Archive for category CO2 and Government

Economic crisis - the perfect opportunity for green measures - if only they could see it

No cutsIt’s 2012 and the world is undergoing major economic upheaval. In pretty much every major country the buzzword is ‘cuts’. Cuts to staff, cuts to expenditure and cuts to investment. Although governments are talking about long-term plans, most actions seem very short-termist, and it’s therefore not a very good time for green initiatives, most of which will take time and need investment. This is all meant to save money, but it’s definitely putting a stop to saving the planet!

And, from a CO2 reduction point of view, I think they’ve got it wrong in so many ways. I realise you probably need financial training to work it out, but it seems to me that governments are putting their own welfare over that of the people. Throughout the 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog (ok, not so often recently…), I have focused on one message above all others: the measures you take to reduce emissions can also save you money.

Instead of reducing investment in green initiatives, governments - and especially the UK government should be pushing them forwards and helping individuals, companies, even their own institutions reduce their costs. Here are some examples:

  1. A greater push and tighter regulations on company emissions. Greater awareness on electricity consumption alone could reduce electricity bills hugely across the country.
  2. Backing off from cutting the feed-in tariff. I know the government has just suffered a defeat on this, but they really need to rethink and maintain the higher rate for now. A huge opportunity exists here to help whole communities save money by installing solar panels.
  3. Tightening vehicle emissions rules still further and even considering subsidising the development of EVs. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s make our cars more efficient and stop this bank-breaking dependency on petrol.
  4. Encouraging other forms of green transport. How’s about giving tax breaks to people who cycle? Or allowing them to claim expenses to maintain their bikes? How’s about making the ‘Cycle to work’ scheme obligatory in every company over a certain size? Millions have already flocked to two wheels (me included) but more would follow if given a little push in the right direction.
  5. I know that there are some initiatives coming up that use this kind of thinking, including an loan scheme to help home owners invest in green energy, but more could and should be done.

    There, rant over for today. But I think I’m going to keep on at this one.

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MP suggests cars carry ‘climate health warnings’ - maybe someone’s listening

It’s very rare that I am impressed by a UK MP’s ideas or statements on Climate Change, but for once, someone has raised their voice and come up with something sensible. MP Colin Challen, chair of the all-party climate change group has come up with the idea of government health warnings on all car adverts, pointing out that they are damaging to our health and to our climate, and that consumers are being misled by the ‘green’ message now being given out in many ads, suggesting to some extent that they are now good for the environment.

Ok, maybe this is a bit far, but I’m still happy to see someone pointing out - if in a bit more extreme manner - that car manufacturers are getting away with selling cars without highlighting the negative effect they do have on the environment. I’m especially happy as it’s a subject I have brought up before, although my suggestion is slightly less extreme - that all car ads in all formats should display as clearly as possible the CO2 emissions generated by the car in question.

It has got better - most posters and magazine ads do now include CO2 emissions figures (in very small print), but TV ads still blatantly avoid the subject. In fact, I’d love to do a test with a panel of consumers to get them to estimate the actual CO2 emissions of a series of cars based on the message from their ads.

And that’s the point. It’s not clear, and something needs to be done to ensure that we make educated decisions. I don’t think we need great big ‘CARS CAN KILL THE PLANET’ health warnings - this is the ‘THE END IS NIGH’ approach to getting people to reduce CO2 emissions, and it puts out more backs than it encourages people. However, the fact that someone influential is pointing out the absence of any clear message on CO2 emissions in many car ads is a step in the right direction.

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New UK coal-fired power stations with ’substantial’ CCS: a step forwards, backwards, or sideways?

With trumpeting and fanfares from the government, some of the press and even green groups, Ed Milliband the UK’s ‘Climate Change’ Secretary announced the construction of up to four new coal-fired power stations, but with the proviso that each must capture a ’substantial’ amount of the CO2 generated (estimated at around 25%) and store it underground. He also made it clear that no coal-fired power stations will be built in the future without carbon capture.

