Last August Peter Lazenby reported on protests along the railway line between Liverpool’s Peel Dock and a Yorkshire station against the burning of wood to generate electricity by Drax Power Station, the UK’s single biggest carbon emitter, which releases 13 million tonnes of CO2 per year (Drax Annual Report 2018, p23)
in 2019 Drax received £789 million in renewable subsidies coming straight from people’s energy bills according to its annual report (p58) because biomass is incorrectly classified as being CO2 neutral. These subsidies are expected to continue until 2027.
Jorgen Henningsen, the former EU Commission Director responsible for Climate Change (1989 to 1998), writes from Copenhagen:
“Over the past decade, by far the majority of scientists have come to agree that burning wood (biomass) for energy purposes is far from CO2 neutral as it is presently considered in EU legislation.
“Green organisations are gradually backing this view, although some have had difficulties accepting that burning biomass in some cases is no better than burning coal and certainly emits more CO2 than natural gas . . .a biomass plant will emit more than twice the amount of CO2 as before, with no possibility of recovering more than a modest fraction of the CO2 before 2030, through replanting trees”.
He points out that biomass is incorrectly classified and that should be corrected for several reasons, including:
- ensuring the correct measuring of CO2 emissions,
- effectively allocating money and future spending supporting the green transition
- and meeting the UK’s CO2 emissions reduction target.
Alasdair MacEwen (Economy, Land and Climate Insight ) commended Olivia Rugard’s reporting of how Britain’s green policies are incentivising forest destruction around the world at a cost of billions to the British taxpayer.
This graphic is from the ELC website above the news that NGOs sent this letter to the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in March 2021.
The industry argues that carbon is removed from the atmosphere when trees grow, making it a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, but critics say this process takes too long at a time when emissions need to be urgently cut to meet climate goals.
Earlier this year Emma Gatten and two other journalists visited areas in the US and Russia used for sourcing wood products sent to the UK and found that some of it was coming from forests where trees could take 150 years to regrow.
MacEwen explains: “It is wrong to assume that new plant growth will immediately compensate for the carbon released by burning trees. That can take decades – especially when the wood is coming from old-growth forests and being shipped thousands of miles to the UK – and the impact on biodiversity is dreadful. “
We are effectively paying to increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere
Duncan Brack (right), associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House, comments to Engineering and technology (E&T) that the biomass industry only exists at the scale that it does because of subsidies and we are effectively paying to increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere – an absurd use of public money, he says. “What annoys me is that it’s treated as zero-carbon, which it clearly isn’t.”
Current policy frameworks in the UK fail to discriminate between whole trees and other biomass materials. Some feedstocks, like sawmill wastes that would otherwise be left to decay and release their carbon into the atmosphere, are probably fine to be used, but whole trees aren’t, Brack thinks. He published his findings in an in-depth report in 2017.
In 2018 around 800 scientists signed a letter to the EU parliament, cautioning against using deliberately harvested wood for burning and to restrict “eligible forest biomass to appropriately defined residues and wastes”.
But the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s spokesman still insists: “Biomass-fired generation can deliver both firm and flexible low carbon power and so can be a valuable part of a balanced energy mix.
A personal message from a young Indian correspondent says “We are in the midst of a crisis in India and to be honest it’s terrifying to read the papers. The stories shared on social media are disturbing and our anxiety levels are abnormally high. I have lost so many friends and relatives of friends to Covid-19. We are so numb with the situation surrounding us that often it feels like we are in a midst of a nightmare… May the Almighty look after us all and heal the world”.
The World Health Organisation has announced that though a billion vaccinations against Covid-19 have been administered worldwide just 0.3% of these have been given in low-income countries.
Médecins Sans Frontières has an Access Campaign which says there should be:
China, most of Asia and Latin America and Africa have supported the call for an intellectual property waiver for Covid treatments, a measure that would allow generic vaccine manufacture, which was proposed to the World Trade Organisation by India and South Africa last autumn.
But the United States, the European Union, Britain, Canada, Australia and Japan have been blocking the measure
Lobbyists employed by Big Pharma have stressed that sharing vaccine patents would risk revealing technological secrets to their rivals. They also say that the protection of intellectual property is essential to preserve the pharmaceutical companies’ large profit margins in order to fund future research and development.
The Covax scheme was set up last year to try to ensure fair access to vaccines among rich and poor nations
More than 49 million vaccine doses have been delivered through Covax so far, Ghana being the first country to receive Covax vaccines in February but the Director-General of the World Health Organization said in April that only 0.3% of the vaccines administered around the world so far had gone to people in low-income countries.
