Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Energy Crisis

There seems to be a chill wind blowing these last few days - one which I cannot seem to inure myself against. I've mulled over how to blog for a few days now, and decided that although my focus is predominantly on the positive, sometimes it's impossible to ignore those moments where progress seems for whatever reason to have stalled.

Last week's Energy and Planning White Papers gave no cause for joy. Indeed, consisting mainly of reiteration of this government's current positioning, they seem to pose more questions than offer solutions. What could have been a prime opportunity to demonstrate leadership in taking steps to addressing our pending energy crisis was effectively sidestepped. Now with 17 EU countries adopting feed-in tariffs to kick-start their markets for microgeneration, we - a country that is just about to enter into net-import of our energy supplies - still refuses to give any form of assistance. Ah, there is one exception. The grand gesture of a one-off supplemental payment of £12 million under the Low Carbon Buildings Scheme - which will doubtless be fully utilised within a week, if earlier applications are anything to go by. Indeed, the largest PV company in the UK is currently looking at laying off staff. And this is a country that, as David Miliband stated this weekend at the Hay Literary Festival, subsidises it's transport sector (read: road expansion) to the tune of £80 million a week. Yes, that's £80 million a week. That's over £4 billion per annum. Mr Miliband, you yourself stated three times that we must take heed of Stern's advice - that to invest in prevention of climate change will be less costly to address now than later. So, Mr Miliband, it begs the question: where is the Climate Change Prevention Pot? There seems to be no evidence of any finances being set aside (or indeed distributed) to assist people in their transition from a fuel based economy to a low carbon economy and controlled energy descent.

There are two good reasons that this needs addressing now. One is that peak oil is about to sweep the world into an energy deficit within a matter of but a few years. The second, equally valid reason is that if we continue to hungrily devour our remaining fossil fuels until they are exhausted we have virtually no chance of retaining our greenhouse emissions at 450ppm - and thus leave ourselves at extremely high risk of runaway climate change.

Nuclear is still on the agenda as a solution in the UK, which is no panacea. After all, Nuclear energy in the UK amounts to but a mere 3.6% of our energy supplies. Even with 100% increase in efficiency, and the first of the new generation being rolled out in 2016 at the earliest, it's going to be a matter of too little too late. With energy deficits of 3 - 5% annually from possibly as early as 2010, this seems at best an ill-thought out plan. It's been calculated that for every £1 invested in renewables equates to £7 investment in Nuclear for the same amount of energy (remember - this is a government that says it will not subsidise Nuclear but will leave it up to market forces. So, who exactly is going to back such an expensive and dangerous venture?). The figures do not add up, especially when other long-term global solutions exist, such as Concentrating Solar Power which would supplement and complement large scale renewable projects as well as decentralised solutions such as microgeneration. This government talks about there being no one solution (true) but it is doing very little to give support to any but the one solution that is the least attractive of all. There is of course Russia - they could give us oil, coal, gas, uranium. All those juicy carbon emitters - and all from a country that all too recently proved it was perfectly capable of flexing it's muscles and turning off the tap whenever suits. Problem is, there is no coherent national strategy, no demonstration of a viable energy policy - at a time when governmental leadership is not just a political but a a moral imperative.

David Strahan, in his thoroughly researched and thoroughly readable book The Last Oil Shock poses the most pertinent of conundrums. Running out of oil should at least be good for climate change, you might think - but the reverse could be true. A growing shortfall of global oil production is likely to send the crude price skywards, and a mad dash to fill the gap could bring even higher carbon emitting alternatives. Strahan examines the most up-to-date evidence, presents the hard facts and proffers some potential future scenarios. Read it and decide for yourself.

The mood of environmentalists has changed. George Monbiot also spoke at Hay, and there was a sense of exigency, a darker tonality that I had not detected before. He was to speak on Solutions, but changed his content on the day. He warned of his concern about our pending energy crisis. His request was for us to become active citizens. Action that is lacking from the top - from our government - must come from the people now. He urges us all to go demand from our MP's that strong action be taken. Time to prepare for our future is now - and we need our government (and all governments) more than ever to help set out a clear road map to navigate the stormy times ahead.

* David Strahan, The Last Oil Shock, 2007, published by John Murray Ltd
* Interactive Oil Depletion Atlas
* What Stern Really Got Wrong, David Strahan, Prospect, May 16th 2007
* George Monbiot, Comment is Free: Our blind faith in oil growth could bring the economy crashing down

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Women Demand More Action on Climate Change

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to a reception at Portcullis House for the launch of the Women's Manifesto on Climate Change, jointly produced by the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) and my favourite charity, Women's Environmental Network (WEN).

