24

24, not the TV series about tough-guy Jack Bauer battling against all odds to save the world from terrorists… but close – the one day UN climate summit in New York being held today.

The stakes could not be higher, according to UN president Ban Ki-moon:

“Climate change is a defining issue of our age, of our present. Our response will define our future. To ride this storm we need all hands on deck. That is why we are here today. We need a clear vision. The human, environmental and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable. We have never faced such a challenge, nor such an opportunity…”

In his address to the summit, head of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri warned:

“Acting on climate change is not a choice between the economy and the environment. The path to change is clear. It leads to a global agreement next year in Paris. To those who have grown cynical about the process, I would remind you of the words of the great poet Wallace Stevens: after the final no, comes a yes. All we need is political will. But political will is a renewable resource.”

This summit is just to set the agenda for the next major round of climate talks in Paris next year. Where previous climate talks have largely done just that and only that, the next round must deliver. Earlier this week 40,000 people protested in central London alone, around the world it was millions while earlier this year the Conservative party vowed to end subsidies for the most cost effective source of renewable energy available  – wind. Going even further David Cameron (of the ‘greenest Government ever‘ – remember that?) said he wanted to “eradicate” existing wind farms and ensure no new ones are built. While at the same time his own Department for Energy and Climate Change issued this statement:

“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of large-scale renewable electricity and forms an important part of our energy mix – our ambition is to develop up to 13GW by 2020, which would power 7 million homes.”

When Leonardo DiCaprio addressed the world leaders at today’s summit he could very well have been talking straight to the climate-change-deniers in Cameron’s party:

“As an actor I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems.I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away.”

With a General Election looming next year the question is – which party will actually face up to the biggest challenge facing mankind today?

Climate and Energy

Back in June this year Lord Stern (the world’s most authoritative climate economist) warned that the financial damage resulting from Climate Change will be much greater than predicted by current forecasts which have assumed increases in global temperatures will be limited to 3 degC.

In recent months the worldwide consensus has moved to a discussion about not IF the world will hit 3C, but by how much this will be exceeded. Newly published reports include temperature rises up to 6 degC above pre-industrial levels which result in “catastrophic outcomes”.

“It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the IPCC report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its … impacts on the economy. 

Models that assume catastrophic damages are not possible fail to take account of the magnitude of the issues and the implications of the science.” – Lord Stern

Additional research also predicts that severe financial impacts are likely to appear well before the actual physical effects cited above. By way of an example the state of California is now its third full year of drought and agriculture within the Central Valley, which produces almost 50% of US grown fruit and vegetables, is struggling to adapt. Economists predict the knock-on costs to every US household in increased food bills will top $500 annually.

Meanwhile the Independent newspaper reports this week that Britain continues to see an increasing risk of widespread electricity blackouts unless more is done to develop smarter solutions to save excess renewable energy at the point of generation.

USA wind cut CO2 by 80 million tonnes in 2012

A report by the American Wind Energy Association has shown that in 2012 wind farms across the USA reached a capacity of 60GW (60,000MW) generating approximately 140 TWh (140 million MWh) resulting in a lowering of CO2 emissions by 79.9 million metric tonnes.

An equivalent saving to taking over 14 million cars off the road.

By the end of 2013 new projects are expected to increase the total to 98.9 million tonnes of CO2 which can be offset against annual US emissions of around 5.4 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.

Conversely, here in the UK the latest FITs status report from OFGEM shows that installations of all renewable technologies including wind has shrunk to its lowest level since 2011 as subsidies and planning policy put in place by the last government are slowly eroded by the Conservatives.

95% sure on climate change say IPCC

95% sure on climate change say IPCC

According to a draft of the yet-to-be-published 5th IPPC report on Climate Change, the certainty that humans are the main cause of climate change has risen to 95 per cent, from 90 per cent in the previous assessment.

The report also predicts sea level rises of almost 1m by the end of this century.

Is UK nuclear dead?

UPDATE (08/02/2013) – Caroline Lucas, writing in the Guardian makes the case for the UK not needing nuclear to meet reduced CO2 emissions and keep the lights on.


George Monbiot seems to think it is. In his latest article he points to:

  1. Cumbria rejecting plans to create a nuclear dump site to hold radioactive waste
  2. Centrica announcing it does not intend to bid for new nuclear plant contracts

He then points to Germany and Japan where the scrapping of existing and new plant is expected to result in many millions of tonnes of additional greenhouse gases being released new coal and gas power stations.

In the UK the second dash-for-gas seems to be well under way, although where all this gas will come  from is anyone’s guess – fracking certainly isn’t the answer. Rewnewables of all types are now subject to slashed incentives, vague planning policy and NIMBY backbenchers.

So will we see a return to dirty coal fired electricity generation here in the UK as well?

Fancy a frack?

Its no secret that the Tories want to backtrack from the promise of being the “Greenest Government ever” with George Osbourne being particularly keen to build a raft of new gas fired power stations. He knows full well that the long term cost of gas is a huge gamble because most conventional reserves are in far away and often politically unstable regions of the world. So is he instead looking to the US where shale gas from fracking has seemingly unlocked vast new reserves? It certainly looks like it although it’s uncertain whether he will allow fracking in his own back yard.

