So we’re in the last chance saloon! Who would have thought it? Maybe anybody who has been listening to the Sustainable Futures Report for the last 14 years. But let’s accentuate the positive.
Hello and welcome. I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 5th of November.
As usual, you’ll find Links to sources at the end of this article
In this episode I'm going to talk about the upsides and downsides of promises already made at COP26, by leaders who have left Glasgow by the time you hear this. There is an outstanding article by George Monbiot that you should read and a 7-minute video by Neil Oliver that you should watch. I'll comment on the keynote opening speech by Prime Minister Johnson and finally there's a response to that paper I mentioned which said that there is no climate crisis and that it’s water vapour not CO2 which is causing climate change. Oh, and apparently it's greener to pump gas rather than leave it in the ground, for the moment at least. There’s a lot of bad news, but it’s vital that we accentuate the positive.
The PM opened COP26 with a wide-ranging speech full of hyperbole describing our struggle as like James Bond with a ticking time bomb and warning that we are at one minute to midnight. He was followed by scores of leaders and people like David Attenborough saying much the same thing. But what about action?
Promises have been made already, only a couple of days into COP26.
The first commitment to come out of COP26 this week was a pledge to cut and reverse deforestation by 2030.The pledge includes almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds, so this may make it more effective than previous attempts. Signatories include the government of Brazil where the problem of deforestation has been particularly acute. However, there are other important areas of the world which are also suffering from deforestation, such as the boreal forests of Canada and Russia. Both of these countries are among the 100 nations which will endorse the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use. The agreement covers some 13 million square miles of forest, so monitoring and enforcement will be extremely difficult. An illegal logger interviewed on a remote site by the BBC promised that as long as there were trees he would cut them down. Otherwise he and his family would starve. Let’s hope that the funds backing this pledge will enable such workers to move away from destruction.
Next came a commitment to reduce methane. The US and the EU announced The Global Methane Pledge, which aims to limit methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared with 2020 levels. More than 100 countries signed in support. The BBC reports that as part of this the US will tackle methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Under the Trump administration well operators were relieved of the obligation to even measure the fugitive gases leaking from their sites.
Paul O’Mahony draws my attention to an article published earlier this year in Environmental Research Letters entitled Acting rapidly to deploy readily available methane mitigation measures by sector can immediately slow global warming.[link below]
The authors claim that many measures to reduce methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 at least in the short term, can be taken with little or no cost. Maybe this is an easy one which will allow world leaders to show rapid progress.
India Net Zero
Also at COP26 this week Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, announced a net zero target for his country, which hadn’t had one before. India, a major coal burner, has chosen 2070, a full 20 years after the 2050 most nations are aiming for.
President Trudeau of Canada has called for a universal carbon tax. It will be interesting to see how far that gets by the end of next week.
Not Good Enough?
It’s all too easy to say, “Yes, but…” and write off all of these proposals with their limitations and downsides, because it’s not about promises and commitments it’s about actions and achievements. We certainly mustn’t turn our backs on COP26 if it doesn’t go far enough and equally we cannot be complacent. That’s why I say let’s accentuate the positive. There’s more media coverage than ever of this conference and more concern at the urgency of the issues emphasised by the evidence of the extreme weather seen around the world this year. More people are aware. More people believe something must be done. More people are urging governments to act, because individuals alone cannot solve the crisis.
World leaders lined up to say how urgent the situation was. Between now and the end of COP26 next week their delegations will negotiate the actions their governments will take. Even though Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin did not attend this week, their delegations are in action in Glasgow. We must accentuate the positive and hold governments to account to achieve the targets they set and to improve them if they don’t go far enough.
As Greta Thunberg says, sometimes you need to anger people to get the message across. The big problem, though, is that people can be angered because they are frustrated because they don’t know what they can do.
In a recent article for The Guardian (link below) George Monbiot says that we all know that we really shouldn’t be driving a large car, eating meat, keeping the central heating high or flying off on holiday, but we feel that if it was really that serious the government would stop us doing it.
Yet last week’s UK Budget froze fuel duty for the 11th year in succession and reduced tax on domestic flights. Both the PM and the Foreign Secretary have said that the decision on whether to permit a new coal mine in Cumbria in Northern England is out of their hands. Who’s in charge of net zero? Westminster or Cumbria County Council? The PM has urged nations at COP26 to eliminate coal. Can’t he take the same message to Cumbria? Can’t he impose that message on Cumbria?
No Hair Shirts
As I reported last week, the PM launched the new Net Zero Strategy saying that there would be no hair shirts and we would still be flying, driving and eating meat in 2050. At the same time the government’s own report on how people should be encouraged to change their behaviour to meet Net Zero suggested taxes on both meat and on flying. It was withdrawn within hours.
Capitalism Killing the Planet
Do look at George Monbiot’s article. He says that capitalism is killing the planet and “Instead of focusing on ‘micro consumerist bollocks’ like ditching our plastic coffee cups, we must challenge the pursuit of wealth and level down, not up.”
I have said for some time that the most important step governments can take is a public information campaign. The trouble is that because action has been delayed for so long, required changes are going to be far more dramatic than any government seeking re-election would wish to announce.
