Archive for category EU Emissions targets

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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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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UK Budget: is that all the green you’ve got, Darling?

Sorry for the sad headlines, but why not follow the crowd - after all, the name just asks for it, and I’m afraid to say that my respect for the man has not increased dramatically following his performance of the other day.

This was billed as ‘the greenest budget yet’. Probably the cleverest part of the whole speech, as this wasn’t exactly difficult. What’s more, the green ‘bit’ started with some promise, as Alistair Darling confirmed that the government takes global warming very seriously, and recognised the importance of acting, and acting now…. except he then went on to pretty much postpone all the acting till a later date, immediately ruining the effect of this statement and, for me at any rate, preparing us for a series of disappointing promises.

This is what we got:

  • The proposed increase in fuel duty by 2p is delayed until October in order to help the economy
  • The government will ask the Climate Change committee to advise them on whether CO2 reduction targets for 2050 should be raised from 60% to 80%
  • Carbon budgets will be announced alongside the budget as of next year
  • Energy companies are to encourage us to reduce our electricity consumption
  • If supermarkets don’t take action on reducing the use of plastic bags, a charge will be imposed on them as of 2009
  • £26 million has been allocated to a Green Homes Service
  • New non-domestic buildings must be CO2 neutral by 2019
  • Revenue from plane duty is increased by 10%
  • New tax bands will be introduced to punish those with polluting cars / encourage the purchase of less-polluting cars
  • As of 2010, a special first year charge will be introduced - new cars emitting under 130 grammes of CO2 will be free of tax for that year, whilst high-polluting cars will have an increased tax - effectively a forecourt tax.

So how would I translate all of the above? Lots of promises to do things in the future - hmmm, not much urgency there, threats about plastic bags (apparently to keep Daily Mail readers happy), good intentions about zero Carbon businesses, a bit more money from the airlines (I wonder where it will be spent? Maybe it can go towards building the new runway…), no car tax for green cars in their first year as of 2010 (wow, an incentive!), and punishment for gas guzzlers.

Frankly, it’s not much, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the statement that ‘the need to take action is urgent’. I know that things take time to put in place in government, but this is a budget that commits to do not very much over the next 2 years, and to talk about doing some other things in the future. And, of course, there’s no real ‘carrot’ to encourage us to take action ourselves. In fact the famous system of grants for microgeneration seems to have vanished!

I know we’re entering a recession, that money is tight, that the government’s priority is to try to see us through it safe, but reducing our CO2 emissions gives us an opportunity to save money, something we need to do right now. What’s more it is urgent to do things now, not next year, and certainly not in 2016!

This may have been the greenest budget yet, but it won’t make a difference. The UK, leading Europe in its apathy towards reducing emissions.

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EU Emissions targets ‘too expensive to achieve’ - what about money no option?

The director-general of the CBI, Richard Lambert, has continued the UK’s policy of finding excuses for not hitting targets as soon as they are set, by saying that the new one set by the EU - for the UK to generate 15% of our energy via renewable sources by 2020 - was not going to be achieved, as it would be too expensive to do so.

It’s true that the target is pretty tough - we’re at 1.3% today, and will involve dramatic development, for instance an estimated 12,500 additional wind farms, but to give up with 12 years to go just sums up the current negative attitude to one of the most important challenges facing our country today. The argument, or should I call it the ’spin’, is that we the public will have to pay for the necessary developments in taxes and energy bills, energy bills being a touchy subject at this moment as they have just gone up. This is to some extent true, but it’s a very blinkered argument, and doesn’t look at many things that affect both the cost and our wish - if necessary - to bear it:

  • In twelve years, the cost of building alternative energy sources will go down as technology advances.
  • In twelve years, other, cheaper solutions will also become available.
  • Many of us are already willing to pay a bit more in order to ensure our future. Even those not convinced by the global warming argument recognise that fossil fuels are going to run out. The cost of fossil fuels will continue to mount, and at some point - maybe not as far away as all that, they will in fact become more expensive to use than renewable sources.
  • If global warming is a reality, the ‘natural disasters’ we may see over the next 12 years will certainly have an effect on our willingness to move things forward quickly, and to pay for them.
  • Over the next 12 years, if we work at it, overall energy consumption will reduce. If we really work at it, it will reduce quite significantly.

In the end, all of these comments make no difference. The targets that are being set will be binding, and we will have to answer to the EU if we don’t hit them. Not that we have seen any issues with this up to now - see my previous comments on hitting EU targets.

What gets to me, though, is the negativity. We have time, we have the will, and we have an opportunity. Instead of talking about missing this target, let’s talk about beating it.

