Editorial: Global hopes on Copenhagen

This issue's cover is a thermogram of the Houses of Parliament. Thermography records the temperature of surfaces by detecting infrared radiation, from the coldest in black to the warmest in white.

The colours show variations in temperature from the coldest areas in black to the hottest in white.

It doesn't prove anything much of course, except to remind us how much energy is lost through windows and how much hot air there is in the Houses of Parliament - sorry, a cheap joke; I'm sure you could see it coming a mile away.

National governments have long been working out their positions ahead of what should be the most important intergovernmental conference on the environment since Kyoto. The United Nations Conference of the Parties - or COP15 for short - starts on 7 December in Copenhagen, Denmark, and runs until 18 December. Governments will be negotiating a climate treaty to replace Kyoto and we look at their starting positions and their chances of success in our feature 'Hopes for Copenhagen' on p72. For a background, see our graphic on p74.

We titled it 'hopes' because most scientists do hope for a treaty there. But whenever we cover this subject we are always reminded that some engineers as well as scientists would fear another treaty. We regularly get letters from critics who maintain that global warming isn't really happening or it isn't the problem governments and scientists make it out to be. I am curious to know why most of these letters come from Australia and New Zealand. We print one of the latest on p14, and Nick Smith, who reported on last issue's controversial story about Pen Hadow's Arctic ice survey, writes this issue's 'if you ask me' personal comment on p16.

The IET has a new strategy that features four 'global agenda' items. Top of the list is 'low carbon economy and clean technology'. As the lights go out on Copenhagen and the politicians head home for Christmas, attention will turn to how on earth governments are going to meet any new targets. Scientists have identified and measured the climate change problem but it is the engineers that will be expected to come up with the solutions. In this issue we look at the latest in two of the leading alternative energy markets, with reports from America on solar power (p48) and wind turbines (p63). We also asked our specialist editors to each suggest an elusive but realistic technology breakthrough that would really make a difference (p25).

Energy saving measures are rising back up the agenda. Power has always been an issue in mobile electronics. Chris Edwards looks at ways the chip makers could break through the latest power barrier on p36, and Luke Collins looks at advances in greener mobiles on p66.

But it's in houses and offices that the savings could really be made. In the US and Europe, buildings use 70 per cent of electrical power and account for nearly 40 per cent of greenhouse gases. We look at the state of the art in green buildings on p52. We visit one housing project in Germany that uses geothermal as well as solar energy (p22). But first up is a subject that gets everyone hot under the collar: lightbulbs. The European Union has confirmed what we all suspected: the 'equivalent wattage' figures on compact fluorescent lamps are exaggerated. New research shows they get dimmer with time too. Order, order in the house now…

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