He has criticised wealthier nations for undermining Covax, accusing them of “gobbling up” the global vaccine supply by ordering many times more than they need for their own populations.
Low-income countries are hoping that a proposal to put that position under review put forward by the US president’s top trade official, attorney Katherine Tai, will allow the manufacturing and wider distribution of generic vaccines.
ABC reports she has stated that gaping inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines between developed and developing countries were “completely unacceptable,” and that mistakes made in the global response to the HIV pandemic mustn’t be repeated.
Initial pleasure at the latest news from Sudan was dissipated as a search revealed the following background information.
In March the Guardian reported that figures released under freedom of information laws show that Sudan owes the UK £861m, but that a shocking £684m – almost 80% of that – was accrued from interest. JDC explains that the debt owed to western governments has had interest of 10-12% added to it every year since 1984.
Western powers regarded Sudan – an oil-rich country – as having ’a strategic role in the region’ and continued to lend money to an already highly indebted dictator, in order to keep him on side in the Cold War (Silent revolution: The International Monetary Fund 1979-1989) .
In January this year came the news that the UK was to provide a £330 million bridge loan to clear Sudan’s debt to the African Development Bank Group (ADB) which was set up following a UN conference in the 60s with 23 African country members. Its priorities are listed as reducing poverty, improving living conditions and mobilising resources for the economic and social progress of its African member countries.
Since 1982 non-African countries were allowed to enter and by 2019 the ADB was prospering, announcing the largest capital increase in its history, with an almost 125% jump from $93 billion to $208 billion (Ugandan Monitor).
Mitigating “the pain of adjustment on the poor”
Unrest in Sudan, indebted to the ADB, the IMF and the World Bank, is increasing due to pressure to implement an aggressive economic reform program monitored by the International Monetary Fund, devaluing its currency, phasing out wheat and fuel subsidies to balance its books.
The IMF correctly forecast in an October report on the reforms that they could lead to economic contraction, higher inflation and social tensions in the short term and there have been protests over price rises and deteriorating living conditions, some of which have been violent.
It suggested that “the pain of adjustment on the poor” should be “mitigated via increased targeted cash transfers”, such as the part-UK funded “Sudan Family Support Programme”.
In April, Sudan received $820 million from the World Bank and donor countries for the program’s first two phases, which aim to cover 24 million people in 12 states for six months. Read a positive account of the scheme here.
JDC quotes from James Boughton’s Silent revolution: The International Monetary Fund 1979-1989:
During the 1970s Sudan’s economy was strong, with good prices for its major export, cotton. With lots of cheap money in the world economy following the 1970s oil price spikes, private banks lent recklessly to Sudan in anticipation of future revenue from oil. Western powers also supported loans to Sudan, for instance lending in order to buy western company exports.
However heavy flooding in 1978 and the rise in US interest rates in the early 1980s meant Sudan could not meet payments on its debts. Rather than banks taking some responsibility for their reckless lending, the IMF bailed them out by giving Sudan new loans in order to pay its old debts. Despite Sudan’s difficulties paying its debts, more loans were given by banks and governments due to, as the IMF’s official history puts it, “respect for Sudan’s strategic role in the region”.
Just as in other African countries such as Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Western powers continued to loan money to an already highly indebted dictator, in order to keep him on side in the Cold War.
“The case for ending the ban is a strong one. Some people suffer as they die. Surely, on grounds of compassion and of personal autonomy we should be allowed to request and receive medical assistance to end our lives at a moment of our choosing?”
This thoughtfulness is not evident in some of his daily actions, however: complaints from angry constituents are deleted by his staff and never reach him, he has been criticised for failing to wear a mask and photographed breaking social distancing rules. He continues, “We fully appreciate the complex moral and personal issues at stake. However, the answer to managing the end of life is not to allow doctors or judges to authorise an artificial termination”.
Mr Kruger, Boris Johnson’s political secretary, an evangelical Christian, has now formed the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well.
He waxes lyrical: “If the option exists for the doctor to prescribe your death, what conversations follow? What whispers between family members, haunted by premonitions of agony for their loved one – or by the prospect of years of providing wearisome and expensive care? What thoughts would it place in the mind of the old person themselves?”
No doubt some families would react selfishly, but it is more likely that the majority would place the welfare of ‘the old person’ first. As a reader commented:
I believe that many people would enjoy their lives more if they didn’t have the concern that they might one day suffer a drawn-out, painful and undignified death. Most of us wouldn’t want our loved ones to see us in such pain, as we want them to be left with happier memories of us.
