Tag Archives: climate policy

Political lobbying buys off climate law

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

UK climate emergency is official policy

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Green New Deal aims for triple payback

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − Climate News Network

* * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − Climate News Network

* * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Uncertain futures warn world to act as one

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

UN calls lethal Brazil dam burst a crime

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Katowice climate talks run short of time

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

UK’s dream is now its nuclear nightmare

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.”

Over its lifetime the giant plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, has taken spent fuel from eight countries as well as the UK and succeeded in producing a small mountain of plutonium and uranium of which only a tiny fraction has ever been re-used as intended. Instead most has been stockpiled and is now stored under armed guard with no use or purpose in sight.

White elephant

From the start, THORP was lampooned by cartoonists as a balloon in the shape of a great white elephant hovering over the English Lake District. The UK government maintained then − and still insists − that it was a major foreign currency earner, bringing £9 bn (US$11.4 bn today) to the UK over its lifetime.

There is though no publicly available profit and loss account for the plant. (Most of the prices and costs quoted here are those reported by the owners of THORP in their publicity at the time, but the total of foreign currency earnings and some of the 2018 figures below are new ones provided to the Climate News Network).

All that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs THORP on behalf of the government, will say is that the plant has employed 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. Even after it has closed it will cost £35 million a year to maintain for 10 years while it is cleaned out. Final demolition is set for 2095 with a price tag of £4 billion, a lot more than THORP cost to build.

For its customers back then, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, or rather for their governments, it solved a terrible problem − how to dispose of or store the ever-increasing amounts of spent fuel coming out of their nuclear reactors?

Problems exported

To avoid any anti-nuclear issues at home they were prepared to pay to send the fuel to Britain to be “recycled”. This conveniently postponed for decades the prospect of dealing with the problem of where to deposit the nuclear fuel as waste − well after the time any of the politicians involved would be held to account.

But even as THORP closes and the last load of fuel is dissolved in acid to extract the plutonium and uranium it contains, the problems the plant was designed to solve remain, and new ones have been created.

Every view about the success or failure of the plant is still contested, even its cost. When it opened in 1994 it was said to have cost £2.85 billion, but this week the NDA, its current owner, claims the cost was only £1.4 billion and that all of that was paid for by the foreign governments that wanted to use its services.

In the 1990s British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the government-owned company that built THORP, claimed that the plant would work up to reprocessing 1,200 tons of spent fuel a year and make £500 mn profit in its first ten years of operation. In the first decade its target was to have reprocessed 7,000 tons, but it fell short by nearly 2,000 tons as a result of accidents and leaks which caused a series of shutdowns

“The plant should never have been built, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with”

These failures, which grew worse over time, led to overseas customers losing faith in the running of the plant and to the cancellation of reprocessing contracts by Germany. Perhaps more importantly, no new contracts were signed.

The fundamental issue, however, was THORP’s failure to achieve its purpose. In order to justify its existence the plutonium and uranium should have been re-used for peaceful purposes. Plans for the new generation of fast breeder reactors that could have used the plutonium were abandoned, so in order to show they were using some of the product from the plant BNFL added another factory. This was to make new reactor fuel, made of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium (MOX), using material recycled from THORP.

This project was also mired in controversy, but the government insisted on going ahead. It ended in abject failure because the plant failed to work. Instead of producing 120 tons of MOX fuel a year it made just 13.8 tons in nine years and was abandoned in 2011. A government report into the plant concluded in 2013 that this new factory added to THORP had lost taxpayers £2.2 bn.

Despite the reasons for THORP’s existence being comprehensively undermined, the plant continued. This was principally because it still had unfulfilled contracts from foreign customers to reprocess spent fuel, earning money producing plutonium and uranium that no one has a use for – except perhaps a terrorist.

Embarrassment

So at the end of its life there is a stockpile of uranium and plutonium at Sellafield that is an embarrassment to its owners. According to the contracts signed in the 1980s the reprocessed material has to be returned to the country of origin – along with the nuclear waste created in the process.

But naturally these countries do not want it back, some, like Germany, Italy and Spain, because they have abandoned nuclear power. To help them out the UK is holding on to it, but at a price.

For large but undisclosed sums of money, the ownership of this unwanted uranium and plutonium is gradually being transferred to the UK. Negotiations are still going on with Japan to transfer to UK ownership more than two tons of its reprocessed plutonium that would otherwise have to be returned with no end use.

This complex situation is further muddled by the fact that the UK already has another much older reprocessing plant, in operation since 1952. This still dissolves fuel from even older and long-closed British Magnox reactors. The first few of these power stations were built in the 1950s to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons, and then more were erected, mainly to generate electricity for the grid. The Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield is also due to close in the next two years.

