Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Labour are tackling climate change in small steps - they should look at Conservatives ideas

Reposted from:

Zac Goldsmith

Greenish Brown

The prime minister is tackling climate change in small steps. But if he wants to see ambitious reform, he should look to the Conservatives

November 20, 2007 7:20 PM | Printable version

"Building a low carbon economy," Gordon Brown said yesterday, "demands a worldwide commitment on a comparable financial scale to the post-war Marshall plan."

The prime minister seems finally to have understood the significance of the environmental challenges we face. But so far at least, there's very little to inspire confidence in his willingness or ability to provide solutions.

It's all very well, for instance, to set ambitious targets - and Gordon Brown's latest targets on emissions reductions are impressive. But it's another thing to identify mechanisms that will actually enable us to meet them.

If, as the prime minister promises, Britain will fully contribute to a EU target that 20% of our total energy will come from renewable sources by 2020, that requires radical action now. We will need, for instance to increase the amount of renewable electricity we generate to 40%. At present, only 2% of energy in the UK comes from renewable sources.

How? Enabling local communities to benefit directly from wind farms, as he suggested, may help. Sending energy teams to the 50 poorest areas in the UK to help install energy efficiency measures will also help. Smart meters too. But these are small steps.

And they will, in any case, be overshadowed by government contradictions elsewhere. We are seeing increasing risk, for instance, of flooding, and yet we continue to build on flood plains. We are committed to cutting emissions, and yet current policy is geared towards trebling of our airport capacity.

This is what is so deeply frustrating. Gordon Brown has made the right noises. But he has failed to come up with significant answers. I think the problem is that he confuses "cost" with investment, and has been unable to see opportunities presented by the shift to a cleaner economy.

He also fears a voter backlash. But if there have been rumblings of an anti-green backlash, I believe Gordon Brown is partially to blame. It has been successive, clumsy initiatives by his government that have contributed to eroding people's appetite for green solutions, and worse, legitimising scepticism about politicians' motives.

Gordon Brown's previous idea, for example, of imposing an extra £50 on vehicle excise duty for a car they have already bought clearly won't lead to any shift in behaviour. Similarly tax reductions on "zero carbon homes". It sounds great, but what's the point in offering carrots for goals that are currently unattainable?

The best mechanism for pricing pollution and the use of scarce resources is through a shift in taxation. If the tax emphasis shifts from good things like employment to bad things like pollution, companies will necessarily begin designing waste out of the way they operate.
But governments need to accept that people do not trust them. So if a tax is levied against a "bad" activity, it must be seen to be offset against "good" activities.

In principle, Brown is committed to "green taxation". But, in practice, the change on his watch has been negligible. The actual level of green taxation has fallen since 1997 from 9.4% to 7.7%, even while the tax take generally has soared.

Gordon Brown said yesterday, we need "governing not gimmickry". A good first step is to examine the successes of other governments.
If "feed-in tariffs" have triggered a renewable energy boom in Germany, why not implement them here, as the Conservative party has proposed?
German householders are guaranteed a high price for the energy they generate and sell back to the grid. As a result, a single town in Bavaria generates more solar energy than the whole of the UK.

If existing energy-efficient appliances can deliver massive energy savings, why not demonstrate real leadership by raising appliance standards, instead of distributing token lightbulbs? We know the manufacturers can and will respond.

Change will happen, one way or another. It's a mathematical certainty. But if we take the lead now, it will happen on our terms, and we can emerge with a cleaner, leaner, more efficient economy.

Monday, 19 November 2007

PM outlines climate action plan

Reposted from:

PM outlines climate action plan
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said there were hard choices ahead

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said there will be a "green hotline" to advise people on what they can do to cut their impact on the environment.

Mr Brown, who said the UK's emission target of a 60% cut by 2050 could be increased to 80%, said he would also seek the end of one-use plastic bags.

In his first speech on the environment as PM he said there would be "hard choices and tough decisions".

But he said Britain could lead the world and gain thousands of jobs.

The new Green Homes Service - a telephone line, website and advice centres - aims to provide a single point of contact for people who want a "home energy audit".

Home energy

It will also give advice on saving water, reducing waste and other ways to be more environmentally friendly.

Mr Brown said, in 50 of Britain's poorest areas, homes would be offered energy efficiency deals, and for those selling or buying energy wasting homes it would offer discounted help.

While the richest countries have caused climate change it is the poorest who are already suffering its effects
Gordon Brown

He said it represented "the biggest improvement in home energy efficiency in our history", with a third of households offered help over the next three years to reduce their emissions.

In his wide-ranging speech, the prime minister said climate change had been the product of many generations, but "overcoming it must be the great project of this generation".

Emissions cap

He added: "I believe it will require no less than a fourth technological revolution. In the past the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the microprocessor transformed not just technology but the way our society has been organised and the way people live.

"Now we're about to embark on a comparable technological transformation to low carbon energy and energy efficiency and this represents an immense challenge to Britain, but it is also an opportunity."

Chimneys billowing smoke
High targets have been set for Britain's cut in emissions

Mr Brown said he wanted Britain to become a "world leader" in building a low carbon economy, which could lead to thousands of new British businesses, hundreds of thousands of new jobs and a "vast export market".

