Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Climate Change Blogs: Different Ways to Deny Anthropogenic Climate Change

I often contribute to other blogs, in particular, those in The Guardian and on the BBC website, generally when they feature the topic of climate change, especially when related to policy and economic issues. It isn’t part of my job description, but I feel that it is part of my role as someone involved in academic research, particularly when I recognise the importance of engaging with people from outside academia on some of the latest research findings, as well as discussing and receiving feedback on a range of topics related to climate change theories and strategies, which most certainly make me a more effective researcher.

Both the Guardian and the BBC promote discussion by commissioning an article by an expert (including 4CMR’s Terry Barker) or personality of some kind (or both, in the case of George Monbiot’s Guardian blog). Having such an article as the basis of a discussion has often enabled me to have a focused dialogue with a range of interesting people, testing the logic and coherence of my argument, learning about other ideas and filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

There is, though, a darker side to climate change blogs; there are a group of people who call themselves sceptics but they are not sceptical at all. These are not people who are just not sure that the evidence is sufficient to reach a conclusion.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Bottled Water – Bottled Gas?

 By Tom Berman: Tom currently works for IBM having previously been employed by the Centre for Sustainable Development, Cambridge University.
Years ago priests, shaman, magicians, blessed water, manipulated water and gave it power, today its corporations, government, celebrities, brands.
The idea behind this article came after watching the BBC documentary “The Foods that Make Billionsdescribing the birth of bottled water industry in the 1970’s and its development into a multi-billion pound industry, that everyday ships water from the French Alps around the world.  The following morning I read about Longannet Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) scheme.  Longannet, a coal fired power station in the Firth of Forth, provides electricity to 2 Million people with annual emissions of between 7-8 Million t CO2.  The CCS scheme, due to begin operations in 2014, has been designed to capture over 1 million tonnes of CO2 from the energy generated at Longannet.

It struck me as an interesting symmetry; our efforts to sustain society, which bottles and transports water, a resource available (almost) everywhere to (almost) everyone, by “bottling” CO2, the potentially harmful side effects of the generation of energy needed to support such an undertaking.

As a modern Malthus, this article could go on to suggest that a technological solution will never be able to keep pace with the invented, insatiable wants of consumers; wants, created in part by companies needing to find continuous revenue streams, as mirrored by the continual growth needed by the economy.  Indeed it seems that for many the only option on the table is to find efficiency through large technological systems.  Prof Dave Mackay, Scientific Adviser to DECC, dismisses the mere possibility of making serious inroads into our energy demand in his book Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, thus providing the intellectual justification for increasing the UK’s nuclear capacity - racing to keep up with demand while action is indefinitely deferred, until a new technology removes the problem.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Other blogs are available

For those interested in the events in Cancun, here is one recommended by Cambridge's Zero Carbon Society.
The two blogs I read regularly, each from a different perspective, are RealClimate and Judith Curry.

I recently saw an interesting blog article on cycling in Cambridge.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Cancun Communiqué

As business leaders, we are used to making decisions on the basis of projected risk and established scientific fact, at this point in time we cannot afford to ignore the undeniable impact of climate change on global populations, natural resources, the economy, and on our businesses.
 This week Doug Crawford Brown signed up to the Cancun Communiqué in his capacity as executive director of 4CMR.  The Cancun Communiqué is an initiative of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change, coordinated by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.  The Communiqué is a statement agreed by business leaders to the effect that the adoption of an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change needs to be agreed in Cancun, a deal able to respond credibly to the scale and urgency of the crisis facing us today, and follows similar initiatives designed to coincide with previous United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) events.  

