G7 propsal welcome but time is of the essence

Financial Times, 12 June 2015:

It is impossible not to welcome the proposal by the G7 to decarbonise the world’s economy, but the time-scale does not reflect the urgency of the situation (G7 in historic accord to phase out fossil fuel emissions this century, June 9). The carbon budget to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees C will be exhausted by 2040 at current emission rates. After that climate change will fuel its own progress through positive feed-back systems, notably methane releases from permafrost and the Arctic sea-bed, so the process becomes irreversible and mankind’s contribution largely irrelevant.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

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Climate pacts need tougher enforcement

Financial Times, 15 May 2015:

Martin Wolf seems unconcerned about the possible effect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on environmental standards (Comment May 13)  So what about climate change?

Lord Deben, Chair of the independent government committee on climate change supports fracking in the UK provided it does not interfere with our climate change commitments. He has also stated that his committee would not hesitate to ban  fracking if  necessary. So imagine a scenario in 2030 whereby several US or European-based  companies are extracting shale gas and/or shale oil in the UK, and Lord Deben’s committee announced that further extraction was incompatible with the UK’s Climate Change Act which requires an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

I have no doubt that those same companies would sue the British Government under the terms of TTIP, and the result would either be massive compensation or repeal of the Climate Change Act. It needs to be remembered that trade deals under the auspices of WTO have real teeth. There is no equivalent body to enforce environmental safeguards.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Climate change and the case for funding energy-efficiency schemes

The Guardian, 28 July 2015:

Calls for action on climate change from Arnold Schwarzenegger and other luminaries should have been made decades ago (Global warming is not science fiction, warns Schwarzenegger, 22 July).  In 1989 I wrote an editorial for the Lancet entitled “Health in the Greenhouse” which concluded as follows:

Any strategy to combat global warming must be conducted on a global scale … This approach will require a new agenda for world leaders, a new role for the United Nations Environmental Programme, and a new awareness of man’s fundamental reliance on the integrity of world ecosystems.The expense may be considerable, but the cost of doing nothing is incalculable”.

Twenty six years on and nothing much has changed except that annual emissions of CO2 worldwide have risen by 60 per cent, whilst renewables account for just 2 per cent of global primary energy production. In the UK, the government is phasing out subsidies for on- shore wind whilst offering tax breaks to fracking companies. Stricter standards for new build have been shelved, energy conservation is being scaled back and feed in tariffs for solar are being cut.

George Osborne has said he does not want Britain to be “ahead of the pack on climate change”. He can rest assured that there is absolutely no danger of that.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Fracking subsidies would be better spent elsewhere

The Guardian, 23 July 2015:

You describe the UK task force on shale gas as “independent but industry-funded”. This would seem to be a contradiction in terms. Time and again bodies that are industry-funded come up with reports that are supportive of the corporate position. It is impossible to know whether people are recruited because they already hold views that support the industrial position, or whether the funding censors them from holding different views. In practice it doesn’t matter, because their reports are almost always supportive of industry. This has become abundantly clear over the years with tobacco company-sponsored research so biased that leading medical journals, including the Lancet and BMJ, have announced they will no longer accept papers from this source.

Similar strictures should be applied to the fossil fuel industry, particularly to an area as controversial as fracking. A truly independent view is provided by the report from the chief scientific adviser to the cabinet, or the environmental audit committee in the House of Commons, both of whom are opposed to fracking in the UK.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

No proper monitoring of methane emissions

Financial Times, 21 July 2015:

It may seem gratifying to learn that gas is now generating more  electricity in the US than coal, particularly as  this has reduced CO2 emissions by 12 per cent  since 2000 (Gas overtakes coal in US electricity generation, July 13). However this may not benefit climate change because of increased methane emissions released by the fracking process. In 2011,  Professor Tom Wigley demonstrated that unless fugitive methane emissions were kept below 2 percent, then shale gas was no better than coal from a climate change perspective.

Because the Bush administration granted exemptions to the fracking industry (including from the Clean Air Act) there has been no proper monitoring of methane releases in the US, but some independent studies have shown releases well above 2%. On this basis America’s new energy mix could be making climate change worse, not better.

A second problem is that US coal may simply be burnt abroad, a particular concern in Europe where  dual-fired power stations  are converting back from gas to coal due to cheaper imports. Finally shale gas is only acceptable  if it is combined with an effective method of carbon capture. Since this is not yet available at a commercial level, it is highly misleading to present  gas as any sort of solution to climate change, particularly as it is now 30 years since it was first proposed as a “bridge technology”.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire