Category Archives: Environment

Renewable energy is finally coming into its own

The recent announcement by China that it will bring to the Paris summit this December a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 % by 2050 is a sign of how sentiment is finally shifting even at the highest levels, though of course it does have to be actually delivered.   But this is not an isolated straw in the wind.   In 2013, for the first time, more new renewable capacity was built than fossil fuel-burning capacity, and future projections show that this excess wind and solar capacity over oil, gas and coal will steadily grow.   Indeed, according to the International Energy Agency estimates based on current trends, renewables could supply half of the world’s electricity needs by 2050, with solar energy alone representing more than a quarter of that amount.
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The Heathrow decision is a menu without the prices

Business in this age of market fundamentalism is cock-a-hoop with the Davies report decision to recommend Heathrow.   They would be, wouldn’t they, since the report has focused largely on the supposed economic benefits while claiming that all the toxic underside of the decision can be ‘managed’.   However the feasibility of the latter needs to be subject to a realistic appraisal, not just assumed.   It is said that night flights will be banned between 11.30pm and 6am, but ‘respite periods’ when some areas don’t suffer overhead noise will be reduced from half the working day to just a third.   The report allows for a huge 54% increase in passenger numbers (more than a quarter of a million a year), but claims this is compatible with a cap on aviation emissions just above current levels – in fact a wing and a prayer that is dependent on big increases in cleaner engines which may or may not be delivered.
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Dutch court brings closer judicial review of UK government’s anti-environment policies

Yesterday the Dutch High Court ruled that the Dutch government was not doing enough to meet its climate change targets and instructed it to take more decisive action to achieve them.   Potentially this opens the way for similar action to be taken against other EU governments, including the UK, if they too are falling well short of their targets.   But we should be cautious because there are two reservations.   One is that the Dutch government has the right to appeal.   The other is that the court ruling was based on human rights principles rather than directly on environmental considerations, and this may well be challenged.   Nevertheless there is no doubt that this court decision is a breakthrough.
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Oil companies bank on 4C climate catastrophe – with Cameron’s support

What matters in the lead-up to the world environmental summit in Paris in December is the internal dialogue between the US and China as to how much they are prepared to concede in combating climate change compatibly with not losing out to their global economic rival.   Meanwhile lesser countries like the UK make their own bargains, and here oil realpolitik rules.   The government gave its official blessing to BP, perpetrator of one of the world’s worst environmental disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, in securing a deal with the Russian energy firm Rosneft to exploit the huge oil and gas reserves in the Russian Arctic.   There were several considerations here for the government – fuelling Europe and the UK, the fact that 19% of UK pension fund annual income comes from BP and Shell, and perhaps most prominent of all the damage done to BP’s survival by its exposure to the colossal $40bn bill for the Gulf disaster.    Fears over the climate change impact of starting oil exploration in the pristine Arctic wilderness came well down the list, if indeed they featured at all.
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Tory manifesto like Emmenthal – more holes than cheese

Tory policy over the last 3 years has been a desperate effort, against all the odds, to introduce a feel-good factor.   The sell-off of housing association homes, the hotspot in the Tory manifesto, was the latest attempt, seeking to regain the momentum of Thatcher’s Right to Buy when now the crisis in housing is not about ownership but about lack of house-building.    Another piece of chutzpah was Cameron’s seeking to rebrand the Nasty Party as the party of ‘working people’ whilst at the same time virtually prohibiting the capacity of trade unions to defend the living standards of their members by introducing a 50% minimum turnout threshold for strike ballots, a restriction imposed nowhere else in the world.   Then he announced that workers on the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour would pay no income tax, provided they worked less than 30 hours a week, whilst ignoring that they have been hit hard by higher VAT and tax credit cuts, let alone the huge £12bn welfare cuts still to come which are bound to hit low-paid workers because more than half of all households in poverty have a member in work.
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Tories override local resistance to bring a nuclear dump near you

