Author: Paul Brown

About Paul Brown

Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say

Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.

LONDON, 14 January, 2021 − One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

Attempts abandoned

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.

“The technology would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering”

The report also makes clear that the technology has not lived up to expectations. Instead of capturing up to 95% of the carbon from any industrial process, rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.

Despite these drawbacks and a number of failed CCS developments in the UK, the British government has just ploughed another £1 billion (US$1.36bn) into more research and development of the technology, and to provide infrastructure. The report says this reliance by government on CCS means it is unlikely to reach its target of zero emissions by 2050.

The report says that CCS features prominently in many energy and climate change scenarios, and in strategies for meeting climate change mitigation targets. These include the approaches backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency and the UK Committee on Climate Change.

But it is apparent that the current trend of CCS deployment worldwide has yet to reach the pace of development necessary for these scenarios to be realised.

If CCS is to have a meaningful role in mitigation, deployment would need to accelerate markedly, the report says.

Policy change needed

Friends of the Earth and Global Witness say that because of the clear failure of the technology to live up to expectations there should be a change of emphasis by governments. Policy should be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem.

These now proven renewable technologies, plus battery and other storage ideas and a much-needed energy efficiency drive, will deliver carbon reductions far more quickly and cheaply, the writers say.

The two organisations add: “It is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal. With carbon budgets increasingly constrained, the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.

“In this context, fossil fuel CCS is a distraction from the growth of renewable energy, storage and energy efficiency that will be critical to rapidly reducing emissions over the next decade.” − Climate News Network

Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.

LONDON, 14 January, 2021 − One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

Attempts abandoned

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.

“The technology would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering”

The report also makes clear that the technology has not lived up to expectations. Instead of capturing up to 95% of the carbon from any industrial process, rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.

Despite these drawbacks and a number of failed CCS developments in the UK, the British government has just ploughed another £1 billion (US$1.36bn) into more research and development of the technology, and to provide infrastructure. The report says this reliance by government on CCS means it is unlikely to reach its target of zero emissions by 2050.

The report says that CCS features prominently in many energy and climate change scenarios, and in strategies for meeting climate change mitigation targets. These include the approaches backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency and the UK Committee on Climate Change.

But it is apparent that the current trend of CCS deployment worldwide has yet to reach the pace of development necessary for these scenarios to be realised.

If CCS is to have a meaningful role in mitigation, deployment would need to accelerate markedly, the report says.

Policy change needed

Friends of the Earth and Global Witness say that because of the clear failure of the technology to live up to expectations there should be a change of emphasis by governments. Policy should be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem.

These now proven renewable technologies, plus battery and other storage ideas and a much-needed energy efficiency drive, will deliver carbon reductions far more quickly and cheaply, the writers say.

The two organisations add: “It is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal. With carbon budgets increasingly constrained, the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.

“In this context, fossil fuel CCS is a distraction from the growth of renewable energy, storage and energy efficiency that will be critical to rapidly reducing emissions over the next decade.” − Climate News Network

London plans tribute to green investments pioneer

The financial heart of London is to house a memorial to a woman who championed switching to green investments.

LONDON, 15 December, 2020 − A woman credited with pioneering green investments and shifting billions of pounds away from destructive industries is to have a memorial in the City of London – a first for an environmental campaigner.

Tessa Tennant, who died two years ago of cancer, aged 63, started green financial funds in 1988 to show that investing in the industries of the future not only helped the planet: it could also be both successful and consistently profitable.

By the time of her death she was known across the world in stock exchanges and boardrooms as a successful green campaigner who had converted many of the world’s largest investment funds to the principles of sustainable development.

Such was the affection and esteem in which she had been held by the financial community that a competition was held to design a public artwork to celebrate her life.

The winning design was by two well-known Scottish artists, Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion. It takes the form of an amulet intended to represent the powerful symbolic union of people and environment that is at the heart of sustainable finance and green investments.

“There has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric”

Once the design had been settled, a search began for a site suitable for the two-tonne amulet. The City and the Church of England have now agreed it should be erected at Christ Church Greyfriars graveyard in the heart of the City.

Because the amulet, together with its foundation of eight tonnes, will be sitting on top of an important archaeological site, the site permission is currently for five years.

James Cameron, a lawyer who chairs the Sustainable Finance Sculpture Project, says the site is perfect: “Greyfriars was an important and highly respected seat of learning in the 14-15th century, rivalling only Oxford University in status.

“Interestingly, their extensive library was funded by the Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington.

“The Franciscans advocated a different type of lifestyle where knowledge and integrity were valued over wealth and property, and we believe these ideals closely mirror the contemporary objectives of our project.”

Clear influence

The project is now raising the £300,000 (US$396,000) needed to commission the memorial, which Cameron hopes will be unveiled in time for the next annual UN climate conference, to be held in 2021 in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

The impact that Tessa Tennant had already had was apparent two decades ago when she gave a lecture entitled Business Alarm Call on 4 December 2000 at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the then prime minister, Tony Blair, and his wife Cherie.

It helped to launch CDP, a not-for-profit charity that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. It now has more than 10,000 company and city members.

The lecture, reproduced here, describes how this was going to be the solar century, and how the world of business must change to embrace that new reality in order to save the planet from climate change.

Ceaseless campaigner

A great number of the advances in renewables that Tennant predicted seemed far-fetched at the time but have since happened. Green investments were only one part of her concerns, and many of her other  environmental ideas for improving sustainability have been adopted.

Many other more advanced proposals are still under consideration. Tessa was still campaigning to speed up the scale of change that was needed to address the perils of climate change when she died.

Cameron said: “Twenty years on (from that speech), there has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing, and its resilience has been exceptional during this difficult year of the global pandemic.

“It is also fitting that the amulet will be sited first in the City of London – a leading innovator of change and a global leader in green finance. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric and fully harness its innate ingenuity and creativity to fully deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.” − Climate News Network

 

The financial heart of London is to house a memorial to a woman who championed switching to green investments.

LONDON, 15 December, 2020 − A woman credited with pioneering green investments and shifting billions of pounds away from destructive industries is to have a memorial in the City of London – a first for an environmental campaigner.

Tessa Tennant, who died two years ago of cancer, aged 63, started green financial funds in 1988 to show that investing in the industries of the future not only helped the planet: it could also be both successful and consistently profitable.

By the time of her death she was known across the world in stock exchanges and boardrooms as a successful green campaigner who had converted many of the world’s largest investment funds to the principles of sustainable development.

Such was the affection and esteem in which she had been held by the financial community that a competition was held to design a public artwork to celebrate her life.

The winning design was by two well-known Scottish artists, Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion. It takes the form of an amulet intended to represent the powerful symbolic union of people and environment that is at the heart of sustainable finance and green investments.

“There has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric”

Once the design had been settled, a search began for a site suitable for the two-tonne amulet. The City and the Church of England have now agreed it should be erected at Christ Church Greyfriars graveyard in the heart of the City.

Because the amulet, together with its foundation of eight tonnes, will be sitting on top of an important archaeological site, the site permission is currently for five years.

James Cameron, a lawyer who chairs the Sustainable Finance Sculpture Project, says the site is perfect: “Greyfriars was an important and highly respected seat of learning in the 14-15th century, rivalling only Oxford University in status.

“Interestingly, their extensive library was funded by the Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington.

“The Franciscans advocated a different type of lifestyle where knowledge and integrity were valued over wealth and property, and we believe these ideals closely mirror the contemporary objectives of our project.”

Clear influence

The project is now raising the £300,000 (US$396,000) needed to commission the memorial, which Cameron hopes will be unveiled in time for the next annual UN climate conference, to be held in 2021 in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

The impact that Tessa Tennant had already had was apparent two decades ago when she gave a lecture entitled Business Alarm Call on 4 December 2000 at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the then prime minister, Tony Blair, and his wife Cherie.

It helped to launch CDP, a not-for-profit charity that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. It now has more than 10,000 company and city members.

The lecture, reproduced here, describes how this was going to be the solar century, and how the world of business must change to embrace that new reality in order to save the planet from climate change.

Ceaseless campaigner

A great number of the advances in renewables that Tennant predicted seemed far-fetched at the time but have since happened. Green investments were only one part of her concerns, and many of her other  environmental ideas for improving sustainability have been adopted.