Globally, women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to our different social roles and status. In the UK and in other developed countries, increasing costs for energy, transport, healthcare and nutrition are likely to affect women, including single mothers, more than men. In developing countries, women are already suffering disproportionately more as a consequence of climate change:
70% of the world's poor, who are far more vulnerable to environmental damage, are women
85% of people who die from climate-induced disasters are women.

This is no radical feminist tract, but a simple rallying call to the Government to take strong leadership and enable women to make a greater impact on reducing carbon emissions. A recent climate change survey conducted by NFWI/WEN of more than 500 women (amazingly, the first ever) clearly demonstrated that women care greatly about environmental issues, and are the primary household purchasers. Of the decisions made by women within the home, 93% of household food, 84% of clothing, 82% of household products, 75% of holidays, 74% of home furnishings and 61% of car purchases are made by women. My own eco-emporium,, was founded on the premise that women - as the primary purchasers and primary carers - have a key role in tackling climate change as consumers, educators and 'change agents'. This survey presents hard evidence to support such belief.

The survey demonstrates that 80% of women are very concerned about climate change (compare this with a recent EMAP survey findings of 84% women, but only 64% men) and 75% are apprehensive that government action to tackle climate change will not be taken soon enough.

According to the climate change survey, what women of the UK want most is:

  • Much more action in tackling climate change
    97% believe the Government and industry are not doing enough.
    Top priorities for action -
    86% demand the Government to invest in more renewable energy
    86% want manufacturers to design more environmentally friendly products
    81% demand tougher carbon reduction targets

  • More help and guidance to reduce our impact on the environment
    85% want more green products and green labelling of goods
    85% want lower prices for environmentally friendly products
    82% more government grants and incentives to reduce carbon emissions

  • More women's involvement in UK Government (87%) and international policy making (86%), to find solutions to climate change.

  • Greater representation of women in industry boardrooms (79%) and scientific careers (78%) to address climate change issues from a women's perspective, and as MP's (74%)

    Remarkably, 94% have already begun to make lifestyle changes and are willing to do more in the future. As Penney Poyzer pointed out, behavioural change on individual level is crucial, and what is clearly demonstrated by this report is that the women of this country have the will to tackle climate change. What is needed now is the way.

    I have signed as a signatory of the Women's Manifesto on Climate Change asking that
  • The UK Government take a strong lead
  • Equal involvement of women and men in decision-making
  • Investment in renewable energy
  • More environmentally friendly products
  • Tougher CO2 emissions targets.

    If you too care about the above, you can lend your support by signing up to the manifesto, or to find out more, check out WENor NFWI websites. Even better, donate or sign up and become a member.

    [photo credits: Burkina Faso Tearfund, Masai Women call for more to be done to tackle climate change, I-Count 2006 Greenpeace/Dave Walsh]
  • Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Clean Coal - too good to be true?

    Today sees the release of a report supporting Clean Coal as a low carbon energy solution. I have here as my guest Energy Specialist Neil Crumpton, FOE Campaigner, Climate and Energy Team.

    In a nutshell, what is clean coal?
    Clean Coal is new coal technology where 90% emissions are capable of being captured and stored underground. A further benefit of Clean Coal is that air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, acid gases, dust and other toxins are much reduced.

    What is FOE's position on clean coal?
    As long as Clean Coal includes Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) we would be like to see demonstration projects. Clean Coal without CCS is approximately 20% more efficient than existing coal technology. However, without CCS it is still nearly twice as polluting as gas fired power stations and possibly three times as much as Combined Heat and Power plants (CHP). However, Clean Coal WITH CCS can capture 85-90% of the gases emitted, but this still needs demonstrating at large scale.

    FOE would like to see a few clean Clean Coal with CCS demonstration schemes, preferably on industrial sites with good CHP potential. Therefore, the benefits of CHP and carbon capture are combined - both would be capable of sharing the same CO2 pipeline and the heat from the power station. A really well designed demonstration scheme on an industrial site could share the CO2 pipeline to an oil field in the North Sea (where the CO2 would be stored) and provide heat from the power station to nearby industrial processes. Hot water from the power station could then be usefully used by local industry.

    Is this a better option than renewables?
    No, but it could have a supporting role for our interim energy needs. If viable, it could be complementary to renewables in achieving substantial CO2 emission reduction in the short term. It could also potentially be useful in the transition to a low carbon economy based on renewable power over the next decade. Additionally, it could certainly avoid any new nuclear programme as Clean Coal would provide base load generation.

    So, would it be correct to say - until Clean Coal test sites incorporating CCS with CHP plants have proven successful, FOE remains cautious?

