Friday, November 30, 2007

Legal challenge to ETS mooted

In the first phase of the EU's Emissions Trading System, 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 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

Google to save the planet?

Google has said it will invest tens of millions of dollars in research and hundreds of millions of dollars in green energy technology firms.

"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

Why nuclear power is a substantial source of greenhouse gases

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.

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)).

The dire threat to the European renewables industry

I don't often quote other peoples' blogs, but this is vital, as it's about the heart of the battle for control of UK and European energy policy.

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

CBI agrees with Stern

A much greater sense of urgency is required if the UK is to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says the CBI in its climate change report issued just prior to its recent conference.

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!


Home Truths - a model for policy

Carbon emissions from UK homes could be cut by 80% by 2050, according to the indefatigable Dr Brenda Boardman of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.

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.

Europe's progress to Kyoto targets is slow - league table of countries

The EU has published its assessment of where Europe is on the track towards its 2012 Kyoto target of reducing emissions.

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.
Europe's progress towards Kyoto target

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

Merlin the Mage's moral confusion - or King's endgame

Science only can go so far - and then ethics must take over.

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."

Quite so.

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

Government says 'yes' to feed-in tarriffs - or does it?

The use of feed-in tariffs as an incentive for microgeneration, which have proved so successful in Germany, "will be investigated", according to a press release from Defra*.

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

Largest biomass plant in world will import timber

From where I sit, I look out of the window and can see coniferous and mixed forests. In fact much of Wales is woodland. Most of this is exported to England, where value is added to it by turning it into something more useful. The Welsh economy thus sadly misses out.

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.'

Great news.

"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.

Greening homes to become easier with one-stop shop

A new Green Homes Service will from April 1 2008 provide a single point of contact for people for home energy audits, plus advice on how householders and landlords can save water, reduce waste, green their travel, and connect to grants and offers from energy companies.

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

Bali: good to talk, but hold your breath 'til '09

The IPPC report issued at the weekend was the last warning salvo fired by the scientific community at heads of government before the next round of significant talks between them over what to do about climate change when the Kyoto agreement runs out in just over four years' time.

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.

Previous reports

  • 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

Cutbacks at Defra as environment high on agenda

Defra, the government department responsible for farming, rural affairs, waste, pollution, and climate change, is planning to cut its budget by £300m, at a time when several important pieces of legislation - notably the Climate Change Bill - is going through Parliament.

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

Journal of Geoclimatic Studies pdf

Due to popular demand the Journal of Geoclimatic Studies article has been made available as a pdf and as the entire Journal of Geoclimatic Studies website.

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.

Bob Coats
Hydroikos Ltd.
2560 Ninth St., Ste. 216
Berkeley, CA 94710

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What great global warming conspiracy?

I've had a lot of emails about it lately. But where is the evidence for it?

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.

Those IPPC scientists are arguing again

This week, delegates from more than 140 countries and scientific experts on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are going line-by-line through a draft summary of the scientific understanding of climate change, and what can be done to slow the gradual warming of the Earth in Valencia, Spain.

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.

Look at the evidence not conspiracy theories

I was interviewed for BBC World Service's Newshour last night which you can listen to for a while on their website (the 20.00 hrs edition, about 20 minutes into the programme).

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

Support for green taxes, believe it or not

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

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:
  1. There is net support in principle for green taxes - 51 per cent support vs. 32 per cent oppose.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Respondents in households owning a car are less likely than those in households without a car to support additional taxes on petrol, but there is still net support: 47 per cent vs. 37 per cent compared with 54 per cent vs. 25 per cent for non-car owners.
  7. Respondents were asked about their support for placing taxes on activities that damage the environment, such as driving, flying or not recycling. Support was 57 per cent vs. 24 per cent opposition. Levels of support for redistributive taxes (69 per cent vs. 19 per cent) and taxes on unhealthy behaviours (66 per cent vs. 18 per cent) were somewhat higher than for green taxes.
  8. There was widespread approval of an independent body to further investigate and publicly debate the issues around green taxation 72 per cent vs. 12 per cent.

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

Global warming is above political difference

It's very odd from this side of the Atlantic to see in the States the AGW debate characterised as left wing/right wing.

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

That Geoclimatic Studies hoax - and what it was about

Are there only opinions about reality, that we can only trade insults about, or is it possible to refer to independent, or 'objective' correlations for those opinions, which can be what they're based on, and be tested?

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

The Guardian Online has now accepted me as a paid freelancer based on my LowCarbonKid and other environmental journalism. Here's the first post. This pre-dates the web site spoof.

The costs of mitigation

One thing about the posts I make is that I try to give references for all my claims so that others can check them.

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]
size and cost of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Earlier in the week I had an email which contained the government's response to a petition asking for "the Prime Minister to Adopt Carbon Rationing and Contraction and Convergence."

The response is detailed. It says - they're looking at it.

"The Government is looking into the potential value of personal carbon trading (PCT). This is just one of a number of possible long-term options being explored for making individuals better informed about, and involved in, tackling climate change. An initial scoping study has been produced for Defra by the Centre for Sustainable Energy. This study concluded that a personal carbon allowance and trading system has the potential to achieve emissions savings in a fairer way than carbon taxes. The Government is now developing a work programme which should provide the information to lead to a decision on whether or not a personal carbon allowance is a realistic and workable policy option ."

The Low Carbon Kid believes a form of PCT or cap-and-share is the ONLY way to force down overall national carbon emissions, sine another route (persuasion) will always fail, due to catch-23, and taxing has a backlash.

You have to remove the choice to engage in energy-expensive activities.

On Friday I'll write about the two systems on offer and how they differ.

The CSE's scoping study can be found on Defra's website