Friday, December 21, 2007
From the Low Carbon Kid to all his readers - whatever their carbon footprint!
Peace, friendship and all the best for 2008. May 2008 be the year the drive to reduce climate change reaches critical mass.
TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL ECONOMY
By Worldwatch Institute
• From car-sharing and carbon taxes to fair trade and zero-waste cities, there are many ways to reach a more sustainable global economy – the focus of this year’s State of the World
• Updated annually providing information on the latest emerging markets and opportunities, this is ‘the environmentalist’s bible’ (Times Higher Education Supplement)
• ‘Essential reading’ – The Good Book Guide
In this 25th edition of State of the World – long established as the most authoritative and accessible annual guide to our progress towards a sustainable future – the studies pay particular attention to the many innovations in economic policy and business practices that lead us towards a more sustainable global economy.
Published annually in 28 languages, State of the World is relied upon by national governments, UN agencies, development workers and law-makers for its authoritative and up-to-the-minute analysis and information. It is essential for anyone concerned with building a positive, global future.
Get it here!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Darren Morris was arrested by Cumbria Constabulary on Monday 9 December in Southey Walk, Egremont, West Cumbria after a "small, rudimentary explosive device" was discovered by bailiffs at the home he owns.
A bomb disposal squad was brought in and a 100-metre cordon put in place around the property. The device was taken away for forensic examination.
Morris disappeared for a couple of days but was found, arrested, then released on bail. A report is being prepared by the Crown Prosecution Service and will be presented when he attends Workington Police Station on January 28.
The police have sought information from BNFL and his employer, Hertel.
They told me that "they and are satisfied that terrorist law is not applicable in this case. The case is being considered under criminal law the facts of which will be self explanatory if they are aired at court."
They continued "Enquiries at BNFL have been made with regard to any potential security issues."
So what was he doing there?
According to Hertel, he was part of a team removing asbestos from Calder Hall, the world's first commercial nuclear power station, primarily used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, which is being decommissioned.
(Interestingly, the four Calder Hall cooling towers were demolished by controlled explosions as recently as Saturday 29 September 2007.)
In order to do this work he was vetted by the Defence Vetting Agency and apparently has no criminal record. His work was described as "low grade" - this work is still ongoing.
He has worked for Hertel since August 2006. Pending the investigation's results he has been suspended.
While there is a criminal investigation ongoing no one can comment further.
The Daily Mirror is the only source which says the device is "thought to be a nailbomb".
The big question is - what did he intend to do with it?
The second question that needs a response is - if he had security clearance and the device was only discovered accidentally, could he have gained further access to the site?
Calder Hall will not by now contain highly radioactive material, at least in the area Morris was working. But you do not need much radioactive material to make a 'dirty bomb'.
This incident ought to raise further disquiet about the overall danger to world security of the drive to build further nuclear power stations, let alone the quality of security at existing ones.
Is this a flying saucer sitting in its hangar in Area 52?
Don't be silly, it's the Belgian ‘Princess Elisabeth’ research station, to be built in Antarctica by the International Polar Foundation during the summer season 2007-2008,.
It's going to be equipped with 408 solar modules from Kyocera as part of a plan to make the station the first zero-emission research facility.
Eight wind turbines will also be installed, to generate on-site power for communication infrastructure, heating and electronics.
The Princess Elisabeth station will be exposed to the extreme Antarctic conditions, with temperatures going as low as –60°C and wind speeds reaching 250 km/h.
Such conditions demand a reliable energy supply.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This is about medium-sized generation for communities and larger businesses - domestic microgeneration is being considered separately.
This is a technical document for owners and operators of distributed energy schemes, electricity suppliers, generators, distribution network operators, consumer groups, local authorities, property developers, and manufacturers and suppliers of small-scale renewable generation and CHP plant.
There will be a summary and workshop early in 2008 for non-specialists.
Deadline for response: 11 March 2008.
The document is here
Saturday, December 15, 2007
World struggles to address "the defining challenge of our time"
189 nations left the dramatic Bali talks with a commitment from all, including the US - following its U-turn only seven years too late - to the principle of "deep cuts in global emissions", and to concluding negotiations by late 2009 in Copenhagen.
The complex multistranded dialogues will aim to culminate with concrete targets.
Governments and businesses have four years to prepare before the current targets expire.
The Bali talks communicated to the world the urgency and severity of the situation. The debate over how much responsibility rich nations must accept stumbled on United States' demands that developing countries such as China make tougher commitments.
Afterwards, a relieved UNFCCC head Yvo de Boer said the deal showed global commitment and that it broke down the divide between countries with Kyoto obligations and those without.
However, the WWF said that the agreement fell short and was "weak on substance". Greenpeace said it had been stripped of the reduction targets that science and humanity demands.
What was agreed - or not:
Adaptation: developing countries - those most affected - will manage an Adaptation Fund Board to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Cash will be available to Kyoto Protocol signees almost immediately from a 2% levy on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). UNFCCC estimates $40bn is needed but only $36m is now in the pot. $100m to $500m a year is required between 2008 and 2012.
Industry: A provision for "global sectoral agreements" aimed at industries such as the paper, metals and cement industries will require major players to agree on targets to cut emissions.
Technology transfer: a call for more financial resources and investment for developing countries on adaptation, mitigation and technology cooperation, especially for the most vulnerable.
Deforestation: A deal to tackle emissions from deforestation (REDD) could from 2013 allow poor but forested nations to turn conservation into billions of dollars worth of carbon credits, but only if rich nations take on more stringent reductions targets.
Carbon capture and storage: discussions postponed on this untested technology.
HFCs: failure to agree whether controversial destruction of newly produced powerful greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) should qualify for carbon credits. Factories doing this have been accused of a giant scam.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Neighbours were evacuated after a "small, rudimentary explosive device" was discovered at the home of Sellafield worker Darren Morris on Monday in Southey Walk, Egremont, West Cumbria.
A bomb disposal squad was brought in and a 100-metre cordon put in place around the property. The device has been taken away for forensic examination.
This is amazing news. But....
The Low Carbon Kid wonders why there have been no front page tabloid headlines screaming "Worker at Nuclear Power Station Had Bomb" or "A-Bomb Terror Plot"???
Is it because the culprit isn't Muslim or even dark skinned, so he doesn't fit the stereotype of a "dangerous terrorist"?
He's already been released on bail - why not banged up for 28 days without charge?
Furthermore, is this not proof that nuclear sites provide targets or material for terrorists? Is the media coverage muted because of the government's pro-nuclear stance?
This is the second bomb scare for a reactor site in a period of under two months.
(The first, however, at the US Palo Verde nuclear reactor site, has been queried as being possibly a pro-nuclear stunt designed to show off to visiting inspectors how good the security was!)
One outcome has been in adaptation.
Funds to help poor countries adapt to climate change will be managed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank; its Adaptation Fund Board will be managed by developing countries - those most affected - which own the fund.
Cash will be available to Kyoto Protocol signees almost immediiately and comes from a 2% levy on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
However, UNFCCC estimates $40bn is needed but only $36m is now in the pot. $100m to $500m a year is required between 2008 and 2012, it says.
The motiivation for the White House behind this is reduced subsidies for US farmers. The knock-on effects will be high corn prices for food. Fertilisers and pesticides will be used. The soil will suffer.
This is discussed in a good article published today in Indonesia, home of the climate talks.
In this country many people say: "What does it matter what we do about climate change in the UK - our actions are dwarfed by China's emissions!"
After all, China’s annual coal production is set to double to a staggering 5 billion tonnes a year by 2030. It is also planning to move 400 million people from the country into cities over the next 30 years. Over this period it will build approximately half the new buildings in the world, and Chinese buildings are currently only a third as energy efficient as Europe's.
China is therefore key to the success of the current climate talks.
But China argues that its per capita carbon dioxide emission is much less than that of the United States and European countries, (according to Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology of China yesterday).
Wan Gang said his country has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 20 percent per unit of GDP during 2006-2010. But this is clearly not enough. The atmosphere cannot cope with the output of two new coal burning power stations every week for years, which China is currently building.