Many other more advanced proposals are still under consideration. Tessa was still campaigning to speed up the scale of change that was needed to address the perils of climate change when she died.

Cameron said: “Twenty years on (from that speech), there has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing, and its resilience has been exceptional during this difficult year of the global pandemic.

“It is also fitting that the amulet will be sited first in the City of London – a leading innovator of change and a global leader in green finance. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric and fully harness its innate ingenuity and creativity to fully deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.” − Climate News Network

 

World Bank helps developing countries’ wind spurt

Wind power is the cheapest way to produce electricity, but some are not persuaded. The World Bank is out to change minds.

LONDON, 1 December, 2020 − Europe and the United States now accept onshore wind power as the cheapest way to generate electricity. But this novel technology still needs subsidising before some developing countries will embrace it. Enter the World Bank.

A total of US$80 billion in subsidies from the Bank has gone over 25 years to 565 developing world onshore wind projects, to persuade governments to invest in renewables rather than rely on fossil fuels.

Central and Latin American countries have received the lion’s share of this investment, but the Asia Pacific region and Eastern Europe have also seen dozens of Bank-funded developments. Now the fastest-growing market is in Africa and the Middle East.

But while continuing to campaign for more onshore wind farms, the World Bank in 2019 started encouraging target countries to embrace offshore wind as well. This uses two approaches: turbines in shallow water, which are fixed to the seabed, and also a newer technology, involving floating turbines anchored by cables at greater depth.

The extraordinary potential for offshore wind, which is being commercially developed very fast in Europe, China and the US, is now seen by the Bank as important for countries like Vietnam – which could harness enough offshore wind power to provide all its electricity needs.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets”

Other countries it has identified with enormous potential for offshore wind include Brazil, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, South Africa and Sri Lanka, all of them countries that need to keep building more power stations to connect every citizen to the national grid.

The Bank began investing in wind power in 1995, with its spending reaching billions of dollars annually in 2011. The biggest single recipient has been Brazil, receiving US$24.2 bn up to the end of 2018, 30% of the total the Bank has invested worldwide.

Many private companies have partnered with the Bank to build the wind farms. The biggest single beneficiary is Enel, the Italian energy giant, which has received US$6.1 bn to complete projects in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Romania, Morocco, Bulgaria, Peru, and Russia.

Among the countries now benefitting from the Bank’s continuing onshore wind programme are Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Jordan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Offshore wind now costs less than nuclear power, and is able to compete in most countries with fossil fuels. Currently the fastest-growing industry in the world, its progress is scarcely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Persistent coal demand

Particularly in Asia, some countries are continuing to burn large quantities of coal and are considering investing in yet more fossil fuel generation unless they can be persuaded that renewables are a better option.

Last year the World Bank began a pilot scheme to explore funding investment in offshore wind in these countries. Launching the scheme Riccardo Puliti, a senior director at the Bank, said: “Offshore wind is a clean, reliable and secure source of energy with massive potential to transform the energy mix in countries that have great wind resources.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets.”

Using data from the Global Wind Atlas, the Bank calculated that developing countries with shallow waters like India, Turkey and Sri Lanka had huge potential with fixed turbines, while others − the Philippines and South Africa, for example − would need floating foundations to reach greater depths, up to 1,000 metres.

For countries like Vietnam, with a mix of shallow and deep water, wind power could solve their entire electricity needs. In theory offshore wind power could produce ten times the amount of electricity that the country currently gets from all its current power stations, the Bank says. − Climate News Network

Wind power is the cheapest way to produce electricity, but some are not persuaded. The World Bank is out to change minds.

LONDON, 1 December, 2020 − Europe and the United States now accept onshore wind power as the cheapest way to generate electricity. But this novel technology still needs subsidising before some developing countries will embrace it. Enter the World Bank.

A total of US$80 billion in subsidies from the Bank has gone over 25 years to 565 developing world onshore wind projects, to persuade governments to invest in renewables rather than rely on fossil fuels.

Central and Latin American countries have received the lion’s share of this investment, but the Asia Pacific region and Eastern Europe have also seen dozens of Bank-funded developments. Now the fastest-growing market is in Africa and the Middle East.

