxide which are causing the atmosphere to warm.

On Tuesday, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is convening a climate change summit of world leaders in New York, including Gordon Brown and President Obama, to try to give some impetus to the tortuous pre-conference negotiating process - the draft text of 200 pages already contains 2,000 "square brackets": that is, points where the 190 countries taking part disagree.

The doctors' challenge to politicians to sort this out comes in a letter published simultaneously in Britain's two principal health journals, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.

In the letter, Professor Ian Gilmore, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, joins 17 other national doctors' leaders from the US to Australia in saying: "There is a real danger that politicians [at Copenhagen] will be indecisive, especially in such turbulent economic times as these. Should their response be weak, the results for international health could be catastrophic."

They go on: "Doctors are still seen as respected and independent, largely trusted by their patients and the societies in which they practise ... As leaders of physicians across many countries, we call on doctors to demand that their politicians listen to the clear facts that have been identified in relation to climate change and act now to implement strategies that will benefit the health of communities worldwide."

The letter follows the report on the health effects of global warming which was launched jointly last May by The Lancet and University College London (UCL), and which squarely labelled climate change as the 21st century's biggest global health threat.

That report's lead author, Professor Anthony Costello, director of UCL's Institute for Global Health, said at the time: "The big message of this report is that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation. The impacts will be felt not just in the UK, but all around the world - and not just in some distant future but in our lifetimes and those of our children."

Today's letter is accompanied by an editorial written by two of Britain's most senior figures in the area of health and development: Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL International Institute for Society and Health, and Lord Jay of Ewelme, who as Sir Michael Jay was head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and is now chair of Merlin, (Medical Emergency Relief, International), the UK charity which provides healthcare and medical relief for vulnerable people caught up in natural disasters, conflicts and major disease outbreaks.

The two men write: "A successful outcome at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December is vital for our future as a species, and for our civilisation." And they echo the writers of the letter in asserting: "Failure to agree radical reductions in emissions would spell a global health catastrophe."

They point out that there is now wide consensus that global temperatures are rising and that human actions are responsible; that there is a need to cut carbon emissions by at least 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change; and that the economic argument that taking action now rather than later will be cheaper has also been widely accepted since the Stern report in 2006. Furthermore, they say, the election of President Obama has shifted policy in the US from seeking to block an agreement to seeking to find one.

They go on: "So the chances of success should be good but the politics are tough. The most vocal arguments are about equity: the rich world caused the problem so why should the poor world pay to put it right? Can the rich world do enough through its own actions and through its financial and technological support for the poor to persuade the poor to join in a global agreement?"