Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ramp it up - investment in low carbon technology

The last issue of the New Scientist contains a one page ad from the Carbon Trust offering £3m to £6m funding for partners in oil-from-algae technology.

The Low Carbon Kid wrote about this concept 17 months ago. He highlighted it because many of the problems present with the traditional oilseeds such as palm & soy, and with ethanol feedstock such as corn and molasses/sugarcane are not present with algae.

In a more recent blog he also suggested the government should take a stake in t he development of promising new low carbon technologies that could then be sold off to benefit the taxpayer when they reach maturity.

The Carbon Trust itself says algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion litres of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually - a market value of over £15 billion.

So why is it being so modest?

We need urgent, fast action. It should invest hundreds of millions.

Instead of a third runway at Heathrow, more roads, or coal-burning power stations, low carbon technology needs to be developed and implemented on a huge scale asap.

Why? The observed impacts of climate change suggest that the climate is more sensitive than we had thought. We may already be past the atmospheric concentration which will ultimately deliver 2°C of temperature rise.

We are preparing for a medium-sized climate problem, based on out-of-date IPCC predictions. The 80% cut by 2050 that's now UK policy may not be enough because of the feedback loops triggered by sea-ice loss, albedo flip, a warmer Arctic, a disintegrating Greenland ice sheet, melting permafrost with huge methane emissions, with their concurrent massively increased greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated global warming.

In Parliament on 18th November (yesterday), in a debate on the Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, Government committed to obtain 14% of heating from renewable heat.

Great. This has been the subject of several previously unsuccessful bills. But progress is far too slow. We'll have to wait till next year, O'Brien (energy minister) said, before we know how they're going to achieve this target... which corresponds to 7% of overall energy use - with feed-in tariffs or an Obligation? And they haven't a clue yet how the feed-in tarriffs will work.

All too slow.

Part of the problem is the Treasury. Today it indicated that it would not ringfence the proceeds from the auctioning of carbon credits under the European Emissions Trading scheme to spend on low-carbon technology.

This is madness. The Treasury is always a brake on helping the environment. If the PM told it to reverse policy prioritise the health of our life-support system - the planet - we'd get where we need to be much faster.

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