But while continuing to campaign for more onshore wind farms, the World Bank in 2019 started encouraging target countries to embrace offshore wind as well. This uses two approaches: turbines in shallow water, which are fixed to the seabed, and also a newer technology, involving floating turbines anchored by cables at greater depth.

The extraordinary potential for offshore wind, which is being commercially developed very fast in Europe, China and the US, is now seen by the Bank as important for countries like Vietnam – which could harness enough offshore wind power to provide all its electricity needs.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets”

Other countries it has identified with enormous potential for offshore wind include Brazil, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, South Africa and Sri Lanka, all of them countries that need to keep building more power stations to connect every citizen to the national grid.

The Bank began investing in wind power in 1995, with its spending reaching billions of dollars annually in 2011. The biggest single recipient has been Brazil, receiving US$24.2 bn up to the end of 2018, 30% of the total the Bank has invested worldwide.

Many private companies have partnered with the Bank to build the wind farms. The biggest single beneficiary is Enel, the Italian energy giant, which has received US$6.1 bn to complete projects in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Romania, Morocco, Bulgaria, Peru, and Russia.

Among the countries now benefitting from the Bank’s continuing onshore wind programme are Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Jordan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Offshore wind now costs less than nuclear power, and is able to compete in most countries with fossil fuels. Currently the fastest-growing industry in the world, its progress is scarcely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Persistent coal demand

Particularly in Asia, some countries are continuing to burn large quantities of coal and are considering investing in yet more fossil fuel generation unless they can be persuaded that renewables are a better option.

Last year the World Bank began a pilot scheme to explore funding investment in offshore wind in these countries. Launching the scheme Riccardo Puliti, a senior director at the Bank, said: “Offshore wind is a clean, reliable and secure source of energy with massive potential to transform the energy mix in countries that have great wind resources.

“We have seen it work in Europe – we can now make use of global experience to scale up offshore wind projects in emerging markets.”

Using data from the Global Wind Atlas, the Bank calculated that developing countries with shallow waters like India, Turkey and Sri Lanka had huge potential with fixed turbines, while others − the Philippines and South Africa, for example − would need floating foundations to reach greater depths, up to 1,000 metres.

For countries like Vietnam, with a mix of shallow and deep water, wind power could solve their entire electricity needs. In theory offshore wind power could produce ten times the amount of electricity that the country currently gets from all its current power stations, the Bank says. − Climate News Network

Western Europe cools on plans for nuclear power

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

Green spaces keep hearts healthy and save lives

Planting trees and creating urban parks brings more green spaces and cleaner air, cutting heart deaths and saving lives.

LONDON, 16 November, 2020 − A vast study of the incidence of heart disease, the amount of green spaces and air quality in each county of the United States has shown that the presence of trees, shrubs and grass saves lives.

It has long been known that particulate matter from industry and car exhausts is bad for lungs and hearts. While it is also accepted that the greenery absorbs pollution, it has been hard until now to relate the extent of the two effects.

Using the data collected by NASA from satellites to calculate the greenness of vast areas of the US, the researchers compared it with the national death rates from the Atlas of Heart Disease.

They overlaid this with data from the Environment Protection Agency’s air quality measurements of particulate matter for each county and the Census Bureau’s information on age, race, education and income by county.

Using an internationally recognised system to measure the amount of green vegetation in any location, from a barren area of rock at one extreme (0.00 on the scale) to dense tropical rain forest (0.80) at the other, they found a measurable link between greenness and survival rates.

Policy shift needed

For every 0.10 (12.5%) increase in what’s called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, heart disease decreased by 13 deaths per 100,000. For every one microgram increase in particulate matter per cubic metre of air, heart disease increased by roughly 39 deaths per 100,000.

“We found that areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and that having higher greenness measures, in turn, is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease,” said William Aitken, a cardiology fellow with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida.

“Given the potential cardiovascular benefits of higher greenness measures, it’s important that dialogue about improved health and quality of life include environmental policies that support increasing greenness,” he said.

The research is significant in the battle against climate change too. Asian countries, particularly India and China, have severe problems with early death and disease as a result of air pollution. They have concentrated their efforts for reducing air pollution by reducing traffic and suppressing coal burning.

It is clear from this research that they could both remove particulates from the air and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of vegetation in polluted areas.

“Areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and having higher greenness measures is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease”

The US researchers hope their results will encourage clinical trials using built environment interventions (e.g., tree planting to increase the presence of vegetation) to improve cardiovascular health. “We will be performing a longitudinal study in Miami to assess if changes in neighbourhood greenness over time are associated with changes in cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Aitken said.

Commenting on the research Joel Kaufman, a volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in addition to the actions that individuals could take to ensure healthy lives, such as not smoking, being physically active and controlling cholesterol, environmental factors had turned out to be very important.

Ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels is one of the major factors. Research over 20 years has shown that living in areas with higher concentrations of air pollutants, and breathing in the pollution, leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Demonstrably, green spaces matter.

Dr Kaufman said that community-led action had mostly been directed at increasing controls over the sources of air pollution affecting the environment. But another effective approach would be to increase the level of greenness, planting trees, shrubs and grass.

In a statement the American Heart Association said long-term exposure to air pollution reduced life expectancy by between several months and a few years, depending on its severity. Cutting pollution improved the health and life expectancy of those living in the area quite quickly. − Climate News Network

Planting trees and creating urban parks brings more green spaces and cleaner air, cutting heart deaths and saving lives.

LONDON, 16 November, 2020 − A vast study of the incidence of heart disease, the amount of green spaces and air quality in each county of the United States has shown that the presence of trees, shrubs and grass saves lives.

It has long been known that particulate matter from industry and car exhausts is bad for lungs and hearts. While it is also accepted that the greenery absorbs pollution, it has been hard until now to relate the extent of the two effects.

Using the data collected by NASA from satellites to calculate the greenness of vast areas of the US, the researchers compared it with the national death rates from the Atlas of Heart Disease.

They overlaid this with data from the Environment Protection Agency’s air quality measurements of particulate matter for each county and the Census Bureau’s information on age, race, education and income by county.

Using an internationally recognised system to measure the amount of green vegetation in any location, from a barren area of rock at one extreme (0.00 on the scale) to dense tropical rain forest (0.80) at the other, they found a measurable link between greenness and survival rates.

Policy shift needed

For every 0.10 (12.5%) increase in what’s called the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, heart disease decreased by 13 deaths per 100,000. For every one microgram increase in particulate matter per cubic metre of air, heart disease increased by roughly 39 deaths per 100,000.

“We found that areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and that having higher greenness measures, in turn, is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease,” said William Aitken, a cardiology fellow with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida.

“Given the potential cardiovascular benefits of higher greenness measures, it’s important that dialogue about improved health and quality of life include environmental policies that support increasing greenness,” he said.

The research is significant in the battle against climate change too. Asian countries, particularly India and China, have severe problems with early death and disease as a result of air pollution. They have concentrated their efforts for reducing air pollution by reducing traffic and suppressing coal burning.

It is clear from this research that they could both remove particulates from the air and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of vegetation in polluted areas.

“Areas with better air quality have higher greenness, and having higher greenness measures is related to having a lower rate of deaths from heart disease”

The US researchers hope their results will encourage clinical trials using built environment interventions (e.g., tree planting to increase the presence of vegetation) to improve cardiovascular health. “We will be performing a longitudinal study in Miami to assess if changes in neighbourhood greenness over time are associated with changes in cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Aitken said.

Commenting on the research Joel Kaufman, a volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in addition to the actions that individuals could take to ensure healthy lives, such as not smoking, being physically active and controlling cholesterol, environmental factors had turned out to be very important.

Ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels is one of the major factors. Research over 20 years has shown that living in areas with higher concentrations of air pollutants, and breathing in the pollution, leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Demonstrably, green spaces matter.

Dr Kaufman said that community-led action had mostly been directed at increasing controls over the sources of air pollution affecting the environment. But another effective approach would be to increase the level of greenness, planting trees, shrubs and grass.

In a statement the American Heart Association said long-term exposure to air pollution reduced life expectancy by between several months and a few years, depending on its severity. Cutting pollution improved the health and life expectancy of those living in the area quite quickly. − Climate News Network

Carbon speeds crop growth but often for little gain

More carbon dioxide speeds up crop growth with some key food harvests, but extra heat can hit the yield.