This obviously does represent a step, if not a leap forwards, and puts the UK in a leadership position in this area, but I can’t help questioning how much it will contribute to actually reducing the UK’s CO2 emissions, especially in the short term? The issue is with the phrase ’substantial’, which I would normally have expected to mean at least over 50%, but actually means between 20% and 25%. Apparently it is just not possible to capture 100% of emissions from the get-go as the technology has not yet been proven. According to Mr Milliband, ‘2025 is a practical’.

I am supposing that these new power stations will be replacing older, less-efficient ones, so that even without CCS each one would not represent a 100% additional weight on the UK’s CO2 emissions. However, I am struggling to understand how, even with the predicted 25% of CO2 collected, these plans can constitute anything but an increase in emissions between now and 2025, when we hope that 100% can be collected. If the glummest of doomsayers are right, this is not a good thing, as we need to be focusing everything we do on reducing emissions every year, and can’t allow for any further increases.

Conclusion? It’s a huge step forward to see the government insisting on and investing in new, CO2 reduction solutions, but the question has to be asked: could the estimated £4 billion of investment (not including further increases in fuel bills) be better spent on zero-emissions energy solutions? To me it’s a step-forward in thinking, but we are no nearer the desired results.

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Shell gives up on wind, solar and hydro power. Why bother?

Amongst the myriad of different opinions voiced every day regarding the best solutions for reducing world CO2 emissions, there is at least one consensus: we can’t achieve anything without a major push from and the support of governments AND big business. When talking of big business, there’s nothing much bigger than the oil producers, with their huge annual profits, credit crunch or no credit crunch, and amongst the oil producers, few come bigger than Shell.

Until recently, the energy companies seemed to be doing all they could to demonstrate their green credentials. BP has changed their logo and become an ‘Energy Company’. Total talks about ’sustainable development’. Esso talks about ‘provide energy, protect the environment’. All of them have been actively investing in other energy sources and making a lot of noise about it, showing a ‘green side’, and also in a sort of admission about the peak oil situation. Of course they are still producing and selling as much oil as possible, but at least they are helping to take the world forwards in the crucial search for the energy solutions of the future.

But now, all of a sudden, Shell has announced that they are stopping all investment in wind, solar and hydro power as they are not ‘economic. Instead they are re-focusing on biofuels. Linda Cook, Shell’s executive director of gas and power, said: “If there aren’t investment opportunities which compete with other projects we won’t put money into it. We are businessmen and women. If there were renewables [which made money] we would put money into it.”

Wow…. hold the front page! Renewables aren’t money-making today, and Shell has been kind enough to tell us! Thank you so much. Amazingly enough, we all know this, or at least that renewables don’t offer the profit-making potential of oil, but we also know that this is early days. The first nuclear power stations took years to become profitable, but we persevered, and technology improved. Similarly, solar power has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, as have wind and hydro, but the only way for them to reach the nirvana of genuine profit is via serious investment in research and development, the kind of investment only available to the oil companies with their billions in annual profits.

But apparently Shell does not want to lead the way in this area. They don’t want to set an example, and their excuse is because it’s a waste of money.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the oil companies (I can’t think why), but what seems a better investment to you: (allegedly) spending millions on paying people not to prove that oil is a major contributor to CO2 emissions and global warming, or spending millions on future, cleaner energy sources - basically to ensure that these very companies have a future?

They have the infrastructure, they have the scientists, they have the money, but unfortunately, Shell don’t seem to have the will to help us improve the way we all live. Sadly, we will have to look elsewhere for the example-setters at this crucial time.

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How can we continue to reduce CO2 emissions and stimulate the economy?

In these difficult economic times, many people have voiced concern over the fact that the many advances made over the last few years in the battle against global warming may be negated due to the sudden massive reduction in investment in this area.

