UK emissions are down seven per cent - but DECC is missing something big

  • 29 Mar 2012, 18:00
  • Ros Donald

We really hate to rain on the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s parade. It published figures today showing that the UK's carbon emissions fell by seven per cent last year. But the statistics don't include the amount of CO2 embedded in imports -  an amount which risen sharply as the UK's manufacturing base has shrunk.

The provisional figures show the UK's net CO2 emissions amounted to  456.3 million tonnes in 2011. In 2010, they were 495.8 million tonnes.

The UK's emissions of other greenhouse gases went down as well - from 92.0 million tonnes to 90.4 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the UK's Kyoto greenhouse gas basket -  a different measure to the one DECC headlines on - is down from 590.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to 549.3 million tonnes.  

The problem with this measurement, however, is that, mitigation efforts aside, UK emissions from industry have gone down in large part because the country no longer has the manufacturing capacity it once had.

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Why would the "Godfather of Tory donations" fund the Global Warming Policy Foundation?

  • 29 Mar 2012, 12:30
  • Ros Donald

Earlier this week, hedge fund boss and Conservative donor Michael Hintze appeared to have been revealed as one of the anonymous funders of Nigel Lawson's cilmate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). At almost the same time, it emerged that he is one of at least two climate skeptic donors to have dined with David Cameron. 

Hedge fund boss and Conservative donor Michael Hintze appears to have been revealed as one of the anonymous funders of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). At almost the same time, it emerges he is one of at least two climate skeptic donors to have dined with David Cameron. 

Some suspect that the GWPF has funding links to the energy industry - something Lawson has always denied. And in the past it has emerged that fossil fuel interests have  funded climate skepticism.

But Hintze's involvement suggests likely funders also sit among the Conservative party's so-called  Premier League of benefactors. It seems likely to us that rather than direct financial interest, the primary motivation for the Hintzes of this world has its roots in a passion for market deregulation, from which follows an ideological opposition to the UK's climate policies. 

So what's going on? 

The Guardian reported earlier in the week that Michael Hintze, who heads the £5 billion hedge fund CQS, is giving funds to the GWPF - the skeptic thinktank led by former UK Chancellor Nigel Lawson.



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"The majority of colleagues don't really understand the science": Tory MP

  • 27 Mar 2012, 16:00
  • Ros Donald

Many of the UK's parliamentarians have too poor a grasp of scientific principles to fully understand the consequences of climate change for the future, according to one Conservative MP.

Over recent months, there has been  increasing level of opposition to green policies from some parts of the Conservative party, with  101 MPs writing to Prime Minister David Cameron expressing opposition to windfarm expansion in the UK and the Chancellor,George Osborne, asserting that "environmental laws" are "piling costs" on consumers and businesses.

What's at the root of these shifts - and is there a danger that the cross-party consensus on the need for the UK to reduce its emissions could break down in this country?

Speaking to Ed King from the website  Responding to Climate Change, Dr Philip Lee, Conservative MP for Bracknell and a member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, said the combination of an economic recession and a "healthy ignorance of scientific principles" mean that maintaining the consensus on cutting carbon is not a given in the future.

He said:

"The problem is that the majority of colleagues don't really understand the science, to be blunt. As a consequence, particularly at times of economic recession and difficulties throughout the globe, it's rather difficult to sell policies which actually add costs to business and consumers."

Lee said while MPs and the public in the UK tend to agree humans are contributing to climate change:

"there's work to be done to persuade colleagues across the parties - but mainly in my own party - that [...] we need to do something about it.  Even Nigel Lawson, who is running a campaign against any sense that man is responsible for climate change, admits CO2 levels have gone up."

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From the archive - "Gas is cheap" - or gas was cheap?

  • 22 Mar 2012, 16:00
  • Robin Webster & Andrew Walker

"Gas is cheap," declared George Osborne is his budget announcement yesterday, in a nod to  new planned government measures to encourage investment in new gas power stations.

The plans mean gas plants constructed over the next few years will be allowed to emit carbon dioxide freely for the next three decades. The UK is already heavily dependent on gas. In 2010, 43% of our entire  energy consumption came from gas - compared to just 15% for coal.

The news that gas is cheap may come as a surprise to the analysts at UK electricity and gas markets regulator Ofgem - or indeed to any householders who received an energy bill in 2011. As Ofgem  said in an analysis released in October of last year:

"Higher gas prices have been the main driver of increasing energy bills over the last eight years...."

Would it be more accurate to say "gas was cheap"? The discovery of natural gas in the North Sea caused the oft-cited 'dash for gas' in the 1990s - a period during which gas prices fell markedly, as illustrated in this graph by Ofgem: 

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Dieter Helm to head the UK's new green accountant

  • 21 Mar 2012, 17:30
  • Ros Donald

Economist Dieter Helm is to head a new Natural Capital Committee (NCC), which will aim to value the UK's natural resources, as part of a package of measures  announced in the UK's new budget today.

The appointment seems logical in that Helm has championed this kind of measure as key to sustainable global development, but he is also famously of the view that fossil fuels are still plentiful, renewables expensive, and shale gas an important future energy source in the UK that will drive gas prices down.

We first heard news of the committee in February: announced by environment secretary Caroline Spelman, the idea is to expand the accepted notion of wealth beyond the measure of gross domestic product by valuing our "air quality, fresh water, wildlife and other natural resources". The move was trailed as a "step towards sustainable development", according to the Telegraph, that the UK would use to encourage other countries to do the same.

Helm's views on the potential for gas appear to tie closely with those of the Chancellor, George Osborne, who in his budget speech today announced tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas drilling, new gas power plants - saying gas is "cheap". But what might that mean for his new role at the NCC?