The Communiqué states the need for progress in a number of priority areas, such as binding targets, finance, technology transfer, agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, and forest management (REDD); and, monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV).  In addition, these priorities should be delivered within a framework alongside a parallel mitigation strategy focusing on GHG reduction opportunities in specific sectors, with agreements in five key areas of action:

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Perhaps we should try what works

By Blake Alcott, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

The jury is still out on the size of ‘economy-wide’, ‘macro’ or ‘total’ rebound. UKERC and 4CMR for instance hover in the range of 40-52%, albeit with caveats concerning trade effects, bunker fuels and other grave difficulties of definition and methodology. Some still say rebound is insignificant, but they usually mean only ‘direct’ rebound (car-driving, lighting, white goods) and underestimate indirect effects. Still others hold that from the environmental point of view efficiency ‘backfires’, i.e. total rebound is greater than 100%: Even more energy gets used up than in a less efficient economy – dubbed a ‘paradox’ by Jevons in 1865.

Others including myself ignore this paradox and assert that rebound is about 100%, meaning: Whatever energy resources lie fallow after we achieve efficiency increases get immediately consumed for expanding previous or related activities, by the same or marginal consumers.[1] This safely assumes a lot of latent demand given world poverty, population growth and conspicuous consumption. It also assumes a supply function showing profits in the primary energy sector. The first line of evidence for this view is the broad historical picture showing efficiency and consumption rising in lock-step. It seems only isolated individuals take efficiency dividends as more leisure, i.e., as less production in the first place.

A second line of evidence is an analogy: More efficient consumption of labour inputs, starting with the industrial revolution, unleashed a pan-European debate whether this means labour saving, i.e. mass unemployment. In fact labour-efficiency ‘backfired’ hugely, and nobody any longer claims more than some resulting temporary unemployment. Thirdly, many direct rebounds do seem to be greater than 100% – perhaps lighting, pig iron or fertiliser production, or air travel.

In my opinion all this places an initial burden of proof on the position that rebound is significantly lower than 100%. Instead of asking ‘Where’s the rebound?’ we can ask ‘Where are the savings?’

All rebound positions rely heavily on theory.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

German (energy) efficiency

Germans of today have always struck me more as pragmatic rather than visionary by nature. One needs to dig several centuries deep in the intellectual landscape until the shovel eventually hits the crusty remains of Goethe, Kloppstock or Kant; thinkers that were once led by the belief that our world will change to a better place if only our minds are enlightened, and not by striving obsessive compulsively for efficiency improvement.  Yes, I did miss the courage for having visions in my country. That is, until I read about our new energy and climate roadmap to 2050, which gave reasons for hope again.

The new energy concept was made public in September by the Federal Government, lead by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and offers a compass for cutting emissions by 80% compared to 1990 base level by 2050. An eighty per cent emissions cut looks like a great vision.

Reading in more detail about the plan allows some interesting insight into the works of a German mind. So, how does Germany plan to achieve the 80% emissions cut? There are eight pillars holding the energy and climate construct:  1) renewables will make up 80% of Germany’s electricity generation by 2050, 2) energy efficiency will be drastically improved, 3)  existing nuclear power stations will stay on the grid for up to 25 more years, 4) smart grids will be introduced to allow for more efficiency between demand and supply, 5) the housing sector will be restructured towards more efficiency, 6) electric vehicles will be substantially subsidised, 7) more funding will be allocated to research and development and 8) Germany will spend effort and money to harmonize the European electricity grid to allow a better transfer between countries.  In summary, Merkel has managed to put German efficiency into a vision of decarbonising a country. 

Of course the strategic paper contains information on how the eight pillars are planned to be implemented. For a complete understanding it is necessary to take a step back and look at how Germany’s energy and electricity production mix is structured right now. 

Monday, 27 September 2010

Climate Change and the Big Society

David Cameron recently argued that the state is “often too inhuman and clumsy” to tackle the UK’s social problems.  Instead of big government, the coalition is developing policies within an agenda of “big society” - emphasising devolving powers locally to communities, encouraging greater community engagement and support for social enterprises & civil society organisations.  Before cynically dismissing big society as and excuse for big cuts in services, it might be useful to consider one or two examples of opportunities that the big society agenda offers on the theme of climate change. 