And the prime minister also said he wanted to work with countries like the US and Japan to establish a new "funding framework", to help developing countries adjust to low carbon growth, adapt to climate change and tackle deforestation.

"While the richest countries have caused climate change it is the poorest who are already suffering its effects," Mr Brown said.

Plastic bags

He said the Climate Change Bill put a "statutory cap" on Britain's carbon emissions - with five year "carbon budgets" to give certainty for businesses and investors.

And he said he wants the post-2012 agreement, to be discussed at a climate change summit in Bali in December, to include "binding emissions caps" for all developed countries.

The Climate Change Bill would ensure Britain met its target of a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050.

Until Gordon Brown learns that tough action is needed to back up his warm words, he cannot be the change the country needs
Peter Ainsworth

But he said new evidence suggested developed countries may have to reduce emissions by up to 80% - and he would ask the committee on climate change "to advise us, as it begins to consider the first three five-year budgets, on whether our own domestic target should be tightened up to 80%".

Mr Brown also said the government would convene a forum of supermarkets, the British Retail Consortium and others to look at how to reduce plastic bags to cut landfill waste.

"I am convinced that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether, in favour of long-lasting and more sustainable alternatives," he said.


Britain is "absolutely committed to meeting our share" of the EU's 2020 renewable energy target, he said.

It could mean the UK will have to produce between 40 and 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 - the current figure is about 5%.

BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said this would be "staggering", but he said that the government was seeking to negotiate down the EU target.

The government blithely talks of the opportunities created by green industries yet refuses to promote fledgling initiatives properly
Chris Huhne
Liberal Democrats

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said Mr Brown's record on the environment consisted of "missing targets, then scrapping them, then cutting the budgets that deal with them".

"Just this weekend, we learnt of a further #300 million of crippling cuts to key environmental services.

"Until Gordon Brown learns that tough action is needed to back up his warm words, he cannot be the change the country needs," he said.

Global deal

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said he wanted to see whether Mr Brown was prepared to meet promises on renewable energy without counting nuclear power.

And he added: "The government blithely talks of the opportunities created by green industries yet refuses to promote fledgling initiatives properly.

"Boasts of a new green home service seem shallow when recent cuts to the New Millennium Grants will dissuade many homeowners from installing energy saving measures in their homes."

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has challenged governments to act on the findings of a major new report on climate change, saying real and affordable ways to deal with the problem existed.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says climate change is "unequivocal" and may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts.

Climate change will be discussed at a forthcoming summit of Commonwealth leaders, just ahead of a UN meeting in Indonesia where a new global deal on emissions will be considered.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

4th and final 2007 IPCC report

Reposted from:

UN challenges states on warming
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Valencia

Drought-hit river bed (Getty Images)
The IPCC says more heat waves are very likely in the future
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has challenged governments to act on the findings of a major new report on climate change.

Launching the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said real and affordable ways to deal with the problem existed.

The IPCC states that climate change is "unequivocal" and may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts.

Mr Ban urged politicians to respond at a UN climate change conference in Bali.

"Today the world's scientists have spoken clearly and with one voice," he said. "In Bali I expect the world's policymakers to do the same."

Mr Ban arrived at the IPCC meeting in Valencia from a fact-finding trip to Antarctic and South America.

We are all in this together - we must work together
Ban Ki-moon

"I come to you humbled after seeing some of the most precious treasures of our planet threatened by humanity's own hand," he said.

"All humanity must assume responsibility for these treasures."

Unavoidable effects

The IPCC report synthesises the three aspects of climate change that it has already pronounced on earlier in the year, on the science, the likely impacts, and options for dealing with the problem.

Among the top-line conclusions are that climate change is "unequivocal", that humankind's emissions of greenhouse gases are more than 90% likely to be the main cause, and that impacts can be reduced at reasonable cost.


One declaration that reportedly caused heated discussion during the week-long talks here states that climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts.

Such impacts could include the fast melting of glaciers and species extinctions.

"Approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5C (relative to the 1980-1999 average)," the summary concludes.

Other potential impacts highlighted in the text include:

  • between 75m and 250m people are projected to have scarcer fresh water supplies than at present
  • yields from rain-fed agriculture could be halved
  • food security is likely to be further compromised in Africa
  • there will be widespread impacts on coral reefs

The panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, highlighted the need to deal with impacts which are coming whether or not global emissions are curbed.

Even if levels of CO2 in the atmosphere stayed where they are now, he said, research showed sea levels would rise by between 0.4 and 1.4 metres simply because sea water would continue warming up, which makes it expand.

"This is a very important finding, likely to bring major changes to coastlines and inundating low-lying areas, with a great effect in river deltas and low-lying islands," he said.

"If you add to this the melting of some of the ice bodies on Earth, this gives a picture of the kinds of issue we are likely to face."