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The “DECC coup", Nigel Lawson and green taxes: George Osborne and climate change

  • 21 Mar 2012, 11:15
  • Ros Donald

It's budget day again, and George Osbourne is limbering up his red suitcase to deliver the government's economic plan for the year. Over the past six months, Osborne has generated controversy with statements apparently aimed at rolling back the government's plans to decarbonise the UK economy - but is he really bad news for the UK's climate change mitigation policies?  To mark his third Budget speech, here's a look at Osborne's evolving stance on climate change.


It's November 2009, and in opposition the shadow chancellor sounds very keen indeed on cutting the UK's carbon and implementing other environmental measures.

In fact, Osborne criticised the Labour chancellor Alistair Darling for "not giving a single major speech on the environment [over the previous] two years …". According to Friends of the Earth, (Foe) he attacked Darling and other ministers for failing to work together to tackle climate change, and promised a Conservative treasury would "be in the lead of developing the low carbon economy and financing a green recovery." The treasury had often been thought of as the "cuckoo in the nest" when it comes to environmental policy in the UK, he said, pushing other departments' attempts to cut carbon aside and fostering growth in heavy industry.

But no longer?

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Does the Government still care about its climate change targets?

  • 20 Mar 2012, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

The Friday evening press release is often a good sign an organisation is attempting to bury bad news away from the attention of newspapers, as it is designed to fall in the dead spot already filled by Sunday supplements. So when DECC unexpectedly announced new developments on gas policy in the middle of the night last Friday, it's perhaps unsurprising that many green-leaning commentators were sure it was up to no good.

The announcement was aimed at reassuring energy companies that new gas plant constructed now will be able to keep operating for another three decades - without carbon capture and storage technologies being fitted to reduce their emissions.

DECC says this is designed to maintain security of energy supply to the UK. But others are worried: Greenpeace labelled it ' craven submission' to the Treasury and "easily their most significant environmental decision since the coalition took power."  WWF called it a " Treasury coup" of UK energy policy, while Richard Black for the BBC suggested that the announcement should be subtitled "Abandon hope" on UK climate change targets.

DECC however esponded late yesterday that "...Friday's announcement does not signal a change in policy direction....Everything we are doing, including on gas, is consistent with meeting our carbon budgets and 2050 goals".

So what's going on? Massive retreat or minor adjustment?

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Memewatch: Are we about to be menaced by 1,000 foot wind turbines?

  • 20 Mar 2012, 10:45
  • Christian Hunt

Alternative _energy _revolution

(Image from

Some people aren't keen on wind turbines. The Daily Mail are amongst them, and they've turned to the US for what is  presented as a salutary tale of where over-subsidising renewables can get you. They contend that many wind farms in the US were 'abandoned' after the 80s, when subsidies were scaled back, leaving the fledgling wind industry uneconomic.

The piece is a little vague about the numbers of turbines which have been 'abandoned', and the US after the oil shocks is presumably quite a different scenario to the present day UK, where onshore wind power is around  cost-comparable to gas-powered electricity generation and probably remaining so in the future, and offshore wind costs are  projected to fall.

However, the article finishes off with a warning about what it calls the 'next generation' of wind turbines:

"Who in their right mind would want any of the new generation of turbines - under EU plans, the turbines will be nearly 1,000ft tall (that's six times the height of Nelson's column) - rusting away in their backyard?"

1,000 feet sounds pretty tall. As far as we're aware there are no 1,000 feet tall wind turbines, and even the biggest in common use are substantially smaller. According to RenewableUK, the average height of an onshore wind turbine in the UK - the kind that might theoretically be "in your backyard" - is 75m, or 246 feet. The tallest onshore turbine in the UK is 125m (or 410 feet).

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BA overestimates the potential of its biofuel plan

  • 19 Mar 2012, 17:30
  • Ros Donald

UK flag carrier British Airways (BA)'s plan to create fuel from domestic waste has a significant flaw. According to blog Carbon Commentary, the airline has over-egged the amount of biofuel it would be able to produce by "a factor of ten". 

In the post, author Chris Goodall compares figures projected by BA's head of environment with government waste statistics and adjustments for efficiency of converting waste into fuel. 

In the  Guardian, Damian Carrington quotes BA's expectation that the UK produces around 200 million tones of waste suitable for conversion using a gasification process into low carbon aviation fuel.  This kind of thinking is important because, as Goodall points out: 

"As the number of flights increases in the industrialising world, it is not far-fetched to see aviation using up the entire global CO2 budget in 2050." 

BA's head of environment says half a million tones of this waste converted at its new gasification plant could produce around 50,000 tonnes of aviation fuel - a ratio of about ten to one - along with around 33 megawatts of electricity. 

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Poll: Fukushima's consequences for the global energy mix

  • 15 Mar 2012, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

Via flickr and Creative Commons license

The meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March last year has left an indelible mark on public opinion that will have a serious impact on global energy policy and public perception of nuclear power, according to a new  poll out last week. But the extent to which Fukushima has shaped attitudes to nuclear is not straightforward and depends on social, political and cultural influences, the report concludes.

Ipsos Mori found the incident has had an impact on "all sectors, countries and players".

According to its After Fukushima report:

"[T]he public supports [governments'] fundamental policy aims of protecting supplies, diversifying sources and stabilising costs. However, views on how governments should achieve this, and on the role of nuclear power in particular, are influenced by social, cultural, economic and political factors to a far greater extent than more fundamental measures such as power usage or energy dependency."

Ipsos says understanding public attitudes to different energy sources is important for governments grappling with questions such as how to protect countries from energy shocks, how to displace fossil fuel use with renewables and whether nuclear power is a feasible solution.  

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