LONDON, 10 November, 2020 − Thirty years of experiments in testing crop growth, and notably the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) on some human staples like rice, wheat and soya, have found that − given perfect growing conditions − they would increase yields by 18%.

But sadly, in “real world” conditions, any gains from carbon fertilisation are lost − because of the stress caused to crops by the 2°C temperature rise that the gas causes in the atmosphere. Even worse, the fact that crops grow faster does not mean that their nutritional value is greater – many showed lower mineral nutrients and protein content.

The work, 30 years of “free air carbon dioxide enrichment” (FACE), carried out by 14 long-term research facilities in five continents, is a blow to the hope that in a world with more atmospheric CO2 more people could be fed with less land under cultivation. Earlier results had held out the hope that this “fertiliser effect” would feed more people.

While commercial growers of plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have used increased CO2 to boost production in controlled conditions in greenhouses, it does not work so well in open fields where temperature and moisture content are affected by climate change.

“When you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors”

Some crops do get a boost from more carbon in the atmosphere because it makes photosynthesis more efficient, but this is only if nutrients and water are available at optimum levels. This group includes soybean, cassava and rice, all vital in feeding some of the hungriest people in the world.

The author of the study, Stephen Long from the University of Illinois,  said that while it seemed reasonable to assume “a bounty as CO2 rises” this was not the case, because “CO2 is the primary cause of change in the global climate system. The anticipated 2°C rise in temperature, caused primarily by this increase in CO2, could halve yields of some of our major crops, wiping out any gain from CO2.”

His co-author Lisa Ainsworth, a research plant physiologist with the US Department of Agriculture, said: “It’s quite shocking to go back and look at just how much CO2 concentrations have increased over the lifetime of these experiments.

“We are reaching the concentrations of some of the first CO2 treatments 30 years back. The idea that we can check the results of some of the first FACE experiments in the current atmosphere is disconcerting.

Need for nitrogen

“Lots of people have presumed that rising CO2 is largely a good thing for crops, assuming more CO2 will make the world’s forests greener and increase crop yields,” Ainsworth said.

“The more recent studies challenge that assumption a bit. We’re finding that when you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors like drought, temperature, nutrients and pests.”

The poor quality of some of the grain, with less mineral and protein content, is also a blow to add to the crop growth doubts. The potential increased yield is also much smaller under conditions where there is low nitrogen fertiliser, typical of the world’s poorest countries.

However, the researchers are not all gloomy. Genetic variations in crops show that some strains can still benefit despite increased temperatures. If new crop cultivars are developed, then the future could be brighter, but work needs to start now, the scientists say. − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide speeds up crop growth with some key food harvests, but extra heat can hit the yield.

LONDON, 10 November, 2020 − Thirty years of experiments in testing crop growth, and notably the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) on some human staples like rice, wheat and soya, have found that − given perfect growing conditions − they would increase yields by 18%.

But sadly, in “real world” conditions, any gains from carbon fertilisation are lost − because of the stress caused to crops by the 2°C temperature rise that the gas causes in the atmosphere. Even worse, the fact that crops grow faster does not mean that their nutritional value is greater – many showed lower mineral nutrients and protein content.

The work, 30 years of “free air carbon dioxide enrichment” (FACE), carried out by 14 long-term research facilities in five continents, is a blow to the hope that in a world with more atmospheric CO2 more people could be fed with less land under cultivation. Earlier results had held out the hope that this “fertiliser effect” would feed more people.

While commercial growers of plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have used increased CO2 to boost production in controlled conditions in greenhouses, it does not work so well in open fields where temperature and moisture content are affected by climate change.

“When you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors”

Some crops do get a boost from more carbon in the atmosphere because it makes photosynthesis more efficient, but this is only if nutrients and water are available at optimum levels. This group includes soybean, cassava and rice, all vital in feeding some of the hungriest people in the world.

The author of the study, Stephen Long from the University of Illinois,  said that while it seemed reasonable to assume “a bounty as CO2 rises” this was not the case, because “CO2 is the primary cause of change in the global climate system. The anticipated 2°C rise in temperature, caused primarily by this increase in CO2, could halve yields of some of our major crops, wiping out any gain from CO2.”

His co-author Lisa Ainsworth, a research plant physiologist with the US Department of Agriculture, said: “It’s quite shocking to go back and look at just how much CO2 concentrations have increased over the lifetime of these experiments.

