Last week the leaders of seven powerful nations met in the UK. Let’s look at what they said and indeed what they didn't say. I also have the usual miscellanea to share with you, and some thoughts on the future of the Sustainable Futures Report.
The G7, a group of world leaders discussing global issues. One of the major topics it discussed was relations with China, a country not invited to the table despite being a major world power. The Chinese reaction was that the time is past for small groups of countries to think they could rule the world. Russia was not there either. Russia was expelled from the former G8 in response to the annexation of the Crimea in Ukraine.
The G7 called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and called for an investigation in the source of the COVID outbreak. They announced infrastructure projects to rival China’s Belt and Road initiative.
They pledged to send 1 billion doses of Covid vaccine to lower and middle income countries over the next 12 months and they agreed on measures to contain and defeat any future pandemics.
They agreed to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15% to prevent global corporations such as Amazon or Google from shunting their profits into low-tax regimes.
They heard from Sir David Attenborough on the dangers of the climate crisis. “Tackling climate change is now as much a political and communications challenge as it is a scientific or technological one. We have the skills to address climate change in time, all we need is the global will to do so...Decisions taken at this G7 meeting, at the Biodiversity COP in China, and COP26 in Glasgow are the most important decisions humanity has ever taken”
The leaders set out clear climate goals in advance of COP26:
Goal 1: Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
Goal 2: Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
Goal 3: Mobilising finance (aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement)
Goal 4: Working together to deliver
All good things, but I can’t help being cynical. Despite goal 3, Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace complains that the leaders did not actually commit the finances needed to meet their objectives. Despite goal 2, adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, the UK’s Climate Change Committee reported this week that the UK is woefully unprepared to deal with changes occurring due to the climate. We can expect more severe heatwaves, especially in big cities, and more intense rainfall, with an increased flood risk across most of the UK, they say. The committee is concerned that little is being done by the government to address these issues. Despite Goal 4: Working together to deliver, Russia and China, whose cooperation is crucial to mastering climate change, are sidelined.
It’s a classic dilemma. We reject the policies of these countries, particularly in relation to human rights and personal freedom; but without the cooperation of these countries we cannot succeed. These issues are fundamentally important, yet we cannot allow them to deflect us from the climate crisis. Not an easy decision.
Reminds me of a slogan from America during the McCarthy witch-hunt against communists. “Better dead than red!” Elements of nose spiting face, I think.
Road to COP26
Going back to the climate, The Road to COP document seems to me to be deferring climate decisions to COP26 in November, already a year late. And we don’t want decisions, we need actions. Now.
And in Other News
Volunteers in Nottinghamshire are planting a tiny forest. They are planting tree saplings but putting them very much closer together than normal. Apparently this makes them grow faster and they absorb 30 times as much carbon dioxide as a traditional forest. It's not clear how big these trees will grow or indeed how long they will live. I personally would think that certain species will come to dominate and they will grow into large trees with much the same spacing as a forest. A similar forest was planted in Witney, Oxfordshire, last year and others are planned across the UK.
The key, of course, is what happens to the wood when the tree dies or is cut down. If the timber can be used for furniture or building then it could have a life of a century or more, locking up the carbon. On the other hand if the growth is scrubby there is little that can be done with it and it would be tempting just to burn it to get it out of the way, and of course that would just release all the stored CO2. I'll try and find out more for a future episode. The charity Earthwatch are involved in this - link below.
It's important to save the planet from the consequences of the climate crisis but it's also important to keep it clean and tidy and somewhere nice to live. Pollution is a fact of modern life and an article in the journal Nature Sustainability says that plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date.
Single-use bags, plastic bottles, food containers and food wrappers are the four most widespread items polluting the seas, making up almost half of the human-made waste. Since lockdown we’ve been having a takeaway meal most Friday nights, partly to support the restaurants that we might have gone to before the pandemic. It's eye-opening to see how much is delivered in single use plastic. We do find a use for some of the plastic boxes and we are certainly careful to recycle those which we don't use. If you multiply that by all the other people who have takeaway meals and those who have takeaway meals several times a week it makes you realise that the problem is immense. Full marks to those restaurants using paper and cardboard containers which can still be litter but at least degrade and cause less damage than plastic.
The researchers say, “This study helps inform urgently needed actions to manage the production, use and fate of the most polluting human-made items on our planet, but the challenge remains substantial.” It's not something that seems to have been directly addressed at the G-7 event, and probably won't be addressed at COP 26 either. As the researchers say, the challenge remains substantial. Something must be done.
