Thursday, December 31, 2009

Earth: Art of a Changing World at the Royal Academy

Yesterday I visited the Earth: Art of a Changing World exhibition at the Royal Academyd exhibition at the Royal Academy. It's fantastic, the best show I've been to in a long time - superior to the Radical Nature one at the Barbican earlier this year.

It collects works by many artists that have enviromental themes, especially addressing climate change. In many ways it does what the Centre for Alternative Technology's (CAT) Arts in Transition initiative wants artists to do.

It's not overwhelmingly polemical. Many of the works are oblique, some funny, many sad or touching, some make you angry, and a surprising number are very beautiful.

36 pieces are gathered under the following themes: Introduction; External, Perceived Reality; Destruction; the Artist as Explorer; and Re-Reality. Many current art world stars are represented, including David Nash, Anthony Gormley, Keith Tyson, Sophie Calle, and Tracey Emin - whose 3 pieces are the best things by her I've seen - touching and beautifully executed.

Several artists have been to Greenland on Cape Farewell tours, specifically organised to expose artists to the physical effects of climat change in the arctic. Novelist Ian McEwan, who went on one such trip, is represented by a text he wrote in response.

Yael Bartana's video about Israeli men driving their 4x4s over sand dunes for kicks is crazy - is this the summit of human progress? 'Progress' is also questioned by Lemn Sissay's poem, performed in a video with a jazz trio, "What if?" - poignant and challenging.

Another video, 'Doomed', by Tracey Moffat, is a hilarious compilation of disaster sequences from Hollywood movies. Yao Lu alters an image of rubbish dumps to make them seem at first glance like traditional Chinese landscapes.

Clare Twomey's ceramic flowers and Adriane Colburne's fabulous installation Up From Under the Edge of the Earth, are among pieces that by being incredibly beautiful and fragile remind us of the care we need to take to preserve our awesome natural environment, while Edward Burtynsky's photographs of Canadian tar sand exploitation, quarries and a Chinese chicken-processing factory (whose rows of women workers themselves look like factory farmed chicks), show us how little care some industries are taking.

Finally, we are made to hope that Antti Laitinen's documention of his long, futile attempt to make an island in the freezing Baltic Sea, striving like King Canute to fight the inevitable tidal forces, is not a prophetic allegory for humanity's attempt to stave off the effects of global warming.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Drowning has begun

Earlier this year I won a grant [scroll down from this link to the item] from Powys' Chance to Create to write a novel for older children called The Drowning.

One of the grant conditions was the production of a blog to document the writing of the novel. Now I have begun to write it this is a fine time to start.

What is The Drowning?

The story is set in Borth, Taliesin, and West Powys in the not-too-distant future when sea level rise threatens low-lying dwellings and the smooth running of society.

It is a mystery story - what happened when a boy died one stormy evening on the moors north of Nant-y-Moch?

It is a story of the love-hate relationship between two very different boys from contrasting backgrounds forced to get on together in order to survive, and how the arrival of a girl affects this.

It mixes in and updates Welsh legends - specifically the origin of Taliesin and a reinterpretation of his character and this story, and the story of Cantre'r Gwaelod which, besides having obvious resonance with climate change-related sea level rise and weather events, is situated in this same area.

There are other elements as well, and one challenge of writing a blog about a work in progress is to not reveal the plot and spoil it for future readers!


I have so far:
  • researched all of the mythological elements I wish to use
  • walked in most of the areas where the story is set - but will need to revisit some during the writing
  • done some research on the flora and fauna - need to do a little more
  • conducted most of the research on the science of climate change and sea level rise; sources include articles in the New Scientist; Ranyl Rhydwen, a lecturer on climate science at CAT; a study of the Dyfi Valley coastline (near Borth) by a German researcher/Ceredigion Council; and Bill Thompson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • need to in particular find out more about the Eastern Greenland coast and the behaviour of melting ice sheets there
  • I have worked on the characters, learnt some Welsh, and plotted the novel out on scene (index) cards)
  • begun to write it (a week ago) - 2000 words completed. Projected length: 40,000 words, maybe less, mixed media format

More to follow. Offers of help (research information) welcome.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

US intransigence caps Copenhagen fiasco

If anyone should shoulder the blame for the failure of the UN Climate Change conference to conclude with a legally binding and effective deal it is President Obama.

Other countries had made or been ready to make concessions, even though no-one did enough to secure the measures required to avoid a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees Celsius.

China conceded that it would no longer seek financial support from rich countries to help it reduce its emissions. But when it saw no new US measures on the table, it felt no compunction to accept independent monitoring of its emission reduction efforts.

The EU had agreed a unilateral 20 per cent emissions cut by 2020 on 1990 levels and offered to raise this to 30 per cent if other rich countries did more. It also promised to pay its “fair share” of a global total of €22-50 billion in international public money.

The UK seems unwilling to criticise the US, putting a brave face on the fact that Obama came to Copenhagen at all.

The text agreed so far contains only an aspiration to provide $100bn by 2020, with no certainty about how much is public money from rich countries. The money may largely come from carbon trading - a volatile, unpedictable market.

Lumumba Di-Aping (Sudanese leader of G77) compared the Copenhagen Accord proposed to the Holocaust and to asking African people to sign the suicide pact.

Tuvalu and other threatened states are very bitter about lack of transparency - the text had been agreed before midnight by a small group of countries (25-10-5 countries, including US and EU) and brought to the plenary.

There is no tight deadline to convert the deal into a legally-binding agreement - so no sense of urgency.

After two years of wrangling and stalling - what a tragedy for the most vulnerable nations and the whole world.

The governments of the world have behaved like irresponsible schoolchildren who had to prepare for an important exam but left everything to the last minute and failed the exam, rather than like responsible custodians of the planet.

What a betrayal of our trust.

What does the Accord say?

Targets: no mitigation targets for 2020 or 2050
The document mentions pledges already made by some parties. Other countries can write their intentions into the scheme in the document before 1 February 2010.

- long term finance: 100 bln USD each year by 2020 repeated, no concrete pledges. The money should go from public and private sources.

- short term finance 2010-12
10,6 bilion USD - UE
11 bln USD - Japan
3,6 bln USD - US

Verification/control: control wording taken out. Big developing countries have to report their emissions every second year, some kind of international surveillance but at the same time "respecting national sovereignty".

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Daily Express would rther have us believe a corrupt redneck politician than the majority of scientists

The Daily Express and the Telegraph today run a climate sceptic story, supposedly quoting a report from 'The European Foundation'.

What is the 'European Foundation"?

They are an organisation that is one man: the right wing anti-Maastricht Treaty campaigner Bill Cash.

This is a man who wants to turn the clock back to the time when international cooperation was much less than it is now: a nationalist redneck anti-European fanatic.

A corrupt man who claimed more than £15,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses to pay his daughter rent for her London flat – even though he owned a home closer to Westminster.

His voting record includes:
  • never voting on a transparent Parliament

  • voting against introducing a smoking ban

  • voting strongly against introducing student top-up fees

  • voting very strongly for the Iraq war

  • voting very strongly for replacing Trident

  • voting very strongly against the hunting ban

  • voting against equal gay rights

  • voting (why?!) for laws to stop climate change!
Why do the Express and Telegraph want people to believe this backward-looking man rather than the combined weight of the vast majority of scientists and politicians?

To sell papers. What cynical morons.

Here's the truth:

The Royal Society has produced this overview of the current state of scientific understanding of climate change to help non-experts better understand some of the debates in this complex area of science. :

What developed nations have put on the table at Copenhagen

Here is a document from the Oxfam policy team on what the countries below have stated in terms of emissions reductions, financing for developing countries and political dynamics.

China, India, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Africa Group, Least, Developed Countries (LDC)
Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), , Indonesia, South Korea, EU, US, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan
New Zealand

Naturally it is not enough, but it's where we are at today.

Civil rights abuse in Copenhagen

A good blog by singer-songwriter David Rovics on the police clampdown in Copenhagen, civil rights and politics in Denmark.
Report from Cop-enhagen

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yes, it's - The Stupid Show

Watch the Stupid Show from Franny and Co. live from Copenhagen!

Or watch it at

From the people who brought you the great film Age of Stupid...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How green is the green flagship city of the developing world?

During the COP-15 negotiations, where can we find an example of a sustainable city in the developing world?

Google the question and you get an answer: Curitiba in Parana state, Brazil, whose ex-Mayor, Jaime Lerner, is celebrated for pioneering sustainable solutions. Only last month he was in London sharing ideas with its mayor, Boris Johnson.

So I went to Curitiba, from the UK, to see just how green it really is. What I found surprised me: big roads, traffic, out of town shopping centres, Wal-Mart, McDonalds and Burger Kings. The eco-hostel where I stayed is surrounded by gated condominiums topped with razor wire and electric fences, manned by sentries.