So is there no point in doing anything here? Yes of course, and here is one reason why: in the press release on the Chinese government's web site, announcing Wan Gang's speech, the first link below the text, under the heading " Correlative Article" is a link to the report I discussed yesterday that UK emissions have "risen by one fifth".
The Chinese government appears to be saying by putting the link here - "Put your own house in order, you developed countries - practice what you so loudly preach - before you tell us that we can't give our people the same quality of life that yours have."
But hold on. A big rise in our emissions is really because we're buying more goods from cheap sources like China.
And the Chinese love this. Here's a glimpse of the future: China is investing $30bn in a 100 square kilometre site to build the Beijing Cyber Recreation Project. Among other things this will house the infrastructure (computer server farms, electricity-generation, online banking links, transport logistics etc.) to host nine or ten virtual worlds, that will be used to direct market Chinese goods to the rest of the world. Think 3-D Amazon and more.
This will enable China - avoiding UK retail outlets and distributors - to recoup 100% of the retail price of its products. The project's chief scientist, Chi Tau Robert Lai, said that the aim was to cut out the middlemen. "A shirt made in China for £1 typically sells for £20 in Europe. We have a big manufacturing capacity." No kidding. Just imagine what that will do to British high streets, not to mention air freight impacts.
Logic therefore implies that even without the climate change imperative, Britain and Europe need to act now to protect themselves from this threat to their retail industry by becoming less reliant on goods from the far east.
Meanwhile, Wan Gang, China IS, in fact, one of the reasons why UK emissions are increasing. Perhaps you should not have posted that link on your press release after all.
And perhaps you should accept the many reasons which delegates at Bali are giving you, as to why it makes sense for China to sign up to ambitious climate-heating gas reduction targets.
This was a bitter blow yesterday for the renewable energy industries. The Senate was one vote short of passing the tax package, which included a long-term extension of the investment tax credit and a short-term extension of the production tax credit.
"Today's vote is out of step with Americans across the political spectrum who overwhelmingly support clean, home-grown renewable energy,” said Gregory Wetstone, Senior Director of Governmental and Public Affairs at the American Wind Energy Association.
It appears that Senators voted along party lines because of pressure from Republican leaders and the White House, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The stripped down bill was passed 86-8. It contains:
- a 21-billion-dollar tax package, under which some 13.5 billion dollars in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies would be repealed and used for tax incentives to promote renewable fuels and energy efficiency.
- Meaasures to increase vehicle fuel economy by 40 percent to an industry average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 - the first increase in the federal vehicle standard for cars in 32 years - but only bringing it up to what has been the norm in Europe for years.
- a sevenfold increase in the use of ethanol as a motor fuel to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, with two-thirds to be cellulosic ethanol from such feedstock as prairie grass and wood chips. this could be an ecological disaster and counterproductive in emissions terms if we are not careful
- an increase energy efficiency requirements for appliances and federal and commercial buildings and require faster approval of federal energy efficiency standards.
The bill now goes to the House, where a vote is expected next week. President Bush will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, as is expected.
The increased auto efficiency by 2020 will save 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, equal to half the oil now imported from the Persian Gulf, save consumers $22 billion at the pump, and reduce annual greenhouse gases emissions by 200 million tons, said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., whose committee crafted the measure.
Tax breaks for a wide range of clean energy industries, including wind, solar, biomass and carbon capture from coal plants, were part of the tax package that was dropped.
Senate Democrats earlier also abandoned a House-passed provision that would have required investor-owned utilities nationwide to generate 15 percent of their electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources.
"The Senate Democrats should show some backbone," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. "If Republicans want to block progress on clean energy and global warming, they should be forced to mount a real filibuster — for weeks if necessary."
He calculates that the big five oil companies' projected profit loss due to the dropped measures, of $13.5 billion over 10 years, amounted to a mere 1.1 percent of the net profits at today's oil prices.
It's these bastards that are behind the White House's shameful behaviour in Bali today.
However some good news from America: on Wednesday a federal court judge in Fresno, California ruled that the state's landmark law mandating reduced greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, from passenger vehicles may stand.
He rejected arguments by car makers that federal law should preempt the state's effort.
A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), published October 25, 2007, finds that there's been a recent swift increase in atmospheric CO2, that was unexpected.
This science goes beyond the recent IPCC report.
The increase, they say, is due to faster economic growth, coupled with a halt in carbon intensity reductions, plus the failure of natural sinks to continue to remove a proportion of emissions from the air.
The efficiency of natural sinks to remove emissions from human activities has been declining for 50 years, as they become saturated or forests are removed.
This is scary.
Read the research.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
It shows that Britain has not yet broken the link between economic growth and emissions.
Helm says that when the UK's emissions are analysed using the UN climate convention's method, which measures consumption of energy, Britain appeared to achieved a fall of 5.3 per cent in emissions between 1990 and 2005.
However, when international air travel and supply chain implications are factored in - ie total production is quantified - then the trend is "adverse".
The depressing report only serves to underline the need to consume less, and to consume locally - either we downsize in a planned and managed way, as the Transition Towns movement is trying to do for example, or we will be forced to do so later in a much more unpleasant fashion.
Monday, December 10, 2007
But there was no such trouble. About 3-4000 people braved the rain and wind in the corner of Grosvener Square opposite the US embassy, to hear speeches from all shades of the political spectrum pledging to tackle the burning issue.
But only one speech told the truth - as hard to bear for some as it is - that no sustainability is possible with a capitalist system that is predicated on continuous growth.
George Monbiot began this speech by saying that the only sensible form of carbon storage is to leave the fossil fuels in the ground.
He recounted a direct action he took part in near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales last Wednesday at the site of the largest open cast coal mine being constructed in Europe, which protestors closed for the day by chaining themselves to diggers.
He then explained that capitalism is based on lending money at interest. Interest requires either inflation or further economic activity to create more wealth. This wealth itself requires exploitation of nature's resources to fuel it.
Economists predict that the amount of weath to be created in the next 20 years by this method will double the amount of such resource use, not over the last twenty years but over the whole of mankind's lifetime.
That is, we will be causing as much pollution and despoilation of the environment in the next twenty years if we carry on at this rate as in the last million years.
Although we may tinker with increasing 'resource efficiency', and 'decoupling growth from carbon use', other forms of resource exploitation are still totally unsustainable.
Therefore there is a fundamental contradiction in the phrase 'green capitalism'.
He therefore urged all listeners to go out and take direct action against fossil fuel drilling and mining to protect our future, and urged the creation of a new kind of economics.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Transition Towns, Cities, Villages and Islands are aiming to adapt to the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change.
In fact it will be the whole Dyfi Valley that does this, an area of many enevironmental types, from upland, through forests, farmland and coastal areas, including a UN recoognsed bosphere. It has an approx. 5000 population.
Last night at a meeting we saw a video about Samsø, The Danish Renewable Energy Island - which by next March will be self-sufficient in energy from sustainable sources.
It was very inspiring. Residents including farmers and the elderly installed solar panels and insulation, not for economic benefit but because it was "the right thing to do".
They got to a point where they were trying to outdo their neighbours in green features on their homes.
They are just ordinary people who recognise the sense in what they're doing.
I can't find the video online, but here's another.
Perhaps this is a more objective, although ideological, report on the island, which throws light on more of the real problems they faced:
Last week's UN human development report called for such a target for the richer countries.
Speaking to the Royal Economic Society last Friday, Nicholas Stern underscored this: "For a global 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, the world average per capita must drop from 7 tonnes to 2-3 tonnes.
"An 80% target for rich countries would bring equality of only the flow of emissions around 2-3 tonnes per capita.
"In fact, rich countries will have consumed the big majority of the 'available space in the atmosphere'."
In other words, if we are to achieve an equitable world agreement on carbon reductions, we have to commit to cuts of 80% or more.
This should therefore be in the Climate Change Bill.
The same is true in the States, where the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday passed the Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) sponsored climate change bill that would establish the first US nationwide cap-and-trade system to reduce global warming gas emissions.
The bill now moves to the Senate floor. The decision sends a positive message to the Bali talks about America's willingness to accept responsibility for climate change.