Mr Kruger asserts that “in the comparatively recent medical speciality of palliative care. It is now possible to treat almost all pain by the careful titration of pain-relieving drugs which can be done without threatening the patient’s life”.
This assertion is roundly denied in the British Medical Journal, with supporting evidence, by Dr Arun Bhaskar, President of the British Pain Society, an Imperial College consultant in pain medicine with a background in anaesthetics and significant experience in treating cancer pain.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has investigated complaints about end-of-life care and issued this report which does not support Mr Kruger’s assessment of palliative care. In many of the cases it cites failings in detail; they include:
- not recognising that people are dying,
- not responding to their needs,
- suffering for four months before man received the care he needed at the end of his life,
- GP practice failing to communicate with other specialists to co-ordinate and plan Mr N’s care until three days before he died,
- palliative care failure meaning that another man spent the last few hours of his life in pain’
- failing to control pain, agitation and other distressing symptoms adequately as people neared the end of their lives,
- young man dying from cancer suffering for over 11 hours because hospital failed to give effective pain relief,
- failures of communication,
- inadequate out-of-hours service,
- palliative care team being unavailable to help control woman’s distressing symptoms in last hours of her life,
- poor care planning,
- unreasonable denial of terminally ill woman’s wish to die at home
- and delays in diagnosis and referrals for treatment.
As the reader ends: “Increasing numbers of countries now allow assisted dying, including Australia and Canada, and parts of the US and Europe . . . Doctors intervene in all life’s stages – carrying out heart transplants and IVF, for instance – so why can’t they use their skills to bring about a peaceful death, if this is the patient’s wish?”
Bad decisions by government 51: futile military manoeuvres, raising tensions & wasting taxpayers’ money
“Global Britain in Action” – despite the need to address the NHS backlog, growing unemployment and climate change – is to send a ‘Carrier Strike Group’ on a four month American led exercise to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
Readers who expressed concern about this should know that taxpayers are also helping to fund NATO’s Operation Defender Europe 2021 excursions (February-June).
As Derek Leebaert points out in the Financial Times, the US by now has failed at four wars in a row: Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and Korea, where its doomed counter-invasion to “liberate” the north in 1950-51 claimed 28,345 battle deaths out of a total of 33,739 American lives lost:
“Each war ended up unrecognisably, disastrously, far from the mission declared at the start. It’s an unnerving record . . . Uniformed and civilian enthusiasts alike assured us there would be an easy victory in every case. Americans have no reason to believe outcomes will be different in a military clash over Taiwan or some other flashpoint billed by Washington as the next hinge moment of history”.
The USA’s Army Times reports that NATO’s Operation Defender Europe 2021 will include “nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas” on Russia’s western borders and on the territory of several former Soviet states.
It is only one of 19 NATO exercises this year- the grandiose titles (eg: DYNAMIC MASTERMIND and DRAGON READY) may be seen in this parliamentary answer. In another continent, African Lion — mid-May to mid-June – is the U.S. Africa Command annual training event using 5,000 troops from 24 nations primarily in Morocco, running large-scale live fire, medical readiness, air, maritime and forward command post training exercises.
Ben Chacko links the influence of Britain’s arms industry and banking investments to government’s willingness to spend taxpayers’ money in this way. He notes that between 400 and 500 British troops and civilians died in this latest Afghan war and getting on for 10,000 casualties are recorded. And ends:
“The human cost to the people whose land this is are, of course, in their uncounted thousands. This hopeless operation cost £15 million a day to sustain the hopeless Helmand operation. If each of that benighted province’s 1.5 million people had received their portion of that sum in a basic income supplement they would have been £25,000 better off . . .
“And nothing like that sum is available to help the 6,000 former soldiers now homeless in Britain”.
The philosophical basis of global trade is being challenged as many international supply chains fractured during the Covid-19 crisis. Many are complex; a dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, for example, requires 280 components from multiple countries, according to the company.
Currently about 80-95% of trade is carried by sea. Two million merchant seamen deliver a wide range of goods, ranging from oil, gas and iron ore, to grain, fresh fruit, medical supplies, TVs and automobiles.
The Covid Recovery Commission is a group of business leaders headed by John Allan, Tesco chairman, who also chairs Barratt Developments. They are advising the Government to support certain British industries post-Covid by using state procurement to create a Great British Supply Chain.
“The UK should use its post-Brexit freedoms to create domestic supply chains that rely less on foreign companies . . . It may sound like turning the clock back, but it is necessary. There are great advantages if you have short domestic supply chains – you can be much more flexible and respond more quickly to changes in demand.” John Allan.