It has always been recognised that investment is required on a public and, to a lesser extent a private level in order to reduce our CO2 emissions at the speed recommended to avoid major global incidents. Governments need to invest in our infrastructure, in planning for a future where oil becomes more and more scarce, and where less is more with regard to energy consumption, and everyday people need to invest in changing their lightbulbs, replacing inefficient appliances, and in more efficient, but more expensive fuel sources. Suddenly noone has any money: the governments have spent it on saving our banks, and people have lost it on the markets, in the drop in the value of housing, or quite simply by losing their jobs. Everyone is tightening their belt, and this is not good news for the new, Green Economy.

Barack Obama, I am glad to say, has made huge steps to counter these concerns by guaranteeing investment in the Green Economy. He has openly said that his goal is to stimulate the economy by investing in this new area, creating new jobs, planning for a better future, and, ultimately, saving people money in the process. In the UK, however, we haven’t quite got that far. There is proposed investment in improving efficiency in our homes, but many other potential areas of investment still seem up in the air, either due to lack of funds or lack of decision-making.

Which is why a briefing paper published this week by Lord Stern of Stern Report fame and Alex Bowen, entitled ‘An outline of the case for a ‘Green’ stimulus is well worth paying attention to. This short but perfectly formed document takes an intelligent, practical approach with the aim of identifying how boosting the Green Economy can boost our economy overall, thus justifying ongoing investment in spite of hard times.

The report looks at a range of different solutions currently which have been, are being, or should be considered to help us reduce our CO2 emissions. It then looks at each of them from several angles, with the goal of identifying those solutions that can both promote economic recovery and limit the adverse effects of climate change. How quickly can each solution be implemented, is the investment required short or long-term, how much will it help reduce emissions, and will it help businesses and everyday people save money, thus aiding recovery?

Based on these scoring criteria, the 5 best performers are:

  • Improving residential home energy efficiency
  • Improving public building energy efficiency
  • Replacing boilers on a massive scale
  • Replacing lights and other appliances
  • Producing new, fuel-efficient cars

And the worst 5 solutions are:

  • Domestic renewable energy
  • Encouraging energy R&D
  • Connected urban transport
  • Advanced Battery development
  • Carbon capture and storage projects

I don’t totally agree with the scoring in every case, and it would be easy to change around the order by changing the criteria, but the approach is still very interesting and makes you think. I’m happy to know that point 1 seems to be already in progress, but I feel that point 2 needs far more investment and point 3 is simply too expensive to consider today. And don’t even get me on to fuel-efficient cars, as the car companies are really dragging their heels here, and because for me this is totally linked with advanced battery development.

Still, at a time when difficult choices have to be made, I am impressed by this attempt to help clarify the arguments for the different solutions. If you want to learn more, you can read the whole paper here - it’s not too long and well worth the read.

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Billions to save the banks. What price to reduce the world’s emissions?

We all enjoy dreaming, and I’m no exception. It gives me a warm feeling inside to imagine how things would be if our wishes actually came true.

For anyone who cares about our world’s future, reducing CO2 emissions and improving the earth’s ability to absorb them shouldn’t be a dream, but when you look at the snail speed at which governments are currently moving, at the excuses put forward every time another target is missed, then perhaps fantasy is a more apt word than dream. And the most common excuse used is ‘we don’t have enough money’.

Only last week I read that the UK’s ambitious targets for building wind farms don’t have a chance without investment that is currently not forthcoming. As the Guardian commented - it’s all very well setting an ambitious and necessary target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, but we all know that unless there is a dramatic change in the attitude towards investment in renewable energies, it will never be achieved. Whilst positive noises are being made in public, negotiations go on behind the scene to back out of targets or push them back, and every time the investment needed is cited as the main reason. Apparently our governments just can’t afford to put in place the necessary schemes to achieve the goals they are setting, in spite of the dire warnings on what may happen if they don’t.

And yet, when there is a global crisis in the financial markets, suddenly there is enough money to save our banks. Not millions, not billions, not even hundreds of billions, but trillions are immediately made available to help out our ailing financial institutions and their oh so poor employees. Of course it was important to save the banks - it was either that or financial chaos, but the point is that the money - a lot of money - was there in the event of a crisis.