But even with aggressive action by developing countries and other industrialized nations, the United States must cut its emissions at least 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050, argues the Union of Concerned Scientists.
They say that in its current form the bill gets about three-quarters of the way there.
The figure for the economic cost of carbon emissions — the future cost of climate change - being used by the Government to justify developments like Hathrow's third terminal - is nearly three times lower than Sir Nicholas Stern recommended.
Stern cites a figure for the social cost of carbon in 2000 of $85 per tonne of CO2 equivalent.
Using DEFRA's exchange rate, Friends of the Earth calculated that that equates to £53 per tonne of CO2 equivalent.
But DEFRA has introduced a new concept — "the shadow cost of carbon" — and puts the 2000 value of that at only £19, which is nearly three times lower.
What does this mean?
It gives us a social cost of carbon emissions in the Heathrow consultation of just £4.8 billion.
If DEFRA and the Department for Transport had stuck to Sir Nicholas Stern’s figure, they would have put the cost at more than £13 billion.
That would have stopped in its tracks the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow.
Although carbon emissions are rising year on year — and have risen since the Government came to power — they have given the green light to one of the very projects that will stop them meeting their own targets.
The cost to the environment and, as Sir Nicholas Stern pointed out, to the economy will be huge.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Why is the British Government’s energy policy not delivering on its climate change targets? Because it has been nobbled by the large, greedy energy companies – yet their arguments can be disproved.
This is a longer version of the piece in yesterday's Guardian website. That piece however has the web links in it - sorry, lack of time.
© David Thorpe
The beautiful resort of Nusa Dua, Bali, is ths week the scene of a battle of world-wide significance. Yes, it's yet another UN climate conference.
We're all used by now to how these things involve the spouting of giga-tonnes of hot air which fail to turn many turbines that might result in effective action on global warming. This one promises to be only slightly different. The IPCC report issued two weeks ago was the last warning salvo fired by the scientific community at heads of government before the talks, and its most extreme warning yet, although by its very nature (the peer-reviewing and debate) it is two to three years behind the latest monitored climatic effects, showing change is happening even faster than previously thought.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who will host the talks, has singled out the United States and China, the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases, which have no binding goals for curbs, as key countries in the process. A main opponent to the UN process has been removed in Australia following the election of Labour's Kevin Rudd as PM, and of his appointment of a former protest rock singer as Minister for the Environment and a Malaysian-born woman as Minister for Climate Change and Water, who will both work to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
But no one expects any big breakthroughs. In the 'Washington Declaration' agreed on February 16 this year, leaders from the developed world agreed in principle on the outline of the Kyoto Protocol's successor: a global cap-and-trade system that would apply to both industrialized nations and developing countries, hoped to be in place by 2009. The British position for Bali is to support this but to expect to wait at least a year for an agreement, and hope that Bush's successor will be more onboard. If, after November 4 next year, it's Hillary Clinton, then it's assumed she will sign up to such a package. After all, almost half of American states, and many big companies, including Google, are working to install renewables and trade carbon. Google co-founder Larry Page said on Tuesday that Google is to invest millons to make green electricity cost less than coal in "years not decades."
Away from the sun-kissed beaches of Indonesia, the action that's more of relevance to us in Britain is happening closer to our rain-drenched shores.
Meanwhile back in Britain
The EU has published its assessment this week of where Europe is on the track towards its 2012 Kyoto target of reducing emissions by 8% - itself a pitiably modest target. The chart below shows the percentage each of the 26 countries and Europe as a whole is along the path. The worst achiever is at the top of the chart, Spain is leading way ahead. The UK is in the bottom half of achievers, 10th from the bottom and 16th from the top.
As a result of our poor progress, the EU says it needs to purchase emission credits from third countries and forestry activities that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and further measures. But another report this week said 20% of these credits were worthless due to double accounting.
What has been happening in Britain over the last ten years, which has caused us to fall behind our European targets on renewable energy and carbon emissions? Why has the Government seemed to say so much yet do so little? Why is the Government expecting to build more nuclear power plants, and rely on carbon capture and storage to capture the rogue gas and bury it underground or at the bottom of the sea? Why is it going to argue in Europe in the next few months that the UK must not have to reach the European target of 20% of renewable electricity by 2020? (Instead it will campaign for a grossly inefficient use of voluntary credit purchases to make up its renewables shortfall. Some say we'll be lucky to reach 10% at the rate we're going.)
The fact is that the paralysis and tardiness are the fruits of a bitter dispute at the heart of UK energy policy development. This battle sees support for new nuclear build, gas and carbon capture pitted against support for renewables, in which a feed-in law should have a rightful place. The lobbying battle has been led by the conventional energy industry giants and the nuclear industry. The UK's energy companies are mostly owned by German and French utilities (such as E-ON, RWE and EDF) — who all oppose feed-in, (some welcome the opportunity for large profits from wind farms).
These companies have successfully nobbled both BERR (the department formerly known as DTI) and the Treasury. They have not nobbled Defra, which has responsibility for climate change but not energy (that's at BERR). Defra, and many back-benchers, support a feed-in tarriff, but whenever such a question is addressed to Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, as it has been several times this month in Parliament in debates over the Climate Change Bill, he bats it away very smartly, and talks like a robot about the Renewables Obligation, partly because the energy giants (Eurelectric et al) have mobilised a fresh campaign against feed-in tarriffs.
Pay everyone for generating renewable energy
Many and loud have been the clamours for such a tarriff over the years, from the renewables industry - e.g. the Renewable Energy Association and the BWEA - but also recently both the Conservatives and the LibDems have made it their policy. The reason for its popularity is because it works - countries which have such a tarriff have generated robust renewables industries, and it's been highly effective in increasing the amount of renewable electricity generated, combating climate change and helping countries meet EU targets.
What is the feed-in tarriff? It simply guarantees producers a fixed price for electricity generated from PVs. It was introduced in Germany in 2000, and revised in 2004 to cover the full costs involved in producing solar electricity, sparking a boom. Germany will have almost 20 times as much PV by the end of 2007 as in 2000 when there was just 44MW, according to the German Solar Industry Association. It has led to around 800,000 properties having the technology installed and 55 percent of the world's photovoltaic power is generated on solar panels set up between the Baltic Sea and the Black Forest. Just what we need here.
Instead, in the UK we have the Renewables Obligation, which is supposed to compel suppliers to purchase an increasing proportion of electricity from renewable sources. In 2006/07 the proportion is 6.7% (2.6% in Northern Ireland) and should rise to 10.4% by 2011-12, then by 1% annually for the five years following. But actually we are way behind this target. The RO has often been criticised for being ineffective, bureaucratic, slow, and in particular excluding small generators such as householders.
Which is just how the large energy producers like it - they don't want a lot of microgeneration schemes all over the country. Good grief, if everyone is making their own electricity, who is going to buy from them? They'll have to buy the amps you don't want! And the unions agree. It's worth noting that the unions are well represented in the conventional energy industry, with coal and nuclear carrying significant union membership. But the UK renewables industry has no union. Conversely, the big energy companies are all members of the only lobbying bodies the renewables industry has, their trade associations.
There have been any number of well-researched reports showing how Britain can meet and exceed its climate targets, from Zero Carbon Britain to this week's Home Truths report from Oxford University. But instead the Government will be resurrecting civil nuclear power — just as seven of the UK's 16 nuclear power plants are currently off-line for repairs and maintenance. (And they say wind power is intermittent.)
Nuclear power is not low carbon
The comeback of nuclear power is based on the allegation that it is almost carbon-free. The Treasury has accepted evidence that its lifecycle carbon emissions are equivalent to wind power's: between seven and 22g CO2/kWh. However, extensively peer-reviewed and checked empirical analysis of the energy intensity and carbon emissions at each stage of the nuclear cycle (at http://www.stormsmith.nl/feed) has produced much higher figures. In fact, nuclear power produces roughly one quarter to one third as much carbon dioxide as the delivery of the same quantity of electricity from natural gas, i.e., 88-134g CO2/kWh. Gas-fired electricity production involves the emission of around 450g CO2/kWh. Nuclear is still lower than gas, but nowhere near wind.