The industries would include those decarbonising public sector buildings, rolling out 5G connectivity in the NHS and investing in modern methods of construction including off-site manufacture. By spreading prosperity nationwide, the private sector would then make use of the extra capacity to follow suit, for instance by decarbonising old homes as well as new buildings.
The capacity to invent, produce and distribute domestically is vital (Andy Haldane, chief economist, Bank of England, writing in a personal capacity)
The Covid Recovery Commission stressed the importance of training, infrastructure and local economic plans “to support the creation of new globally competitive industry clusters in every part of the UK by 2030,” drawing together businesses, universities and different levels of Government.
The Suez accident, which held up an estimated $9.6bn of goods a day according to Lloyd’s List, also drew attention to the fragility of tightly stretched global supply chains which are already being buffeted by a pandemic.
Farms not Factories reflects that it was another example of the chaos caused by long food chains.
200,000 animals were feared to be likely to die in the tail-back at both ends of the Suez canal, which could have been the worst maritime animal welfare tragedy in history. Visible results of the current Brexit chaos and the Covid pandemic also included suffering livestock on overcrowded lorries and rotting meat at the UK/EU border.
In an April newsletter, Tracy Worcester warns that – unless we change course worldwide towards more local production for local consumption – global supply chains serving corporations will continue to be vulnerable to unplanned but inevitable events such as price fluctuations, transport delays, interruption of processing capacity by pandemics and crashes in the financial system.
“Global Britain in Action”, rejoices the Secretary of State for Defence
Despite the problems facing this country, a government bulletin announces that its ‘Carrier Strike Group’ is to carry out visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Its website proudly reminds all and sundry of the diversion of taxpayers’ money to the UK’s defence budget – fifth largest in the world, highest in Europe and second highest in NATO – and of its position as the second largest defence exporter in the world. And, for further information, asks readers to contact Delhi: BHCMediaDelhi@fco.gov.uk
Video of a May UK Carrier Strike Group venture – with ‘support from the US global logistics footprint’ – may be seen here
A few hours ago rational observers were stunned by the news that Britain will deploy UK naval and aerial military firepower to set sail next month in a voyage which – journalist Mason Boycott-Owen comments – will be closely watched by China.
America is still pulling the strings
In January, U.S. and United Kingdom defence officials signed an agreement to merge some military forces to form a combined carrier strike group. Boycott-Owen presents the first operational deployment of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, as a demonstration of Britain using its power to bring other nation’s forces together, relating this development to Iceland becoming the 10th nation to join the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) but he presents the JEF as a Northern European initiative it was actually launched as a NATO initiative in 2014.
He describes the British contingent: “aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, with eight RAF F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines” – but the government website makes it clear that this action is part of the US Carrier Strike Group – a carrier battle group of the United States Navy Strike groups which ‘comprise a principal element of U.S. power projection capability’.
The American Department of Defense states clearly that this a joint venture, enabling the deployment of U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy personnel and equipment, including a detachment of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft and the Navy’s USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), as part of a UK-U.S. combined carrier strike group, led by the UK’s aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The Department of Defence states that “Throughout the deployment, the UK will support freedom of passage through vital global trading routes and demonstrate commitment to a recognised international system of norms and behaviours that benefit all countries”.
And UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, explained: “The deployment is a symbol of Global Britain in action, and powerfully demonstrates our commitment to India, the Indo-Pacific region, and confronting threats to international order”, ending:
Media queries to
Sally Hedley, Head of Communications
Press and Communications, British High Commission,
Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110021. Tel: 24192100
Mail to: BHCMediaDelhi@fco.gov.uk
The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) fair is as harmless and beneficial as ‘motherhood and apple pie’, according to its publicity material.
It ‘powers progress, connects governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the entire defence & security supply chain on a global scale’.
The brotherhood of man is enhanced by the DSEI ‘community’ which can strengthen relationships, share knowledge and engage in the latest capabilities across the exhibition’s Aerospace, Land, Naval, Security & Joint Zones (etc, etc.)
Human rights abusers, including Saudi Arabia and Israel routinely attend the event, where illegal weapons such as cluster bombs have previously been displayed. Indeed, Israel and Britain now have an agreement to “formalise and enhance” military co-operation and – as journalist and documentary film-maker John Pilger notes – more British arms and logistical support will now flow to the regime in Tel Aviv, whose snipers target children and children are interrogated in extreme isolation (see the recent report Isolated and Alone).
