Caution and optimism over climate pledges

 

 

The Guardian, 8 October 2020:

Re Barbara Finamore’s article (What China’s plan for net-zero emissions by 2060 means for the climate, 5 October), it would be a mistake to get too excited about China’s announcement of carbon neutrality by 2060.

First, the date is far too late to limit global warming to 2C, let alone 1.5C. Reductions of 7.6% are required every year of the coming decade if we wish to stay within the 1.5C limit: China is planning to increase its emissions over the same period. They may now peak before 2030, but this is small comfort as China already contributes 28% of global carbon emissions.

Second, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is exporting an energy programme that relies on coal-fired power stations, with more than 300 planned or under construction.

Finally, it is looking increasingly inappropriate to define China as a developing nation, since emissions of carbon dioxide per capita already exceed that of the UK (7.0 versus 5.8 tonnes per year using the production-based emissions published by the Global Carbon Project).

The truth is that President Xi has picked a date out of the air that is far enough into the future that it allows China to continue with business as usual for at least another decade, if not longer.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet

Are electric cars on a road to nowhere?

 

 

The Guardian, 25 September 2020:

Having tried to argue that overpopulation does not contribute to climate change (Opinion, 26 August), George Monbiot now claims that electric vehicles (EVs) are not a key component of our future transport needs.

I have no problem with localism, cycling and e-scooters, but not everyone in the community is fit enough to cycle, or strong enough to carry heavy shopping. For those based in rural locations with non-existent public transport, EVs may be the only clean option available.

It is true that small particulates will still be generated from wear and tear on tyres and brakes, but this can be minimised by regenerative braking and improved tyre production. Furthermore, it is almost certainly the case that exhaust emissions are more dangerous from a medical perspective.

If the government brings forward the phase-out date for fossil fuel vehicles to 2030, it will benefit both air quality and the environment, and it is perverse to pretend otherwise.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution

 

 

A reputation sacrificed on the altar of free trade

 

Financial Times, 11 September 2020:

It appears that hardline Brexiters are increasing their grip on government strategy, and that there is now nothing that cannot be sacrificed in order to realise their vision of a free trade Britain; not even the UK’s credibility as a nation that abides by the rules-based order. (“UK government admits it will break international law over Brexit treaty”, September 9). So who, you might wonder, will now sign a trade deal with the UK if there is no guarantee that it will be adhered to? The European Research Group morphed from an anti-EU parliamentary study group into an ideological faction within the Conservative party under the influence of their high priest Steve Baker. Furthermore, it did so using taxpayers money. Consenting MPs were allowed to contribute £2,000 each from their expenses. However, the ERG has never published a list of its members and has never revealed the identity of donors to its private bank account. This cabal at the heart of government is now seized with a crusading zeal that is reminiscent of religious fundamentalism rather than a political faction. The outcome is that Britain’s reputation and future prosperity is about to be sacrificed on the high altar of a belief system that has no basis in reality. The ERG claim that free trade is omnipotent and contains the answer to everything. But it doesn’t have any solutions for climate change, and Britain never voted for a no-deal Brexit. I don’t believe that this is just a negotiating ploy. Boris Johnson is being held hostage by the provisional wing of his own party, and is about to do something unprecedented and catastrophic.

Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK

 

Abbott would be a blow to UK’s green credentials

 

Financial Times, 1 September 2020:

In the run-up to COP26, one likes to imagine that the UK government will at least pretend to take climate change seriously, if only so that it is not humiliated in Glasgow next year. But that illusion has been torpedoed by the proposal to appoint Tony Abbott to the Board of Trade (“Former Australian PM set to become UK trade adviser”, August 27).

If the global community is to have any prospect of curtailing the inexorable rise in greenhouse gas emissions, then it is critical that environmental standards are central to all future trade deals. Mr Abbott has described global warming as “absolute crap”. His first action as prime minister was to abolish his own climate change advisory council, closely followed by a decision to scrap Australia’s carbon trading scheme.

Although he seems to have had very little input into Australia’s trade deal with China, he took credit on the grounds that he was not “sidetracked by peripheral issues such as labour and environmental standards”.

One suspects that his indifference to climate change is the qualification that has endeared him to this government and Liz Truss in particular. He is ideologically aligned with Brexit diehards, and doesn’t have to worry about being voted out by his own party, which was his fate in Australia.

Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK

 

A sad song of ice and fire

 

The Observer, 30 August 2020:

Global warming is worse than portrayed by Robin McKie (“Revealed: Earth loses trillion tonnes of ice in less than 30 years”, News). Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center estimates that the world has warmed by just over 1C since 1880, but temperatures are higher over land than water. Thus Europe has warmed by 2C, and the Arctic by more than 3C.