I took an elliptical trip on one of the renowned metro-buses accessed by entering a glass tube. These fully wheelchair-accessible expresses have a different network, making fewer stops. The city was designed around this transit system, and it is this for which Curitiba is the most famous. It's afternoon, and we don't encounter a single traffic jam.

My guide - Rafael, a sustainability consultant for a local publisher - says the city is resting on its laurels. It won its reputation for sustainability in the '80s and '90s when many of the initiatives it is still renowned for were inaugurated. But now the rest of the world has caught up.

We visited SPVS, an NGO responsible for biodiversity conservation, where a director, Ricardo, explains how they audited the green areas and discovered that a City Hall claim that Curitiba had over 50 square metres per person of greenspace wasn't exactly as green as it sounded: much of it was grass verges. So they are working with the city so credit only goes to the biodiverse areas with native species. They have two projects: the 'Condominio do bioversidade' works to educate people about the native species and their value. 'Bio Cidade' aims to create officially protected areas. The City has signed up to the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

At the Free College of the Environment, the educational officer, Naiana Arruba says it was set up in 1991 by Jaime Lerner himself, to try and raise awareness and do research into environmental issues. "However," she continues, "the City stopped supporting it four years ago for political and personal reasons. Unless we can secure more sponsorship we may close."

She says the water in the lake is being polluted by a budding favela - illegal occupation = in the land above the quarry. "Cohab, the municipal housing agency, should turf them off," she says. She doesn't see it as an opportunity to demonstrate sustainability in practice. She is clearly disillusioned.

Rafael says these favelas are hidden away "on the edges of Curitiba and its commuter towns. Curitiba is a victim of its own success. As it proclaimed how 'sustainable' it was, it attracted inhabitants from everywhere, exploding from a few thousand to 1.7 million."

The favelas' inhabitants sort the rubbish. Everywhere they pull their barrows, laden with cardboard, old exhausts, abandoned white goods and plastic. There also live the women who work as cleaners and nannies in the middle clsss homes.

"Isn't this Curitiba's dirty secret?" I worried. "That it would grind to a halt if not for the existence of these second class citizens?"

Our next stop provided a kind of answer. At NGO Alliança Empreendedora, co-director Lina Useche, a beautiful 25-year old, described their work with favela women, training them in crafts, sewing and business management, obtaining micro-credit, via support from banks and Wal-Mart, and creating co-operatives to make and market their work.

"The collectors lease the barrows for $R10 a day," she said. "They can barely earn that from what they sell. So we help them obtain microcredit to buy the barrows and, by clubbing together, acquire balers to package the garbage and sell direct to the top buyer for a better price."

Lina showed us beautiful bags and wallets made from recycled materials. 97% of rubbish is recycled by the favelas. The City Hall has realised that they need to help the collectors and have just given the Co-ops responsibility for the remaining 3%.

Finally, we got a tour of a favela: a tight hodgepodge of small homes cobbled together with any materials in rubbish-strewn streets, a lively area with its own economy of shops, barbers, cafes, but most of all warehouses where the rubbish is sorted into types for selling.

Some homes have been modernised: good materials, a fresh coat of paint applied with pride. Lina said, "When people become richer, they don't leave the favelas - they improve them, and give employment to those around." The community bootstraps itself up.

But there's no trickledown. It's due to the work of NGOs and the funding from the City Hall. Cohab is charged with providing housing. "But" says Lina, "when people leave the favelas they have to pay taxes, water and energy." Why should they leave, then? Some politicians oppose helping them because it only encourages the wrong sort of people to come.

But unless the City completely changes its system of rubbish recycling they will always need the favelas. And the favelas need the rubbish to provide their income.

Water and sanitation remain a problem but the city is getting on top of it.

There are so many environmental technologies in Europe that they haven't heard of here yet, which they could be implementing instead of 'wiring in' unsustainable infrastructure and habits: sustainable urban drainage, green rooves, solar water heating, micro-renewables, trains, shutters to reduce the need for air-conditioning, and even small water-saving tricks like fitting plugs in sinks and basins.

This is what worries me most - not here but everywhere. Unsustainable bad habits are harder to undo than changing a piece of energy kit.

Whether the habit is fast food, freezers, no plugs for basins, tumble driers, or no shutters on windows, they have causal chains that result in high ecological footprints that can be locked in for decades.

Some of these habits are universal and a function of capitalism, like fast food. Others are not, but a result of planning issues, like the plugs, transport and shutters. It's the latter which we can campaign for developing cities to take aware action on.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

US Youth Crash Climate Denier Event in Copenhagen

Young Clean Energy Advocates called "Hitler Youth" by Climate Denier Lord Monckton

Fifty young Americans took over a climate denier conference hosted by a prominent conservative organization this evening in Copenhagen, rushing the stage and telling the live TV audience that a clean energy future is the real road to prosperity in America.

The young people, merely a fraction of the more than 350 US youth in Denmark for the UN climate negotiations, entered a session of the Americans for Prosperity "Hot Air Tour" speakers series and were able to drop two banners and gain access to the conference's stage. The live event was webcast to over forty climate denier rallies in cities across the United States.

The students entered the event in small groups, joining a paltry audience of five conference attendees, who had come to hear climate denier Lord Christopher Monckton speak about the Copenhagen climate negotiations.

After the first five minutes of the event, student representatives from SustainUS, the Sierra Student Coalition, the Cascade Climate Network, and other American youth NGOs displayed banners reading "Climate Disaster Ahead" and "Clean Energy Now." After security agents at the event took the banners, the young attendees began a chant of "Real Americans for Prosperity are Americans for Clean Energy."

The chant lasted five minutes, as the youth took the stage and displayed their message for the live video feed being sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, despite evasive action on the camera crew's part. As they left the stage, Lord Monckton repeatedly called the activists "Hitler Youth" and "nazis."

"Clean energy creates jobs," says Rachel Barge, a 24-year-old entrepreneur from San Francisco, CA who was the first young person to raise her voice at the event, "These climate action delayers and science deniers are stealing bold, new economic opportunities from the American public."

Laura Comer, 21, of Strongsville, OH, seconded Barge, saying, "We're representing the majority of Americans on this, particularly young Americans. The real America wants clean energy - not more fossil fuel-funded lies about the science."

For more information, contact Ben Wessel, +45 50 11 12 48,

Targeting the climate change denialists (2)

Senator Inhofe likes to think he's a big obstacle to President Obama's ambition to secure a meaningful deal at the Copenhagen talks beginning Dec 7.

He is influential in certain circles and therefore an obstacle to the world's attempt to secure climate justice. This blog is about undermining his argument - also used by other American denialists.

In an interview last Sunday on the BBC's World at One radio news programme, he said that no matter what Obama says at the negotiations, he will not get his bill passed through the Senate.

In defence of this claim he was using the statistic that it will cost $330 billion a year to bring climate change down to Obama's climate bill's aim of 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

He justified this with references to figures drawn from old statistics - produced by Al Gore up to 10 years ago.

It is therefore imperative that everybody who cares about climate change targets Senator Inhofe's arguments, the basis for his arguments, and his absurd claims.

Somebody also needs to take him and any other sceptics to Bangladesh to see the effects of climate change now upon individuals and their livelihoods so that he understands in human terms what it means.

My previous tangle with Senator Inhofe

Inhofe was one of those duped by a hoax perpetrated by George Monbiot and myself a couple of years ago (George must take most of the credit for this).

Although his department tried to deny it, they posted this hoax briefly upon their website as if it was true.

Meeting Inhofe's claims

The claim that it will cost $330 billion a year needs to be challenged. Here are a few ideas.

One way of doing this is to use the table or costs reproduced by Nicholas Stern, updated by McKinsey in January 2009, which shows that many of the measures required to fight climate change come at zero or less than zero cost, when their impact is measured over a short time to show their paybacks.

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions cost abatement curve showing how many costs are negative and zero

Their cost abatement curve provides a quantitative basis for discussions about what action will be most effective in delivering emissions reductions and what they might cost.

The report says that "there is potential by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35% compared with 1990 levels, or by 70% compared with the level we would see if the world collectively made little attempt to curb current and future emissions. This will be sufficient to have a good chance of holding global warming below the 2°C threshold according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change".

The report identifies areas in which energy efficiency, low carbon energy supply and terrestrial carbon in forestry and agriculture can deliver efficient, low-cost savings. The low hanging fruit is available in the graph on the left hand side below the horizontal line.

Each bar represents the potential of that opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a specific year compared to the business as usual development. The potential of each opportunity assumes an aggressive global action starting in 2010 to capture that specific opportunity. The height of each bar represents the average cost of avoiding one tonne of CO2 equivalent by 2030 through that opportunity. The cost is a weighted average across sub opportunities, regions and years. All costs are in 2005 real euros. The graph is ordered left to right from the lowest cost abatement opportunities to the highest cost. The uncertainty can be significant for individual opportunities for both volume and cost estimates, in particular for the forestry and agriculture sectors, and for emerging technologies," the McKinsey report says.

