Climate Change, Fuel Poverty and Judicial Review

I have often criticised the Climate Change Bill being now working its way through Parliament. The Government claims that the Climate Change Bill will provide legally binding statutory targets – the only legally binding targets in the world. We are supposed to stand in awe at the Government’s commitment to stopping climate change, be grateful for their bravery and allow them the greenest of green credentials. But are statutory targets worth the paper that they are printed on? Continue reading

Predicting the future climate

Fortune telling is the preserve of entertainers and charlatans but predicting future climate changes is a science, albeit one in its infancy and that is a paradox, considering just how complex this infant is. Nevertheless this infant science is all that our leaders have to guide them in making the decisions that they make today. Those decisions will shape our future in ways far more fundamental than decisions ever made throughout human history. Continue reading

Shipping and aviation emissions and why the climate change bill will not work

The Climate Change Bill will count count emissions from aviation and shipping; what does this mean in reality? Emissions from aviation count for around 5.5% of the United Kingdom’s overall carbon emissions. Emissions from shipping are around 4.5% of the total. Both figures are inevitable estimates because you have to allocate emissions fairly between the departure port and the destination, which may be in different countries. Continue reading

UK Energy statistics – what they show

The official UK figures for the first three months of energy consumption and prices for 2008 have now been released. We seem to be moving in the right direction, as far as climate change is concerned, but this is due to market forces as opposed to Government policy. Continue reading

Increasing energy prices – why they will rise and rise and what we can do about it

Natural gas and electricity prices will get higher. British Gas increased electricity and gas bills by an average of 15% this January and is now signalling further large price increases. It claims that its profits have been hit by a 92% increase in the wholesale price of gas in the past twelve months and therefore it will need to increase its prices to ensure that it does not lose money.

All of the energy supply companies in the UK are in the same position as British Gas. Electricity and gas are still cheap for consumers in the UK. Heating oil is now around 60p a litre, which in kWh terms must be the most expensive ever. Continue reading

Christian Aid is lobbying for the wrong things

The Christian Aid charity is campaigning about climate change. There are advertisements in glossy magazines (I saw one in the Sky magazine) depicting poor southern Asians being flooded out of their homes by dirty flood water, with a call for readers to contact their MP to ask him to increase the emissions reductions in the Climate change bill from 60% to 80% in many years time.

The charity is clearly motivated to do their best to help the world’s poor who will be the first to suffer if the pace of climate change increases, as it seems to be. They have identified carbon emissions as the likely cause of rapid climate change, but unfortunately present emissions as the only cause, and I think that is a mistake. Over simplification is misleading.

The Christian Aid website also has a striking picture and a call to toughen up the Climate change bill, in this case by making companies report their carbon emissions. If you want you can see what I mean by clicking on http://www.christianaid.org.uk/stoppoverty/climatechange/actions/email_your_mp.aspx   

Continue reading

Gas and electricity prices rise – what this means and what will happen next

If you buy your gas and electricity from Npower you will find yourself paying a lot more for your energy. They are raising gas prices by up to 27% and electricity prices by up to 20%. Average price increase will be around 17% for gas and 15% for electricity. However, you should not be in a rush to change energy supplier to one of the other providers because they will, I am sure, follow suit over the next few weeks.

An average home will find itself paying over £154 a year more this year for its energy, than it did last year.These high increases spell hardship, discomfort and sometimes death for the fuel poor. If you already spend more than 10% of your income on fuel (and thus you are officially categorised as being in fuel poverty) you will find it hard to make ends meet and stay warm; your best chance to survive will be for a warm winter.

Some newspapers have accused the energy companies of profiteering. I am no fan of the fossil fuel energy producers but I am sure that they have little scope for profiteering. Energy prices have been going upwards, on a trend basis, for the past five years and although they sharply fell last year upward pressure this year has been very significant and it is only a matter of time and marketing before all these price increases are passed on to the consumer.

What is new about the present price increases is that there are large regional variations, so that the further away from the source of energy you live the more you will pay. Prices are now being adjusted to take delivery into account. That might not be too fair.

