Category Archives: Climate change
The first big climate-friendly decision: Wales opts for “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system”
The Financial Times reports that plans to build an M4 bypass to reduce congestion on the M4 which links London with South Wales, were rejected yesterday by Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford.
He attached great weight to the “substantial adverse impact” on the environment, in particular the Gwent Levels’ Sites of Special Scientific Interest, their network of ancient waterways, wet grassland, reedbeds, saltmarsh and saline lagoons with endangered and rare species of wildlife, managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust and ‘an army of volunteers’.
Ian Rappel, chief executive of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, commended the decision to reject the UK’s most ecologically damaging motorway scheme.
The business community in Wales and the UK government had backed the project, although some economists had argued that increased road access to South Wales would have sucked investment out of the region to the more prosperous west of England. However, Mr Drakeford said the cost to the Welsh government and the project’s impact on other capital investments were not acceptable.
A point not mentioned in this article is that several studies (1994-2017) – including one accepted by the UK government – have found that the relief offered by such a bypass will be temporary, due to the ‘induced traffic’ phenomenon. When a new road is built it generates extra traffic because of the presence of the new road, many new trips are made and longer distances are travelled.
Wales passed the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which was hailed by the UN as a model piece of legislation for sustainable development.
The Welsh government, which also declared a “climate emergency” in April, is to set up a commission with a mandate to develop “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system” and recommend alternatives to the 23-km dual three-lane motorway bypass.
He reports that a study by parliament’s international development committee, chaired by MP Stephen Twigg (left), concluded that the government needed more joined-up thinking when it came to climate change policy: “MPs have lambasted an “incoherent” aid policy in which Britain allocates billions to tackling climate change abroad while spending the same amount supporting fossil fuel projects”.
UKEF allocates billions to tackling climate change abroad but gives the same amount to fossil fuel projects.
Evidence had been presented that between 2010 and 2016 UK Export Finance (UKEF), which supports trade abroad, spent £4.8 billion on schemes that contributed to carbon emissions. These included financing for offshore oil and gas extraction in Ghana, Colombia and Brazil. A sum, almost identical to the £4.9 billion, was spent by different agencies from 2011-17 on supporting projects to tackle climate change in developing countries.
The committee said: “The only context in which it is acceptable for UK aid to be spent on fossil fuels is if this spend is ultimately in support of a transition away from fossil fuels and as part of a strategy to pursue net zero global emissions by 2050 . . . Currently, the support provided to the fossil fuel economy in developing countries by UK Export Finance is damaging the coherence of the government’s approach to combating climate change and this needs to be urgently rectified.”
UKEF, the much-criticised and renamed Export Credits Guarantee Department, is the UK’s export credit agency which underwrites loans and insurance for risky export deals as part of efforts to boost international trade.
The committee also found that other wings of the UK overseas development sector, including groups such as the Prosperity Fund, which supports economic growth, were backing carbon-intensive projects.
In October one such proposal was announced: the financing of an expansion of an oil refinery in Bahrain which would allow its total output to increase up to a maximum of 380,000 barrels per day
“Given the urgency and scale of the challenge, spending climate finance has to be more than a box-ticking exercise to meet a commitment,” the committee wrote. “Climate finance must be spent strategically, it needs to be spent with urgency and it has to be transformative.”
Representatives from the Grantham Research Institute (LSE) (a site well worth visiting) gave evidence to the committee. They were critical of the latest economic strategy from DFiD in which, they pointed out, climate change “only receives a brief mention under the sector priorities of ‘agriculture’ and ‘infrastructure, energy and urban development’, while ‘extractive industries’ including oil, gas and mining are highlighted as a priority sector for support with no mention of climate change considerations”.
Mr Twigg said that the UK policy of reaching “net zero emissions” should extend to the government’s work abroad, as well as at home. “It is welcome that in recent weeks climate change has taken its rightful place at the top of the news agenda,” he said. “The scale and seriousness of the challenge to be confronted must be reinforced and reflected upon daily if we are to take meaningful steps to combat it.
Rory Stewart, the international development secretary (left), said that the report “makes for sobering reading . . . Although we have done much already to tackle climate change, I feel strongly we can do more. I am going to make tackling climate change increasingly central to DFID’s work. As international development secretary I want to put climate and the environment at the heart of what this government does to protect our planet for future generations. As climate extremes worsen it is the world’s poorest countries and communities which will be most affected, but this is a global issue.”