The world’s governments now seem to agree that if radical action is not taken to reduce CO2 emissions, and fast, our planet will go through some dramatic changes before the end of this century, changes that could affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people. If they’re right, then surely this is a crisis on the scale of the financial meltdown we are experiencing, although with one difference: we can see it coming, and we have time to do something about it?  In fact, if we do something about it now, it will cost us a hell of a lot less than in twenty years’ time when some of the predicted and potentially irreversible changes have already started to take place.

For instance, it is estimated that the UK’s plan to generated 36% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020 will cost around £50 billion. Even taking economies of scale into account, surely a complete conversion to renewables would only cost maybe £500 billion, and this over as much as 20 years? So why are there regular rumours that suggest that we will miss the 2020 target due to cost issues, and by a mile too?  If we look at things from a global perspective (which is of course more relevant), how much do we think it would cost to protect and even start to restore the rain forests, or to push for a complete conversion of transport to a cleaner fuel source by 2020? Yes, it’s a huge amount of money, but all I know is that drip-feeding in order to keep all parties happy today and to win votes, is certain to make many more people unhappy tomorrow.

The media often use the phrase ’short termism’ these days - basically another way to describe the policies of governments that are reactive rather than proactive. We have a real opportunity to avoid short termism in the battle to reduce CO2 emissions, and I just can’t understand why more isn’t being done to take advantage of it. Yes, it will cost a lot, but it has just been proved that the money can be found. Maybe it’s not a dream after all…

 

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At what point will Global Warming become an accepted reality?

This week, the Met Office’s Hadley Centre published the results of a study into the potential effects of climate change, and the level of action required to avoid drastic increases in temperature over the next 100 years. They estimate that anything but ‘early and rapid’ action against climate change will result in a rise in global temperature of 2.9 degrees centigrade or more by 2100.

Also this week, Drax, Britains’s biggest coal-fired power station, announced that they are investing in direct-injection biomass co-firing systems for all 6 of their coal-fired units, which should cut their CO2 emissions by more than 2.5 million tonnes per year.

So here is a recognised weather authority giving a clear warning, and a recognised polluter taking positive action. If Global Warming is just a great corporate plot, then what is the point of all this action? I don’t think that the Met Office are particularly known for being ordered around by the government, and as for Drax, well I thought that power suppliers just wanted to build more power stations!

I have followed the Global Warming / Climate Change debate with interest for a long time. I’ve obviously always been more persuaded by the ‘for’ than the ‘against’, but I’ve also been fascinated to observe the typical human reaction to warnings of ‘future catastrophe’. ‘Give me proof!’ they say, and, when there’s no immediate catastrophe for them to feel and touch, they go on as before. ‘What’s the point?’ they say, pointing to the other polluters who are doing nothing about reducing their CO2 emissions. ‘It’s not my fault!’ they say, abstaining all responsibility and continuing as before.

Most of us just won’t believe that something is wrong until it bashes us over the head. The problem in this case is that by the time Climate Change bashes us over the head it will probably be too late - at least that’s what the Met Office are saying, and they are by no means the first.

So back to the question in the title: What’s it going to take for us to realise that things are going wrong, and that we need to take action, and lots of it? Well I have to admit that we’re not really being helped by our government making promises out of one side of their mouth and reneging on them out of the other side, but these moves by 2 disparate UK institutions this week brought it home to me. Let’s stop fannying around or maybe it really will be too late.

So what are you waiting for? Floods? Hurricanes? Killer freeze or killer heatwaves? Why bother waiting? There’s plenty you can do right now that really won’t stretch you, and if we all did it, maybe we can avoid that catastrophem whether we believe in it or not. Only one problem, though. If we do take action and avoid catastrophe, there will always be the naysayers saying ‘Told you so! There wasn’t a catastrophe in the first place!’

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Apparently aviation does not contribute to EU CO2 emissions - work that one out!