Permanent armed guard

The result of all this reprocessing is a staggering store of 140 tons of plutonium, enough to power 30 never-to-be-built fast breeder reactors or to provide material to make thousands of nuclear missiles. The UK government has had frequent reviews but as yet has no policy on how to deal with the stockpile, which has to be constantly guarded by armed police to prevent terrorist attacks.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact there are more than 100,000 tons of uranium in store across the UK, again with no end use in sight. This consists mainly of waste, depleted uranium left over from making fuel, and uranium from spent fuel left over after reprocessing.

An irony of the whole THORP saga, considering the current frosty relationship between the UK and President Vladimir Putin, is that one beneficiary of reprocessing was Russia. The Russians have a plant capable of re-enriching the uranium recovered from THORP and turning it back into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Taking advantage of this facility, which is not not available in the UK, one of THORP’s overseas customers, believed to be Germany, sent 1,000 tons of its recovered uranium from Britain to Russia over a period of five years to be turned back into fuel.

Rivalling Disneyland

So at least one customer managed to recycle some of THORP’s output. But what will happen to the remaining 9,000 tons of uranium produced by the plant from spent fuel and now stored remains a mystery.

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, who opposed the building of the plant and has monitored its fortunes ever since, summed up: “The plant should never have been built in the first place, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibition to celebrate THORP’s achievements. Its website says: “Thorp’s contribution to the global nuclear industry is a source of great pride for the communities of West Cumbria.

“It was the second reprocessing plant built at Sellafield and, at the time, was one of the largest and most complex construction projects in Europe, rivalled only by the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris.” − Climate News Network

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.”

Over its lifetime the giant plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, has taken spent fuel from eight countries as well as the UK and succeeded in producing a small mountain of plutonium and uranium of which only a tiny fraction has ever been re-used as intended. Instead most has been stockpiled and is now stored under armed guard with no use or purpose in sight.

White elephant

From the start, THORP was lampooned by cartoonists as a balloon in the shape of a great white elephant hovering over the English Lake District. The UK government maintained then − and still insists − that it was a major foreign currency earner, bringing £9 bn (US$11.4 bn today) to the UK over its lifetime.

There is though no publicly available profit and loss account for the plant. (Most of the prices and costs quoted here are those reported by the owners of THORP in their publicity at the time, but the total of foreign currency earnings and some of the 2018 figures below are new ones provided to the Climate News Network).

All that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs THORP on behalf of the government, will say is that the plant has employed 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. Even after it has closed it will cost £35 million a year to maintain for 10 years while it is cleaned out. Final demolition is set for 2095 with a price tag of £4 billion, a lot more than THORP cost to build.

For its customers back then, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, or rather for their governments, it solved a terrible problem − how to dispose of or store the ever-increasing amounts of spent fuel coming out of their nuclear reactors?

Problems exported

To avoid any anti-nuclear issues at home they were prepared to pay to send the fuel to Britain to be “recycled”. This conveniently postponed for decades the prospect of dealing with the problem of where to deposit the nuclear fuel as waste − well after the time any of the politicians involved would be held to account.

But even as THORP closes and the last load of fuel is dissolved in acid to extract the plutonium and uranium it contains, the problems the plant was designed to solve remain, and new ones have been created.

Every view about the success or failure of the plant is still contested, even its cost. When it opened in 1994 it was said to have cost £2.85 billion, but this week the NDA, its current owner, claims the cost was only £1.4 billion and that all of that was paid for by the foreign governments that wanted to use its services.

In the 1990s British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the government-owned company that built THORP, claimed that the plant would work up to reprocessing 1,200 tons of spent fuel a year and make £500 mn profit in its first ten years of operation. In the first decade its target was to have reprocessed 7,000 tons, but it fell short by nearly 2,000 tons as a result of accidents and leaks which caused a series of shutdowns

“The plant should never have been built, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with”

These failures, which grew worse over time, led to overseas customers losing faith in the running of the plant and to the cancellation of reprocessing contracts by Germany. Perhaps more importantly, no new contracts were signed.

The fundamental issue, however, was THORP’s failure to achieve its purpose. In order to justify its existence the plutonium and uranium should have been re-used for peaceful purposes. Plans for the new generation of fast breeder reactors that could have used the plutonium were abandoned, so in order to show they were using some of the product from the plant BNFL added another factory. This was to make new reactor fuel, made of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium (MOX), using material recycled from THORP.

This project was also mired in controversy, but the government insisted on going ahead. It ended in abject failure because the plant failed to work. Instead of producing 120 tons of MOX fuel a year it made just 13.8 tons in nine years and was abandoned in 2011. A government report into the plant concluded in 2013 that this new factory added to THORP had lost taxpayers £2.2 bn.

