Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Will the developed nations' climate pledges be enough to avert catastrophic climate change?

All nations have had to submit a strategy for tackling climate change in the run-up to the crucial UN summit in Paris in December. A week last Tuesday Australia became the last big developed nation to do so, choosing to set a target of reducing emissions by 28% relative to a 2005 baseline. This translates to a 19% cut on 2000 levels.

But the government has qualified this by saying it will only meet this target "should circumstances allow", and that it "reserves the right to adjust our target" ahead of finalisation under the global agreement to be made in Paris.

In its "intended nationally determined contribution", or INDC, the Abbott government says that its target "significantly reduces" emissions both in relation to per capita (to 50-52%) and per unit of GDP (to 64-65%) compared to its previous 2020 target. 

A reduction of 40-60% by 2030 had been recommended by the Climate Change Authority, a body of independent advisors to the Australian government.

How does this compare to other developed countries?

In the 2014 climate change conference in Lima conference it was left open what year countries may choose as a baseline when drawing up their INDCs, which makes it hard to compare pledges, but think tank Carbon Brief says that if Australia were to meet its target, per capita emissions in 2030 would be 50% above those in the US and double those in the EU. [link:]

The WRI says the EU and U.S. proposals will mean emission reductions of around 2.8% per year whereas those by Australia and Canada will yield 1.8 and 1.7%, respectively. [link:]

Having such a weak target would leave other countries, including developing countries, having to pick up Australia's slack, commented David Waskow, an international climate director at the World Resources Institute in Washington. "It is at odds with the severe risks the country faces from climate impacts, such as droughts and wildfires." He added that the target adopted by the U.S. would mean it would achieve a similar level of cuts five years earlier. "The U.S. and the EU have come in with fairly strong and achievable targets," he said. 

Japan's pledge is also weak: the world's fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases proposes a target of 25.4% cut by 2030 from a 2005 baseline, although ministers have said they would prefer to use 2013 baseline which critics say is only because it would make wee deductions seem to be greater since, post-Fukushima, Japan has been burning a lot of coal to make up for the lack of nuclear power and this will be phased out now that nuclear power stations are beginning to be recommissioned.

The European Union, by contrast, has set a target of at least 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, and the United States has proposed a 26-28% cut from 2005 levels by 2025.

Per capita emissions in 2030 for countries that have submitted INDCs, based on emissions reduction targets. Source: The Climate Institute. Chart by Carbon Brief

Change in emissions compared to a 1990 baseline for countries that have submitted INDCs. Source: The Climate Institute. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Contrastingly, analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) points out that the effectiveness of Australia's pledge depends on how you look at it, but the bottom line is "Australia, like most countries, is still not doing enough to keep the projected rise in global temperature below 2 degrees” Kobad Bhavnagri, the head of Australia for Bloomberg New Energy Finance agrees. 

The target is:
  • Less ambitious than the EU and US, but more ambitious than Canada, South Korea and Japan when assessed against a common 2010 baseline year.
  • Less ambitious than China, South Korea and Canada, but more ambitious than the EU, US and Japan when assessed on an emissions intensity per unit of GDP basis.
  • Less ambitious than South Korea, Mexico, Canada and the US, but
  • More ambitious than Japan and the EU when assessed relative to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s projection of each economy’s business as usual trajectory.
  • Equivalent to a 19% reduction on 2000 levels, the baseline used to assess the short-term target of a 5% reduction in 2020.

Will disaster be averted?

What is clear is that the collective ambitions of developed nations are still not sufficient to meet the stated goal. "The overall ambition of the developed countries is still not sufficient," said Niklas Hoehne, founding partner of the NewClimate Institute that tracks pledges, referring to a U.N. goal of limiting rising temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

Analysis by Reuters says that taken together the pledges of a core group of developed nations represent an ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% less than that required – 30% as opposed to 50% – or the equivalent of 9.0 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030 instead of 15 billion. This is from a historical level of 12.2 billion tonnes in 2010.

"Many of the 2030 targets reflect policies that have already been adopted, for example renewable targets and power plant regulations, so in a way countries are promising what they are fairly confident they can deliver on," said Frank Melum, a senior analyst at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon.

A ClimateAction Tracker analysis based on the current pledges put the world on track for a devastating temperature rise of 3.1°C by 2100 (the current trend without the pledges is a catastrophic 3.9°C).

All of this is just the beginning, however. Countries are setting out their stalls and their bargaining positions in advance of the start of serious negotiations.