However, don't expect the Government to listen to this. It has already decided, in a mind-bogglingly cavalier fashion, in advance of the announcement of the result of its consultation on nuclear power next month, that it is fine and dandy to proceed with new power stations. Even when they are so close to the sea that they are in danger in the future of flood-damage from rising sea levels; even though the fuel is free for all renewable energy, and freely delivered on site; even though, unlike nuclear power, there is no carbon-intensive supply chain; and even though the site of a wind turbine can be cleared very quickly when the turbine is decommissioned leaving no residue to take care of for tens of thousands of years.
Why? Because its policy is that the present government will not have to foot the bill for these power stations - unlike renewables, which involve some taxpayers' money. Of course taxpayers will pay, but in a roundabout way. They will pay for the clean-up. The current clean-up bill for existing nuclear waste clear up is £73 billion (says the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority).
Is £73 billion a bargain? I challenge anyone to say that it is. But this is: Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute report, Home Truths, says that Government spending of £12.9 billion a year for approximately ten years would give us 80% cuts in carbon emissions, the elimination of fuel poverty, and permanent energy savings from UK homes worth £12.3 billion a year. That's a net cost of just £6 billion, with many more jobs created that nuclear power would yield. The average household would see their energy bills cut by at least 66%, equivalent to a £425 annual saving at today’s prices. To put this in perspective, a year ago it was reported that the cost of the Iraq war (designed to secure energy supplies) to the British taxpayer thus far had been £7 billion.
So in the Government's armoury of policies against climate change we have discredited the Renewables Obligation, and established that carbon credits are unreliable. What's left? The EU's Emissions Trading System, and carbon capture and storage.
The great emissions credits giveaway
The energy companies have persuaded the Government to persuade Europe to create in the second round of the ETS, a new set of certificates to pretend to save carbon but make them money. For each kWh of green electricity produced, the producer can ask a competent national body to issue a green certificate. This can be traded and will be counted towards the national target in the country into which the certificate is sold - a developing country, most likely. The country from which the certificate originates will not be able to count it under its own national target achievement plan. In this way, the energy cartel vigorously defends a domestic system which blocks out everyone except the biggest investors, themselves — the reverse of what a feed-in system achieves — and lobby in Europe for a system which will undermine everyone else's renewables systems.
The most spectacular success of the Emissions Trading System so far has been to generate profits for the big energy companies. No wonder they love it. A report by Open Europe, in July 2006, found that profits were £10.2m for Esso; £17.9m for BP; and £20.7m for Shell. Conversely, smaller organisations like hospitals and universities, who had been given far fewer credits, were forced to go out and buy them - while the price was still high. So, for example, the University of Manchester spent £92,500 on EUAs.
The permits to burn fossil fuels were given away to 5,000 of the EU's biggest polluters. At one point, the price of permits rose to €27 per tonne, making the whole distribution worth €177 billion. This inflated their profits and enabled them to out-compete cleaner, less energy-hungry firms. It also enabled them to finance further lobbying in the manner described above.
If, instead, the emissions permits had been given to every EU resident, we could each have been better off by up to €280 a year, Irish sustainable development group Feasta has calculated. Some campaigners are currently considering whether to mount a legal objection to this great giveaway, on the grounds that the energy companies operated as a cartel, and that the emissions were part of 'the commons' belonging to all EU citizens, who had effectively paid for it through their higher energy bills. Although it's a case of bolting the stable door after the horse has escaped, the point of the challenge would be to raise awareness of the rip-off and challenge the companies' hegemony.
Burying carbon is not a serious option
As for carbon capture and storage, the big energy companies would love to count tonnes of the gas buried as qualifying for allowances under the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Yet a draft of the European Directive on the topic, published on Thursday, and due to be presented by the Commission in January, says that although it will be included in the ETS, credits won't be allowed, on the grounds that the technology is "immature".
Neither has the European Commission has decided to impose CCS technology on coal or gas-fired power plants from a specific date, for the same reason. Furthermore, "CO2 captured and stored will be credited as not emitted under the Emissions Trading Scheme," says the draft. The energy firms will be gnashing their teeth at the thought of those potential lost Euros, and therefore won't be nearly as willing to invest in the R&D.
One high-ranking Commission official close to the work recently admitted that the Commission "has perhaps been too optimistic" on CCS and that making the technology viable is going to be "more costly and more complicated" than initially thought." says Euractiv, the independent Brussels media portal. "The January package will confirm CCS as a legitimate emission-mitigation technology fully recognised under ETS", said the Commission's energy spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas. But he added that "additional incentives may be necessary to address the currently unfavourable economics of the CCS technologies". The IPCC will be saying in Bali that there are many unknowns regarding CCS, but that it certainly has potential for use at "the high economic end" of the list of mitigation techniques. Our government has meanwhile tendered for a demonstration project and is working with Norway in the North Sea on CCS projects.
So all of the policies lobbied for by the large energy companies are of dubious value in reducing carbon emissions, yet they are about to be enshrined in law in the Energy Bill, while the Climate Change Bill, although it makes many provisions, doesn't actually contain any proper policies. What policies should they contain? In my opinion, only two central policies are required, from which all other policies and implementations could follow.
The policies we need
The first is the feed-in law referred to above. In another development this week (it's been a very busy week for climate policy), the World Future Council and Alan Simpson MP launched PACT (Policy Action on Climate Toolkit) on 28 November at the House of Commons. The Council had commissioned research comparing the RO with the tarriff and decided that feed-in tariff (FIT) laws have proved the most effective approach for accelerating the deployment of renewables in the electricity sector, especially on a small, local basis, and boosting the industry. This toolkit is on a website - www.onlinepact.org - that aims to help users around the world to introduce or improve FIT laws in their country or region.
The second is cap-and-share (or TEQs - Tradeable Energy Quotas). They both involve taking the choice out of consumers' hands. What? I hear you say. We can't do that! But the logic is, that educating consumers to buy energy saving products is not sufficient. As long as the products are on the market - and patio heaters and digital gadgets will be - people will buy them. Especially if they've saved money by saving energy - they're bound to spend it - and all spending involves an energy quotient.
So what do you do? You allocate a cap on the amount of carbon that can be emitted in the country, and reduce it year by year. You apportion that amount to each individual and let them spend it. Two main systems of doing this are competing for adoption. Over in Ireland, cap-and-share is the successful one, and AEA Environmental Consulting has just announced that it has won the job of producing a feasibility study on its implementation over there. Cap-and-share lets individuals choose whether to destroy or sell back to energy producers their allowances. These companies (and there aren't many) can only emit the carbon thus permitted.
Under TEQs, being trialed in several communities in the UK, individuals spend their allowances whenever they purchase energy. If they outspend their quota in a year, they must buy more off those who haven't. This system engenders more consumer awareness of how their activities use energy.
Both policy solutions take power from the energy cartel – literally – not to mention their gravy train. You can see why they don't like them.
Friday, November 30, 2007
At one point, the price of permits rose to €27 per tonne, making the whole distribution worth €177 billion.
This inflated their profits and enabled them to out-compete cleaner, less energy-hungry firms. It also encouraged them to lobby in the manner described in Dire Threat to EU renewables.
If, instead, the emissions permits had been given to every EU resident, we could each have been better off by up to €280 a year.
Some campaigners are currently considering whetehr to mount a legal objection to this, on the grounds that the energy companies operated as a cartel, and that the emissions were part of 'the commons' belonging to all EU citizens, who had effectively paid for it through their energy bills.
Although it's a case of bolting the stable door after the horse has run off, the point of the challenge would be to raise awareness of the rip-off and challenge the companies' hegemony.
The only two policies that have a chance to see us through the climate change crisis are not the ETS or carbon capture and storage, but feed-in tarriffs and cap-and-share (or TEQs).
Thursday, November 29, 2007
"We are so excited about this because we've seen technologies that can mature into really worthwhile industries that haven't been talked about enough," Google co-founder Larry Page said.
The initiative is dubbed RE. Page said green electricity costing less per kilowatt than coal can be brought to market in "years not decades."