And in Energy News
A few weeks ago on the Sustainable Futures Report we had discussions on whether nuclear power was an essential part of the low carbon energy mix of the future. Opinions were divided, but I left feeling more positive about nuclear energy. It's a source of electricity that produces no carbon emissions in operation. As Sarah Cullen, one of the panellists, said, while there are delays to Hinkley C, which I've mentioned many times on the Sustainable Futures Report, this is a civil engineering problem, not a nuclear power problem. You may have seen a recent documentary on the BBC about this new nuclear power station which will be the biggest in the UK. It uses new technology, also used at plants under construction at a site in Finland and another at Flamanville in Northern France. Like Hinckley C, both of these projects are way over budget and years behind schedule.
On the other hand, a plant using this design has been successfully constructed in China at Taishan and has been operating for some time. Worrying then that news comes this week that there is some sort of leak at the Taishan plant. EDF, which has a minority stake in the plant and is involved in the other three, said a build-up of krypton and xenon - both inert gases - had affected the primary circuit of Taishan Unit 1, but added that it was a "known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.”
The alarm was initially raised by engineering company Framatome, and according to CNN, US officials have been investigating the claims of a leak for the past week.
Radiation levels in the vicinity were still normal last Monday, according to real-time data from the China Nuclear Safety Administration (CNSA), Framatome's warning included an accusation that CNSA was raising acceptable radiation limits outside the Taishan plant to avoid having to shut it down.
None of this news seems to have hit the UK media, although Reuters and CNN have published reports. If the problems at Taishan proved to be serious there are clearly serious implications for Hinckley C and the other two plants. But not only that, the problem will be where we are going to get our future electricity from. Modular nuclear power stations are under development. They are based on the sort of units found in nuclear submarines or ships. Maybe they are the future. Although renewables have developed dramatically over recent years they still have the intermittency problem, in other words no generation when the wind drops or the sun goes in, and there is not enough storage available to meet a shortfall which could last for days or weeks. Nuclear has the advantage that it can run for months or more delivering a steady level of output.
I still see public buildings where the lights are on all the time even in the brightest summer sunshine. Although lighting is now taking a smaller proportion of electricity with the advance in LED bulbs, it's still a waste. The power still has to be generated and much of the world’s power still comes from coal. We need to educate people into saving energy. Arguably it's just not expensive enough, but of course raising the price will only exacerbate fuel poverty. Nevertheless we do need to face the fact that unless we can solve this generation problem power cuts will be inevitable.
Seeking all Solutions - Moving the Moon
Texas Republican congressman Louie Gohmert has asked a senior US government official if changing the moon’s orbit around the Earth, or the Earth’s orbit around the sun, might be a solution for climate change. Yes that’s right, this idea comes from a US congressman.
“I understand from what’s been testified to the Forest Service and the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], you want very much to work on the issue of climate change,” he said, adding that a past director of Nasa had once told him that orbits of the moon and the Earth were indeed changing.
“We know there’s been significant solar flare activity, and so … is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon’s orbit, or the Earth’s orbit around the sun?” He asked. “Obviously that would have profound effects on our climate.”
The official said she would get back to him on that.
Sustainable Futures Report
As I said last week, this podcast has listeners all over the world, but not nearly enough. I am grateful to regular listeners and I know there are many who have been subscribed and listening for years. I’m flattered that people are prepared to invest the time into listening to my thoughts. At the same time, I think that there must be many more in the world population of nearly 8 billion who would enjoy it as well. I have no illusions about going viral, but I would like to share my ideas with a wider group and in turn receive their feedback and their ideas that I can build on.
For this reason I have decided not to produce an episode next week but instead to use the time to research ways of promoting this podcast and to prepare a marketing plan. When I say marketing, I’m not trying to make money out of the podcast. My objective is to inform and to inform enough people to make it worthwhile to spend the time preparing each episode.
Your thoughts and suggestions, as always, are most welcome.
I’ll be back next month.
Go out and enjoy the sunshine.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU
Small groups do not rule the world - China
Official Communiqué from the G7
The road to COP
G7 summit reaffirmed goals but failed to provide funds to reach them
Carbis Bay declaration: the key pledges
All hot air: UK commits to action but not to new funding
And in other news…
Takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic, study shows
French firm trying to fix ‘performance issue’ at nuclear plant