Patron Ian Jarvis draws my attention to a short video by broadcaster Neil Oliver. His theme is “It’s not about what they say it’s about.” There’s a link below and I urge you to watch it - it’s only 7 minutes. He complains that the great and the good who have come together to solve the climate emergency should be meeting on line.
Then they wouldn’t need the 85 vehicles that formed President Biden’s motorcade at the G20. They wouldn’t need 100 private jets to get to Glasgow and they wouldn’t need two cruise ships in the Clyde to accommodate the support staff; ships steadily burning diesel to keep their lights on. They wouldn’t need biodiesel generators at Gleneagles to recharge the electric cars offered to delegates for a day out. They wouldn’t risk spreading infection as 25,000 people come together with no requirements or checks on vaccination.
If it’s a crisis they should be in touch every day, urgently designing and implementing solutions. If it’s a crisis, Oliver says, these leaders should be walking the talk not breaking the rules. For him we’ve moved from Halloween to panto season in Glasgow.
Listening to Neil Oliver’s piece reminded me that I’ve read somewhere about disaster capitalism. The theory is that the ruling elites will create or exacerbate disasters while telling the majority of the people that they, the elite, are the only ones who can get us all out of trouble and it will all be worth it in the end.
Phrases like, “We’re all in this together,” and “If it isn’t hurting it isn’t working,” come to mind.
Disaster Capitalism? That’s just a conspiracy theory, surely.
Greta Thunberg is at COP26, though unlike David Attenborough apparently she wasn’t invited. Maybe our leaders have had enough of her criticisms. This week she’s reported as saying that politicians are "pretending to take our future seriously”.
And in other news…
I mentioned a report which crossed my desk recently claiming that CO2 was irrelevant and that climate was affected only by water vapour. Not being competent myself to evaluate the signs, symbols and equations in the paper, I passed it on to Dave Borlace for his opinion. Here’s what he said.
Water vapour is certainly by far the most powerful greenhouse gas we have in our atmosphere, simply by dint of sheer volume. But since the end of the last glacial period it has been in remarkable equilibrium thanks to the hydrological cycle, thus providing us with the stable temperatures that have facilitated the rise of human civilization during the last 10,000 years.
Rate of Change
The question that climate deniers conveniently ignore is not which gas is the most prevalent, but which gas is demonstrating the fastest rate of change and therefore affecting the overall balance of the system most dramatically. That gas is unequivocally carbon dioxide, closely followed by methane and nitrous oxide. Any rise in water vapour is, ironically, as a direct result of the warming caused by CO2 - for every 1 degree Celsius of warming, the atmosphere can hold onto 7% more moisture.
The deniers also attempt to belittle the effect of CO2 because the concentrations are very low. 415 parts per million sounds pretty insignificant to the layperson, but chemistry is full of examples where tiny quantities of an additive can have a dramatic effect on a system. For example, 100 milligrams of arsenic represents only 1.25 parts per million in the body of an 80kg human being, but that quantity would be enough to kill that human being, which I would argue is a pretty dramatic effect!
There is no debate to be had. We only need to look outside the window to see the real consequences of climate change already ravaging some parts of our planet.
He goes on…
I am off to COP26 for a few days now, where real scientists will be attempting to persuade our world leaders to take the necessary urgent actions to address the crisis.
Thanks for that, Dave! Find Dave’s video blog by searching for Just Have a Think.
As gas prices remain high James Spencer of Portland Fuels recommends we find and extract more gas as quickly as we can. Counterintuitive, surely? But no - if more gas comes on to the market then the price will fall and it will be less attractive to use cheaper but dirtier fuels like oil and coal. Gas is therefore greener, at least in the short term, until we have enough renewables. Which can we ramp up the fastest?
Just looking at the stats as I write at 17.07 on Wednesday 3rd November, the UK has a total electricity demand of 42GW. 50.5% of that is coming from gas power stations, 13.5% from Nuclear and 19% from wind. Of the remaining 17%, 5% is coming from biomass - presumably Drax - and 3.5% from pumped storage with 1.2% from coal. The last bits come from minor generators and interconnectors linking us to other countries’ grids. Renewables, wind and pumped storage, therefore account for just 22.5%, and pumped storage can only last for a short period to help the grid over the evening peak. The PM calls the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind, but there’s still a very long way to go before we can rely on renewables for even half of our energy.
And as we need more and more energy for our transport fleet and to generate hydrogen our need for clean electricity escalates as well.
And that’s It…
…for this week. There’s a Wednesday Interview scheduled for Wednesday and another general commentary for next Friday. I’m trying to keep them shorter because I know you’re busy people.
A grateful shout-out to my patrons who make a monthly contribution to keep the Sustainable Futures Report Ad-free. You’re all brilliant! See patreon.com/sfr if you’d like to sign up.
Just before I go,
I recently mentioned the new documentary, River’s End, about chronic water shortages in California. It is now released and available on VOD Platforms: Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu (US, Canada, UK)
Cable Platforms: InDemand TVOD (Comcast, Spectrum, Cox), DirectTV/AT&T and more (US)
There’s a link to the trailer below.
And that really is it!
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I'm Anthony Day
Until next time.
PM Speech at COP26
Capitalism is killing the planet – it’s time to stop buying into our own destruction - Monbiot
Gridwatch - realtime electricity generation and use
River’s End Trailer - documentary