It says that the total cost of doing this for the whole world will be less than 1% of forecasted global GDP in 2030.

I haven't seen the basis of Inhofe's figures, but you can bet that they do not include the savings that energy efficiency can bring.

Why should illogical wasteful American behaviour be defended?

To use one example - whereas everybody else in the world who can, dries their washing in the sun and wind on clothes lines, Americans use tumble dryers. Apparently the reason for this is that it is considered shameful not to use a tumble dryer. [See this New Scientist article]

It brings down property prices, because it seems only the poor hang their clothes out to dry and no one wants to look poor in America.

How ludicrous. Is the Senate really to defend this kind of behaviour against the reality of millions being forced to leave their homes because of rising sea levels?

"If Americans would hang their laundry out to dry - and committed 16 other acts of environmental kindness - they could slash US carbon dioxide emissions by 7.4 per cent by 2019" [ See this New Scientist article]. At little or no cost. In fact they would save money.

McKinsey also found in a July 2008 report that it would cost the world $170 billion to halve the projected global energy demand.

They said, "The average internal rate of return (IRR) of these investments would be 17 percent, and each of them would generate an IRR of at least 10 percent." (assuming that oil costs $50 a barrel — far less than today’s prices, which would generate higher returns)

"The total annual energy savings would come to roughly $900 billion by 2020."

At the same time, making these investments would avoid having to invest in generating capacity and other forms of energy infrastructure that would otherwise be necessary to keep pace with accelerating demand.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that, on average, $1 spent on more efficient electrical equipment, appliances, and buildings avoids more than $2 of investment in electricity supply (World Energy Outlook 2006, International Energy Agency, 2006).

"All of the investments, representing just 0.4 percent of current global GDP a year, involve existing technologies—and none require compromising the consumer’s comfort or convenience," McKinsey said.

The $170 billion opportunity to curb climate change

How much of this would the US have to pay? Just $38bn a year.

Nearly 10% of Inhofe's claim.

Inhofe and his friends want to protect industry from saving money - because it's too much like hard work to change.

Because as the report goes on to say:

"Why does so much of the potential energy productivity opportunity in the industrial and commercial sectors remain untapped? One important reason is that many companies around the globe continue to be government owned (for instance, those that control much of China’s industrial capacity) or enjoy high levels of regulatory protection that shields them from competition (such as steel, until recently, in the United States and many other countries). Improving performance is hard work for managers. Without market pressure to do so, many companies just will not take advantage of all the available opportunities to boost their energy productivity."

This exposes that inhofe and his friends are not only addicted to current goverment subsidies and handouts, but actively oppose market solutions to delivering cost-efficiencies.

If concern for the victims of climate change won't reach them, let's get them on their own terms, guys.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Resources to tackle climate denialists

Pew Centre Statement on CRU affair [PDF] - Answers main slurs against CRU and, by implication, against climate science


Royal Society answer 8 misleading arguments about climate change

Current national policies mean an average rise of 4.4 degrees

Image: Climate Circus
Click on the image to the right to go to Climate circus and see the results of the developed countries' policies in terms of projected temperature rises.

None of them come below four degrees Celsius at present.

At Copenhagen they need to be forced to limit emissions by 40% by 2020 to get down to two degrees Celsius.

Cap and Share meets Environment Minister Ruddock

Three members of the Cap and Share group met Environment Minister Joan Ruddock yesterday in the House of Commons.

Cap and Share is the most efficient way of cutting Greenhouse gas emissions at source while spreading the financial benefits of carbon trading throughout the population.

Her message was that she will think about Cap and Share but she believes that the government has all the policies that it needs to deliver on its climate mitigation commitments and she couldn't see that they needed any more - they have a whole department full of officials working on policies (DECC) so why did they need any more ideas?

Indeed, as she was the minister, if she felt they were not doing enough already then she would have felt obliged to resign...

No comment.

We said that so far they had merely gone for the "low hanging fruit" and it would soon get much tougher - especially when they had reduce emissions at a faster rate (5% or more per annum) so that, merely offering inducements to people to change behaviour would not be enough.

We also said that if the EU ETS and other policies went pear shaped and failed to deliver then, with a cap and share policy in place they could extend it to the rest of the economy at that point and would have a plan B in place already.

Predictably she didn't think there were any problems with the EU ETS which couldn't be fixed - we didn't pursue that argument as it would clearly have been futile.

She appeared to enjoy the discussion and said that our viewpoint was very clear - three officials were present, listened and took notes but said nothing - just smiled enigmatically now and then.

Cap and Share has many benefits to offer it as a policy, not least of which is its efficiency, it is cheaper to introduce and fairer than a carbon tax or other carbon credits systems, and helps to engender behaviour change and wider awareness.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Wave

The climate change march in London on December 5 -- "the Wave" - was inspiring -- 40,000 people, and we encircled the Houses of Parliament.

I met Peter Capaldi from The Thick Of It, as we were walking near the front with the group I was with, Cap and Share.
Peter Capaldi with Cap and Share banner in the background!

Two of our group were amongst those selected to go and meet Environment Secretary Ed Miliband afterwards.

But it was quiet! The first march I've ever been on where a policeman said to me "you're not making enough noise!"

The police kept a low profile, and perhaps the reason that the march did not achieve more prominence in the news was that there was no trouble.

The British government knows that it has to go to Copenhagen to secure the best possible legally binding deal to secure a result that will keep global warming below 2°C. The problem is that this is virtually impossible and the slogan that we shall be uniting up around of we are totally serious about addressing the problem is zero carbon-equivalent emissions from now on.

This is because the emissions already in the atmosphere will result in a temperature rise over 2°C.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

World headed for 3.5 degree warming based on current pre-Copenhagen promises

Antonio M. Claparols, president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines has published a heartfelt account of climate change and deforestation on eco-friendly website

The article, entitled “Will Copenhagen Save the World?” evokes stark images of the catastrophic devastation caused by climate change. In an extract from the article Claparols comments: “As I write this, the entire world is talking about climate change and its effects to the environment, agriculture and humankind. The effects of climate change have manifested itself all over the world. In the Philippines the effects of typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng are still fresh in mind. But the real issue is-do we have enough political will to abate climate change?”

A fair deal at Copenhagen is absolutely crucial, but at the moment the world is heading towards disaster.

A sobering new assessment by the “Climate Action Tracker” of the emission commitments and pledges put forward by industrialized and developing countries for the Copenhagen climate negotiations shows that the world is headed for a global warming of well over 3oC by 2100. Carbon dioxide concentrations are projected to be over 650 ppm, with total GHG concentrations close to 800 ppm CO2 equivalent.

This will mean catastrophic sea level rises that will directly affect low-lying areas like Bangladesh, the Pacific Islands and the Philippines.

Everybody must push hard against their political leaders to get them to deliver a legally binding agreement as part of the COP-15 talks.

“The pledges on the table will not halt emissions growth before 2040, let alone by 2015 as indicated by the IPCC and are far from halving emissions by 2050, as has been called for by the G8. Instead global emissions are likely to be nearly double 1990 levels by 2040 based on present pledges”, said Dr Niklas Höhne of Ecofys.

“In 2020 we project total GHG emissions to be around 55 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent per year from all sources, a reduction of about 3 billion tonnes compared to business as usual. In ten years from now global emissions will already have to be well below current levels of about 46 billion tonnes (in 2008) to have much chance of meeting temperature goals such as 2°C, as called for by the major emitters globally, or below 1.5°C as put forward by the Small Island States and Least Developed Countries as essential for their survival”, said Dr (h.c.) Bill Hare of Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“After accounting for the new position of Russia, the announcement of President Obama of a US emission reduction pledge for Copenhagen, the developed country emission reductions as a whole are currently projected to be 13-19% below 1990 levels by 2020. However the proposed forest credits these countries want would degrade this by about 5% with the effective reductions in industrial GHG emissions being 8-14% below 1990 levels by 2020. The low reduction target (8%) is unconditional for most countries and the highest reduction target (14%) is linked by most countries to a strong agreement in Copenhagen”, said Dr. Michiel Schaeffer of Climate Analytics.

Around 25-40% reductions by industrialized countries by 2020 from 1990 GHG emissions levels are described as necessary by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Recent announcements such as the Chinese carbon intensity reduction target for 2020, and the Korean emission goals for 2020 and 2050, are very important and useful. However the overall effect on greenhouse gas emissions (excluding deforestation) is disappointing; with overall developing country emissions projected to be close to, or significantly above, the IPCC range for 2020” said Dr Niklas Höhne of Ecofys.