Despite the reasons for THORP’s existence being comprehensively undermined, the plant continued. This was principally because it still had unfulfilled contracts from foreign customers to reprocess spent fuel, earning money producing plutonium and uranium that no one has a use for – except perhaps a terrorist.

Embarrassment

So at the end of its life there is a stockpile of uranium and plutonium at Sellafield that is an embarrassment to its owners. According to the contracts signed in the 1980s the reprocessed material has to be returned to the country of origin – along with the nuclear waste created in the process.

But naturally these countries do not want it back, some, like Germany, Italy and Spain, because they have abandoned nuclear power. To help them out the UK is holding on to it, but at a price.

For large but undisclosed sums of money, the ownership of this unwanted uranium and plutonium is gradually being transferred to the UK. Negotiations are still going on with Japan to transfer to UK ownership more than two tons of its reprocessed plutonium that would otherwise have to be returned with no end use.

This complex situation is further muddled by the fact that the UK already has another much older reprocessing plant, in operation since 1952. This still dissolves fuel from even older and long-closed British Magnox reactors. The first few of these power stations were built in the 1950s to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons, and then more were erected, mainly to generate electricity for the grid. The Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield is also due to close in the next two years.

Permanent armed guard

The result of all this reprocessing is a staggering store of 140 tons of plutonium, enough to power 30 never-to-be-built fast breeder reactors or to provide material to make thousands of nuclear missiles. The UK government has had frequent reviews but as yet has no policy on how to deal with the stockpile, which has to be constantly guarded by armed police to prevent terrorist attacks.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact there are more than 100,000 tons of uranium in store across the UK, again with no end use in sight. This consists mainly of waste, depleted uranium left over from making fuel, and uranium from spent fuel left over after reprocessing.

An irony of the whole THORP saga, considering the current frosty relationship between the UK and President Vladimir Putin, is that one beneficiary of reprocessing was Russia. The Russians have a plant capable of re-enriching the uranium recovered from THORP and turning it back into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Taking advantage of this facility, which is not not available in the UK, one of THORP’s overseas customers, believed to be Germany, sent 1,000 tons of its recovered uranium from Britain to Russia over a period of five years to be turned back into fuel.

Rivalling Disneyland

So at least one customer managed to recycle some of THORP’s output. But what will happen to the remaining 9,000 tons of uranium produced by the plant from spent fuel and now stored remains a mystery.

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, who opposed the building of the plant and has monitored its fortunes ever since, summed up: “The plant should never have been built in the first place, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibition to celebrate THORP’s achievements. Its website says: “Thorp’s contribution to the global nuclear industry is a source of great pride for the communities of West Cumbria.

“It was the second reprocessing plant built at Sellafield and, at the time, was one of the largest and most complex construction projects in Europe, rivalled only by the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris.” − Climate News Network

More states opt to phase out oil production

Cutting fossil fuel supply can help to limit demand, and more governments are deciding to phase out oil production, a new study finds.

LONDON, 29 November, 2018 – A growing number of governments are choosing to phase out oil production, reasoning that cutting the availability of fossil fuels can help to cut the demand for them.

The world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible, yes? And one of the main causes of the emissions is the burning of fuels such as oil, gas and coal? Right again. So the simple and obvious answer, these governments are deciding, is to stop the drilling and mining which extract fossil fuels.

That’s the argument examined in a report by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). There’s already a growing movement to leave fossil fuels in the ground. But their study concentrates specifically on governments.

They say phasing out oil production could be the next big step in climate policy, thanks to an initial group of first-movers who’ve already taken the plunge.

One is Spain, which announced this month that it plans to completely decarbonise its electricity system by mid-century, a move which includes a total ban on all oil and gas exploration.

“Limiting fossil fuel production is an important complement to limiting demand”

The SEI team outlines its findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. The authors will present their results in greater detail in the Polish city of Katowice on 5 December at this year’s UN global climate summit, COP24.

They focus on California as the possible next addition to this growing list of governments choosing to forego oil extraction. The study finds numerous benefits to restricting production, including not only reducing global emissions but also helping to revoke the “social licence” of fossil fuel producers – the public acceptance of their activities.

“Countries like France, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Belize and – just last week – Spain are sending a clear signal by phasing out oil production,” said Georgia Piggot, an SEI sociologist and co-author of the study. “The fossil fuel era needs to end soon, and governments need to have clear plans in place to ensure an orderly and fair transition.”

With California as a case study, the SEI report points to a resolution by the state’s Air Resources Board to “evaluate and explore” reducing the production of petroleum.

