Category Archives: Climate change

The fossil fuel divestment drive is gathering momentum

The growth in global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion ground to a halt last year for the first time in 40 years without the presence of a full-blown economic crisis.   In that year the global economy grew by more than 3%, but the amount of carbon dioxide pumped out remained at the 2013 level of 32.3 gigatonnes.   One main reason is that China has cut its use of coal, one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, and installed more hydro-electricity, wind and solar power.   At the same time electricity consumption, which had been growing at about 10% a year, has fallen to 3-4% as China imposes energy efficiency standards for industry, shuts older factories, and shifts away from heavy manufacturing which has driven its economic growth.   But there is a further reason which is likely to consolidate these pre-existing trends even if global growth takes off again.
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Ebola a much-needed wake up call for the West

The President of the World Bank, Jim Kim, got it right when he said last night of the international community: “It’s late, really late……We were tested by Ebola and we failed.   We failed miserably in our response……..Every developed country should be prepared to send trained medical staff to West Africa………We don’t need to stop all travel from these countries.   It’s going to be impossible to stop people.   The way to stop the flow the patients from these countries getting to the rest of the world is to have programmes that will treat people (in their home countries) and increase survival dramatically.   It’s possible”.   But it isn’t nearly happening.   The WHO reports already 3,900 deaths in West Africa from Ebola, though with no sign that the epidemic was being brought under control.
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Is fracking the new poll tax?

Just as Thatcher ploughed ahead with her ideological totem, the poll tax, in the face of clear evidence that it was deeply unpopular, so her modern-day acolytes around Cameron seem determined to do exactly the same thing over fracking, with very likely the same results.   Despite the intense resistance demonstrated against Cuadrilla’s plans to set up drilling at Balcombe in the Sussex Weald, the government pressed ahead with their determination to allow fracking beneath people’s homes which, given Tories’ obsession with the sacred rights of property, is an extraordinary revelation that for them commercial interests now trump everything.   As required under Whitehall rules, the government then undertook a consultation about their plans.   It turned out that there were 40,647 responses, of whom 99% were opposed.   The government then, with the typical arrogance of the Westminster establishment which proved so toxic in the Scottish referendum, decided nevertheless to go ahead regardless.   In a breathtaking illustration of their contempt for public opinion they put out the following statement: “Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution”!
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World-wide boycott now needed against activities of fossil fuel companies

Amid the hubbub surrounding the blowback from the Scottish referendum and the Labour Party conference (recorded with even more more animus than usual by the media as the last one before a likely Labour Government), something else is happening this week of huge global significance.   Tomorrow there is a summit of world leaders in New York, hosted by the UN Secretary General, which is designed to kick-start negotiations ahead of the crucial UN climate change summit in Paris in December next year when the world will decide on its policy in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  After the disappointment at Copenhagen in 2009 when the world failed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, there are clear signs that the tide is turning in the global fight against climate catastrophe.
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Time for Labour to set out how it will re-set energy markets in 2015-7: here’s how

Current UK energy policy is a colossal failure.   It is supposed to (1) deliver cheap and affordable energy to consumers, (2) provide security of supply, and (3) shift from carbon fuels to renewable energy as a key part of tackling climate change.   But under the current privatised regime the UK is monumentally failing on all 3 counts.   On affordability, the most recent figures for domestic electricity prices show that despite its wealth of natural energy resources, the UK has the fourth highest prices in the EU (excluding the new East and Central European accession states).    Other studies over a number of years have consistently concluded that UK electricity prices are consistently higher than they would have been without privatisation.   At the same time the UK has some of the worst statistics in Europe for fuel poverty.   What is most shocking of all is the number of UK pensioners who die from extreme cold every winter at a rate double that of Finland  despite the latter’s much colder winter climate.   Indeed the UK rates are also far higher than for countries with similarly severe winter weather like Sweden and Germany.
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Investors beware unburnable carbon

An LSE report ‘Unburnable Carbon 2013’ has produced some startling conclusions – for investors, not just climate change policy-makers.   What they show is that burning known reserves of fossil fuels is incompatible with the climate change targets which governments have committed themselves to meet, so that investors would be wise to discount both the value and the returns of any future investments in the fossil fuel industries and be aware that this expenditure could turn out to be stranded assets.   In other words, if governments tighten carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions or even, in the face of widespread climate catastrophes in the developed world, enforce a rapid transition out of fossil fuel dependence, investors will face huge losses.