So just where is all this shale gas and who would be affected by its extraction? The map below shows the areas in which “fracking” could become a reality with recent surveys reporting far greater reserves than previously known:

frackmap

So what does a typical fracking plant look like?

frack plant

..and how does it work?

frackprocess

..and what really just what are the risks?

frackrisk poopx45

So the choice is this, as a country we can continue to push ahead with renewables – more costly to build but then progressively cheaper to run in real terms thanks to free fuel… and currently the only way to reduce our CO2 emissions by enough to combat Global Warming.

Or we can import more and increasingly expensive gas on the world market and hope that a) we can continue to afford it,  b) that political instability in the Middle East or elsewhere doesnt cause a “gas shock” and that c) there is actually enough to go round.

Or we can frack ourselves to greenhouse gas oblivion.

Forced to choose (and ultimately you may have to) – would it be a wind farm or fracking plant next door?

Has Saudi oil peaked?

The likes of ASPO and Matt Simmons have been warning that Saudi cannot be depended on to meet the shortfall in world oil demands for much longer. Now a front page article in The Telegraph quotes the latest analysis by industry experts that predict Saudi will cease to export oil by 2030.

Until now Saudi has constantly increased production as other major wells in other oil producing states have matured and then peaked. In recent years much of the extra oil was not the sweat light crude that everyone wants… but heavier low grade oil that requires more costly refinement. Clearly the signs have been there for all to see.

No wonder then that recent announcements from the Kingdom regarding massive rollouts of solar PV and even nuclear power plant.

As Matt Simmons says… when Saudi oil production peaks, the worldwide production of oil will have peaked. Expect $500/barrel oil anytime soon.

Top Government scientist says 2degC limit “out the window”

There are widespread reports today that the UKs most senior scientific advisor to HM Gov, Professor Sir Robert Watson has said limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius is no longer possible. Instead he predicts rises could be as high as 5 degrees which will have dire consequences for the planet.

“To be quite candid the idea of a 2C target is largely out of the window… I wouldn’t rule out a 5 degree world and that would be quite serious for the people of the world especially the poorest. We need more political will than we currently have”

The UK Government, under pressure from back-bench Tories, are currently cutting renewable energy subsidies, by 50% in some cases, and embarking on another “dash for gas”.

Winning the battle for the next election clearly trumps fighting the battle to save the planet.

 

 

Germany hits 25% renewable energy target

Germany has announced that it’s managed to hit an ambitious target for power generation.. producing 25% of the country’s energy from renewables, up from 21 percent in 2011.

The country produced 67.9 billion kilowatt hours of clean energy in the first half of 2012.. an increase of 19.5 percent from the same period the year before.

Wind energy is the largest contributor, accounting for 9.2 percent of energy output, and biomass accounted for 5.7 percent. Solar power comprised 5.3 percent of the total, and also saw the biggest increase — rising 47 percent. That makes Germany the biggest market globally for solar power, with its installed capacity accounting for more than a third of the total capacity of the entire world. The rest of the 25 percent total was made up of contributions from hydroelectric power and waste incineration plants.

The country’s energy industry association, BDEW, said in a statement that the milestone reinforced Germany’s position as a leader in green technology.

However, the country remains ten percent short of its primary target of achieving 35 percent of its total energy needs from renewables by 2035.

Meanwhile… back in the UK, it’s been leaked that Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne’s father-in-law just happens to head a pro-gas lobby group funded by Shell and BP. Of course, we wouldnt suggest this has anything to do with Treasury desires to slash renewable subsidies by 25%… but Greenpeace seem to think it might…

“We’d hate to think that the UK’s direction of travel on energy policy was being decided over claret and duck chez Osborne. But Lord Howell’s links with big oil and gas special interests are well established. Questions must surely be asked about whether he has been bending the ear of his son-in-law to help his friends in the fossil fuel lobby.”

Louise Hutchins, senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said yesterday:

Signs and Portents

Just this week Scottish Power have announced gas and electricity price increases of 19% and 10% respectively with the threat that other suppliers may follow suit.

Gas price increases in summer?

Typically this is when demand is at its lowest and historically prices have fallen. If energy costs are spiraling, what then of food? Again, only this week a UN report warns that global food costs could increase by 30% – on top of 37% increases in many foods just in the last 12 months alone!

Oil prices are hovering around $115 per barrel having touched $125 earlier this year after a warning from the EIA that global production of oil has peaked. After years of denial the EIA has finally admitted that, unless some as yet undiscovered mega-field magically appears…

the amount of oil available every year from now on – will be less than the year before.

There have been many books written on the possible outcomes following peak oil with visions ranging from hellish Mad Max to a utopian Star Trek. One thing is for sure, as conventional oil stocks deplete the oil co’s will focus their attention on harder to extract (aka more environmentally destructive) oil locked in the Canadian tar sands or perhaps under the polar regions.

Let’s not forget climate change. While the economic downturn has been taking center stage the environmental picture has not improved. In 2010 CO2 emissions leaped to over 30 GIGATONNES.

Many experts now agree the goal of preventing a 2 degree rise in global temperatures is almost impossible.

Climate change is real and its already here. Weather patterns are becoming more erratic, every year the rate at which “record weather events” occurs appears to rising… record heat, record cold, record drought, record flooding… its there if you go and look for it.

The lack of fresh water is now also becoming a major issue.. this time outside of Africa. From the USA to China fresh water rivers are drying up – often as warming is causing a reduction in the annual snow fall on the great mountain ranges from which the rivers flow. Pressure on fresh water supplies then feeds directly into food prices.

All this as the worlds population moves towards 7 billion souls.

The signs and portents that have been present for years are now screaming at us to change.

How will we respond?