Michael Kelly, Doug Crawford-Brown and a number of students and local organisations in Cambridge have proposed a local solution to home insulation called the Cambridge Retrofit project.  The project encourages Cambridge to take the initiative in addressing energy saving through a programme of retrofitting existing buildings to bring them into line with the insulation standards used in newly built housing.  

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

August 24 and already in ecological debt for the year

This week, or 21 August to be more precise, the global population entered into ecological debt, according to the new economics foundation (nef) and Global Footprint Network. Putting to one side the way this budget was devised (it’s all to do with estimating the annual environmental resources generated minus the rate at which they are consumed) if the concept of ecological debt has any credibility, then there is something disturbing about its implications.

It is disturbing in the sense that the year’s provisions are used up before the summer is out, that the day this happens is creeping earlier each year, that the global haves are first in the queue for yet more resources, that the wastage is not generally for investment in future benefits, and with a growing population the increased expectations of consumption are demanded from all quarters irrespective of the pool of resources available to share.

Thinking of global consumption in terms of a budget has its advantages (and disadvantages) and it is not as if economists haven’t thought about debt in such terms before.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Should new nuclear play a part in meeting our energy needs: a personal view

I believe new nuclear will play a part in meeting our energy needs (Chris Huhne, first annual energy statement to parliament, 27 July 2010)
Today, the UK’s energy secretary, Chris Huhne, outlined how the government will address the issue of energy generation.  The strategy will involve new nuclear energy generation capacity.   

The context for this is relatively simple: the 2008 Climate Change Act commits the UK to an 80% reduction of carbon emission on 1990 levels by 2050.  To meet these reductions, fossil fuel consumption must be reduced, so the question is very simple: what can replace fossil fuels, when, and at what cost. 

If abandoning these commitments is not an option then substituting lower carbon intensive fuels for higher intensive fuels would help, but this is not a sustainable option.  There are new technologies to sequestrate carbon from fossil fuels (CCS) but the technology is uncertain, the method is likely to be costly even if the risks can be reduced and storage proven to be feasible beyond small demonstration projects. 

A more promising option is the use of renewable energy sources, which are becoming more cost effective each year, and will help to diversify the energy mix.  The EU is committed to a target of 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but the UK has lagged behind the EU average on renewable energy for some time and on the latest figures, will struggle to contribute to this target.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true! (H. J. Simpson)

At least three members of 4CMR will be lead authors for the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC. This is something to be proud of – the IPCC has managed to coordinate the key experts in order to present and evaluate the wide range of research findings on climate science, for which it is a Nobel Prize recipient. The quality of its reports make it a crucial resource for climate researchers, a point of reference for decision makers, and an independent organisation through which climate change has become an issue of global importance.

And yet, there seem to be suggestions that the IPCC model – by which I mean a panel comprising many of the world’s leading experts that review all relevant material with a view to consider the state of the field – has been discredited. Newspaper headlines about “serious errors in Himalayan glacier projections” based on poorly substantiated estimates or the “withholding and manipulation of data” said to be derived from hacked email content, have certainly had a negative impact on the profile of the IPCC.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Monthly Update

There are only two or three blogs that I keep up with on a regular basis. The problem isn't that bloggers don't update their blogs regularly, but that they update them when they don't have much to say. To avoid this 4CMR will ask different members of the team to write the monthly update on a topic worth blogging about.

4CMR - Foreseeing Mitigation

The Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, or 4CMR, is an interdisciplinary research centre within the Department of Land Economy at the University of Cambridge. Our Objective is to foresee strategies, policies and processes that are effective in human-induced climate change.

Our focus is to undertake high quality research addressing issues related to the mitigation of climate change. We are a small group of researchers but have expertise in a wide range of research topics. We also work with a wide variety of groups and organisations on some cutting edge research. This blog will present some of this research in an informal way. We hope it will generate some discussion and provide feedback, which can only improve our research and its dissemination.