The report sets out the figures starkly.   Governments in 2010 pledged to restrain emissions so as to prevent average global temperatures rising more than 2C above pre-industrial levels (i.e. 1760 when the industrial age began) as a virtualworldwide scientific consensus concluded was necessary to prevent catastrophic consequences across the planet.    If that target is to be achieved, then global CO2 emissions must increase by no more than 900-1,075 gigatonnes (billion tonnes).   Carbon capture and storage, if it ever proves commercially viable, would help a bit but not much.   Removing a flow of 8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year would require nearly 3,800 plants, and even then unabated emissions would have to fall sharply.
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Tories display their neanderthal love affair with fossil fuels – again

With nothing much to do in the last Parliament before the election less than a year away, the Queen’s Speech today has a ‘Tory flavour’, i.e. the Tories revert to their natural prejudices.  Obviously this includes handouts to the corporate sector and a further boost to fossil fuels by another kick in the face for green energy.   True to form, these two prejudices have been neatly combined in the Queen’s Speech by ditching a green commitment they had already made.   They had made a pledge to make all new homes carbon-free by 2016.  But as the antipathy to zero carbon has steadily welled up in phlegmmy pus in the Tory breast over the last two years, they have not only abandoned carbon targets but gone out of their wayto stop the renewables industry in its tracks.   Roly-poly Pickles has already turned down a string of onshore windfarm projects, including the latest one last week in Yorkshire, and the Tories are now going for broke by scrapping all onshore wind subsidies post-2015 whilst Cameron has announced  £200bn plan hugely enhancing subsidies for North Sea oil and gas.
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Hope rises on action on climate change

There have been two major blocks hindering action to deal with looming climate upheaval.   One is political and the other is theoretical.   The political good news is that it is reported that the US and China, whose combined greenhouse gas emissions nearly match the rest of the world’s, are now engaged on talks at a new level of intensity on cutting CO2 emissions which observers say is the most promising development in nearly 20 years of climate change negotiations.   That is highly significant because the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding UN climate pact ever agreed, was gravely weakened because the US under Bush never ratified it and China as a ‘developing country’ was never bound by it.   The US-China economic rivalry also scuppered the key Copenhagen negotiations in 2009 which were meant to renew this protocol. Now however Xie Zhenhua, the leading Chinese negotiator, is declaring: “We should be confident that the Paris meeting (the world summit on climate change next year) will not be another Copenhagen”.   What is driving this is not a sudden conversion of the world’s two great economic powers, but rather hard-headed political realities.   Life in many Chinese cities is becoming unbearable for millions of their inhabitants because of persistent choking smog while the Obama administration, so long hamstrung by political paralysis over budget expenditure and the Healthcare Act, is now freer to pursue its commitment to climate action.
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The real risk with climate change is feedback effects as key thresholds hit

What would it take to get the lead countries in the world to take climate change seriously?   The 4th report of the UN International Panel on Climate Change produced by 1,250 of the world’s top scientists and approved by 194 governments, has just been published with the irrefutable argument that diverting funding from fossil fuels to renewable energy and cutting energy waste would reduce expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3% by a minuscule 0.06%.   Given the imminent risk of cataclysmic climate upheaval within the next 20 years, you might think such a deal couldn’t be resisted, but that of course is without reckoning with the political lobbying power of the oil, gas and coal industries.   But there is another argument which ought to give governments pause enough even to override the selfish pleading of the vested interests putting profits before human survival.   And that is the very real risk of dramatic feedbacks.
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