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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World Climate Change Conference provides a road map to nowhere

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali ends on 14th December. If you want to see what is going on they have a web site at http://unfccc.int/2860.php where you may read speeches, press releases and even see web casts.  Continue reading

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

Climate Change Bill -Mr Benn makes the climate hotter

On the 16th November I blogged about Mr Hilary Benn boasting that his proud new  Climate Change Bill would show the world real leadership at the forthcoming Climate Change Conference in Bali. It was clear to me at the time that Mr Benn had lost the plot, as have the whole government of the United Kingdom when it comes to dealing with reducing emissions. Continue reading

Mr Benn’s Climate Change Bill

The Environment Minister Mr Hilary Benn thinks that the Climate Change Bill (published yesterday) is a landmark in environmental legislation and will set us firmly on the path to the low-carbon economy fundamental to our future. Well, he got the bit about low carbon being fundamental to our future, although I would have used the word “essential” instead of fundamental; the rest is no more than newspeak. Continue reading