As I’m sure anyone interested in the subject of reducing CO2 emissions finds, there are some subjects that come back again and again. One, which I suppose should not be that surprising, is that of our gung ho ‘let’s reduce emissions by 80%’, ‘we are the number one in Europe for fighting climate change’ government once more working behind the scenes to make it easier for them to hit the famous EU CO2 emissions targets.

This time, according to an article in the Guardian’s enviroment section, who have got hold of a leaked document, they are lobbying to remove emissions from aviation from the energy targets, as it won’t be possible to produce the necessary biofuels by 2020. The thing is that if aviation emissions were removed from the target, it would make it significantly easier to hit, and that this far smaller reduction would have less of a positive impact on the environment.

This is apparently one of several attempts being made to find ways to reduce the actual targets that have to be hit by 2020. Others include allowing countries to count the impact of initiatives put into place before the deadline even if they will actually take far longer to have an effect, and various manipulations of carbon credits to enable them to buy their way out of actually making the promised reductions.

If there’s one thing that gets to me more than a government that does nothing, it’s one that makes a lot of noise about doing lots of things whilst not really doing them behind the scenes. Over the last few years, EU governments have all got together and said ‘we have a problem, and we want to fix it’. The UK government has stated their desire to be champions in this area, and have made many wonderful promises. If you look closer, however, it is clear that they are spending just as much time setting up the excuses to justify not achieving what they have promised to achieve - either that, or setting up the next government for a fall!

Either there’s a problem or there isn’t. Let’s put away what we the public think for a minute, and put ourselves in the position of a / the government. They have decided there is a problem, a big one, and a big threat to our future, and they have told us that this is what they think. They have then made a big song and dance about everything they are going to do, that has to be done, increasing and re-increasing targets until they are genuinely ambitious. Then, behind the scenes, they have been negotiating various reductions that makes hitting any of the targets impossible.

Lets say I make a simple commitment to replace all the lightbulbs in my house and turn down my thermostat by 10 degrees. Let’s also say however that I tell all my friends about it in order to show how wonderful I am, receiving pats on the back and big smiles all round. If I was then to go and see some of my key friends and say ‘do you think it would be ok if in fact I just replaced half the bulbs, because, you know, the one in the bathroom doesn’t turn on quick enough, so I can’t see to pee, and the one by my bed is not good for reading, and in fact I like a really hot shower and….’. What would they think?

I know what I’d think.

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Reducing emissions - the ideal way to fight the Credit Crunch

Just in case anyone has had their head in the sand for the first 5 months of this year I just wanted to confirm officially: things are getting tighter financially, and it’s going to get worse. At any rate, that’s my reading of what I see going on around me in the UK. Mortgages (if you can get one) are going up, petrol is going up as are other fuel bills, food is going up, house values are going down…

So what should we do about it? Well we can do the classic thing and moan a lot and wait to be helped by the government, or we can look at our lives and see how we can ’slim down’ our expenses, cutting out the unnecessary costs in order to leave us more to spend on the things we can’t do without.

There have been several articles in the papers recently wondering whether a recession will cause businesses and consumers to give up on their efforts to cut their CO2 emissions as there are more important things to worry about. I think that this is a complete contradiction in terms for both businesses and consumers. Reducing your CO2 emissions will always save you money, and in some cases it will cost you nothing or next to nothing.

Above all, there are all the obvious things you can do, many of which are covered in my Reduce Your CO2 Tips of the Day. Most of these apply to offices and to homes and nowadays it’s often offices who are the main culprits, committing such sins as leaving monitors, printers and even lights on all night. Businesses also have an advantage in that, if you own your offices, investing in solar or wind power will have an immediate effect on overheads whilst being considered an investment that adds value to the company. At home, it’s simply a matter of changing your behaviour, for instance by doing the round of all the sockets every night to switch them off, or not day dreaming in the shower!