“Faster economic growth than expected, particularly combined with slower improvements in carbon intensity in China explain part of this. China has ambitious policies on energy efficiency and renewable energy, but the new international target falls short of that ambition. A reduction from “business as usual emissions” by the developing countries as a group is needed in 2020 of 15-30% is needed to limit global warming to 2°C or even lower.

“On deforestation, we have accounted for the announcement of Brazil and of Indonesia which taken together would reduce deforestation emissions globally by about 40% from recent levels by 2020 (or about the same from estimated 1990 deforestation emissions), which is a very important contribution” said Dr Michiel Schaeffer.

“With no concrete pledges on the table for international aviation and marine CO2 emissions these are projected to grow to over double 1990 levels in 2020, reaching about 1.8 billion tonnes per year, and to nearly 4 times 1990 levels in 2050, about 3 billion tonnes per year” said Dr Niklas Höhne of Ecofys.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sustainable Business presentation

David Thorpe on MTVA 3.5MB Powerpoint of a talk on sustainable business opportunities is here.

I gave the talk at the ESPM University Sao Paulo on November 18th.

At the venue I was astonishingly ambushed by a crew from MTV and here's a clip from the MTV interview with David Thorpe.

Wall Street versus climate science

We must not underestimate the pressure against a coherent deal at COP-15.

The on going controversy about the hacking into the e-mails of the Climate Research Unit in the UK exemplifies how extreme in the battle is becoming.

We must fight this anti-science and anti-democratic attitude at every chance. I am taking the opportunity to pass on comment on this by a colleague in the Cap and Share campaign group of which I am a part. (And if any of you don't know the difference between Cap and Share and Cap and Trade, see )

Lets not mince words - what we have in the CRU hacking is a financial sector and carbon economy sector attack on climate science, indeed on the scientific method in general.

For those who think this view is extreme then I invite them to read the following article in the Wall Street Journal about this crisis:

In order to get maximum clarity about the issues at stake I have cut out and selected phrases from this article to thrown them into maximal relief:

"much-ballyhooed scientific consensus on global warming"

"how a single view of warming and its causes is being enforced"

"the climate-tracking game has been rigged from the start."

"this privileged group" (climate scientists who published in peer reviewed journals)

Note the phraseology - peer review is "enforcing a single view" "rigging climate tracking right from the start" by a "clique".

"only those whose work has been published in select scientific journals, after having gone through the "peer-review" process, can be relied on to critique the science."

" critics outside this clique are dismissed and disparaged."

note the words. Climate scientists who submit to a peer review process are regarded as a: "clique"

Climate Research Journal "blackballed"

"The response from the defenders of Mr. Mann and his circle has been that even if they did disparage doubters and exclude contrary points of view, theirs is still the best climate science. The proof for this is circular. It's the best, we're told, because it's the most-published and most-cited—in that same peer-reviewed literature. The public has every reason to ask why they felt the need to rig the game if their science is as indisputable as they claim."

What is at stake here is nothing less that the future of scientific method - and whether it is going to be subordinated to commercial interests. The climate crisis is not going away - and nor will the financial interests who want to stop action on climate change. This crisis will get worse and the pressure on the scientific method will get worse too.....

Consider how climate science - or any other science - will evolve if not subjected to peer scrutiny by qualified colleagues: any explanation that you want will prevail to explain how the world works - as long as you have the money to pay "scientists" or " Institutes" in Washington and elsewhere to selectively and uncritically pick the data that suits the case you want to make. Scientific "truth" will be made by lawyers and the PR industry and will be available to the highest bidder.

...and the people with the most money to give will be in the banking and fossil fuel sectors......

Brian/ David

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Meeting Diego

Tonight I met one of my Brazilian fans, Diego Remus, at the place where he works, The Hub, which coincidentally is right near the restaurant where we were the previous night during the power cut.

When we met he first took me to a bookshop on Avenida Paulista and surprised me by finding on the shelves a copy of my book Hybrids in English as well as Portuguese and made me stand there while he took a photograph.

I'm getting kind of used to this while I'm here. in

Diego is a specialist in social networking and electronic media, a consultant to start-ups and interested in applying sustainability theory as well as communication theory to new models of business enterprise. He set up a Portuguese language fan club for Hybrids.

He works also for Startupi, which is a pun, because the Tupi is an old indigenous culture.

We especially talked about industrial symbiosis, resource efficiency and the potential of the sustainable economy new business model to benefit Brazilian businesses. He's going to arrange for me to give a talk at The Hub on the subject at the end of next week when I'm back in town from Porto Alegri and Curitiba.

Blackout in Brazil

I don't know whether it's because the Low Carbon Kid is in town, but yesterday was the biggest power cut in the history of Brazil, so big it made the front page of the Guardian newspaper.

I was in a Brazilian restaurant near the Avenida Paulista with Katey Moran, the author I am sharing the trip with, and two of her friends who teach at the St Paul's School where we are working this week. We were waiting for the main course when suddenly all the lights went out except for the emergency exit lights. These went out soon after.

Used to this kind of thing back home in Wales, I expected them to come on quite soon. I am well aware that there are frequent small power cuts in local areas here in Brazil. Then somebody got a call on their mobile from a relative in Rio de Janeiro who said the power was out there too, and in Brasilia, and we realised that it was big.

The waiter didn't bring candles until I asked for them! But then he bought a rather elegant oil-fed light also.

dining by candlelight in the Sao Paulo blackout. This is not us, but very much like us and in the same area!

We looked out the window - some places had lights on, most of them were dark and people were thronging the pavements talking in the light of the headlamps of passing cars. We speculated as to the cause and agreed that it was probable that it was the Itaipu hydroelectric plant as in fact it turned out to be.

Perhaps we'll never find out exactly what the cause was, but one thing is the sure: it's what happens if you put all your energy eggs into one supply basket.

Luckily the rest of the kitchen was cooking on gas and we got our main course. Luckily we didn't see any looting.

Unluckily we still had to pay our restaurant bill even though the cash till wasn't working!

We came back through darkened streets in the taxi. The hotel had a generator and some of the lifts were working though there were no lights in the rooms.

There's nothing like the power going out to make you appreciate electricity when it is there. Perhaps it's a signal to President Lula, but if so he's getting the wrong message. Today he pledged to use the revenue from the potential future exploitation of the Pre-Salt oil fields to strengthen the grid infrastructure.

As I said in my previous blog, this absolutely must be left under the sea where it is now, for the sake of the planet. Brazil is blessed with a variety of potential sources of energy, and solar power is one of them. A feed-in tariff like the one coming in in the UK and already in force in many European countries would be a brilliant incentive to diversify and localise the energy supply while creating wealth amongst the population. There's no shortage of other potential sources of sustainable energy.

Brazil needs to continue with its own development of renewable energy, not go backwards into the fossil age.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Brazil is going backwards to Copenhagen

There is nothing more urgent in the world than a meaningful settlement at the talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

The perspective here in Brazil is that it would seem to be on the right side of the battle to save the planet's climate. In fact, the truth is a bit more murky.

38% of Brazil's energy is from renewable sources; of the rest, 60% is fossil fuel at 1% nuclear. According to the International Energy Agency this puts the country on one of the lowest per capita carbon dioxide emissions (111th in the world) and certainly one of the lowest in terms of unit of gross domestic product. However it is the world's 17th biggest greenhouse gas emitter (UN figures) because of the fires used to clear land for pasture in the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil has pioneered the world in the production of ethanol from sugarcane and mandated that biofuels are blended with petroleum to fuel cars with 20-25% of ethanol and most cars bought in Brazil can run on either ethanol or this blend. Renewables account for 45%. It produces a large amount of hydroelectric power, which itself has been blamed for displacing indigenous people, but the number of droughts is increasing. As a result Brazil is actually going backwards.

To compensate it is using more and more gas, oil and coal and is planning to build five more nuclear power stations. This is in a country which is blessed with a huge amount of solar power. According to the United Nations Environment Programme's data set most other industrialised and populated areas of the country receive an average of 4-5.5 kWh/m2/day, with some receiving much more, making it an ideal place for solar water heating and photovoltaic power. As most of the rain and the hydroelectric power is in the north west of the country far away from these areas there will be much fewer transmission and distribution costs associated with the use of solar power.

Brazil also has a huge potential capacity - 100Mt/yr - to use biochar to fertilise the soil and lock carbon from the growth of sugarcane back into the soil as a fertiliser. This after all is where biochar was first discovered -- in the Amazon. (source: Perera, K.K.C.K. et. al., 29 Biomass & Bioenergy 199, 204 (2005).)