“We are reaching the concentrations of some of the first CO2 treatments 30 years back. The idea that we can check the results of some of the first FACE experiments in the current atmosphere is disconcerting.

Need for nitrogen

“Lots of people have presumed that rising CO2 is largely a good thing for crops, assuming more CO2 will make the world’s forests greener and increase crop yields,” Ainsworth said.

“The more recent studies challenge that assumption a bit. We’re finding that when you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors like drought, temperature, nutrients and pests.”

The poor quality of some of the grain, with less mineral and protein content, is also a blow to add to the crop growth doubts. The potential increased yield is also much smaller under conditions where there is low nitrogen fertiliser, typical of the world’s poorest countries.

However, the researchers are not all gloomy. Genetic variations in crops show that some strains can still benefit despite increased temperatures. If new crop cultivars are developed, then the future could be brighter, but work needs to start now, the scientists say. − Climate News Network

Japan faces another Fukushima disaster crisis

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

A plan to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima disaster off Japan is alarming local people.

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − The Japanese government has an unsolvable problem: what to do with more than a million tonnes of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, in store since the Fukushima disaster and growing at more than 150 tonnes a day.

The water, contained in a thousand giant tanks, has been steadily accumulating since the nuclear accident in 2011. It has been used to cool the three reactors that suffered a meltdown as a result of the tsunami that hit the coast.

Tritium is a radioactive element produced as a by-product by nuclear reactors under normal operation, and is present everywhere in the fabric of the reactor buildings, so water used for cooling them is bound to be contaminated by it.

To avoid another potentially catastrophic meltdown in the remaining fuel the cooling has to continue indefinitely, so the problem continues to worsen. The government has been told that Japan will run out of storage tanks by 2022.

Announcement delayed

As often happens when governments are faced with difficult problems, the unpalatable decision to release the contaminated water into the sea has not been formally announced, but the intention of the government to take this course has been leaked and so widely reported.

Immediately both local and worldwide adverse reaction has resulted. There are the direct effects on the local fishermen who fear that no one will want to buy their catch, but over a wider area the health effects are the main concern.

As ever with the nuclear industry, there are two widely different views on tritium. The Health Physics Society says it is a mildly radioactive element that is present everywhere, and doubts that people will be affected by it. But the Nuclear Information and Resource Service believes tritium is far more dangerous and increases the likelihood of cancers, birth defects and genetic disorders.

The issue is further complicated because the Fukushima wastewater contains a number of other radionuclides, not in such high quantities, but sufficient to cause damage. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, is extremely concerned about Japan’s plans and the health of the local people.

“Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power”

In a detailed assessment of the situation he says other highly dangerous radioactive substances, including caesium-137 and strontium-90, are also in the water stored at Fukushima.

They are in lower quantities than the tritium, he says, but still unacceptably high – up to 100 times above the legally permitted limit. All these radionuclides decay over time − some take thousands of years − but tritium decays faster, the danger from it halving every 12.3 years.

In a briefing for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), a UK based organisation, another independent analyst, Tim Deere-Jones, discusses research that shows that tritium binds with organic material in plants and animals.

This is potentially highly damaging to human health because it travels up the food chain in the marine environment, specifically accumulating in fish. This means fish-eating communities on the Japanese coast could ingest much larger quantities of tritium than some physicists think likely.

Relying on dilution

Tim Deere-Jones is also concerned that the tritium will be blown inshore on the prevailing wind in sea spray and will bio-accumulate in food plants, making it risky to eat crops as far as ten miles inland. Because of the potential dangers of releasing the water the NFLA has asked the Japanese government to reconsider its decision.

The government has not yet responded though, because officially it is still considering what to do. However, it is likely to argue that pumping the contaminated water into the sea is acceptable because it will be diluted millions of times, and anyway seawater does already contain minute quantities of tritium.

Dr Fairlie is among many who think this is too dangerous, but he admits there are no easy solutions.

He says: “Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Gov’t [TEPCO is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]  will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least.

“This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.” − Climate News Network

China’s climate lead offers the planet new hope

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change

Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.

LONDON, 6 October, 2020 − Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.

