Very Bad People: The Inside Story of the Fight Against the World's Network of Corruption. That’s the title of a book I’ve just been reading. It’s about the history of an organisation called Global Witness, founded 30 years ago to tackle corruption. I’m ashamed I’d never heard of it before.
How corruption promotes the climate crisis, energy problems on their way, how green will the UK's new prime minister be? And my interview on GBNews about the West Cumbria Coal Mine.
Global Witness started with a couple of people who wanted to stop the war in Cambodia, and managed to do it by travelling there and exposing the illegal timber trade that was funding arms supplies.
Throughout the book it shows how some corporations will take any measures to obtain natural resources and how some government officials will do anything to embezzle billions of government funds. “Anything” includes dispossessing indigenous people who might get in their way and murdering any journalists who might report on their actions. Only last month headlines around the world reported the murder of journalist and Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, on the of borders Peru and Colombia. Reporters without Borders (RSF) records that 34 journalists and media workers have been killed across the world so far this year and 511 are in prison.
Global Witness now operates in countries all over the world. They say:
“Our goal is a more sustainable, just and equal planet. We want forests and biodiversity to thrive, fossil fuels to stay in the ground and corporations to prioritise the interests of people and the planet.”
More and more their campaigns are concerned with corruption that frustrates efforts to address the climate crisis. They point out that most corruption does not take place in remote developing countries. It is facilitated in places like London and New York by high-priced lawyers, some of whom they name, by accountants, PR consultants and estate agents. It is built on networks of shell companies in tax havens from the Channel Islands to the Caribbean. As the rich get richer and more ruthless the battle to save the planet becomes more intense.
Pictures this week show people in Bangladesh up to their waists in flood water. “Up to my neck in the Climate Crisis”, says one banner. “We’ll be dead by COP27”, says another.
Let’s not mis-identify our opponents, nor under-estimate their determination to win at all costs. This is one of many areas where governments can act. For years the British government has promised legislation to reveal the beneficial owners of the vast number of multi-million prestige properties in central London. At present they are mainly owned by faceless off-shore shell companies. They are an ideal vehicle for money-laundering or for concealing the proceeds of corruption or criminality. Maybe the UK’s new prime minister will ensure that this legislation is urgently passed. Or maybe they won’t.
Energy news this week is pretty low-key in terms of headlines, but the consequences of what’s been going on will play out over the next few months and could prove to be catastrophic.
Nord Stream Gas
At the start of the Ukraine conflict the German government announced that Nord Stream 2, a multi-billion pipeline constructed to bring gas to Europe from Russia, would not be commissioned. Now the original Nord Stream 1 has been closed by the Russians for maintenance. This is not unusual and maintenance is regularly carried out during the summer when demand is relatively low. The concern is that re-opening may be delayed. If it is delayed into the Autumn and into the heating season it will have serious effects across the whole of Europe. Any delay will reduce Germany’s ability to refill its strategic reserves, which are reported to be low at present. These reserves have been privatised and are now operated by Russia’s Gazprom. The word is that the agreement with Gazprom never specified a minimum level of reserves.
Winter is Coming
The UK imports very little gas from Russia so at first sight it won’t be a problem, but of course it will. If there is less gas in Europe, what there is will be sold to the highest bidder. The UK needs gas because 30-50% of electricity in the UK is generated from gas. The government missed the deadline to extend the life of the Hinkley B nuclear plant, so that dependence on gas will only increase as Hinkley B closes next month. The UK has the smallest reserves of gas in Europe since Centrica closed the Rough gas storage facility in 2017. Centrica are now seeking permission to re-open it and the good news is that if successful it could be back in operation in months. The key issue will be getting gas to fill it.
Germany faces the greatest disruption if Russian supplies are reduced or cut off so it’s negotiating with Shell and others for supplies of LNG to be brought in by sea. It’s building a new terminal to receive supplies. At present the UK is the biggest importer of LNG in Europe, relying on it for around 10% of the nation’s gas supply. It exports some of it back into Europe. If Germany comes into the market surely that will push the price up. Even if new terminals are built and assuming the supply can be increased, the limiting factor must be the availability of gas-carrying ships. Are there enough vessels? Are there spare vessels somewhere? Are new vessels being built? And if governments are really serious about eliminating fossil fuels, including natural gas, would you invest in a specialised ship for transporting it? Of course, if there’s enough demand you might be able to push up your freight rates so you get an early payback. All eventually paid for by the consumer.
Winter Outlook is Coming
The Winter Outlook Report from the National Grid is expected later this month. In line with government philosophy the National Grid is now privatised. I was interested to read this week that the French government is on the point of nationalising the remaining part of EDF which is not already in public ownership. That’s the same EDF which is the UK’s fourth largest domestic energy supplier, and the one that’s building that new nuclear station at Hinkley C. And that’s the same France as the one that announced a 4% gas price rise at the same time as the UK warned that gas would go up here by 54%.