Worse case

Probable temperature rise between 1.8C and 4C
Possible temperature rise between 1.1C and 6.4C
Sea level most likely to rise by 28-43cm
Arctic summer sea ice disappears in second half of century
Increase in heat waves very likely
Increase in tropical storm intensity likely

This is the IPCC's fourth major assessment of global climate change since its formation nearly 20 years ago.

During the course of its existence, it has become more certain that modern-day climate change is real and principally due to human activities; it has also become firmer about the scale of the impacts.

"If you look at the overall picture of impacts, both those occurring now and those projected for the future, they appear to be both larger and appearing earlier than we thought [in our 2001 report]," Martin Parry, co-chair of the impacts working group, told BBC News.

"Some of the changes that we previously projected for around 2020 or 2030 are occurring now, such as the Arctic melt and shifts in the locations of various species."

There are indications that projected increases in droughts are also happening earlier than expected, he said, though that was less certain.

The IPCC considered about 29,000 pieces of real-world evidence in compiling this report, as well as the projections of computer models.

These include observations showing that dry areas of the world such as the Sahel and southern Africa are receiving less rainfall, while it has increased in northern Europe and parts of the Americas.

The panel suggests societies need to adapt to future impacts, as well as curbing emissions.

Without extra measures, carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise; they are already growing faster than a decade ago, partly because of increasing use of coal.

The IPCC's economic analyses say that trend can be reversed at reasonable cost. Indeed, it says, there is "much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits (e.g. improved health due to reduced air pollution)" that may offset costs.

The panel's scientists say the reversal needs to come within a decade or so if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.

The findings will feed into the Bali talks on the UN climate convention and the Kyoto Protocol which open on 3 December.

Friday, 16 November 2007

climate change? No! Climate Catastrophe!!

Reposted from:

Rupert Read

Emergency talk

Some people think the rhetoric of climate change is too emotive. But faced with a global catastrophe it would be unwise to tone down our language

November 13, 2007 9:00 AM

We are all familiar by now with the shrill voices of climate change deniers. But with every passing week they become more and more irrelevant, as their 'scepticism' about the reality of man-made climate change is exposed as risible.
The issue now is not whether we are certain that dangerous climate change is real and is happening - the issue is only how we are going to tackle it. So how do we motivate people to act?
How do we persuade them not to seek refuge in psychological defence mechanisms of the kind Leo Hickman chronicled in the Guardian last week?

As Hickman wrote, one of my colleagues at the University of East Anglia, the eminent climate scientist Professor Mike Hulme, has warned us off using terms such as "catastrophe" in describing the potential impact of global warming. Some have gone further, lambasting the predictions of what will happen if we do not dramatically curb CO2 emissions as "climate porn".

Now, I agree that it is absolutely not enough to scare people.

We need to emphasise that the changes needed to stop manmade climate change are in themselves life-improving.
And I agree that
we need to ensure that people don't think that the mountain is too big to climb: people need to be given tools to see that preventing catastrophic climate change is possible. But it is unwise of us to tone down our language. I do not agree that we should leave aside talk of "catastrophe". In fact, by sticking to talking of "climate change" rather than of "climate chaos" and "potential climate catastrophe", we end up playing the same game as the more subtle and intelligent of the climate change deniers by adopting their language.
That ought to be enough to make anyone stop, think, and question what they are doing.

In his book, Unspeak, the Guardian's Steven Poole shows how the term "climate change" became the term of choice for the Saudis, for US oil companies and for the Republicans, displacing even the fairly anodyne "global warming". As the leading Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it in a leaked document:

"1) 'Climate change' is less frightening than 'global warming'. As one focus group participant noted, climate change 'sounds like you're going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale'. While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge."

A less emotional challenge ... but shouldn't we be willing to get a little "emotional" over the potential destruction of our entire future as a civilisation? Frank Luntz wants us to stay coolheaded over "climate change" - a goal he shares with Mike Hulme.

I believe that people ought to be scared and angry and itching to do something about it. How might the total destruction of human civilisation outside a few outposts in Antarctica not constitute a "catastrophe"?
Several billion deaths: since when is that not catastrophic? This is the scenario that the government's chief scientist, Anthony King, described as a factually likely outcome, if no effective action is taken to prevent global overheating.

This is not crying wolf. It is simply telling the truth. Runaway climate change could, within a century or so, collapse civilisation on lifeboat Earth entirely, just as (for example) civilisation and population levels on Easter Island collapsed over a much shorter period.

So my linguistic proposal is pretty straightforward. "Climate change" is an Orwellian construct, and should be dropped. To use it is to be complicit with the agendas of Exxon and Bush. It is, I believe, still to be in denial. We should speak honestly of "climate chaos", "climate crisis", "global over-heating", and the risk of "climate catastrophe".
To do so is to do no more than call attention directly to the utterly drastic consequences of untrammelled consumerism. It is, literally, truth-in-advertising.

Hulme wants to maintain scientific decorum. But it is not the job of climate scientists to tell us how to describe what the human consequences would be of us ignoring their predictions. That is rather the task of artists, activists, politicians and philosophers. It is they who will give us the wake-up call that we still evidently need, if anyone will. Talking about averting "climate catastrophe" is not alarmism. It is simply calling something by its true name.