    The report released today, Clean Coal by Tony Lodge of the Centre for Policy Studies controversially states that FOE backs Powerfuel's new test site at Hatfield in Yorkshire. What do you say to that?
    We have not even heard of Powerfuel's scheme, let alone supported it. This report completely misquotes our Executive Director Tony Juniper on the merits of renewables in relation to clean coal. This report is simply pro-nuclear anti-renewable propaganda.

    Thank you Neil for putting us in the picture.
    It's been a pleasure

    Friends of the Earth

    Friday, May 11, 2007

    International Climate Conference

    This weekend, Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th of May, in London hosts the International Climate Conference. It's free and it's informative with expert speakers ranging across a wide remit of topics. You can come and go as you like. Last year I went with a couple of specific questions I wanted to find answers to on issues that I felt I didn't know enough about, sat in on a few talks, dipped into a few workshops, bought a couple of books, and left far the wiser with my questions answered. It's one of those situations where you wish you could be in many places at once - such is the choice of seminars and workshops.

    Topics include: Climate Science How bad, how fast?; Climate Change and Development; Climate Change, the biggest issue of Global Justice and human rights?; Green Taxes vs Carbon Rationing; CC & Aviation; CC & Transport; Solutions; Raising Awareness in Eastern Europe; CC & workers rights; Personal Action; Contraction & Convergence; CC & Health; CC & Faith; Can we avoid dangerous CC & maintain growth?; Carbon Trading; CC & Biodiversity; Bio-fuels; Future of Coal; Climate Disinformation; Nuclear: another energy is possible; CC & Deforestation; CC & the GLA; CC & Islam; Peak Oil; Carbon Trading; How to get a strong Climate Bill; Prospects for the Bali Talks and the Kyoto process post 2012; The Climate Camp; Carbon offsets, the debate; China and India, the emissions time bomb; Climate Campaigning in the Arab World and more....

    The Conference is being held at the London School of Economics, Houghton Streeet, London WC2 (click for map)

    For more details of the Conference, for speakers and seminar & workshop timetable go to Campaign Against Climate Change -

    Monbiot: Giving Up On Two Degrees, IPCC Report

    Sometimes I read an article, book or blog that addresses an issue so succinctly, argues a point concisely, presents a universal truth that is being ignored or overlooked - and I make a mental note to raise it in my blog. Then, life comes along and other demands take over and the moment has passed. But this is one article that has struck such a chord with me, that I have returned to re-read. I urge anyone who is concerned about what the target level of greenhouse gas emissions should be to read George Monbiot's article, Giving Up On Two Degrees

    Monbiot, in his usual well researched fashion, sets out why we need higher targets - and targets that must be met sooner. Infact, not only is our government relying on out-of-date figures, so is the European Union. Working on the basis of a 50% chance of preventing more than 2°C of warming, a global cut of 80% by 2050 would be required.

    Monbiot explains that this is a cut in total emissions, not in emissions per head. If the population were to rise from 6 to 9 billion between now and then, we would need an 87% cut in global emissions per person. If carbon emissions are to be distributed equally, the greater cut must be made by the biggest polluters: rich nations like us. The UK’s emissions per capita would need to fall by 91%.

    As Monbiot points out, what the recent IPCC report shows is that we have to stop treating climate change as an urgent issue. We have to start treating it as an international emergency.

    This latest IPCC Report, "Mitigation of Climate Change" was published on the 4th of May. Here is a brief summary of the key findings of the report:
    1. the world has until 2020 to reverse the trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change,
    2. achieving this would reduce the world's annual gross domestic product by 3 per cent in 2030,
    3. cuts in emissions of GHGs can be achieved with existing technologies,
    4. bringing that technology into widespread use is likely to require extensive changes in public policy,
    5. US$20,000 billion must be spent by 2030 on the world's energy infrastructure to help reduce costs.

    The report also estimates that carbon emissions will cost between US$100 per tonne. Multiple strategies are proposed to prevent the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change at a reasonable cost. These include measures such as switching to renewable energy and biofuels, taxing fossil fuels, incentives for improving the energy efficiency of transportation, buildings and industry, as well as changes to agricultural and forestry practices. The key findings of the report have been agreed unanimously by more than 100 governments, including those of the US, China, India and the European Union and will form the basis for international policy. They will also provide the framework for discussions, set to begin this December in Bali, on a successor to the Kyoto protocol on climate change, whose main provisions expire in 2012. Whilst the latest IPCC report makes it clear that the world has a substantial challenge, it also shows that there is an emerging consensus.

    *Giving Up On Two Degrees
    * IPCC Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change"