Many of us know about these relatively simple actions, and to me they should not be presented so much as something we HAVE to do because the world is in danger (although this may be true). First and foremost, they are common sense. Why waste money? Why spend more money heating your house than is necessary? If there’s one thing that winds me up, it’s the comments of global warming naysayers about conusuming for all their worth, because they can, and because it won’t have any effect anyway. Let’s put aside the effect bit, and simply look at what they are proposing: let’s spend as much money as possible where we don’t need to, just because we can.

Ok, enough ranting. Reducing CO2 emissions is about becoming more efficient, and in many cases with little or no effort. Right now this is what everyone needs to know, and it’s what I’m saying to anyone who will listen. What would be really good, would be if governments tried out the same message. Let’s stop talking about more or less green taxes and where they go. Let’s cut down on the doom and gloom, which causes huge divides of opinion, apathy in some, and panic in others. Let’s just concentrate on using our common sense and sitting back to enjoy the fact that by saving money on our energy bills we have stopped the credit crunch from affecting us.

 Oh, and we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions in the process….

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Retrospective tax on polluting cars - not just a stick, a ’stealth’ stick

I don’t generally believe in kicking a man when he’s down, but it’s pretty difficult not to when he’s lying there with a great big sign stuck to his back saying KICK ME. And that, to me, is the case with Gordon Brown right now, as he stumbles from one problem to the next. So I’m not going to hold back, and what’s more, I’m going to kick him for an idea aimed at reducing co2 emissions.

‘Stealth tax’ is one of the many expressions coined during the New Labour era, basically referring to taxes that don’t hit the tax payer directly, or immediately. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown became particularly good at one type of stealth tax, the one where he would announce an increase one year, but it was timed to come into effect a year later, by which time many people have forgotten about it. In this case, he has gone one better, and announced a tax rise that would come into effect in a year’s time AND would apply to all cars bought in the last 7 years!

The tax in question is the Vehicule Excise Duty, better known as Road Tax. As of next year, the co2 emissions bands that decide what car owners will pay each year will be increased from 7 to 13, with a sliding scale of costs running from £0 for a car with emissions of under 100 g/km to £440 for one with over 255 g/km of emissions. They will go up again in 2010, with the top-end cost becoming £445, and with a new, additional first year rate being introduced that is even more punitive to gas guzzlers.

In principal this is a good idea, as it encourages us all to pay attention to co2 emissions when purchasing a new car. It is a good example of the ‘carrot and stick’ method, and for once the ‘carrot’ is pretty interesting - only £30 a year for a car with 111-120 g/km of emissions, and a reduction of some form for all cars with 140 g/km or under. The problem, however is with the backdating to 2001.

Let’s say that my car generates only 120 g/km of co2 emissions, and I bought it in 2002. I’m laughing, as my car tax will go down to £30 next year before going back up to £35 the year after. My neighbour’s car on the other hand generates 195 g/km of co2 emissions. He also bought it in 2002, and his tax next year will go up from £170 to £260 - an increase of £90.

It’s all very well saying ’serves him right - he drives a gas guzzler’, but think back to 2002, or 2006 for that matter. How many people bought their cars based on their co2 emissions? Petrol was cheaper then, and car tax was uniform for all. Can my neighbour really be punished for a decision he made as long as 6 years ago, based on information he did not even have at the time?

It could be argued that he will be encouraged to buy a newer, cleaner car, but should he be forced to do this, especially as, if he waits until 2010, he will also have to pay the higher first year rate? To me this isn’t a stealth tax, it’s a stealth ’stick’, and a totally unreasonable one, compounded by a fact I’ve already mentioned on this blog: so-called ‘green taxes’ such as this do not necessarily get used by the government to reduce the UK’s co2 emissions.

I’m all for the government taking serious measures to encourage us to reduce the emissions we generate via transport, but the important word here is ‘encourage’. Pricing people into unhappiness at a time when money is very tight is NEVER going to work, and I sincerely hope Mr Brown goes on doing what he’s also becoming well-known for……. U-TURN. I don’t mind at all if he keeps the proposed approach for all new cars, but punishing people for a decision they didn’t even realise they were taking is not going to solve what we recognise is a huge problem.

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