It remains to be seen whether under pressure from the evidence of actual climate science, rather than expediency and politics, governments are prepared to do what is actually necessary to prevent catastrophe.  Chief amongst these, everyone agrees, will be phasing out the use of coal.

Appendix - analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF):

Countries ranked by target emissions trajectory:
Absolute target emissions trajectory relative to 2010
-32% by 2030
-22% by 2025
-22% by 2030
-21% by 2030
South Korea
-21% by 2030
-16% by 2030
+7% by 2030
+58% by 2030
+60% by 2030
Global benchmark
-21% by 2030 (consistent with 50% reduction in emissions over 2010-50)

Countries ranked by target emissions intensity:
Required change in emissions intensity consistent with INDC
-54% by 2030
South Korea
-53% by 2030
-51% by 2030
-50% by 2030
-48% by 2030
-43% by 2025
-29% by 2030
-28% by 2030
+12% by 2030
Global benchmark
-49% by 2030 (consistent with 50% reduction in emissions over 2010-50)

Countries ranked by abatement needed to hit target vs BNEF emissions estimate:
Required change in emissions compared with BAU over 2012-30
South Korea
-28% by 2030
-21% by 2030
-11% by 2030
-8% by 2025
-7% by 2030
-3% by 2030
+5% by 2030
+9% by 2030
+53% by 2030
Global benchmark
Not available

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In 2013-14 every UK taxpayer spent £252.53 on looking after nuclear waste. Why make more?

We don't know what to do with nuclear waste, which is toxic for thousands of years and is extremely expensive to look after. In 2013-14 every UK taxpayer spent a staggering £252.53 on looking after this waste. Why make more?

How much is there? 

4.5 million cubic metres (4.9 million tonnes), enough to fill Wembley Stadium four times over. 1,100 cubic metres is very dangerous high level waste and 290,000 cubic metres is intermediate level waste. It's managed by a government body called the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

4% more will be produced in the future from the UK's continuing nuclear defence capability (waste estimated up to 2060) and its continuing nuclear-powered submarine programme (waste estimated up to 2100). [Source: NDA]

How much does it cost?

It costs £3.31 billion a year to manage the nuclear waste mountain, of which £2.09 billion comes from taxpayers. [Source: NDA]

The government funding comes from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Its total annual budget last year (2014-15) was £3.4 billion, so two thirds of this is for looking after Britain's nuclear waste mountain.

So on this basis, every one of the 29.7 million taxpayers in the UK spends £114.48 a year on looking after nuclear waste.

But this figure is not the same every year. In 2013/14, 95.8% of the roughly £7.9 billion DECC budget (£7.5 billion) went towards cleaning up the UK's nuclear legacy

Above: pie chart of the DEL budgetChart by Carbon Brief.

On this basis, every UK taxpayer spends £252.53 a year on looking after nuclear waste.

Whatever the average in the future will be, it will continue for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Perhaps as long into the future as the building of Stonehenge is in the past. And we have no idea why that was built, so will people in the future know what our relics are?

The above chart of DECC's budget during 2013/14 shows what government calls "annually managed expenditure" (AME). Most of this relates to nuclear decommissioning. Most went towards cleaning up the UK's nuclear legacy. Source: Cabinet Office and DECC annual report and accounts. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The costs are rising.

The estimated costs of cleaning up the Sellafield nuclear site rose an estimated £5 billion to £53 billion in February this year, according to a March statement from Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge. She says: "It has taken far too long for the Authority to deal with management incompetence at Sellafield".

A private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), that had been running the clean-up at Sellafield was stripped of its contract in January for reasons of incompetence.

Until the recent cuts DECC's budget was just 1.2% of the total government budget. Since then it's been told by George Osborne to save a further £70 million. The nuclear waste amount can't be changed for safety reasons.

Since most of DECC's budget is for managing nuclear waste, shouldn't the department be renamed The Department for Nuclear Waste?

Where should the waste go?

It's now held in temporary storage ponds on the north west coast of England, in Sellafield. These ponds are deteriorating, and leaks occur. So for 50 years the government and the industry has been looking for a permanent storage place underground.

It has not found one, because nobody wants it beneath their feet, not even the good people of Sellafield themselves.

So, since April the government can override local councils and force nuclear waste dumps on a community, under a law that was rushed through in the final hours of the last parliament. This is like the recent announcement that would allow fracking anywhere that the onshore oil and gas industry wants, against local wishes, if the government says so.

Is this what you want?

None of the above gives me any reason to be confident about Britain building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Renewable energy can give much better value for money and provide baseload power in the cases of hydroelectric and marine power, and renewable gas, while electricity storage solutions are fast-tracked for Research and Development to store intermittently generated electricity from wind and solar, without leaving a toxic and expensive legacy.