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Want to reduce your CO2 emissions? Don’t ask the UK government for help.

Following my article of August 22nd on the UK Government’s attempts to worm out of the ‘Binding renewable energy targets’ set in March 2007, we seem to have confirmation this week that operation ‘worm out’ is now being officially put into action. Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister (should we be calling him the ‘As long as it’s not renewable Energy Minister’?) has apparently confirmed that Britain will source ‘up to 15%’ of its energy from renewables by 2020, although this is apparently not to be construed as ‘backing away’ from the EU target of 20%, which has to be achieved ‘across Europe as a whole’.

Well there goes any claim the UK ever might have had to be a ‘leader’ in renewable energy, although, to be honest, did anyone every think we were, apart from some politicians who took the approach of ‘if we say it, maybe people will think it’?

The two things that disappoint me most are this:

  1. The apparent reason for giving up already and so easily. From what I understand, the Government does not judge the problem important enough to take on the investment required to achieve these targets, targets that do not go nearly far enough to solving the problem. They also are not willing to adopt incentive schemes that work so well elsewhere in Europe and, above all, they are set on a path with Nuclear as a major solution, even if it is hugely expensive, always potentially dangerous, only a part of a CO2 reduction solution, and will take as much as 20 years to put in place. Oh, and there’s also the potentially very lucrative new market in carbon trading that needs to be exploited, as we championed it. So it’s basically about money then. Hmmm.
  2. The fact that there is so much potential in the UK to hit and beat these targets, but without leadership it is going to be extremely difficult to achieve anything

I feel disappointed and let down, though not surprised. I have decided to do my best to help people find ways to reduce their CO2 emissions, but, everywhere I turn, I encounter news like this. The easy solution would be to move to Germany, and feel good about things again. The only solution is just to try harder. If we have to do this without our government, then we will, but, if there was an election tomorrow, I wouldn’t vote for this one on current form.

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When is a target not a target? When it’s a renewable energy target.

In March 2007 Tony Blair and other EU leaders agreed to a binding target of 20% of EU Energy Resources to come from renewable energy by 2020. They also agreed to cut CO2 emissions by 20% compared with 1990 levels by 2020 by using more renewable energy sources. Many said it wasn’t enough, but it was a strong move in the right direction, and even used the word binding, although I have not seen any mention on what will happen if the target is not met.

Only 5 months later, a leaked document shows the reality of the UK government’s opinion of this target and our contribution towards achieving it. Apparently we will be lucky to achieve 9% of UK energy being generated by renewable sources by 2020 and to do this will involve spending as much as £1 billion a year. Apparently our government is already looking for ways to justify our contribution to CO2 reduction via other actions and of course to prepare the way with the EU for being allowed to miss this target. By a long way.

The document was published in an article in the Guardian on 13th August (Revealed - cover-up plan on energy target), and a reply was published in their comment section by Malcolm Wicks MP, Energy Minister at the department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (The Government is well ahead of the renewables curve) on 17th August. The only messages I can get out of this reply are that this target is ‘ambitious and … a major challenge for most countries’, and that we must take into account cost effective approaches rather than just trying to reduce our CO2 emissions by spending whatever it takes. He provides some statistics about investment in renewable energies in the UK, but nowhere does he confirm that we are going to hit the target. For me this response was pointless, and if anything added to the message that we will try…. but we will fail.

Great. Over 12 years to go and we are moving forward in a negative fashion. We might as well adopt the attitude of someone I recently met, who said ‘The last ice age killed off a few million people but humankind survived. Global warming won’t wipe us out’. We’ll do what we can, but not without stretching ourselves too much, things will improve but not enough to avoid some major disasters that our children and their children will have to live through (or not), but in the end life will go on.

4.3% of UK Energy consumed is today generated by renewable sources. Germany and France are already over 10%, and Slovenia, Denmark, Latvia, Sweden and Austria are already over and in some cases well over the 20% mark. Why are we so far behind? Maybe, just maybe we’re not investing enough? Germany is investing heavily in encouraging consumers and businesses to install renewable energy sources and it is working. The UK is making cuts, limiting grants, and looking for ‘cost effective’ ways to go forwards. Isn’t it just a little bit too late for that? Isn’t £1 billion a piffling amount of money when compared for instance with our defense budget, a mere £30 billion in 2005/6?

In business, when you set a target, your client holds you to it, and certainly doesn’t expect you to make an excuse 5 minutes after you’ve signed the contract. You go all out to find a way to hit and beat that target, even if the profits you hoped for turn out to be smaller. In this case the client is the UK, and, rather than making a mockery of the word binding, the UK government should be doing everything in their power to do the same, and that includes putting their money where their mouth is.

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