But is Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva doing this? No, instead he is increasing state control over huge newly-discovered offshore oil reserves. Brazil is sitting on reserves bigger than any discovered in the Americas since 1976. He is following his friend Chavez in Venezuela by netting the government company Petroleo Brasileiro take control of these so-called 'Pre-Salt" reserves. This may help Brazil more than double oil production and turn the state-controlled company into one of the world’s biggest producers, according to Adriano Pires, head of the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure.

The pre-salt Tupi field alone holds an estimated 5 billion to 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent but it is over 200 miles off the coast and beneath over 7,000 meters of water, rock and a thick layer of salt. Companies are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of getting at this oil, but it will itself cost a huge amount of energy and environmental damage to retrieve it.

Brazil wants to develop and the revenue would be the engine of funding its infrastructure - and of course the corruption in the government that everybody here talks about.

In fact while I am here Lula has been in London trying to seek investment in his country, which he says will be the fifth largest economy in the world by 2019. The huge emerging middle class is greatly expanding its energy consumption as everyone wants the same standard of living as the developed world.

Ironically, accompanying Lula on his London trip is Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of what is supposed to be the greenest city in the world or at least of the developing world, Curitiba. I hope to go there in just over a week myself to see if the miracle that is proclaimed to have happened there is true. Lerner has been showing Boris Johnson, London's mayor, what the possibilities are.

It would be better if Lula were to leave the oil in the ground beneath the sea and to roll out throughout the whole of Brazil the types of reforms that have happened in Curitiba.

He should also halt deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. 20% of it has already gone. In 2000-2005 deforestation in the Amazon, which is shared by eight countries, denuded an area nearly the size of Venezuela. Less well-known is deforestation in the Cerado biomass, which Environment Minister Carlos Minc says generates the same amount of greenhouse gases as Amazonian deforestation.

Lula has promised to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020. But the government is under pressure to release more land to the farmers, and was widely criticised in June when Lula legalised in the stealing of 60,000,000 ha of Amazon rainforest by farmers that had been taken illegally.

However some states are going it alone, just as they are in North America. Here in São Paulo a month ago it became the first Brazilian state to approve a statewide climate change policy that calls for a 20% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. The head of the São Paulo Forum on climate change and biodiversity, Fabio Feldmann, has criticised Lula for his exploration programme of the pre-Salt oil reservoirs.

Brazil is going to Copenhagen with a flawed plan and an unclean conscience. Mind you, so is everybody else.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Even the military want a deal at Copenhagen

A group of serving and retired military officers from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the US released a statement today calling on all governments to “work for an ambitious and equitable international agreement” at the global climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

The statement, presented at a meeting today at Brookings in Washington, and issued simultaneously in Brussels, Dhaka, Georgetown, London, New Delhi and The Hague, says that “incremental, and at times, abrupt, climate change is resulting in an unprecedented scale of human misery, loss of biodiversity and damage to infrastructure with consequential security implications that need to be addressed urgently.”

The officers are part of an international initiative on Climate Change and the Military led by the Institute for Environmental Security (IES) in The Hague and 10 other think tanks from Asia, Europe and North America.

IES Vice-Chair, Tom Spencer, former President of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and Defence Policy, said the aim of the statement was to stress that “climate change creates a common security problem that requires global and comprehensive co-operation.”

Quoting from the statement, Air Marshal (ret) AK Singh of India, Chairman of the project’s Military Advisory Council and Project Director, Climate Change & Security, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi warned that “failure to recognise the conflict and instability implications of climate change, and to invest in a range of preventative and adaptive actions will be very costly in terms of destabilising nations, causing human suffering, retarding development and providing the required military response.”

Maj Gen (ret) Joseph Singh, Former Chief of Staff, Guyana Defence Force, added that, “Based on the fact that we have been involved in disaster relief operations, we know the trauma, the human misery, the damage to infrastructure. So that hands on experience gives us the confidence that we have some knowledge and expertise that we can share and work in a collaborated way with decision-makers to anticipate, to pre-empt and to be involved in contingency planning.”

Asked to illustrate an experience from his region, U.S. Brig Gen (ret) Wendell C. King replied, “The hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans.” He added that America’s ability to respond was severely stressed and if such a technologically capable nation such as the USA thus struggled, the picture was not too rosy for nations not having adequate capabilities.

At its first meeting in Brussels earlier this month the group of officers were especially concerned about the rapid increase in glacial melt in the Himalayas, which will result in increased flooding followed by devastating water shortages throughout the region.

Maj Gen (ret) Muniruzzaman, President of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said that the affects of climate change could lead to the migration of millions of people in places like Bangladesh where the impact of climate change would cause an estimated annual loss to the economy of $ 1 billion of GDP by 2010 and $ 5 billion by 2070.

Water scarcity will have severe adverse impact on human access to fresh water, food production, fisheries and wildlife, river transports, hydropower and human health according to a report by his institute.

The joint statement calls on all governments to ensure that the security implications of climate change are integrated into their respective military strategies and also calls upon the military to be part of the solution by reducing its own carbon “bootprint”.

> Institute for Environmental Security (IES)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Don't use the European Trading Scheme as a model for Copenhagen

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is important because the scheme covers half of all EU carbon emissions produced by power companies and industry.

If the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is not helping to cut these, the EU as a whole will not meet its targets.

The first phase of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), from 2005 to 2007 was a failure.

Huge over-allocation of permits led to a collapse in the price of carbon from €33 to €8 per tonne, meaning that the system did not reduce emissions at all.

In 2007 energy suppliers' 1.8% cut in carbon dioxide emissions was just higher than the UK's average of 1.7% down on 2006.

The residential sector and business sector both achieved better emissions cuts than the power sector in 2007, 4.6% and 2.6% respectively.

Meanwhile, there were increases in emissions from the transport sector (up 1%) and from industry (up 9.5%). [source:NewEnergyFinance/DECC]

The reason why the recession hasn't hurt big companies signd up to the ETS (according to International pro-business NGO The Climate Group) is because allocation of free permits to energy-intensive participants has helped them to ride out the recession, passing any price increases on to consumers.

Companies mentioned by The Climate Group include Centrica, Johnson & Johnson, Tesco, cement producer Lafarge, a British glass manufacturer, a German engineering firm, a global steel maker, a global aluminum firm and a financial services company. Fluctuations in energy prices and the economic downturn had more substantial effects on businesses than the price of carbon.

The only way that the ETS can work is if all of the permits to pollute are auctioned off and industry pays the price for abusing the atmosphere - which actually belongs to every single global citizen, as well as every other living organism.

Sandbag, another NGO, has used the large amount of information generated by participants in the scheme to create a Google map.

You can search it by country or year, sector, company, plant name, permits allocated, used and surrendered, and so on. London, for example, contains 44 registered emitters.

It has issued a report which highlights the harms that overallocation of permits has caused: "industry is likely to have nearly 400,000,000 tons worth of surplus permits across the period 2008-2012" they say. As a result they weren't out to reduce their emissions and instead will be old to sell their surplus for windfall profits of over Euros5 billion. There may also be an estimated surplus in the New Entrance Preserve of over 300 million permits by 2012.

All of this is because the caps were set too high and there is no way in the market to bring down the supply permits.

Sandbank concludes by saying that there could be 1.6 billion surplus permits and credits available during phase 2 of the scheme. this will permit European companies "to stand still on cutting domestic emissions further next seven years".

Sandbag recommends that the next phase of the emissions trading scheme should be immediately increased to deliver at least a 30% reduction in emissions by 2020 rising to 40% if a deal is reached at Copenhagen.

They should also take steps to effectively tighten caps in phase 2 of the scheme.

The scheme undoubtably has great potential to cut carbon emissions using the market and uncover the most cost-effective abatement opportunities.

The Low Carbon Kid says that it just needs designing so that it isn't one of the greatest rip-offs of all time (banking bonuses excluded), that's all.

And if any deal being pushed for by American industry wants to follow the current ETS model you know why. It will benefit their pockets and it won't make the slightest dent in carbon emissions.

What's the solution? Oliver Tickell has researched and developed it in his book and website Kyoto 2.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Tories' mad energy policy

With the relief that EON decided not to build its coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth last week, it is with dismay that we also heard the Tories policy which is to initiate the building of 5 GW coal power stations as soon as they take office.

Labour may not be much good, but the Tories would be a disaster for energy policy. Railroading big business interests through planning to an even greater extent than Labour, under the pretext of environmentalism.

There's perhaps one good policy and that is the right for every community hosting wind farms to keep for 6 years the business rates generated.

It is the fact that local communities have felt ripped off by big developers not caring about their interests that has held back wind farms in this country.

But a real revolution would be for community owned wind farms to be massively supported as they have been in Denmark for many years, as a result of which there has not been the level of public antipathy towards wind farms that there has been here.

It is the stop-start nature of British energy policy under the NFFO policy that has created this antipathy because only the big developers could stay the field and community developers were squeezed out.