Monday, August 17, 2015

15 anti-green policies announced since the Tories came to power

UK energy secretary Amber Rudd with Prime Minister David Cameron
UK energy secretary Amber Rudd (left) with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Since the Conservative party took complete control of the United Kingdom’s parliament three months ago they have revealed their true colours on energy policy and outraged many environmentalists. The party under David Cameron, who five years ago promised “the greenest government ever”, is now firmly headed in the opposite direction.

The basic trend seems to be a preference for large scale projects, offshore as opposed to onshore wind, wholesale and widely unpopular support for fracking, the oil industry and nuclear power. The biggest losers are energy efficiency in the home, onshore wind and solar power.

This is in complete contrast to the wishes of the British public, as identified by consistent polling, which is against fracking and for renewable energy.

In March 2015, in the government’s own survey, nearly four-fifths of the public (78 per cent) said they supported the use of renewable energy to provide the UK’s electricity, fuel and heat. This was broken down into offshore wind (73 per cent), biomass (63 per cent), onshore wind (65 per cent), wave and tidal (74 per cent) and solar (81 per cent). On fracking, only 24 per cent have said they support it and only 39 per cent support nuclear energy.

But the U-turn in policy is consistent with the Conservative tendency to listen to lobbyists from the nuclear and oil industries and to vocal campaigners from within rural conservative MPs’ constituencies who dislike wind turbines. At no point within the previous government did Chancellor George Osborne entertain lobbyists from the renewable energy industries.

British energy policy has long suffered from a lack of consistency, frequently lamented by the industry, which says it needs predictability in order to plan investment. Delays and about turns characterised the last years of the Labour government up to 2009 and much of the five years of the Coalition period when power was shared by the Conservatives with the greener LiberalDemocrats.

Here’s a list of the 15 anti-green policies announced since the Tories came to power:
  1. it has scrapped Renewables Obligation subsidies for new onshore wind farms and larger solar farms from next year
  2. it has launched a tax raid on renewable operators by extending the Climate Change Levy, intended to be a tax on fossil-fuel generators to include renewables, which will result in a substantial amount of lost income for clean energy companies. For example, Levy Exemption Certificates account for just over six per cent of onshore wind generators’ revenues
  3. it has tightened planning rules for the onshore wind energy sector and hinted that onshore wind farms will not be eligible to participate in any auction for price support contracts
  4. it has postponed to an unspecified date the next contract for difference (CfD) auctions for large renewables projects, leading to speculation it will not be undertaken this autumn as planned
  5. it has scrapped a policy that by 2016 every new home should be zero carbon, which has been in place for eight years and which the industry has been preparing for on the (debatable) grounds of affordability
  6. it has axed the domestic energy efficiency programme, the Green Deal, following disappointing take-up rates due to the fact that the interest rate at the start for borrowing finance was set way too high, at eight per cent (in Germany a similar, successful, scheme has an interest of late of just over two per cent)
  7. it is ending subsidies for small solar farms from next April under a consultation that will affect those with a capacity below 5MW accessing the Renewables Obligation (RO)
  8. it is cutting support for smaller renewable energy installations, ending a pre-accreditation process under which solar PV and wind projects above 50kW and all hydro and anaerobic digestion (AD) projects may confirm the level of support they can secure through the scheme once they have planning permission and a grid connection. This will particularly affect corporate and community renewables projects
  9. it is to sell off up to 70 per cent of the Green Investment Bank, launched in 2012 with £3.8 billion of public sector money and designed to profit from investment in new green infrastructure. The move was attacked by Tory Ben Goldsmith, chairman of the Conservative Environment Network, which numbers prominent Tory supporters and MPs among its members, who called it “one of the Coalition government’s few great, green achievements”
  10. it has reduced the incentive to buy a low-emissions car, charging the dirtiest and the cleanest the same rate of vehicle excise duty from 2017 in an effort to raise more tax revenue
  11. it is announcing plans to fast-track planning applications for fracking when local people and local authority planning departments decide against a scheme, even in sites of special scientific interest and national parks. Recently Lancashire Council rejected two planning applications from shale gas developer Cuadrilla
  12. it has scrapped a target set by the coalition government to keep increasing the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes
  13. it has removed the guaranteed level of Renewable Obligation subsidy for coal or other fossil fuelled-power stations if they wish to convert to burning biomass fuels
  14. there has been no funding for solid wall insulation since 26th March 2015
  15. it is to continue with support for nuclear power with an announcement expected this week on Hinkley Point C.