Loss of ice leads to loss of reflectivity, which aggravates the warming, but wildfires in the Arctic are also dirtying the snow, which increases heat absorption. This can only end badly. Melting of the permafrost has the potential to double the amount of methane in the atmosphere. If the Arctic seabed starts to give up the vast amount of methane stored as clathrates, global warming will become irreversible and it is game over for human civilisation. Politicians seem transfixed by this unfolding tragedy. Their latest excuse is the pandemic, but they have done almost nothing over the past 30 years. The Kyoto protocol was designed to reduce carbon emissions but since 1990, the baseline year for Kyoto, annual emissions have increased by 50% globally. The UK is hosting COP26 (the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) next year. We can only pray that the government recognises the awesome responsibility it carries.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
chair Help Rescue the Planet,
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Identifying the culprits behind river pollution

 

 

The Guardian, 17 August 2020:

The failure of the government to protect our rivers extends beyond the Environment Agency (The government is looking the other way while Britain’s rivers die before our eyes, 12 August).
Defra’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 focused on the need to control emissions from agriculture, notably ammonia, which is a precursor for small particulates (PM2.5). Ammonia is released from nitrogen-containing fertilisers, and manure/slurry spread on to fields, particularly during the spring. Releases of ammonia can be reduced significantly by choosing the right sort of fertiliser, and injecting the manure into the soil. This would also protect rivers.
Yet the list of financial incentives offered to farmers in the government’s current agriculture bill does not include air pollution. This is a glaring omission, as the government’s own data shows that the UK is set to breach the EU National Emissions Ceiling Directive for both ammonia and PM2.5.
The government’s solution to this dilemma is to leave the EU and create its own green watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, which will doubtless prove as toothless as the Environment Agency, and other similar government-funded organisations.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Killer cars

 

 

The Observer, 2 August 2020:

The problem that needs to be solved by car manufacturers is not so much the 1,800 deaths that occur on our roads each year, but the 64,000 premature deaths that occur annually from air pollution (“Driving may never be the same again. But what a ride it’s been!”, Focus).

This has been given renewed urgency by the realisation that Covid-19 mortality is closely linked to levels of air pollution. Thus city dwellers are between 40% and 80% more likely to die from Covid-19 than their rural counterparts, an observation that would go a long way to explain the higher mortality among members of the BAME community.

Robin Russell-Jones, scientific adviser, all-party parliamentary group on air pollution
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Facts behind the UK’s ‘green’ recovery

 

 

The Guardian, 30 July 2020:

The investments made by the UK government in the transport and energy sectors as a result of the pandemic can usefully be compared with France and Germany using data from energypolicytracker.org (The Guardian view on the green recovery: Britain is being left behind, 28 July).

Overall subsidies are £11bn in the UK, £38.1bn in France, and £44.6bn in Germany, which includes their £9bn hydrogen strategy. All three countries are supporting airlines, but in the UK there is no requirement to improve fuel efficiency. The total investment in “green” energy and transport is £8.5bn in the UK, £19.1bn in France and £21.5bn in Germany. So the UK contribution is smaller and only 25% is targeted, compared with 97% in France and 92% in Germany.

An example of an unconditional subsidy is the £3bn allocated by the UK government towards improving the thermal efficiency of buildings. No details have been provided as to how this will work, and most of the £3bn appears to be recycled monies.

A targeted subsidy would be the £1.6bn bailout of Transport for London, but bailing out fossil-fuel dependent industries such as airlines without imposing any climate change obligations is bad policy, particularly in the run-up to Cop26.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Dave Faulkner
Founder, Marlow CAN

Ban on petrol car sales and a net-zero future

 

 

 

The Times, 14 February 2020:

Sir, The government proposal to bring forward the mandatory date for phasing out vehicles that rely on fossil fuels to 2032 is a welcome first step towards reducing air pollution and mitigating climate change (“Ban on sale of petrol cars could come in ten years”, Feb 13). Car manufacturers may protest at the time-scale, but that is unsurprising. They also objected to the introduction of unleaded petrol in the 1980s and to the introduction of catalytic converters, but both proceeded without any significant technical issues. In addition, there will be significant benefits to health: research estimates 64,000 premature deaths annually from air pollution in the UK, so the medical imperative is for an even earlier phase-out date. Turnover of the car fleet is about 7 per cent per annum, so it may take another 15 years after phase-out before the UK is close to carbon neutral road transport. And earlier date is therefore consistent with the government’s ambition to be zero-carbon by 2050. The government is also correct to include hybrid cars, which include a fossil-fuel engine. What is now needed from the government is co-ordinated investment in the infrastructure required for ultra-low emission vehicles.  Alongside this it will be critical to maintain the subsidy of £3,500 for electric vehicles which the government has threatened to reduce or even discontinue before the budget.

Geraint Davies MP,
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution;
Greg Archer, UK director, Transport & Environment;
Simon Birkett, Clean Air London chairman
Plus a further three signatories at thetimes.co.uk/letters

Act now on air pollution

 

 

The Observer, 2 January 2020:

Local authorities should be congratulated for banning vehicles from city centres (“Is this the end of the road for cars in Britain’s cities?”, Focus). Diesel vehicles are a particular problem as they generate ultra-fine particles, which are the most dangerous biologically. It had been assumed that diesel emissions would become less of a problem with the introduction of stricter emission standards, but recent testing has shown that diesel filters emit a huge number of ultra-fine particles when the filter is automatically decoked every 300 miles. Pressure from car manufacturers has ensured that these emissions are not included in EU vehicle emission tests.

Evidence as to the health impact of air pollution is also accumulating. A recent study showed that academic performance improved after air filters were fitted to schools in Los Angeles, providing key evidence of a causal link. After Brexit we will no longer be protected by EU air quality standards, and the government’s forthcoming environment bill is a poor substitute for EU law. We urgently need a new clean air act, and a national clean air agency to enforce it.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, scientific adviser, all-party parliamentary groups
Geraint Davies MP, chair, all-party parliamentary group on air pollution
House of Commons, London W1A