The other Tory policies are to give every household in the country £6,500 to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes; and publication of the planning guidance needed for new nuclear power stations.

The first is limited: some homes will cost more to upgrade than others, and the financial support should be in the form of loans that are paid back on the property from the energy savings created.

Housing authorities also need support to do a mass roll out of renovations of particular districts and streets at the same time which is more cost effective.

It is my argument that we can do without nuclear power because it is not cost efficient and the timescale is too great. The figures produced by the nuclear industry cannot be trusted. Taxpayers will end up supporting the industry to an extent that we can afford even less now than we could before.

"Clean coal" relies on carbon sequestration which is an unproven technology that will be incredibly expensive to implement.

EON gave as their reason for not going ahead with Kingsnorth a reduction in electricity demand. If electricity demand is further reduced by a mass roll-out of energy efficiency making everybody's bills cheaper (hooray!), then why would we need to build all these power stations anyway?

The catch 23 of electric cars

Ah - is it so that we can have an electric cars? But that's robbing Peter to pay Paul! - it's a more efficient use of fossil fuels to burn them directly in a car than it is to burn it in a power station and use the electricity to drive a car.

Why? The output from a coal-fired power station fitted with carbon sequestration is around 10% less in efficiency than one without - so you will only get 20-25% of the original energy in the fossil fuel from such a power station at the plug in your wall.

By the time you have factored in the conversion factors inside the engine of the car converting that electrical energy back into motor energy, you will be lucky to get 10%. Whereas around 50% off the energy in petrol or diesel goes straight into transmission.

The only way of implementing electric cars that makes any sense is if they are fuelled from renewable electricity generated locally to the charging point to minimise transmission losses. That means building more solar, tidal and wind.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Heat pumps - should you believe the hype?

It is not at all clear to the Low Carbon Kid why heat pumps are described as renewable energy technologies. Since they use electricity, they are not. It is especially clear that air source heat pumps, unless powered by renewable electricity, and unless replacing electric heating, should not be used at all.

Read on to find out why... this is an extract from my forthcoming book The Expert Guide To Sustainable Home Refurbishment, to be published by Earthscan next summer.

How heat pumps work

Heat pumps can take heat from the ground, air or a nearby body of water if it’s available. All of them basically work like a fridge backwards.

For example, typically, in an air-source heat pump, air flows over two refrigerant-filled heat exchangers, similar to those in a fridge, one outdoor and one indoor. In the heating mode, liquid refrigerant within the outside coil extracts heat from the outside air, making the refrigerant evaporate into a gas. It then is pumped to the indoor coil, which reverses the process. The refrigerant condenses back into a liquid and returns to begin the cycle again. As the volume of air outside is much greater, the amount of heat in it, when transferred to a smaller volume, results in a higher temperature.

Ground source heat pumps work the same way, but the element containing the coolant is buried in the ground, and so takes the heat from there.

Judging efficiency

Heat pumps are judged by their coefficient of performance (CoP). This is the ratio of the amount of heat produced divided by the electricity consumption of the pump. So for example a heat pump with a CoP of 3 (or 3:1) will produce three times as much heat energy as the electrical energy it consumes. The higher the CoP the better the performance.

You can maximise the CoP by choosing a heating system requiring a lower final water temperature - radiant heating like underfloor or skirting board heating rather than domestic hot water and radiators - and by choosing a heat source with a high average temperature (e.g. the ground rather than air).

The final efficiency will be significantly better for underfloor heating covered by solid screed (tiled etc.) finishes than timber, and/or carpets.

Benefits of heat pumps

Other benefits of heat pumps over conventional boilers include:

• no combustion or explosive gases in the building

• no need for flues or ventilation

• no local pollution (although noise from the outside fan may be a problem if air-source)

• long life expectancy

• low maintenance costs

• the payback period can be as short as 4-5 years and save up to 75% of conventional heating costs.

Ground source heat pumps

These require a network of underground coils or loops to extract heat from the ground. A hole must be dug and the collecting coil buried - usually a closed circuit loop of 20-40mm high-density polyethylene piping filled with a mixture of water and glycol anti-freeze. Holes take two forms: the commonest is a series of horizontal trenches (wet ground is better than dry); or one or more boreholes. The system also includes a heat exchanger, pump and delivery pipes passing under an exterior wall (typically a French window or other door) to the destination.

Care must be taken that the coil makes good contact with the ground. As the depth increases the maximum and minimum soil temperatures begin to lag the surface temperature. At a depth of about 1.5m the lag is about one month. Below 10m the ground temperature remains effectively constant at around the annual average air temperature. Sizing is complex and specialised software is required, available, amongst other places, via the website of The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA).

Ground-source heat pumps are more expensive but the payback is reduced, financially and carbon-wise, if a hole is being dug anyway, for example for foundations. However they have a long life expectancy (typically 20-25 years and up to 50 years for the ground coil) and are a great idea if the opportunity’s there.

One where the ground is well above freezing (ten degrees) outputting to radiant heating (underfloor or skirting) would be ideal, especially if it is replacing electric heating. It will yield significant carbon savings.

But if it is replacing a modern gas-condensing boiler, which can have over 95% efficiency, the carbon savings are much less.

Air-source heat pumps

Like air-conditioners, they suck in outside air, the units being placed a distance from the dwelling to reduce noise. Despite their reduced efficiency, an advantage of air-source heat pumps over the ground-source variety is their lower installation cost. They are thus more appropriate for renovation projects than ground-source models.

Air-source heat pumps extract heat from the outside air, even in the coldest months. However, the colder it is, the less efficient they become and the more warmth you need.

In mild weather, the COP may be around 4, but at temperatures below around 8°C (17°F) an air-source heat pump can achieve a COP of 2.5 - below the magic 3 level at which carbon savings are realised.

The average COP over seasonal variation is typically 2.5-2.8, but obviously this depends how cold it gets in the winter. As soon as it drops below freezing, the CoP plummets. Of course, it will never reach 1, but it will be much less carbon-efficient than gas or biomass.

Further questions have been raised about the power used by the pump to de-ice itself. Professor David Strong, chief executive of Inbuilt, has observed that “ice build-up on the evaporator of an air-source heat pump is a serious problem, with icing typically occurring whenever outdoor air temperatures fall below about 5°C (this can be as high as 7°C with some systems). In these situations COPs fall to less than one (i.e. worse than direct acting electric heating).”

The de-icing process means that the outdoor heat exchanger becomes the condenser, hot refrigerant being used to melt the ice. But electricity continues to be used by the compressor and pulls heat from inside the building - not you want in cold weather. Some systems use hot gas bypass or direct acting electric elements. Professor Strong has called for an objective assessment of the technology's effectiveness. One is being conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute, and preliminary results show average annual CoP was 2.99. For ground source it was 3.72, significantly better.

Are they noisy? The exterior pump - around 1.2m x 0.7m x 1m tall - generates around 50dB at full fan speed at one metre distance. This is similar to that of an air conditioning unit. The heat exchanger unit, inside - fridge-sized, around 1.8m tall - is about 42dB at one metre distance, similar to a large refrigerator.

Whole house passive stack ventilation with incoming air pre-warmed using a heat pump

Heat pumps can transfer their heat to air or water. If to air, it is directed through vents in the ground floor. The air is drawn through and up the building by pressure differences (heat rises). An advantage of air destination heat pumps is that air into which the heat is passed usually needs a lower temperature than water heating for the same level of comfort, resulting in a higher CoP and increased heat output.

Borderline efficiency

Once the COP descends to 3 or less, if the electricity supplying it is not from a renewable source, and if it is replacing electrical heating, then there is no carbon saving from using the heat pump, since generation and distribution inefficiencies account for two thirds of the energy in the original carbon fuel.

Most of the time air source heat pumps will not achieve a CoP which saves carbon emissions - it will happen only if the air is at or above zero degrees and the target temperature is 35 degrees. A ground source heat pump will perform better.

This is because during the heating season (winter) the outside air temperature is often much lower than the ground temperature (at a depth at which heat is extracted by a ground-source heat pump).

Hot water and heating can be provided 365 days a year; the hot water can be at 55°C; but the CoP will be low, though not as low as 1 - that of a gas or immersion water heater. In other words, it will be more cost-efficient but not as carbon efficient.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Babcock picks up a bargain

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority's commercial arm, UKAEA Ltd, has been snapped up by defence engineering contractor Babcock. UKAEA specialises in nuclear decommissioning, waste management and nuclear new build support services.

It was sold by Peter Mandelson for a mere £50 million. Yet the government has commitments to clean up Britain's massive nuclear waste legacy, the cost of which is estimated to be around £113.7 billion by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Lord Mandelson claimed the deal "generates good value for taxpayers". Quite how this is so remains to be seen.

Last year the firm operating Sellafield nuclear site appealed for former workers to come forward if they remembered where they had deposited nuclear waste. Perhaps Babcock's first job will be to try and find it.