Adam McGibbon, Climate Change Campaigner at Global Witness, said: “As the world reels from the news that we have twelve years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, today’s announcement by the government is staggering. The UK claims to be a climate leader, but it continues to spend billions pumping fossil fuels out of the ground abroad.
And in the Western Daily Press, 6 May 2019, Paul Halas from Stroud describes government policy-making as being, “hobbled by its vested interests and metaphorical flat-Earthers”. He ended:
“In times of war, research, development and manufacture increase exponentially. What faces us now is no less than a war against Climate Change, which will take an unprecedented effort and unanimity of purpose to win. It’s not one we can afford to lose”.
On Tuesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research launches its Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) and people are coming together across Conservative, Labour and Green parties to serve on it – leading figures from business, academia, civil society, trade unions, youth and climate activism.
Ed Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North and a former leader of the Labour party; Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion and Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP for South Thanet, have written about this and many readers’ comments are well worth reading. Important points made are summarised below
Too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central.
This will be done by committing to a Green New Deal (GND), with an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all. Read more on the Green New Deal website.
Its aims are to:
- mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better
- move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution
- end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing
- protect and restore threatened habitats and
- secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations.
People have been asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity. They ask whether they and their children will be able to get work and also what the quality of that work will be and what skills will be needed. ECJ believes GND has the potential to do this.
The areas of policy mentioned above answer the immediate economic concerns of people for jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.
The commission will aim to help the UK to take a lead, believing that there is economic and societal advantage in doing so. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.
Climate change protestors: postpone your demonstrations until lives are disrupted by rising sea levels, ferocious storms, flood, drought, crop failure, starvation and mass migration
“Presumably far better to leave it until their lives are disrupted by rising sea levels, ferocious storms, flood, drought, crop failure, starvation, mass migration and extinction of much of the life of the biosphere.
“Any politician with the intelligence, or care for humanity, to see beyond the next election would be in Westminster right now urgently working out how to save the world from approaching catastrophe – but maybe that’s somewhere on the list, after the next-but-one Brexit extension”.
The cartoon by Joel Pett (above), Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, states that whether global warming is real or not, the proposed measures are beneficial to everyone.
On the left of the cartoon a man asks, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” On the right the question is answered in the form of a list on a screen, showing what would be gained:
- energy independence,
- preserve rainforest,
- green jobs,
- livable cities,
- clean water and air,
- healthy children, etc., etc.
When discussing how society should respond to climate change, consensus might well be achieved by presenting this cartoon’s message.
In December Extinction Rebellion wrote to BBC Director General Tony Hall detailing an eight-point plan of how it could play a pivotal role in the transformation to face the climate and ecological crisis:
“We issued a plea to BBC bosses to live up to their role as public service broadcasters by fully informing the public of the existential threat faced by the human race unless urgent action is taken to reduce carbon emissions” commented Sophie May from Extinction Rebellion.
On Monday April 1st, XR launched a campaign to discover whether BBC staff feel their organisation is telling the truth about the dangers from accelerating global climate breakdown. An Extinction Rebellion team visited BBC Broadcasting House in London to conduct a BBC Staff Survey – putting a series of searching questions to BBC staff on their lunch and coffee breaks.
In the evening, during the debate on the second stage of the Brexit alternatives, Extinction Rebellion activists stood semi-naked in the House of Commons public gallery to call attention to the ‘elephant in the room’ – climate and ecological crisis.”
In what may be an incomplete recording – though James politely said that he hoped the BBC would report climate changes issues more prominently the BBC Radio 5 Live interviewer, Emma Barnett (right), firmly focussed only on the protestors’ actions and not the crisis which prompted them.
James Dean from Extinction Rebellion explained that a dramatic gesture was needed because the government had ‘stuffed itself up with Brexit’ and was not dealing with more important issues which need emergency action now.
He briefly and calmly outlined ‘the awful and dangerous’ future awaiting us all unless every possible action to avert climate change is taken – referring to the increasing incidence of floods, wildfires and storms,
2018: wildfires in Australia and the United States
Emma was not distracted: she charged the protestors with a huge breach of security and risk to MPs – saying that it would be more difficult for people to visit parliament in future.