“This raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy”

The study found that in some large countries, going renewable was up to seven times more effective in lowering carbon emissions than nuclear.

The findings are a severe blow to the nuclear industry, which has been touting itself as the answer to climate change and calling itself a low-carbon energy. The scientists conclude that if countries want to lower emissions substantially, rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible, they should invest in solar and wind power and avoid nuclear.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy.

“Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

The report says that as well as long lead times for nuclear, the necessity for the technology to have elaborate oversight of potentially catastrophic safety risks, security against attack, and long-term waste management strategies tends to take up resources and divert attention away from other simpler and much quicker options like renewables.

Consistent results

The nuclear industry has always claimed that countries need both nuclear and renewables in order to provide reliable power for a grid that does not have input from coal- or gas-fuelled power stations.

This study highlights several other papers which show that a reliable electricity supply is possible with 100% renewables, and that keeping nuclear in the mix hinders the development of renewables.

Patrick Schmidt, a co-author from the International School of Management in Munich,  said: “It is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2 emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

As well as being a blow to the nuclear industry, the paper’s publication comes at a critical time for governments still intending to invest in nuclear power.

For a long time it has been clear that most advanced democratic countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have no wish to be have been investing in renewables and abandoning nuclear power, because it is too expensive and unpopular with the public. In Europe they include Germany, Italy and Spain, with South Korea in the Far East.

Nuclear weapons needs

Nuclear weapons states like the UK and the US, which have both admitted the link between their military and civilian nuclear industries, continue to encourage the private sector to build nuclear stations and are prepared to provide public subsidy or guaranteed prices to induce them to do so.

With the evidence presented by this paper it will not be possible for these governments to claim that building new nuclear power stations is the right policy to halt climate change.

Both Russia and China continue to be enthusiastic about nuclear power, the cost being less important than the influence gained by exporting the technology to developing countries. Providing cheap loans and nuclear power stations gives their governments a long-term foothold in these countries, and involves controlling the supply of nuclear fuel in order to keep the lights on.

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex and also a co-author, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument.

“Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.” − Climate News Network

Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.

LONDON, 6 October, 2020 − Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.

“This raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy”

The study found that in some large countries, going renewable was up to seven times more effective in lowering carbon emissions than nuclear.

The findings are a severe blow to the nuclear industry, which has been touting itself as the answer to climate change and calling itself a low-carbon energy. The scientists conclude that if countries want to lower emissions substantially, rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible, they should invest in solar and wind power and avoid nuclear.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy.

“Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

The report says that as well as long lead times for nuclear, the necessity for the technology to have elaborate oversight of potentially catastrophic safety risks, security against attack, and long-term waste management strategies tends to take up resources and divert attention away from other simpler and much quicker options like renewables.

Consistent results

The nuclear industry has always claimed that countries need both nuclear and renewables in order to provide reliable power for a grid that does not have input from coal- or gas-fuelled power stations.

This study highlights several other papers which show that a reliable electricity supply is possible with 100% renewables, and that keeping nuclear in the mix hinders the development of renewables.

Patrick Schmidt, a co-author from the International School of Management in Munich,  said: “It is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2 emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

As well as being a blow to the nuclear industry, the paper’s publication comes at a critical time for governments still intending to invest in nuclear power.

For a long time it has been clear that most advanced democratic countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have no wish to be have been investing in renewables and abandoning nuclear power, because it is too expensive and unpopular with the public. In Europe they include Germany, Italy and Spain, with South Korea in the Far East.

Nuclear weapons needs

Nuclear weapons states like the UK and the US, which have both admitted the link between their military and civilian nuclear industries, continue to encourage the private sector to build nuclear stations and are prepared to provide public subsidy or guaranteed prices to induce them to do so.

With the evidence presented by this paper it will not be possible for these governments to claim that building new nuclear power stations is the right policy to halt climate change.

Both Russia and China continue to be enthusiastic about nuclear power, the cost being less important than the influence gained by exporting the technology to developing countries. Providing cheap loans and nuclear power stations gives their governments a long-term foothold in these countries, and involves controlling the supply of nuclear fuel in order to keep the lights on.

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex and also a co-author, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument.

“Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.” − Climate News Network

Climate Assembly UK: Act now to save our planet

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network