Windsave goes bust revealing the truth about micro wind power

The residential arm of Scottish micro wind generation company Windsave, which supplied roof-mounted wind turbines to former energy minister Brian Wilson, has gone into liquidation.

Hands up those who aren't surprised - even that it took so long.

In 2003 this Scottish company began promoting roof mounted domestic turbines using Photoshopped montages. Despite cries from practitioners in the field -- including this blogger - that the performance figures it was quoting didn’t make any sense - and in fact broke the laws of physics - Brian Wilson, the then UK energy minister, and another Scot, became convinced.

A PR exercise was mounted with his help that succeeded amongst other things in persuading DIY chain B&Q to retail them. In June 2006 their Plug’n’Save system won the title of “Best New Product” at the European Business Awards for the Environment. Hundreds of optimistic householders parted with their cash.

At the beginning of 2009 B&Q finally admitted that they didn’t work and withdrew them from sale in response to many disgruntled owners' angry complaints. They had been told they would be able to generate a good proportion of their electricity and recoup their costs in a few years. Some were lucky to generate a miserable few kilowatt-hours over the entire year.

Real data

The results of a substantial monitoring exercise of real micro-wind turbines in situ both on urban rooftops and free standing in rural areas was published in July 2009 by the Energy Saving Trust and confirmed what the technical experts and those unfortunate householders already knew: that wind speeds in urban areas coupled with the turbulence caused by nearby buildings mean that the speed of 5m/s required for contemporary turbines to operate efficiently is never reached in an urban situation.

To put it bluntly: domestic scale wind turbines only work in the countryside.

And there they work very well: the results of the field monitoring show that “a properly sited and positioned 6kW rated free standing pole mounted turbine with a similar annual performance would be expected to generate approximately 18,000 kWh per annum.” In today’s English money that is £2,340. It represents a very quick payback.

The success of a wind turbine is measured by its load factor and the higher the number the better. The performance of free standing turbines in the survey frequently exceeded the manufacturers’ quoted annual load factors of 17%; the average was 19%, and the best were 30%. By abysmal contrast, “No urban or suburban building mounted sites generated more than 200kWh or £26 per annum, corresponding to load factors of 3% or less.”

No wonder those B&Q customers were upset.

Where micro wind works

Turbines need an uninterrupted wind flow and the higher above the ground the more wind there is. This is why they are commonly mounted on 10m or 25m poles and in exposed places. The same survey by the Energy Saving Trust estimates that in the UK 1.9% of homes are situated in conditions like this and can make use of wind power. That is 455,650 households.

If they all installed 6kW wind turbines than the annual generation from them would be in the order of 3,459GWh. This is the amount of electricity used by twice that number of homes - approximately 870,000, or nearly 1% of the UK is electricity requirements and over 3% of its domestic demand. So they would need to be grid connected - and they could generate an income from their sales. This would then decrease the payback period, especially if feed-in tariffs are available. Without them, the payback period is something like six or seven years under these conditions.

In other words, it’s worth doing in these places and nowhere else. The annual average wind speed needs to be greater than 5 m/s and is preferably measured with an anemometer for 12 months before designing the system, but desktop evaluation can be made first to see if it’s worthwhile doing this by looking at figures from the Met Office. But because local conditions can vary enormously - for example due to thermal updraughts, local topography or sea breezes - there is nothing like real on-site measurement.

Windsave's directors are blaming the planning laws for the fact that they have gone bust. No, gentlemen, it's the laws of physics, something an energy minister ought to be aware of.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can Britain follow Germany with feed-in tariffs?

The government plans to implement feed-in tariffs by April 2010 to incentivise renewable electricity installations up to a maximum capacity of 5 MW. The consultation document looks at how it could work and best practices from other countries.

It does a good job of setting out the options, but stops short of specific proposals. The following variables are considered:

A fixed tariff pays an overall amount per unit of electricity generated, independent of market price. A premium tariff is an amount paid on top of the market price. In a stepped tariff the amount varies according to type of technology, scale, and local conditions. A flat tariff takes no account of this.

Proposals by the working groups for the Renewable Energy Association, mentioned in the last issue, suggested that all renewable energy generators would be paid a fixed renewable tariff for all energy produced (a “generation tariff”), and an additional price for that exported to the grid, set at a level established between the supply company and the beneficiary and subject to market competition. This is Taken up in one of these consultation documents but not others, which argue on the whole for fixed, stepped tariffs.

At a domestic scale most individuals will use much of their generated electricity themselves, and their use may be unpredictable so they may still be cautious about investing in these technologies because the payback period will, even with these subsidies, be considerable without other grants for installation. The main document says that a generation tariff will be a fixed price, set at different levels for different technologies and installation sizes. "We expect to lower the tariff levels for new projects over the years, but any individual installation, once starting to receive a tariff at a certain level, will continue to receive the same generation tariff level throughout its entire support period under the FITs".

To give long-term certainty to investors, the consultation process to "require suppliers to purchase exports from FITs generators at a guaranteed minimum price". The tariff level will have to be sufficiently high to attract the level of uptake needed to meet targets. The report notes that "due to the fact that small generators provide only small amounts of electricity to the grid, they may have difficulty in securing the same wholesale price for exports that a large-scale generator can access, and may receive a much lower price".

Criticism has been made that the proposals are not being examined at the same time as those for renewable heat, which is to be introduced a year later. This is especially bizarre since the report does look at the electricity-only component of combined heat and power technologies.

FITs or RO?

The consultation proposes that from 1 April 2010 installations of 50kW and below eligible for FITs will only get the option of receiving FITs. However, those from 50kW to 5MW will be able to choose between the RO and FITs.

Deadline for responses: 15 October 2009. See the DECC consultation page

How it might work in practice

A house (it could be an office building) generates 2,500 kilowatt hours (kWh) per annum (e.g. from a solar PV panel). They use 1,500kWh of the electricity they generate. 1,000kWh is exported, because it is generated at times when the household does not use it. The household uses a total of 4,500kWh per annum. Therefore, it needs to import 3,000kWh from an electricity supplier.

If the tariff for generation is, for example, 30p/kWh, the householders will receive a FITs payment of £750 per annum (2500kWh x 30p) for the electricity they generate. They will also receive a payment for the electricity they export; assuming a price of 5p/kWh this would be £50 (1000kWh x 5p). They also derive a benefit from the 1,500kWh they generate and use on-site as that will offset 1,500kWh they would otherwise have had to buy from their electricity supplier. Assuming an import price of 10p/KWh this would be a saving of £150 (1500kWh x 10p).

If FITs were delivered by a "generation only" tariff, and generators were required to pay import rates for all electricity used (including that generated on-site) the household would receive much more: £950 per annum (2500kWh x 38p).

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Breakthough ideas for this century

At the SDC Breakthroughs event.

There were 19 brilliant ideas for how to save the planet - or at least the UK. It's a shame to single out just a few, but apart from Cap and Share (, there were biochar and algae - with a working model - ways of financing eco-refurb and educating kids about SD, and ideas for building communities and gardening.

Ed Miliband made a speech supporting CCS and growth. Boo, hiss.

HRH Charles made a speech which I've forgotten.

Porritt, in his swan song speech (he's retiring this month), criticised this and really laid into the Treasury. I mean REALLY - what has he got to lose now?

The new head of the SDC, Will Day, made a speech that didn't yet give a flavour of what his tenure will be like.

I nobbled Hilary Benn (to whom I got an intro from Welsh Evironment Minister Jane Davidson), and spieled him on Cap n Share, which he'd never heard of! He seemed to take it in and went off with the Feasta brochure.

Jane Davidson made an inspiring speech (I wish she had Benn's position and worked for Westminser instead of Cardiff). However, although Wales now has loads of inspiring targets like getting to a ecological fotprint of on plaet from he curret 2.77 in 20 years, the Welsh Assembly Gov's latest document on open cast coal mining basically has so many holes in it, it is not going to stop anyone open cast mining.

So, lots of hopeful and inspiring ideas and fabulously creative wannabe policies. All we need is joined-up government and strong leadership. Is that all?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Breakthrough Ideas for the 21st Century

I'm off to the Sustainable Development Commission's Breakthrough Ideas for the 21st Century event tomorrow.


It will showcase a selection of 39 ‘breakthrough’ ideas, as chosen by the SDC from around 300 ideas submitted from sustainable development experts and enthusiasts from business, academia, government and communities. They will be some of the best ideas that, if put in place, would truly put the UK on the path to becoming a sustainable society. It will also celebrate the talent, creativity and enthusiasm for sustainable development breakthroughs in the UK, and provide a space where others can demonstrate the good work that they are doing on sustainability.