"Climate change affects health and makes it hard for people in the developing world to escape poverty," said executive director Larry Brilliant. "We want Google to be part of the solution."
Google is on track to be carbon neutral by year's end and has converted some company hybrid cars to "plug-in" electric vehicles.
Google said once it achieves its goal of producing green energy, with solar and high-altitude wind generation seeming the most viable at the start, it will sell electricity back to the power grid. Google does not plan to become a green power company but will license out successful technologies and partner with businesses in the field.
It follows media mogul Ted Turner in being a convert to renewables entrepreneurship.
> World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) piece on the topic
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
But the industry has based its comeback on the allegation that it is almost carbon-free.
James Lovelock and Sir David King have been persuaded of this and it's been used to push nuclear power to the centre of the new UK energy strategy.
However a new analysis of every stage of the process from uranium mining, plant construction, generation to reprocessing, shows conclusively that this is a myth.
This new report observes that estimates for the release of carbon dioxide from the nuclear cycle vary widely.
The U.K. Government’s 2007 Nuclear Power Consultation accepts estimates that, across its whole life-cycle, nuclear power emits between 7 and 22 g/kWh, but empirical analysis of the energy intensity and carbon emissions at each stage of the nuclear cycle produces much higher figures.
This is shown (for instance) in the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) by The University of Sydney, which concludes that the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of nuclear power varies within the range 10- 130≈60 g/kWh.
The estimate (below) by Storm van Leeuwen and Smith (SLS) is higher because it reflects best practice, which may be better than standard good practice, especially for waste treatment and disposal, and because the reality of errors and problems in the nuclear cycle typically raises the energy cost well beyond the planned level.
A recent example of this is the construction of the new Olkiluoto reactor in Finland, where (owing to trial and error) much of the concrete has to be re-laid, raising the carbon emissions associated with the project well beyond the intention.24 The assumed reactor lifetime is 30 fullpower years; the ore grade is 0.15 percent; at lower grades, emissions would rise sharply.
SLS covers just CO2. ISA’s estimate includes all GHG emissions from the nuclear cycle.
Construction: 12-35 CO2 g/kWh
Front end: 36 CO2 g/kWh
Back end: 17 CO2 g/kWh
Dismantling: 23-46 CO2 g/kWh
Total: 88-134 CO2 g/kWh
GHG emissions gasfired electricity generation are about 450 g/kWh.
The full report is on David Fleming's website and is a free PDF download. it contains a robust critique of the pro-environmental claims of the nuclear industry written by David Fleming, founder of the Lean Economy Connection and the originator of the concept of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) (formerly known as Domestic Tradable Quotas (DTQs)).
A few of days ago I was talking about feed-in tarriffs. Defra press office's little joke at BERR's expense was the tip of the iceberg of a bitter dispute at the heart of UK energy policy development.
This battle sees support for new nuclear build, gas and carbon capture pitted against support for renewables, in which a feed-in law should have a rightful place.
As we're going to miss our renewables targets, the UK (BERR) is pushing in Europe for a grossly inefficient use of voluntary credit purchases to make up its renewables shortfall.
It works, according to Miguel Mendonca, a policy officer for the World Future Council and author of Earthscan title 'Feed-in Tariffs: Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy' (May 2007), like this:
The Government will be resurrecting civil nuclear power — just as seven of the UK's 16 nuclear power plants are currently off-line for repairs and maintenance.
Support will also be given to carbon capture and gas infrastructure.
(NB: British unions are well represented in the conventional energy industry, with coal and nuclear carrying significant union membership. The UK renewables industry has no union.)
A harmonised set of certificates of origin (guarantees of origin, or GOs) will be designed; for each kWh of green electricity produced, the producer can ask a competent national body to issue a green certificate.
This can be traded and will be counted towards the national target in the country into which the certificate is sold.
The country from which the certificate originates will not be able to count it under its own national target achievement plan.
The opposition to feed-in is entrenched in the conventional energy industry.
They (Eurelectric et al) have mobilised a fresh campaign against feed-in.
The UK's energy companies are mostly owned by German and French utilities (such as E-ON, RWE and EDF) — who all oppose feed-in, but some welcome the opportunity for large profits from wind farms.
They vigorously defend a domestic system which blocks out everyone except the biggest investors, themselves — the reverse of what a feed-in system achieves — and lobby in Europe for a system which will undermine everyone else's renewables systems.
The only winner can be the conventional energy industry.
Miguel concludes: "It seems clear that the renewables industry here is still far from safe, with national governments and energy giants working behind the scenes to keep the industry in check, or worse."
Until the new draft Directive emerges in January, we won't know the fate of renewables here.
> Read Miguel's full article here
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
It concludes that for an investment of around £100 a year per household (under 1% of GDP, around the same as Stern) by 2030, a more sustainable way of life using low carbon products and services is possible.
It says that "the UK we should not wait for others. The issue at hand is serious and requires an immediate response." Informed by a major study from McKinsey, its Task Force assessed the benefits and costs of options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions up to 2030 needed to meet the government’s 2050 target.
It calls therefore for:
• business to incorporate climate change policies into its DNA
• it needs to audit and reduce energy use
• reliable and consistent consumer information
• much wider access to low carbon products and services
• incentives to make low carbon investments
• more energy efficiency, especially in transport and buildings.
Both Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling told the CBI annual conference today and yesterday that "nuclear power potentially has a role to play in tackling climate change and improving energy security" and, "we will announce our final decision early in the New Year."
Does this by any chance mean that they have pre-judged the result of the nuclear consultation? Surely not!
Arguing that current Government policies will only deliver half the cuts in household carbon emissions they should have achieved by 2020, her report, Home Truths, outlines a comprehensive policy framework for cutting carbon emissions from new and existing homes.
Its model establishes that with Government spending of £12.9 billion a year for approximately ten years, 80% cuts in carbon emissions, the elimination of fuel poverty and provide permanent energy savings from UK homes worth £12.3 billion a year can be reached. The average household would see their energy bills cut by at least 66%, equivalent to a £425 annual saving at today’s prices.
Key recommendations include:
• a package of financial incentives
• reforming the energy market
• eradicating Fuel Poverty
• introducing and enforcing minimum standards for homes. Currently, the Code for Sustainable Homes does not require a mandatory rating even for all new homes.
The report makes a lot of sense, and the Low Carbon Kid hopes it feeds into the Climate Change Bill debate starting today.
>read the report.
I've made the chart below from its figures, which shows the percentage each of the 26 countries and Europe as a whole is along the path. The worst achiever is at the top of the chart, Spain is leading way ahead.
The UK is in the bottom half of achievers, 10th from the bottom and 16th from the top.
The EU says it needs the purchase of emission credits from third countries and forestry activities that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and further measures in order to meet the (inadequate) 8% reduction target for 2012.
It says it's on line to cut EU-15 emissions in 2010 to 7.4% below levels in the chosen base year (1990 in most cases) - just short of the target.
The figures show just what a long way we have to go, even to reach this inadequate target.
> read the full report
Translating evidence into policy is done through the filter of discussion of moral implications - or should be in an enlightened state.
How far can we trust scientists with morality? Perhaps it depends on the scientist.
Sir David King, the Merlin to Blair-Brown's Arthur (er, maybe there's something wrong with that analogy), is widely credited with helping to persuade Arthur, er, Blair/Brown that new nuclear power is a good idea.
But here he is today, on the eve of his disrobing of the mantle of Merlin - finishing his stint as Chief Government Scientist - not only complaining that GM crops aren't being grown enough since they'll solve the world's hunger problems in a water-scarce future, but that Blair didn't push for nuclear power fast enough.
He says this is a moral issue.
He did, rightly, say that climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism.
He told the BBC: "What I have learnt is one can have good scientific advice, and then the decisions are of course made by the politicians; and the politicians have to take a range of factors into account."
Is it moral that the owners of seeds used by families and communities for hundreds of years should be forced to buy seeds with a terminator gene in them every year, owned by a multinational corporation far away?
Is it moral that because nuclear power seems a quick fix solution (a few large plants compared to thousands of distributed renewable plants, plus energy efficiency), life for thousands of years in the future should have to suffer the legacy of our nuclear waste?