Those people who have invested in some form of microgeneration will reap some dividends on their investment, because they will be immune form energy price increases, to the extent that their microgeneration provides them with free energy. Solar thermal users will benefit the most, as gas (mostly used by households for heat) will generally rise more than electricity.

If you live in fuel poverty and spend more than 10% of your income on energy you may be delighted to know that the government passed a law in 2000 under which they were obliged to abolish fuel poverty by 2015, which is only seven years away. Well, I admit that you might not be really delighted with this news because figures of those in fuel poverty will continue to rise with prices unless measures are put in place to enable the poor to have fuel. Fuel poverty reached an all time low of just over two million households in 2003, but virtually doubled to four million households in 2006.

Charities like National Energy Action, Energy Action Scotland and Age Concern all deplore the fuel rise, but they will be powerless to prevent this and the further fuel rises in the offing. They can only alleviate the effects of the fuel rise by measures. As I see it the measures will have to be increased tremendously, because I fear the present fuel rises will be seen to be simply the tip of the iceberg as a more industrialised and more prosperous developing world competes with the developed world for limited supplies of fossil fuel.

This Government has a naive and childlike belief in legislation. The law passed to abolish fuel poverty will do no such thing; it might help from time to time and in specific cases but all that is rather scratching the surface of the problem, because fuel poverty rises and declines according to fuel prices unless comprehensive measures are put in place.

The same childlike belief in the efficacy of a legally binding statement that the country is obliged to abolish or change something by a future date is exhibited in Mr Hilary Benn’s much criticised Climate Change Bill, which suffers from the defect of enacting a pious hope or a statutory target to reduce carbon emissions without the measures needed to see it through. I fear that as a result our carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions will suffer the same fate as the number of households in fuel poverty – they will inexorably increase.

Climate Change Conference -Statements of the obvious at Bali

It seems that the delegates at Bali’s Climate Change Conference have agreed that they will not set firm emission targets at this stage but will negotiate them over a two year period and that the new targets agreed in 2009 will replace those set down in Kyoto.

The developing countries, in particular China, thought that their own economic development would be slowed down if they agreed to reduce emissions, so they did not want to use language that was too indicative of what must be done. When the delegates finally reached their “deal” or “roadmap” it was reported that there were hugs and tears. Before then there were boos for the United States. T

he leadership of our own Hilary Benn, Environment Minister, on climate change with his marvellous Climate Change Bill was simply ignored. In any event the United Nations had already earlier called it a blueprint for the way for developed nations to increase their carbon emissions, so this is not surprising. 

I have not yet been able to read the actual text of what was agreed but reports are that the text indicates that the world will (1) acknowledges the need to have emission cuts, (2) help developing countries with transferring “clean technology”, (3) reward countries that stop deforestation and (4) help the very poor countries that will be worse affected by climate change. I have never been convinced that targets for emission reductions are the best way to reduce emissions; I think that you need policies, not targets – things like mandatory use of renewable energy, taxing heavily polluting things and banning some really heavy pollutants.  

Today these ideas are too radical to be adopted because although we are in reality fighting a war against climate change, it is a war where the enemy is not “in your face” and the effects that we feel are remote and can still be dealt with on a superficial level.  The general agreement on the need for emission cuts is hailed as an achievement. I cannot see why; the need for emission cuts is obvious, even to a blind man in the Blackwall Tunnel in a pea souper fog.   

The need to transfer “clean technology” to developing countries is also obvious; the trouble is that there is not a lot of clean technology around and the existing clean technology is barely used by governments of the developed world. Less than 2% of the United Kingdom’s energy comes from clean technology, and most of that figure is made up from electricity generated by hydro schemes in Scotland, which are not entirely clean in their initial creation. Other countries may do a lot better than us but in relation to their overall dirty energy use but the proportion of clean energy used is still tiny, even in places like Germany. So in this respect the agreement is virtually worthless. 

The most important thing that might come out of Bali is the preservation of forests and the re-establishment of them These carbon sinks are the best way we have of storing carbon and a massive forest protection and planting program will help keep the carbon dioxide levels rising more slowly than otherwise. 