The event will provide a platform for taking these ideas forward, by bringing together people who have the ability to make change happen, and inspiring them to do so, with workshops and other opportunities for delegates to learn and engage with the breakthrough ideas and sustainable development more generally.

The event will be hosted by Jonathon Porritt, Jonathan Dimbleby, Anna Ford and Rosie Boycott, and will include high-level speakers and others like Prince Charles.

I'm with the group supporting Cap and Share: see

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Commons debates personal carbon trading

This took place on 18.6.09: debating the Goernment's response to the Environmental Audit Commission's report. David Fleming was present at this debate.

Many of the objections to PCT put here, simply don't apply to Cap & Share, which is not mentioned in the whole debate... or the AEA report. It seems most parliamentarians are still unaware of Cap and Share despite the Irish Government's interest.

Joan Ruddock says on PCT "a significant number of low-income households would lose out, and we cannot ignore that. More than 2 million low- income households could be doubly disadvantaged. Not only would they pay the cost of the scheme, which could be around £40 to £80 per household per year, but if they lived in a rural area and had to use their car regularly, for example, they would exceed their free allocation and incur the cost of buying additional allowances. We cannot find a way of overcoming that."

The EAC wants to see a pilot. Ruddock wants it funded by the private sector. She puts faith in the 'upstream' ETS (C&S is also upstream - capping emissions where they enter the economy): "With regard to the upstream schemes, we estimate that it would cost about £50 million to cover a few dozen fuel companies, compared with the £1 billion to £2 billion to introduce a trading scheme that would have to involve 50 million participants. So what additional benefit could be gained by the downstream approach?". But as Yeo observes, the ETS doesn't deliver, and is not value for money.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark & Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat) does say: "One of our proposals is to switch from the climate change levy to a carbon tax, which would apply to "primary fuels as they enter the economy, once our energy efficiency measures have become effective in tackling fuel poverty, using revenues to cut other taxes."" Then he says: "I have decided that my party has an obligation to respond formally to the proposition in the report, and that we need to do so quickly, so I have decided that we will have a short period of formal but open consultation, picking up on what has come from the Committee's report and from the Government response, which makes arguments against it. We will complete that process by September, by the time of our conference."

Gregory Barker (Shadow Minister, Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill & Battle, Conservative) is against PCT on the grounds it is too Big Brother.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

We need a budget for green homes

New Guardian piece: We need a budget for green homes - Alistair Darling must set up a co-ordinated plan to encourage energy efficiency and refurbish the nation's dwellings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tell Sammy to step down

Sammy Wilson is Northern Ireland’s DUP Environment Minister, and he is persuaded that man-made global warming as an ‘hysterical pseudo-religion’. And so he has halted a government advertising campaign – which gave people ‘the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged in 40ft of water’ – denouncing it as ‘insidious New Labour propaganda’.

Send Sammy Wilson [] an email:

"To ignore all of the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change exists and is a man-made, means that you are completely unqualified for those responsible political position that you hold. You would be well advised to step down now and seek an alternative ministerial post more suited to your views."


Friday, January 30, 2009

Age of Stupid's fantastic trailer

Age of Stupid is set to make its impact on March 15th with a London premier and then general release.

Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off) stars as a man living alone in the devasted world of 2055, looking back at “archive” footage from 2007 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

> Read my article and interview with the director.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Climate change, George Monbiot, Agas, oil, blame, and guilt

Unusually for this blog, I'm directing you to a poem - on my other blog - about climate change - I like playing games - but not the Blame Game . The attitudes of some greenies really pisses me off. So this is about climate change, George Monbiot, Agas, oil, blame, guilt and so on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Emission allowance auction to be held as price crashes

The second auction in Phase II of the European Union's Emissions Trading System will be held on behalf of the government on 24th March.

But the scheme has come under attack again, as the owners of registered installations - large energy generators, cement manufacturers, chemical plants and the like - have been selling off credits which they are not using on account of the recession - to the tune of 75 to 150 million euros a day - to raise funds to balance their books.

Big polluters must purchase allowances corresponding to the tonnes of carbon they expect to emit. 7% of the UK's allowance cap is auctioned - about 86 million allowances over Phase II.

West European iron and steel output is expected to fall by at least 14% this year compared to 2008, and EU cement production by 20-25%, meaning there will be a surplus of carbon allowances of 66 million tons for those two sectors alone. This is worth about 750 million euros. But the sell-off is causing a glut and a price collapse - by up to a third in January. Analysts said it could drop as low as 5 euros from a peak of 31 euros last summer.

"This was not designed as a scheme to give corporates cheap short-term funding options in a credit crunch meltdown," said Mark Lewis, Deutsche Bank carbon analyst. "But that appears to be what's happening."

A low price undermines incentives for companies to cut emissions. "It demonstrates that the targets after 2012 (to 2020) are too lax, especially in combination with a large use of carbon offsets," said Cambridge University's Karsten Neuhoff. But Barbara Helfferich, EU Commission environment spokeswoman brushed off criticism, saying "If those companies were smart they would take those profits and invest them in greener technology". But will they?

The allowances are one of the worst investments so far in 2009, falling more than almost any other energy commodity or index of global stocks. Only the energy guzzlers have benefited - so it looks as if this auction won't raise nearly as much cash for the government as the first one.

This is yet another reason why the ETS needs a complete overhaul - it is just not fit for purpose.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"5,000 to 7,000 more offshore wind turbines" - report

Environmental study to inform location of future offshore energy developments

A new Government study of the UK's shores has recommended that between 5,000 to 7,000 more offshore wind turbines could be installed. This would be enough to power the equivalent of almost all the homes in the UK (assuming 3.6MW to 5MW turbines).

An Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), produced by Hartley Anderson Ltd, assesses the potential for further development in offshore wind, as well as oil and gas licensing and natural gas storage. The environmental report, the bulk of it, records vital information on bird populations, mammals, plankton and more. Following a twelve week consultation on this report, the Government will propose an "acceptable" level of offshore wind development, as well as offshore oil and gas licensing.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said: "This report provides a real advance in our understanding of the ecology and geology of the UK marine environment so we can continue to ensure that projects like wind farms are built in the most suitable places and that we will also protect the natural environment."

The Government has already proposed increases in the financial incentives to make the UK an attractive place for offshore wind development. Seven wind farms (North Hoyle, Scroby Sands, Kentish Flats, Barrow, Burbo Bank, Lynn and Inner Dowsing) are already operating off the UK coast, five more are being built, nine have been approved and two are in the planning process.

> DECC's offshore wind pages

Severn tidal power shortlist contains two lagoon proposals

Up to 5% of UK electricity could be generated

Both controversial barrages and innovative tidal lagoons favoured by conservationists have made it onto the shortlist of schemes to generate electricity in the Severn estuary. If the largest were to go ahead, it could produce enough electricity to supply all of Wales' needs.

New funding of £500,000 has also been announced to further develop new technologies like tidal reefs and fences. Their progress will be taken into account before a final decision is made. The tides in the Severn estuary are the second highest in the world.

A year-long feasibility study has been investigating ten options that are now whittled down to five. A consultation is now underway until 23 April on which projects to take forwards (which includes the five schemes that didn't make the shortlist). The five schemes are:
  • Cardiff Weston Barrage: crossing the estuary from Brean Down, near Weston-super-Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff. Estimated capacity: over 8.6 gigawatts - nearly 5% of UK electricity
  • Shoots Barrage: further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme. Capacity: 1.05GW (similar to a large fossil fuel plant)
  • Beachley Barrage: just above the Wye River. Capacity: 625MW
  • Bridgwater Bay Lagoon: on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston-super-Mare. Capacity: 1.36GW
  • Fleming Lagoon: on the Welsh shore between Newport and the Severn road crossings. Capacity: 1.36GW.
The projected costs range from £2.1bn to £21bn. PricewaterhouseCoopers is reporting on financing options.

Rare habitat

The estuary is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), under the European Union Birds Directive, in recognition of its internationally important overwintering bird populations.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said: "We have tough choices to make. Failing to act on climate change could see catastrophic effects on the environment and its wildlife, but the estuary itself is a protected environment, home to vulnerable species including birds and fish.

"We need to think about how to balance the value of this unique natural environment against the long-term threat of global climate change," Miliband concluded.

Under the Habitats laws a development can proceed if it is within the overriding public interest to do so, even if it may damage protected sites, but only if it can ensure that the appropriate compensatory measures to secure the coherence of the Natura 2000 network of sites and replace lost habitats before the project proceeds.

The study has considered this up to a point but come to no firm conclusion yet on whether it would be possible to deliver compensation on the scale required, calling it "a significant challenge".

The shortlisted schemes are based on relatively well understood hydroelectric technologies, with a mix of existing and new engineering structures.

The scope of the Strategic Environmental Assessment has also been published to ensure a detailed understanding.

> Severn Tidal Power Consultation