Boosting environmental justice

It finds that phasing out oil in California would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly the same amount as many of the other climate policies currently planned by the state. And, because most oil drilling there happens in the most pollution-vulnerable communities, phasing it out would have important environmental justice benefits as well.

“Gradually phasing down oil production is a reasonable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said SEI senior scientist Peter Erickson, the study’s lead author.

“California is one of the top oil-producing states in the US, but it is also a climate leader. Restricting oil production would complement the state’s flagship policies, such as strengthened standards for clean power or energy efficiency.”

The study’s lessons apply to other states too. It concludes that governments that aim to demonstrate leadership and meet the Paris Agreement goals have “a number of policy options that can limit future production of oil and other fossil fuels, while delivering important global emissions and local environmental benefits.”

Limiting temperature rise

The Paris Agreement settled on a target that global temperatures should increase by no more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, with governments striving to keep the rise to just 1.5°C.

Peter Erickson told the Climate News Network that the scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its recent report Global Warming of 1.5°C provided guideposts to the SEI’s work.

He said: “The median results of those scenarios suggest that global oil production (and consumption) needs to decline more than 40% between 2020 and 2030 to meet a 1.5°C target, global coal production (and consumption) more than 80%, and global gas production (and consumption) by more than 40% (the declines are rather less for meeting a 2°C goal).

“These declines could be accomplished most effectively with both demand and supply-side measures. That is our central point – that limiting fossil fuel production is an important complement to limiting demand.” – Climate News Network

Cutting fossil fuel supply can help to limit demand, and more governments are deciding to phase out oil production, a new study finds.

LONDON, 29 November, 2018 – A growing number of governments are choosing to phase out oil production, reasoning that cutting the availability of fossil fuels can help to cut the demand for them.

The world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible, yes? And one of the main causes of the emissions is the burning of fuels such as oil, gas and coal? Right again. So the simple and obvious answer, these governments are deciding, is to stop the drilling and mining which extract fossil fuels.

That’s the argument examined in a report by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). There’s already a growing movement to leave fossil fuels in the ground. But their study concentrates specifically on governments.

They say phasing out oil production could be the next big step in climate policy, thanks to an initial group of first-movers who’ve already taken the plunge.

One is Spain, which announced this month that it plans to completely decarbonise its electricity system by mid-century, a move which includes a total ban on all oil and gas exploration.

“Limiting fossil fuel production is an important complement to limiting demand”

The SEI team outlines its findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. The authors will present their results in greater detail in the Polish city of Katowice on 5 December at this year’s UN global climate summit, COP24.

They focus on California as the possible next addition to this growing list of governments choosing to forego oil extraction. The study finds numerous benefits to restricting production, including not only reducing global emissions but also helping to revoke the “social licence” of fossil fuel producers – the public acceptance of their activities.

“Countries like France, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Belize and – just last week – Spain are sending a clear signal by phasing out oil production,” said Georgia Piggot, an SEI sociologist and co-author of the study. “The fossil fuel era needs to end soon, and governments need to have clear plans in place to ensure an orderly and fair transition.”

With California as a case study, the SEI report points to a resolution by the state’s Air Resources Board to “evaluate and explore” reducing the production of petroleum.

Boosting environmental justice

It finds that phasing out oil in California would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly the same amount as many of the other climate policies currently planned by the state. And, because most oil drilling there happens in the most pollution-vulnerable communities, phasing it out would have important environmental justice benefits as well.

“Gradually phasing down oil production is a reasonable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said SEI senior scientist Peter Erickson, the study’s lead author.

“California is one of the top oil-producing states in the US, but it is also a climate leader. Restricting oil production would complement the state’s flagship policies, such as strengthened standards for clean power or energy efficiency.”

The study’s lessons apply to other states too. It concludes that governments that aim to demonstrate leadership and meet the Paris Agreement goals have “a number of policy options that can limit future production of oil and other fossil fuels, while delivering important global emissions and local environmental benefits.”

Limiting temperature rise

The Paris Agreement settled on a target that global temperatures should increase by no more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, with governments striving to keep the rise to just 1.5°C.

Peter Erickson told the Climate News Network that the scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its recent report Global Warming of 1.5°C provided guideposts to the SEI’s work.

He said: “The median results of those scenarios suggest that global oil production (and consumption) needs to decline more than 40% between 2020 and 2030 to meet a 1.5°C target, global coal production (and consumption) more than 80%, and global gas production (and consumption) by more than 40% (the declines are rather less for meeting a 2°C goal).

“These declines could be accomplished most effectively with both demand and supply-side measures. That is our central point – that limiting fossil fuel production is an important complement to limiting demand.” – Climate News Network