He says throughout the interview: "I still feel a sense of frustration about the way government operates where science could contribute to science making."
The Low Carbon Kid says "I feel a sense of frustration that scientists and politicians, having looked at the science and immediate concerns, don't take a much broader perspective."
To switch metaphors, I don't know who the next Dr Who - Chief Government Scientist - will be, but I hope he combines King's astuteness with a wider imaginative and moral vision.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The announcement was buried deep within a release about home energy use advice on 18 November, but is the first time that such a positive statement has been made by the government on the issue.
This will be welcomed by many people - but there's one thing wrong with the announcement - it shouldn't have been made! Someone in Defra dropped a clanger.
Many and loud have been the clamours for such a tarriff over the years, from the industry - eg the Renewable Energy Association - but also recently both the Conservatives and the LibDems have made it their policy. The reason for it is that countries which have such a tarriff have generated robust renewables industries, and it's been highly effective in increasing the amount of renewable electricity generated, combating climate change and helping countries meet EU targets.
The reason the Treasury has rejected it for years and years is, of course, the cost: up to eight times the current subsidy level.
The feed-in model guarantees producers a fixed price - 49 euro cents for a KW/h photovoltaic electricity in Germany and Italy, and 50 cents in Greece - for electricity generated from PVs. It was introduced in Germany in 2000, and revised in 2004 to cover the full costs involved in producing solar electricity, sparking a boom. Germany will have almost 20 times as much PV by the end of 2007 as in 2000 when there was just 44MW, according to the German Solar Industry Association. It has led to around 800,000 properties having the technology installed and 55 percent of the world's photovoltaic power is generated on solar panels set up between the Baltic Sea and the Black Forest.
In the UK we have the Renewables Obligation, which compels suppliers to purchase an increasing proportion of electricity from renewable sources. In 2006/07 it is 6.7% (2.6% in Northern Ireland) and will rise to 10.4% by the period 2011-12, then by 1% annually for the five years following. It has often been criticised for being ineffective, bureaucratic, slow, and in particular excluding small generators such as householders.
However, when I sought clarity for the announcement and more details from Defra, I was referred to BERR, being responsible for energy, as the press office knew nothing about it.
The spokesperson for BERR went away to investigate, and came back to say there was no work, no plans, and certainly no policy at the moment on feed-in tarrifs, and no idea why Defra stuck this in.
I should go back and ask Defra.
Back there, I asked Kate Belson at Defra to dig into it and eventually she came back and announced that the announcement "was just stuck in as an example of all the things we'll be considering" to encourage microgeneration.
It was included merely as an illustration. I wonder why that was picked out in particular.
So, sadly, don't get excited.
Defra is slightly more radical than the Treasury or BERR, so perhaps they're being cheeky. All the same, campaigners for feed-ins should use this as a lever for what it's worth and press the government on exactly what investigations they WILL be pursuing.
[* the announcement is buried as the third bullet point in the second list of bullet points.]
Thursday, November 22, 2007
So when Energy Secretary John Hutton announced yesterday a green light for a 350MW wood-chipped fuelled electricity generating plant in Port Talbot, south Wales, it seemed to be good news for Wales and a sustainable local market for local timber.
But where is the timber coming from? Apparently, "Sustainable sources in the US and Canada".
The fuel will be wood chips coming by sea only (or potentially in the future by rail).
"This will be the biggest biomass plant in the world," he trumpeted, "generating enough clean electricity to power half of the homes in Wales.'
"When completed at the turn of the decade, the £400m plant from developer Prenergy, will contribute around 70% of the Welsh Assembly's 2010 renewable electricity target."
A big sigh of relief from anti-windfarm campaigners.
"And with biomass generation it will be able to produce continuous, base-load electricity for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year over the 25 years of its expected lifetime."
We accept that Wales alone couldn't provide all of this fuel. But - talk about taking coals to Newcastle (which of course we don't talk about anymore - this used to be a metaphor for doing something silly - delivering a product to a place that already had plenty of it. I'm sure coal probably is delivered to Newcastle these days!). Surely Wales can provide some of it, and what is the carbon cost of harvesting it in N. America and shipping it across the sea?
I am currently trying to get further information from Prenergy.
It will result in a regional network of one stop shops to be rolled out nationwide by 2011. Home energy use is responsible for 27% of all carbon emisiions.
Launching the service on November 20, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "There's a lot of help out there, but itís hard to know where to start. The Green Homes Service will cut through the confusion by providing a one stop shop, including a green MOT for your home and a green home makeover."
Managed by the Energy Saving Trust - revamped with an additional £100m - the Green Homes Service will also link people with the successor to the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC) from energy companies for discounted or free products such as cavity wall and loft insulation. The EEC has only had limited success so far because of consumer confusion over why the likes of British Gas and nPower want customers to spend less money with them.
The service will also offer a range of existing and new grants and cheap loans, and pilot a premium service for a green home makeover using trusted suppliers and minimising hassle.
The EEC's successor (previously announced), the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT), will save 4.2 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2011 through efficiency measures with a typical saving of £90 on fuel bills. CERT also offers incentives for energy companies to install more renewable energy.
The Energy Saving Trust has so far only been a reactive service (people contact it). It will soon be able to be proactive and take the message directly to people's doors.
The Service is part of the Act on CO2 campaign. Over 500,000 people have already visited the web-based Act on CO2 calculator to work out their carbon footprint and obtain a customised plan to reduce it.
This calculator is, by the way, not as good as this one from Carbon Footprint Ltd - a member of the London Chamber of Commerce and the Carbon Trading Group of the Environmental Industries Commission - EIC.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
In the 'Washington Declaration' agreed on February 16, 2007, Presidents or Prime Ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa agreed in principle on the outline of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
They envisage a global cap-and-trade system that would apply to both industrialized nations and developing countries, and hoped that this would be in place by 2009.
At these talks, to be held from 3-14 December in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, it is doubtful whether anything meaningful will be achieved, a source close to the British team which has been out there preparing for the talks for some time, has told me.
However, useful horse-trading and line-drawing will be done.
The British position is essentially that the timing is right for a significant breakthrough in a couple of years, but that we have to wait and hope that Bush's successor will be more onboard.
If it's Hillary Clinton, then it's assumed she will sign up to carbon reduction targets, taxes, and trading.
The next United States presidential election is scheduled to be held on November 4 next year.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who will host the talks, commented on the IPCC's pronouncements by singling out the United States and China, the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases, which have no binding goals for curbs, as key countries in the process.
"I look forward to seeing the US and China playing a more constructive role starting from the Bali conference," Ban told a news conference. "Both countries can lead in their own way."
Ban said he had just been to see ice shelves breaking up in Antarctica and the melting Torres del Paine glaciers in Chile. He also visited the Amazon rainforest, which he said was being "suffocated" by global warming.
"I come to you humbled after seeing some of the most precious treasures of our planet - treasures that are being threatened by humanity's own hand," he said.
"These scenes are as frightening as a science fiction movie," Ban said. "But they are even more terrifying, because they are real."
The summary says human activity is causing rising temperatures and that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are needed quickly to avert more heat waves, melting glaciers and rising sea levels.
The scientists and officials from the 130-state Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) boiled down the findings of three reports of more than 3,000 pages issued this year and said ths time it hadn't been watered down.
"The strong message of the IPCC can't be watered down - the science is crystal clear. The hard fact is we have caused climate change, and it's also clear that we hold the solution ... in our hands," said Hans Verolme, Director of environmental group WWF's Global Climate Change Programme.
Sources close to the discussions said the US had tried to change or even remove a key section of the report which lists five main reasons for concern about the effects of warming.
"This has been a very tough week and we've had to debate and defend everything we wanted but the draft report that we submitted has remained intact and has even had additions made in terms of emphasis and even facts that have come to light," IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told Reuters.
"When you're on strong scientific ground, you don't yield any ground. We have to make sure that scientific truth is not supressed."
Summary of the findings
- "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level."
- "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in ... greenhouse gas concentrations" from human activities.
- Global total annual greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have risen by 70 percent since 1970. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, far exceed the natural range over the last 650,000 years.