James replied that this sort of action was nothing new and cited the suffragettes, who finally achieved their ends and whose drastic actions are now admired.
Emma failed to respond to the references to climate change and once again said their action was a serious breach of security: “How can you defend that when we are being told to be careful, not to go out alone etc”.
James ended by saying that they had used a minimum disruption to make their point :
“We know that what is to come will be far worse than putting off a few hours of politicians’ discussions.”
Media 97: An inconvenient truth? A Dutch reader notes UK’s ZERO coverage of 40,000 climate change demo in Amsterdam
She writes: “*zero* coverage in the UK over climate demo Sunday 10th in Amsterdam?! 40,000 people at climate change demo in Amsterdam and it RAINED heavily all day … we got soaked to our underwear …)!!”
An online search today saw no UK coverage on the first four ‘result’ pages – only American and European coverage.
Adding wryly: “When 40 yellow vests get together it’s shared all over the planet…
The demonstration, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, drew around 40,000 people despite heavy rain, according to Agence France-Presse.
“The high turnout is the proof that people now want a decisive policy on climate from the government,” Greenpeace, one of the march organizers, said in a statement.
The Netherlands could be especially vulnerable to the rising tides brought on by climate change. Much of the country already sits below sea level, and some of its land is sinking.
While the U.S. has been backpedalling out of global climate change agreements like the Paris accord, Dutch lawmakers have passed ambitious climate change laws, seeking a 95% reduction of the 1990 emissions levels by 2050.
In January, however, a Dutch environmental research agency said the government is lagging behind its goals. “We are under sea level, so we really need to do something about it,” said a 21-year-old climate studies student at Amsterdam University.
Students around the world have been leading protests to prompt their governments to address climate change. A worldwide school strike is planned for later this week. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager widely known for her climate change activism, said on Twitter that at least 82 countries plan to participate in the upcoming protest.
Will British media fail to report the forthcoming school strikes as well as this one?
Inrix has analysed traffic density in more than 200 cities in 38 countries. In London drivers spent 227 hours a year in traffic and the cost was £4.9 billion, or £1,680 per driver due to lost productivity. Across Britain, the cost was £7.9 billion. After London the worst UK city was Birmingham, then Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Leicester, Leeds and Liverpool. London has more traffic jams than any other city in western Europe and is the seventh most congested in the world. Read more on Inrix’ ‘scorecard’.
Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent of the Times, reports on these research findings published today which show that drivers were stuck in traffic for 178 hours on average last year.
Trevor Reed, transport analyst at Inrix, said that if congestion is not addressed, it will continue to have serious consequences for national and local economies, businesses and citizens in the years to come.
‘Driven by necessity’ – poor public transport
RAC research has shown that drivers are becoming more reliant on their cars because of poor standards of public transport. Rod Dennis, spokesman for the RAC, said, “This is a serious concern when you consider the limited physical space in our cities and the growing pressures to move large numbers of people around to get to their places of work and leisure.
“Those cities that are best placed to grow will be those that are developing public transport systems that suit the needs of their citizens.”
To this end, a more reliable railway system, could attract drivers and large freight companies to use rail and more use should be made of the country’s waterway network. 22 British towns or cities already have water taxis, buses or ferries.
London leads the way, carrying passengers and freight by water
London’s river bus operator, MBNA Thames Clippers, alone carried more than 4 million passengers in 2018 and the city also leads the way in carrying bulky materials on its waterways instead of its roads.
Most readers will have noted the numbers of lorries amidst the traffic jams and experienced delays due to tailbacks of many miles due to slow-moving abnormal and sometimes hazardous loads.
Full use should be made of routes which can take such freight by water. Above: a transformer carried by Robert Wynn and Sons.
A forthcoming report (Gosling 2019) notes, in its Freight Carbon Review, “The Department for Transport explained in 2017 that waterways are ‘attractive for the environmental benefits they provide, and the reliable congestion-free freight access they offer over alternate modes’.”
Road users and all concerned about air-pollution will welcome action to transfer more freight from roads to inland waterways, a declared UK government objective.