Man in Charge
This week The Guardian interviewed civil servant Jonathan Mills, director general for energy supply in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. (BEIS) His job is to plan for contingencies as the international energy market becomes ever more turbulent. He’s already talking to generators about opening up such coal-fired power stations as remain.
He’s already talking to industry about “interruptibles”, planned power outages of three hours to take load off the system and preserve supplies to consumers. Not all industries can help, as some run continuous processes which cannot be quickly shut down without damage to the plant. And there are critical users, such as hospitals, water companies, banks and phone and internet providers which can never be cut off.
If interruptibles are not enough the next stage is brownouts - reducing the supply voltage which means some lights may dim or not work at all and the kettle will take longer to boil. Beyond that, 3-hour blackouts would be rolled out region by region across the country on a rota basis. Your gas central heating won’t work without electricity for the pump and the control circuits. As we sit here in July in some of the hottest summer days ever it’s difficult to take all this seriously, so it’s a good thing somebody at the heart of government is.
Anyone remember the ‘70s?
Talking of governments, the election for a new UK PM carries on, but the outcome will not be known until 5th September.
In the meantime, some are mourning the departure of Boris Johnson seeing him as a strong supporter of the green agenda. Apparently an 11-slide presentation of the facts made him realise the urgency of the situation and give it his strong support at COP26. There's a link to that presentation below.
Chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance repeated this presentation on the urgency of the climate crisis to MPs at Westminster earlier this week. This came after the activist Angus Rose staged a 37-day hunger strike outside parliament, calling for the information to be given to all MPs.
He was backed by 79 of the UK’s leading climate scientists in an open letter, who said a briefing similar to those given during the Covid-19 pandemic would be useful to MPs, but in the event less than 70 MPs out of 650 turned up. No candidates for PM were there.
Most candidates have not expressed strong views the climate crisis, with the exception of Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman.
Kemi Badenoch consistently votes against climate measures and said of Net Zero 2050, “Setting an arbitrary target like that is the wrong way to go… There is a better way of going about these things.” She has yet to elaborate on her plans for a “better way”.
According to Suella Braverman, “In order to deal with the energy crisis we need to suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050.” On the other hand her constituency website tells us that “…Britain [is] firmly on track to meet the 2050 target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent.” And talking about investment in green growth she says, “… the UK is set to be the most attractive EU destination for investors in clean energy.”
Maybe she hasn’t looked at her site in a while. Like since before we left the EU.
I will bring you the views on the climate crisis of other candidates as they express them. Of course, by the time you get this either Braverman or Badenoch, or both, could be out of the race. As of Thursday morning it’s looking highly likely that Suella Braverman will not survive the next voting round.
What of the West Cumbria Mine? A decision has been deferred, but last week I was on GBNews with Interviewer - Darren Grimes and Chris Kitchen - NUM President. Here’s the soundtrack of our discussion.
West Cumbria Mine
Now folks, as I mentioned in that monologue there, the government's top green advisor, Lord Deben made a series of policy demands this week. He called plans for a new coal mine in West Cumbria absolutely indefensible. The mine isn't being built to generate energy, but it's for coking coal. It's a product used in the steel industry, and some of it's currently imported from nations like Russia. Energy minister Greg Hands hit back at Deben and defended the government's record of reducing coal production. So is it time to mine for that black gold that once powered an empire? Well, joining me now to discuss is the presenter of the Sustainable Futures Report podcast, Anthony Day, and General Secretary of the Mineworkers Union, Chris Kitchen. Chris, can I start with you please? This mine and its coal, it won't be used for energy, but industry. Could you just explain how this differs from perhaps the stereotypical mine that we've been used to in the past?
Yeah. I think everybody agrees that, for the good of the country, we need to retain some ability to produce our own steel. In order to do that, you need coking coal. The coal that'll be mined from the West Cumbria Mine is coking coal. It's not steam coal. It's not to be burnt in power stations to produce electricity, and it's got to be better for the environment to mine it in the UK, to burn it in the UK to produce steel than what it has to mine it elsewhere in the world and transport it all the way over here in order to burn it. You're still going to get the same CO2 emissions from burning it, no matter where it comes from, but the carbon footprint of transporting it halfway around the world is a lot higher.
Mm-hmm. And Chris, how does the process differ from modern mining processes right now? How do they differ from the days of my granddad going down the pit? That stereotype is very much not how things are these days, is it?
It isn't. There's been some big technological advances in coal mining from the old days of pit and shovel. We now use higher, more productive equipment. We're a lot more aware of the environmental impact and there's all sorts of things in place. But also, prior to the demise of the UK coal industry, one of the safest coal mining industries in the world, and that was something we were proud of. The coal mine can produce coking coal without adverse effects to the environment and the locality. We'll have 500 decent, well paid, unionized jobs.
Anthony, you've heard what Chris has had to say there, Anthony. I'm wondering, given that we have better environmental standards than, say, Russia does, should we not seek to actually source that coal that we still need during this transition to actually mine and produce here in Britain?