- Temperatures are likely to rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 Celsius (2.0 and 11.5 Fahrenheit) and sea levels by between 18 cms and 59 cms (seven and 23 inches) this century.
- Africa, the Arctic, small islands and Asian mega-deltas are likely to be especially affected by climate change. Sea level rise "would continue for centuries" because of the momentum of warming even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilised.
- "Warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible". About 20-30 percent of species will be at increasing risk of extinction if future temperature rises exceed 1.5 to 2.5 Celsius.
Five reasons for concern
- Risks to unique and threatened systems, such as polar or high mountain ecosystems, coral reefs and small islands.
- Risks of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and heatwaves.
- Distribution of impacts - the poor and the elderly are likely to be hit hardest, and countries near the equator, mostly the poor in Africa and Asia, generally face greater risks such as of desertification or floods.
- Overall impacts - there is evidence since 2001 that any benefits of warming would be at lower temperatures than previously forecast and that damages from larger temperature rises would be bigger.
- Risks or "large-scale singularities", such as rising sea levels over centuries; contributions to sea level rise from Antarctica and Greenland could be larger than projected by ice sheet models.
- Governments have a wide range of tools -- higher taxes on emissions, regulations, tradeable permits and research. An effective carbon price could help cuts.
- Emissions of greenhouse gases would have to peak by 2015 to limit global temperature rises to 2.0 to 2.4 Celsius over pre-industrial times, the strictest goal assessed.
- The costs of fighting warming will range from less than 0.12 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) per year for the most stringent scenarios until 2030 to less than 0.06 percent for a less tough goal.
- In the most costly case, that means a loss of GDP by 2030 of less than 3 percent.
What is the IPCC?
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in 1988 by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to give governments scientific advice about climate change.
- Run from Geneva, it draws on work by about 2,500 climate scientists from more than 130 nations and has issued three reports so far this year, totalling more than 3,000 pages. The previous set of reports was in 2001.
- The IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore.
What is the summary?The IPCC condenses the main findings of three reports earlier this year:
- In February, the IPCC squarely blamed mankind for global warming. It said it was "very likely" or more than 90 percent probable that human activities led by burning fossil fuels had caused most of the warming in the past half century.
- It said warming was "unequivocal" and projected a "best estimate" that temperatures would rise by 1.8 to 4.0 degrees Celsius (3.2-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.
- In April, the IPCC outlined the likely impacts of warming and said rising temperatures could lead to more hunger, water shortages and ever more extinctions of animals and plants.
- It said crop yields could drop by 50 percent by 2020 in some countries and projected a steady shrinking of Arctic sea ice in summers.
- By the 2080s, millions of people will be threatened by floods because of rising sea levels, especially around river deltas in Asia and Africa and on small islands.
- In May, in a third report on confronting climate change, the IPCC said costs of action could be moderate, or less than 0.12 percent of global gross domestic product a year, but that time was running out to avert the worst effects. The toughest scenario would require governments to ensure global greenhouse gas emissions start falling by 2015.
- The IPCC's first report in 1990 outlined risks of warming and played a role in prompting governments to agree a 1992 UN climate convention.
- In 1995, the IPCC concluded that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate", the first recognition that it was more than 50 percent likely that people were stoking warming. The report paved the way to the Kyoto Protocol, now the main UN plan for curbing warming.
- A 2001 IPCC study said there was "new and stronger evidence" linking human activities to global warming and that it was "likely", or 66 percent probable, that humans were the main cause of warming in the past half century.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Guardian reports today that "frontline agencies tackling recycling, nature protection, energy saving, carbon emissions and safeguarding the environment are all being targeted in the package which is being drawn up by Helen Ghosh, Defra's top civil servant."
Defra cocked up its compensation payments to farmers and lost £200m in the last year, and recent flooding and farm animal disease crises have dented its budget more, while the Treasury is denying more funds.
The many agencies funded by Defra will have to tighten their belts, except for flood prevention, and Tom Oliver of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the cuts questioned the government's credibility in its attitude to the environment.
The Defra-branded magazine I write for is being cancelled at the end of the financial year. This sends out valuable sustainable resource and energy management support and information to large companies, local authorities, smaller businesses, CEOs and Technical Staff, particularly from Defra's agencies, but also from many other sources.
I had an editorial meeting at Defra on Thursday at which the news was broken as the Policy Chief responsible for it, Charles Harkness, is simultaneously retiring.
There are no plans to replace it. The reason given for cancellation was "to re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of our channels of comunication with stakeholders".
At a time when concern for the environment is at an all-time high this is an odd decision.
Ten Alps, owned by Bob Geldof, publishes the magazine through its contract magazine publishing business.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Here is one of many emails received:
As a scientist working on climate change, I greatly enjoyed the "article" in the "Journal of Geoclimatic Studies", and the reaction it triggered. Well done! But the article is now circulating in a Google archive version without the figures. I and many of my colleagues would love it if you would post a .pdf file of the original as it "appeared" in the "journal".
Thanks for a good laugh at Rush Limbaugh's expense.
2560 Ninth St., Ste. 216
Berkeley, CA 94710
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
A BBC reporter asked anyone to send such candidates for evidence in. He sifted through the emails. He found nothing.
You can read his write-up of it here.
Meanwhile there is plenty of evidence of conspiracy on the other side, ranging from Bush's interference in science in America to ExxonMobil's efforts, which are documented in my comment on the first blog posted today.
The report is due to be released this Saturday.
There is conflict in the group, as there should be. Reports of individual scientists dissenting in their interpretation of the data and form of words are filtering out. But they have issued a statemet saying they are determined that their fourth report this year will not be watered down and exclude vital information under pressure from nations own domestic agendas, as has happened.
The scientists acknowledge their previous reports have been conservative and had a poor track record of predictions. Temperatures have risen faster than they have predicted.
The assessment reports are widely acknowledged as the most authoritative compilation of climate science available, largely because of the rigorous process of peer review.
But its thoroughness takes time and this means it lags behind the latest research - two or three years.
Sceptics will always say that environmental groups and lobbyist can't be trusted with the facts. But what about the two U.S. security institutes who issued a joint report this month - The Center for Strategic International Studies (co-chaired by an ex- chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations) and the Center for a New American Security (President: former Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies)?
They compared predictions of climate change by the panel and other researchers in the last two decades with changes that actually occurred, and found the scientists had consistently fallen short.
Part of the reason was the lack of data, but also that the scientists shied away from controversy and wanted to avoid being discredited as "alarmists". That's left to the likes of WWF.
Next month governments meet in Bali, Indonesia, to start negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, using the IPCC's evidence.
Two points I made that haven't been made here yet:
1. I wish the sceptics would spend more time looking at the evidence for global warming and not waste their time with conspiracy theories: there aren't any.
2. The writer of the hoax is anonymous because we may be thinking of another. It wouldn't have my name on it. Our message is - look carefully at the evidence.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Nobody likes taxes, but everyone accepts some level of tax is necesssary. Now, what if the taxes are so-called green taxes, aimed at tacklng climate change?
A new survey finds broad support for the taxes in the UK, depending on how they're introduced, and as a result a new body has been formed to "break the political logjam on green fiscal reform".
The survey was a national face-to-face opinion poll conducted for the Green Fiscal Commission by BMRB between 30 August and 5 September 2007. 1,010 British adults aged 15 and over were interviewed. The main findings were:
- There is net support in principle for green taxes - 51 per cent support vs. 32 per cent oppose.
- There is a significant increase in support if the revenue raised from green taxes is hypothecated to be spent on projects to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Support in this case rises to 73 per cent and opposition falls to 17 per cent.
- Support for green taxes rises even higher if other taxes are reduced at the same time. Support is 77 per cent vs. 9 per cent opposition.
- Favoured taxes to be reduced are Council Tax 32 per cent, Income Tax 31 per cent and VAT 11 per cent. No other tax named has more than 3 per cent.
- There are quite high levels of support for taxes on environmentally harmful activities:
- 60 per cent v 20 per cent for air travel;
- 48 per cent vs. 35 per cent for petrol (ie driving);
- 48 per cent vs. 35 per cent for home energy use.