Some scientists have a more malign view of arms manufacturing, which causes ‘numerous, often severe, environmental impacts, including pollution of land, water and air.’
In his manifesto for the May 6 election, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to “explore all possible options” to end the city hosting the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) fair.
The Green mayoral candidate Sian Berry has also vowed to prevent the event from returning if elected, but the Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates are yet to be convinced.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) urges all to send a message to the London Mayoral candidates and ask them, if elected, to commit to recovering the costs of policing the arms fair.
Pilger reminds us of the greatest threat to security: “The most lethal virus is not Covid. it is war”.
Heathrow’s IT errors were inconvenient, HMRC’s stressful, the PO’s led to imprisonment, illness, premature death & suicide
The Post Office management covered up flawed IT systems & software glitches. This, the most flagrant example, ‘Britain’s most widespread miscarriage of justice’ was first reported by the BBC today; 39 former sub-postmasters were cleared of theft following the overturning of six other convictions in December.
After the Post Office installed the flawed Horizon computer system in branches 21 years ago, unexplained discrepancies and losses began to be reported by sub-postmasters. There were more than 700 prosecutions for theft, based on Horizon evidence.
A senior lawyer wrote today that the problem was not so much the Horizon software but a sequence of horrible, deliberate decisions made by human beings – about whether to bring prosecutions, to contest civil cases, and to avoid the disclosure of relevant documents.
How many less extreme situations are brought about by incorrectly written software (software glitches)?
- In February 2020 more than 100 flights were disrupted when Heathrow was ‘hit’ by technical issues with its electronics system about which it refused to ‘share details’.
- In May, thousands of patients were unable to talk to their NHS specialist in a video consultation because software brought in to help the service cope with coronavirus failed three times in one week.
- Later that year there were errors in the Test and Trace IT system, one affecting 7000 people.
HMRC: “missing correspondence, incorrect PAYE codes, inaccurate tax calculations”
AccountingWEB members (accounting and finance professionals in the UK) have ‘seen it all in their time’, but some believe that HMRC’s errors are becoming more frequent.
“Most (elderly people) do not think of checking the statements and pay up whatever is asked” (accountant)’.
Readers in their 80s with simple and transparent finances (i.e. pensions and savings interest) report that they have been faced with a range of time-consuming and stress-inducing issues. These include:
- Requests to pay tax on another person’s bank account
- Incorrect demands for money year after year.
- Repeated demands for tax on property sold years ago, despite written admissions of error and promises that the error will not be repeated.
One reader who was forced to employ an accountant in self-defence, heard from a reputable source in 2020 that these errors were due to a software glitch and would not happen again – but in 2021 received another very similar demand.
A few of the points made in the government’s own assessment of the HMRC’s performance:
- A narrow approach to following process, even where departmental errors are identified. Impact on the customer is not properly acknowledged or assessed’ – page 14
- HMRC and DWP are aware of a system error causing inaccurate pension forecasts. Neither department took responsibility for this and failed to provide a reason to the customer for the error – page 27
- It was unacceptable for customers to be left disadvantaged by departmental error in these circumstances. However, we continue to see more examples of unresolved future financial loss – page 28
As David Green the lawyer reflected, ‘the Post Office (and we add, HMRC) heads were not named or held responsible, instead, they have their gongs and their pensions and their self-serving supposed exculpations of ‘lessons learned’.
A graduation parade at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Despite a cross-party parliamentary committee calling for “continuing vigilance” to ensure visits did not become a “recruitment vehicle,” the British Army continues to offer free visits to schools across the country.
During these visits, forces are portrayed in simplistic ways with misleading messages often aimed at the most disadvantaged young people.
in a report launched in response to a petition calling on the military to stop recruiting in schools, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said its research contradicts claims by the forces that they do not recruit in schools.
It has co-published a report with Forces Watch and Welsh peace advocacy group Cymdeithas y Cymod on Wednesday, claiming that ministers in the Senedd have made “no real progress” in carrying out the parliamentary committee’s recommendations.
Emma Sangster of Forces Watch said ministers had ignored these and had given the army “carte blanche to continue to carry out recruitment activities in schools, contrary to Wales’s children’s rights agenda.”
The PPU report lists a number of recommendations for the Welsh government on the issue, including proposals to ensure a diverse range of employers visit students. The three groups are calling on the Welsh government to launch a formal review into military activities in schools.
PPU’s Symon Hill said: “Post-Covid, we should be raising our ambition by offering young people skills to aid Wales’ green recovery, rather than pushing them towards dangerous careers which will damage their mental wellbeing.”