As far as the part of the text that says that we will help the very poorest countries cope with the floods famine, and destruction that climate change will wreak on them by giving them aid – well, I would have thought we would have done that anyway, without having to travel to Bali to say so. 

Gordon Brown’s solar panels and David Cameron’s turbine

Hilary Benn has been quiet this week because he has been very busy saving us all from global warming in Bali, although I do not think he has any takers for his Climate Change Bill, except of course the lemmings who always vote for their party, right or wrong, at Westminster.    

It looks like Bali will end up with non- binding targets as a compromise. Binding targets are not being adhered to in any event so I don’t see that non binding targets will make any difference. Compromises are all very fine in some fields but unfortunately the laws of physics do not compromise.  

Meanwhile our leader, Gordon Brown, has solar thermal panels up on his house in Fife while David Cameron has a small wind turbine on his house in London. Some people have been trying to assess which is the greenest in the press.

It has been reported that Cameron’s wind turbine has a pay back of 60 years and Brown’s has a pay back of 100 years.  Both figures are complete nonsense and seemed to be based on a simpleton’s view of physics and a pre-school child’s view of economics.

Savings have to depend on the energy use by the household where the renewable technology is installed. Actual payback has to take account of all the financial benefits; these long wrong payback figures are based on energy prices several years ago and assume that energy prices will remain constant forever. 

If payback is important (and why do journalists imply that renewable energy installations should have payback when fossil fuel installations have none?) you have to do the figures properly. If you believe that no fossil fuel prices will increase during the next 100 years, you cannot be living in this world. 

Of course, it should be apparent even to the most ignorant that payback is nothing to do with being green. Payback is an economic concept under which you can calculate how long it takes to get your money back on an investment from savings that the investment generates. 

I will deal with Mr Cameron’s wind turbine first. It is located in a city, where there is doubtless a great deal of wind shelter and it is small; the smaller the turbine the less efficient it is. It probably produces around 20% of its rating but calculating wind energy savings is a complex and difficult task; I would expect Mr Cameron to get a payback in less than 25 years although I am not sure. 

Of course Mr Cameron will never get his money back from the utility company that will continue to supply most of his electricity, despite his wind turbine, so offering a payback is a bonus to be green, not the rationale for being green.  The real payback for Mr Cameron and for the planet will be the carbon dioxide reduction, which will last as long as the turbine lasts – probably around 15 years. 

Mr Brown seems to be unfairly dealt with; I have not visited his home but from the photographs that appeared in the newspapers some time ago I gather that he had solar thermal panels installed; the 100 year payback was probably calculated on the basis of the much more expensive photovoltaic electricity producing panels, and even then 100 years is a gross exaggeration. 

A typical householder installing a solar thermal system will usually get his or her money back in eight to twelve years, when you take into account future fuel costs, lower boiler servicing, and longer boiler life and allow for inflation and loss of use of capital. Much depends on which fossil fuel is being displaced. 

Much longer payback figures apply if you are unfortunate enough to be sold a system by a “cowboy” operator that charges double or treble the normal price, but there are very few of them around these days and Mr Brown does not seem to be the kind of chap to buy from one of these companies. 

His personal payback will be lower than that of a typical family because he rarely lives in his house in Fife, for obvious reasons. The solar system will be generating free energy that no one will use. Again the real savings will be the carbon savings – at least half a tonne a year of carbon dioxide if the system displaces gas, nearly a tonne if it displaces oil and one and a quarter tonnes if it displaces electricity. The savings will last (if Mr Brown has high quality panels) for somewhere between 20 and 40 years.

Everyone who reads my writings knows that I am not reluctant to criticise politicians, to designate them and scoundrels, rogues and incompetents when it comes to their shabby governance of the environment; but when they do something right then it is equally important to point it out in the hope that they will do the right thing more often. 

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Planning for climate change

In my post of 16th November I criticised Hilary Benn’s Climate Change Bill. It would not change the climate (except for the worse) and I reported later that the United Nations had looked at the Bill and concluded that this type of legislation would actually make things worse. The following week the government published a new Planning bill, which if enacted would create short cuts to major environmental infrastructural planning decisions. Continue reading