Martin Wolf, former senior World Bank economist who left after becoming disillusioned with its policies, reminds readers that a goal of the Paris agreement of 2015 was to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. He comments:
“Achieving it means drastic reductions in emissions from now. This is very unlikely to happen. That is no longer because it is technically impossible. It is because it is politically painful.
He refers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the implications of warming of just 1.5C, making plain the risks the world runs if this limit is ignored and concluding that life will survive, but not life as we know it, continuing:
“We are the shapers of the planet now. This ought to transform how we think. Unfortunately, it has not”.
Wolf believes that the theoretical and empirical arguments for man-made climate change are overwhelming, supporting this and other points made with graphs in his recent Financial Times article. The rise in average temperatures above the pre-industrial average is already about 1C. That shows how hard it will be to keep the final increase below 1.5C, or even 2C. Under the “nationally determined contributions”, he adds, we are in fact on a track towards warming of 3-4C by 2100.
if we are to have a high chance of keeping the ultimate temperature rise to below 1.5C:
- net global CO2 emissions would need to fall to zero not long after 2040
- and other sources of climate change — emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, for example — would also need to fall from 2030.
Emissions from industry would need to fall by 75-90 per cent by 2050, relative to 2010. This would need a combination of electrification, hydrogen and product substitution. These options are technically proven, but their deployment on a planetary scale is another matter. Emissions reductions by efficiency improvement will be inadequate.
(Ed) One reservation: many will disagree with Wolf’s assertion that generating energy from bio-based feedstocks is necessary and that agriculture will need to shift to production of energy crops on a huge scale.
He calls for planning changes in urban infrastructure and carbon capture and storage on a large scale, shifting the world on to a different investment and growth path right now and commenting, “This is more technically possible than we used to think. But it is politically highly challenging”.
The natural tendencies are either to do nothing, while insisting there is no problem, or to agree there is a problem, while merely pretending to act. It is not clear which form of obfuscation is worse.
Wolf points out that to preserve our planet requires co-operative effort on a planetary scale – a challenge human beings have historically only met in times of war. Climate change involves huge distributional issues between countries that caused the problem and those that did not, and, not least, between people today, who make the decisions, and people tomorrow, who suffer the results.
He warns that the chances of co-operative action seem near zero in today’s nationalistic world . . . Donald Trump has already repudiated the US pledge – other countries may fail, too:
“It is five minutes to midnight on climate change. We will have to alter our trajectory very quickly but appear to be set on running an irreversible bet on our ability to manage the consequences of a far bigger rise even than 2C, risking a world of runaway — and unmanageable — climate chaos.
“Our progeny will see this as a crime”.
After a year of disasters (documented in detail here), the reinsurance industry travelled to Monte Carlo for its annual get together (8-14 September).
Hurricane Irma was accompanied last year by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, along with earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in California. In all, there was $136bn of insured losses from natural and man-made catastrophes in 2017 according to Swiss Re, the third highest on record.
A report, “Climate Change and the Insurance Industry: Taking Action as Risk Managers and Investors”, was written by Maryam Golnaraghi, Director, Extreme Events and Climate Risk research programme for The Geneva Association, which is described as the industry’s leading thinktank.
It notes that following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there has been a burst of initiatives and activities across a wide range of stakeholders to support the transition to a low-carbon economy (mitigation side).
Latest developments include:
- growing but highly fragmented and in some cases conflicting climate policy and regulatory frameworks at national to local levels and across regions;
- innovation in clean and green technologies, with some gaining market share;
- rising interest in green financing, with efforts to reduce barriers to green investment on the part of shareholders, asset managers, standard-setting bodies and rating agencies, and growing demand for low-carbon commodities.
As well as building financial resilience to extreme events and other physical risks by providing risk information, improving distribution channels and payout mechanisms, Ms Golnaraghi reports that the insurance industry is supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy through its underwriting business, investment strategies and active reduction of its carbon footprint.
There is no reference to this support in the FT’s report of the insurance industry’s response to escalating disasters, summarised as:
- ‘a wave of merger and acquisition activity’ as insurers and reinsurers reconsider their business models,
- some are ‘bulking up’,
- others have decided to get out.
Reinsurance companies should call for immediate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, as climate change continues to progress and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and dangerous and heed the Environmental Defense Fund warning that if these are not ramped up, last year’s unprecedented disasters may soon become the norm.