Well, I think the problem is that Chris McDonald of the Materials Processing Institute has pointed out that the coal which will come from the West Cumbria Mine will not be suitable for British Steel. Their process cannot use it. So it'll be exported and British Steel will have to continue to import. So the carbon footprint will go in both directions. The other producer is Tata Steel, which can possibly make use of a small amount of this new coal, but it won't replace anything from Russia because Tata doesn't buy its coal from Russia at the moment. So I don't see the logic and I have to support Lord Deben because, although the process itself will be environmentally controlled and could be far better, I'm sure, than the old-fashioned and traditional mining, at the end of the day, you've got a fossil fuel, and if you burn a fossil fuel, you end up with carbon emissions and that is what we are aiming with what I prefer to call net zero. That's what we're aiming to achieve by 2050.
Yeah. Just for my radio listeners, we're just showing the Cumbria mine, the proposal, on our screen there now. Chris, to me, the whole idea of this country saying, "Oh, well we can't possibly do any of this. We can't frack for gas, for example, natural gas, which by the way, has allowed the United States of America to really cut down on CO2 emissions. It's beat Europe in many senses. I think, actually, I disagree politely with Anthony. I think net zero is net stupid. I really, really do. Where are you on that?
I think, with the greatest respect to Anthony, he's got a view. I don't think that we're at odds in that we do need to do something about climate change. I think the problem is that Anthony's talking about experts and people that are supposed to know what they're on about. I'm talking about common sense and common sense to me says that if you're going to burn it, surely it's better to mine it here and transport it a shorter distance than what it is to import it. I think Anthony's forgot about the carbon capture and storage technology, which had we have followed what the NUM wanted 30 years ago instead of a vindictive policy of just closing coal mines down, which was not to save the environment... That was to pursue a political vendetta against the miners and the unions of this country.
We could now be world leaders. You've seen what's happened. Nobody expected the government, regardless of what party's in power, to be able to predict what's happened in the Ukraine or the pandemic or even the financial crisis of 2008. But these things happen. What we do expect is our country to protect us from these things when they do happen. Had we have followed carbon captiure and storage, which was an option that was discussed and funded by the Labour government when Ed Miliband was the minister-
... we could now have us own energy produced from us own coal, carbon neutral. We would not be suffering the high energy costs. Everybody in this country, when they pay their electric bill, will be paying for mistakes being made in the past that they didn't make.
Right. Anthony, on that point then, Chris has mentioned some technology there. What technology do you think would replace coal? How can we move away right now from fossil fuels? Because Anthony, I think you'll agree with me that right now, wind and solar can't possibly replace power in your gas boiler, for example, can they?
Okay, well, let's just pick up a couple of points. I totally agree with Chris that we are paying the penalty for all bad decisions made in the past. Also, he said carbon capture and storage. Yeah, it's a technology which works, but it's a technology which is very expensive and it puts up the price. And if we use carbon capture and storage and other nations don't, their product's going to be cheaper, so that's your dilemma. Now you asked me about alternative sources of energy. Yes, wind and solar, they don't run all the time because solar doesn't work at night and the wind drops from time to time. So what we've got to do is look for energy storage.
Now you mentioned batteries. Batteries are expensive for all sorts of points of view. There's pollution involved and all that sort of thing, but they're not the only solution. One of the things we can do is we can create hydrogen and hydrogen is a store of energy. So if you've got surplus wind power, you've got surplus solar power, you convert it into hydrogen and then you can burn that in a turbine. You can burn it as you would North Sea gas, but hydrogen is completely clean.
So there are technologies and those are the technologies that we should be introducing to create those 500 jobs, not last year’s or last century’s technologies.
Alright, Chris Kitchen, in a very brief sentence, if you would, you're just harking back to the past here and not getting with the future. Do you agree with that?
I disagree with that. I think we believe that coal can be part of the solution to climate change if it's invested in. Yes, there will be an increased cost, but the way that the government's currently going, we're talking about building eight to 10 nuclear power stations. And from an environmental point of view, I'm not aware that we've overcome the problem of nuclear waste.
Right. I'll ask-
[inaudible 00:08:36] generations and we've given them a different problem to the one that we're solving.
We'll have to leave it there, but two views, very interesting. That was the presenter of the Sustainable Futures Report podcast, Anthony Day, and General Secretary of the Mineworkers Union, Chris Kitchen. Thank you both very much.
As far as I know, the decision on the West Cumbria Mine, promised last week, is still to be made.
That’s it for now. Thanks for listening. Thanks to my patrons and in particular to patrons Ian Jarvis and Adrian Bond for their detailed feedback.
I’m always grateful for feedback and you can get in touch either via the website - sustainablefutures.report or patreon.com/sfr .
Thanks too to Brian Schwartz for comments on sound quality. Is it any better now? I have plans for a further upgrade in the next few weeks.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
Until next time.
Floods in Bangladesh
Nord Stream and energy supplies
Rough Gas Storage
West Cumbria Mine
GB News https://www.gbnews.uk
Chris Kitchen - NUM President http://num.org.uk
Interviewer - Darren Grimes
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