The new commission
The Green Fiscal Commission is supposed to look at ways of shifting taxes from 'goods' like labour or profits which are cut, to taxes on 'bads' like pollution or the depletion of resources which are increased without an overall increase in taxation or public expenditure.
It will be chaired by Robert Napier, Chairman of the Met Office and former Chief Executive of WWF. Its Director is Professor Paul Ekins, Head of the Environment Group at the Policy Studies Institute, shortly to become Professor of Energy and Environment Policy at King’s College London.
Members of the Green Fiscal Commission:
- Chairman: Robert Napier (Chairman, Met Office)
- Greg Barker MP (Con): Shadow Environment Minister
- Colin Challen MP (Lab): Environmental Audit Committee, All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group
- Chris Huhne MP (Lib Dem): Shadow Environment Secretary
- Lord Ron Oxburgh: Ex-Chairman, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, ex-Chairman, Shell UK Transport and Trading
- Lord Adair Turner: Non-Executive Director, Standard Chartered Bank (former Chairman, Pensions Commission, former Director-General, CBI)
- Barbara Young: Chief Executive, Environment Agency
- Allan Asher: Chief Executive, energywatch (energy consumer council)
- Nick Mabey: Chief Executive, E3G
- Peter Madden: Chief Executive, Forum for the Future
- Ed Mayo: Director, National Consumer Council
- Paul Myners: Chairman, Guardian Media Group, Ex-Chairman, M&S
- Duncan McLaren: Director, Friends of the Earth Scotland
- Bernie Bulkin: Chairman, AEA Technology (also Sustainable Development Commissioner)
- Rita Clifton: Chairman, Interbrand (former Sustainable Development Commissioner)
- Andrew Duff: Group Chief Executive Officer, RWE npower (and Ofgem Environmental Advisory Group)
- Michelle Harrison: Director, Henley Centre HeadlightVision, Board Director, BMRB, Chair, Institute for Insight in the Public Services
- Michael Roberts: Director, Business Environment, Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
- Professor Nick Hanley: University of Stirling
- Professor John Hills: LSE, Director Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion
- Professor Tim Jackson: University of Surrey (also Sustainable Development Commissioner)
- Professor Stephen Potter: Open University
- Professor Andrew Sentance: University of Warwick, member of Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and former chief economist, British Airways
- Professor Kerry Turner : University of East Anglia
It's just not the same over here where many large businesses, including oil companies like BP, have castigated the UK Govt for not doing enough about climate change.
All political parties agree that humans are responsible for climate change, and with the consensus IPCC position, or thereabouts.
And thanks to John Mashey for correcting NDlundkvist on this point in comments on the previous blog.
It's amazing that some people in America can't see how their perspective on climate change has been manipulated by the greed and narrowmindedness of Exxon and its ilk into seeing climate change legislation as market interference.
As if all the subsidies and tax breaks given to Exxon weren't market interference.
Would some of you anti-AGW rednecks now reading this blog please enlighten me and tell me exactly what you think of the world leader who's doing the most in terms of 'interfering in the market' to tackle clmate change in his jurisdiction, the Republican Arnie Schwarzenegger?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The debate on whether modern climate change is caused by human behaviour or due to natural cycles is for some highly emotive, because a great deal of vested interest and money depends on the outcome*.
The sceptics can be divided into two camps: those who base their arguments on a good and transparent understanding of the science and economics; and those who don't, instead attacking the proponents on personal grounds. And they do get extremely vituperative.
I recently collaborated in an elaborate hoax - called "a spoof that puts the fun back into lying about science" by desmogblog - that was intended to smoke out the latter sort. It was so successful it was syndicated across 600 radio stations in the US.
A client wrote a fake paper, purporting to 'prove' that rather than fossil fuel burning it was the previously undetected emissions from undersea bacteria which were responsible for the last 140 years' increase in atmospheric concentrations.
We said it was from a fake 'Journal of Geoclimatic Studies', based at a fake Institute of Geoclimatic Studies at Okinawa University, in Japan. We had a fake Editorial Board, back issues, editorial and other papers.
The 4000 word paper itself, Carbon dioxide production by benthic bacteria: the death of manmade global warming theory? contained graphs and numerous references, and was launched on its own website late afternoon on 7 November. (It has since been taken down.)
Within a few hours, the blogosphere was ablaze with the news, and a number of bloggers fell for the scam. However, we had deliberately made it fairly transparent, and easy to see that it was not a genuine paper. After all, a simple 'whois' look-up revealed my name as the domain owner, and Googling the contributors or the institution drew a blank.
I took several calls from Science magazine, Nature, and Reuters news agency. These were genuinely interested in the process and I passed on their contact details to the writer.
Well-known sceptic Benny Peiser posted the paper to his discussion group, but an hour later (to his credit) sent a second message saying that it appears he was duped. Neil Craig at 'A Place to Stand' said "this paper could not be more damaging to manmade global warming theory".
'Reason Magazine' posted the story and then tore it down, as did quite a few others.
More interesting were the personal emails we got, ranging from the congratulatory to the insulting, including this one from journalist and environmental health campaigner Theo Richel: "Usually we skeptics are accused of deliberately causing confusion, now we catch you doing it. Bit like what Michael Crichton predicted in his Climate of Fear, environmentalists would do. Great visionary skeptic that man. So I’ll gladly keep you as an example of the journalists who need fiction to prove their point. And then fail."
I happen to think Theo is a reasonable man. He, like me, believes, that we need sound scientific evidence on which to base policy. He, like me, is sceptical of some of the claims of the environmental movement, who do often exaggerate and scare. I have personal experience of this having been at the heart of the MMR vaccine debate, where I presented the balanced viewpoint on the Department of health's immunisation website as its editor. He, like me, thinks that policy should be made on the basis of proper risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis (return on investment), if we are to deal with real-world economic choices.
We'll have to agree to differ on our attitude to Michael Crichton.
But I'm a satirist, and a fiction writer by trade as well as a journalist. (And, yes, I can tell the difference.) Sometimes fiction and satire can reach places facts alone can't - in the right context. Whether we can be said to have failed depends on what we set out to achieve.
For me, the point is that entrenched opinions lead to trading insults and a lack of self-critical rigour when it comes to examining the facts - the basis of the argument.
What the hoax showed is that there are many people willing to jump on anything that supports their argument, whether it's true or not.
What we wanted to emphasise is that it's necessary to achieve scientific validity using the peer-review model. Proper climate science makes every attempt to do this, and is a constantly evolving and self-refining process, as all science is.
So, when commentator posted on my blog - sarcastically - "....And we do all have to go with the "scientific consensus" don't we?" - I can only say, if we haven't got the scientific consensus then what have we got?
*However I am always surprised why this is the case. Regardless of what is the cause of global warming, most agree that it is occurring. So whether human beings caused it or not, it still needs to be minimised and adapted to.
Friday, November 09, 2007
This doesn't seem to be the case for some recent responses who appear to pluck figures from out of the air. Please could you - in the interests of making sure we're all talking about the same costs, etc., - cite your sources.
Here is one of mine, in addition to the Stern Report.
Sir David King, the UK Government Chief Scientist, said at the Sustainable Development UK conference this summer:
"Greenhouse gases are now present in the atmosphere at 383 parts per million. When the earth has been warm in the past the level was 230ppm. It was 100ppm in the ice ages. In the future, it could rise to 1500ppm. By 2030, the average European temperature will be the same as the hottest year on record - 2030,"
He then said - "Darfur is the first global conflict driven by climate change. We should expect more. There is no guarantee that runaway climate change won't happen, turning most of the planet into a hot desert as it was when the oil and gas were laid down in the Carboniferous era."
He then showed a graph from an article published in the McKinsey Quarterly 2007 (a service for leading businesses) which demonstrates that there is no net cost to tackling global warming if we start now.
[Click on the image for a larger version]
This is because there are economical savings and profits to be made which over this time balance out the costs.
Someone put on another blog entry that the cost of mitigating climate change was many trillions of dollars. Perhaps, but there are also financial benefits. The article linked to above explains all the assumptions and details. If you have issue with these let's hear about that in detail, and without insults.