Just as the Blairite official infamously emailed on the day of 9/11: “This is a good day to bury bad news stories”, so the Tory government took advantage of the last day of Parliament a fortnight ago to launch a similar device to slip through a deeply unpopular measure they would never have dared put to Parliament when it was in full session.   It enables the government itself to decide where nuclear storage dumps will be located however much  local inhabitants or pressure groups may object or demonstrate.   Previously this was decided on the basis of consent; now it will be settled on the fiat of a government minister.   The Tories have taken it upon themselves to bypass local planning procedures in order to enforce the burial of 4.5 million cubic metres of radioactive waste which for 50 years has remained unburied because no local population wanted it near them, even if they were bribed to take it.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1976 made the key judgement that it was ‘morally wrong’ to go on turning out nuclear waste without having first demonstrated that there was a safe mechanism and a safe location to store it.   But such was the lobbying power of the nuclear industry and so besotted were MPs and particularly the DTI with nuclear that the failure to find any solution by agreement has now led to dictatorial powers being vested in the hands of the Secretary of State for Energy (ironically, the current incumbent, Ed Davey, is a LibDem whose party are supposed to be against nuclear power).   The way this was pushed through Parliament was flagrantly underhand: MPs who had not already departed to their constituencies were asked in an unusual paper ballot to pass a short statutory instrument which, innocently, merely adds nuclear waste storage to the list of nationally significant infrastructure projects, without explaining the significance of this.

The alternative to ramming nuclear dumps down the nation’s throat is of course to speed up the dissemination of renewable energy.   But the Tory party in particular, as well as too many Labour MPs, remain strongly attached to nuclear irrespective of the storage problems.   Perhaps the new law overriding local opposition will itself generate a new level of resistance, as fracking has, which is politically untenable.   Significantly Radiation-Free Lakeland stopped Copeland borough council from setting up a nuclear dump near Sellafield on the grounds that there was no evidence that deep storage was safe and that the Cumbrian geology was unsuitable compared to, say, East Anglia (but that of course is strong Tory territory).   Maybe also it will make a difference when people realise that storing nuclear waster costs taxpayers £2bn a year: when did we ever agree to that?

Cameron hands corporate lobbyists free play in Whitehall & EU

Cameron prophetically described lobbying in 2010 as “the next big scandal waiting to happen”, but by 2015 he has himself made it happen.   It was already revealed some months ago that senior representatives from the Big 6 energy companies had been seconded to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to ‘advise’ ministers on energy policy – done quietly and secretly until it was leaked, not cash for access but just access for some of the richest and most powerful companies in the country.   Now, thanks to research by Greenpeace, it emerges that for the technical working group in Brussels formulating new limits on air pollution across Europe, 5 of the UK’s 9-strong delegation work for companies creating large-scale carbon and other toxic emissions, including the German companies RWE and E.0N and the French company EDF (the other 4 members being civil servants).   In all more than half of the members of this EU technical working group (183 members out of 352) are either employed by the firms that are supposed to be being regulated or by lobbyists working for those companies.  Nor did they give impartial advice: it is reported they repeatedly and forcefully lobbied for weaker pollution positions. The result was encapsulated two days ago by a (London) Evening Standard headline: Toxic London.
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Nuclear is turning out badly all round: why is the government clinging to it?

The news for nuclear gets worse every day.   The latest news today is that the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Somerset, the government’s flagship nuclear project is near the point of collapse.   After Ed Davey, the LibDem secretary of state (there was a time before they joined the government in 2010 that the LibDems were solidly against nuclear) waved through the most expensive power station in history, and then the EU Commission suspiciously decided that the huge financial concessions (bribes?) offered to EDF did not mysteriously constitute an illegal state aid, it now looks as though Areva, the French designer of the reactor and the only company that can provide the equipment, is in a state of free fall.   Areva was already building two reactors, one at Olkiluoto in Finland and the other at Flamanville in France.   Both have been a disaster, massively behind schedule and over budget.   As a result Areva has been forced to suspend all its profit predictions and its shares have crashed nearly a quarter.   Can Hinkley Point C survive?   If not, the government’s whole energy policy is in deep trouble.
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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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