Friday, August 07, 2015

£1bn Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon To Be First of Many Around the World

Pre-development work is well underway on the world's first tidal lagoon, to be built in Swansea Bay on the south coast of Wales, the first of many around the world for this revolutionary new form of generating renewable energy.

The £1 billion project is expected to be completed within four years, when it will start generating a maximum of 320 MW, enough to power 155,000 homes – more than the annual domestic electricity use of the city of Swansea. The project was awarded a Development Consent Order on June 9th 2015 by the British government.

Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay from Preconstruct on Vimeo.

The company behind the project, Tidal Lagoon Power has just appointed a delivery director, Mike Unsworth, who has experience delivering much larger offshore wind renewable energy projects. He calls his appointment “a once-in-a-career opportunity to help deliver a new and potentially transformational option in the UK’s energy portfolio".

Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay Plc, described the project as groundbreaking and can hardly contain his excitement: "The UK and especially Wales has opened a new door to help answer the greatest challenge of our age in the run up to the Paris talks on a global climate change deal."

Unlike wind and solar renewable energy projects, the lagoon will produce reliable, predictable energy for 14 hours of every day over 120 years (that's about four or five times longer than non-hydro renewable energy generators). As a form of hydroelectric energy, it will be able to generate power from the incoming and outgoing tides, which are captured within the lagoon's four mile long artificial walls – an 11.4sq km sea lake.

Within the lagoon the feature will also provide recreational facilities for watersports (sailing, open water swimming, triathlon and rowing), leisure and cycling and walking around the seawall. A Visitor Centre will cater for the estimated 70 to 100,000 visitors per year and become a major tourism draw, giving further benefit to the local economy.

Last week, the company submitted plans for the watersport centre, drawn up by Faulkner Browns, the architects behind the 2012 Olympics sailing centre in Weymouth and many other award-winning sports facilities. The plans include a lobster and oyster hatchery and a fully serviced aquaculture facility with a seawater circulation system. The greenhouse structure will harness solar power to grow the nutrient supply to the hatchery.

The masterplan for the lagoon itself won the President’s Award for its design company, LDA Design, at the 2014 Landscape Institute Awards.

Unlike the much larger but ill-fated tidal barrage for the Severn estuary, which was turned down two years ago and would have been much bigger yet cause problems for wildlife on the mud flats of the estuary, the Swansea project’s approach to public consultation has been highly commended. It has won even the support of environmentalists concerned about the effect on wildlife in the Bay.


The project is being financed privately, but is expected to receive support from the new Contracts for Difference, an auction system designed by the British government to support the forms of renewable energy that provide the best value for money. The first phase of negotiations on a potential Contract for Difference were announced in the UK Chancellor’s Budget in March 2015.

Later this year investment opportunities will be opened for the general public.  £300 million of investment is already coming from China. In June, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd, one of the world’s largest specialist marine engineering contractors and investors, was named as the preferred bidder for a marine works package that will include the construction of the six mile lagoon wall.

These Chinese backers see great potential for the technology in Asia. The signed deal also includes a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of tidal lagoon power projects particularly at sites along China’s 18,000 km of coastline. This means that the Swansea project is the first of many throughout the world. It is ideal in areas where there is sufficient tidal range. Swansea Bay benefits from a tidal range of up to 10.5m.

A tendering process has begun for three main operations and maintenance (O&M) contract packages, worth £4 million per year and a series of events to raise awareness of the business possibilities amongst Welsh construction and manufacturing businesses has just completed. It is hoped that much of the manufacturing work will happen in Wales and will provide a great boost to the economy.

Up to 1,900 jobs will be created during the construction phase, 35 jobs in quarrying stone for the seawall and around 81 permanent jobs will be created in operations and maintenance and in the visitor facilities. Local residents are expected to benefit from reduced electricity bills.

Roger Evans, Chair of the Tidal Lagoon Industry Advisory Group believes that developing a supply chain that has the skills and capacity to service Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is "critical to ensuring that Wales is best placed to take advantage of this emerging industry". It is already working with global leaders like GE, Andritz, CHEC and Laing O’Rourke "who are now beginning the process of identifying local contractors and suppliers to be part of the journey with us,” he said.

Tidal Lagoon Power already plans to follow the Swansea Bay project with five small full-scale tidal lagoons around the UK. It estimates that the six projects altogether could contribute £27bn to UK GDP during construction and provide 8% of the UK's electricity for the next 120 years.

A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that the emergence of a global tidal lagoon industry could present an export industry valued at £70bn to the UK economy.

More information: