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.