This week I’m looking back on 2022. I’ve published 62 episodes over the year - about 150,000 words. Thank you for listening and thank you for your feedback.
In this episode I’m going to look at what concerned us this time last year and what progress we’ve made since then.
In December last year we were talking about COP26, which had just ended in Glasgow. There were complaints about fossil fuel subsidies, an Insulate Britain protester on hunger strike, profound wisdom on climate mitigation from Allegra Stratton (Yes, I can see you remember her) and Certified Greenwash.
The Climate Change Committee, which advises the British government on dealing with the climate crisis, responded to COP 26 this week last year.
“COP26 in Glasgow”, it said, “marked a step forward in global efforts to address climate change… [but] how far this can be considered a success will depend on follow-up actions over the coming year and beyond.”
As president of COP26, UK minister Alok Sharma was responsible for pushing through the decisions reached, right up to the start of COP27 in November this year. HIs main task was to persuade the participating nations to upgrade their NDCs, or nationally determined contributions, towards the achievement of net zero in 2050. It proved to be a hard and largely unsuccessful assignment, and COP26 was largely written off as yet another talking shop, in the hope that 2022’s COP27 would finally urge people into action. In the event COP 27 was another event which overran and reached its conclusions in the wee small hours; conclusions seen by many to be too little, too late. There was an agreement reached on loss and damage, putting responsibility on the developed countries to assist the developing countries which are experiencing the most serious consequences of the climate crisis. Many other things were not achieved. Alok Sharma singled out
- Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary.
- Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal.
- A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels.
“Not in this text,” he said.
It’s worth repeating his closing remarks to the conference.
“Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak.
“Unfortunately, it remains on life support.
“And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror, and consider if we have fully risen to that challenge over the past two weeks.
“Colleagues, I will not be in this chair at COP28, when our ambition, and our implementation, is tested in the Global Stocktake year.
“But I assure you, indeed I promise you, that if we do not step up soon,
and rise above these minute-to-midnight battles to hold the line, we will all be found wanting.
“Each of us will have to explain that, to our citizens, to the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities, and ultimately to the children and grandchildren to whom many of us now go home.”
Delivery before Targets
The Committee on Climate Change recommended that the UK government should focus its efforts on strengthening delivery rather than increasing its headline target.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
The committee advised that in response to the Glasgow call for a ‘phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ the Treasury should initiate a review of the role of tax policy in delivering Net Zero and that the UK should considerably strengthen its policies on adaptation. 12 months on nothing seems to have been done on that. Probably another casualty of unsettled government in the UK this year. More on that below.
Dave Borlace of the “Just Have a Think” video blog summed up a disappointing COP27 saying that world leaders had made a
“Very sincere commitment to work super-duper hard to put in place policies that would definitely address the idea of thinking about doing things that might contribute towards the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of mainly limiting global temperatures to only 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
Find the full video on YouTube.
Last year, nonviolent protest and civil disobedience by the group called Insulate Britain was making the headlines. One of the number who was arrested and imprisoned went on hunger strike. Emma Smart gave up after 26 days, saying that marked 26 ineffective COPs. She was arrested again in April this year and once again went on hunger strike and had to be hospitalised. People like Emma will not give up because they see the impending crisis and they see that nothing - or at least not nearly enough - is being done about it.
Just Stop Oil
This year Just Stop Oil has come to prominence for blocking roads including London's M25 orbital motorway. Zoe Cohen, who appeared recently on the Sustainable Futures Report was one of seven people who cracked the glass windows of the headquarters of Barclays Bank at Canary Wharf in London. All seven were arrested charged and found guilty of criminal damage and will be sentenced on 27th January. Just Stop Oil is calling on the government to withdraw its licenses for new oil and gas exploration. If we have an objective of achieving net zero by 2050, producing more fossil fuels is an illogical nonsense.
The reaction of both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition is to promise stricter penalties for people taking part in nonviolent disruptive protests. It is worrying that they do not understand why people are carrying out these protests. They do not seem to realise that greater penalties will not deter them.
On 23rd February I published my interview with Louis Cox-Brusseau of Sibylline, a strategic advisory firm, about the situation in Russia. On 24th February Russia invaded Ukraine. There have been wide-ranging consequences for the world ever since and the energy markets were sent into turmoil. Nordstream 2, a multibillion pipeline constructed to bring gas from Russia into Germany and the rest of Europe had been completed, but permission to put it into operation was refused by the German government at the last minute. Later in the year sections of the pipeline running under the Baltic Sea were damaged by unexplained explosions.
Almost every episode of the Sustainable Futures Report addresses energy in some way or another. Energy is fundamental and crucial to our present way of life. Not surprising, then, when Russia became a pariah, following its invasion of Ukraine, energy prices peaked. Russia is a major supplier of gas and of diesel fuel to Western Europe. Even though sanctions were put on Russia, it was impossible for things to continue as normal without some supplies being sourced from that country. The increased price of gas in particular has caused problems across Europe. While the UK has never imported very much gas from Russia, it buys in the global market and has to take global prices. The government has been forced to subsidise domestic gas and electricity bills in the face of a cost of living crisis, stagnating, economy, and inflation. The UK is not alone in this, although as far as economic performance is concerned it appears to be at the bottom of the scale as a result of Brexit.
Shortages of gas, which is widely used for electricity generation, have meant that coal fired power stations have been brought back into operation in the UK, and particularly in Germany, where they accelerated the decommissioning of the nuclear plants, although they appear to be having second thoughts about that.
Because of the substantially increased price of gas and electricity, many people have been opening up chimneys and installing wood burners. The Chief Medical Officer’s report for the UK drew attention to the fact that pollution, particularly particulate pollution from these wood burners was about 450 times as great as the pollution from gas boilers. This is a particular problem in urban areas. Many people have installed wood burners as a lifestyle choice, but many others are installing them as a cost saving measure. They are not strictly permitted under the Clean Air Act, but local authorities do not prosecute.. However, the clean air act was instrumental in clearing up the serious fogs which cloaked London and other major cities right back in the 1950s. Increased particulate pollution can bring this back.
Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, reported that particulate pollution is highly injurious to life and cases of severe illness resulting from exposure to polluted air are increasing.
John Redwood is a politician that I have a little time for, but he was absolutely right when he pointed out in the early part of December, that renewables were contributing just over 1% of the nation’s electricity. The majority was coming from nuclear and gas-fired power stations. On the other hand, in the early hours of today, 20th December, wind power was providing 14.8 GW of electricity or 56% of demand, more than the combined total delivered by gas and nuclear. The fact remains, that when the sun does not shine, and the wind drops, we have virtually no renewable electricity. The answer must be to install more nuclear and more storage. Neither of these solutions are perfect.
UK electricity demand varies between about 25 and 50 GW. Nuclear power can deliver a constant supply of around 15 GW, although the nuclear fleet is aging and some stations will be taken off grid for decommissioning before long. The new power station under construction at Hinkley C is scheduled to come on stream in 2027, already 10 years late. It will deliver just 3.2 GW, which is quite a large power station but a lot less than 10% of peak demand. Approval has been granted for another nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk, but so far they have not yet put a spade in the ground, so it could be 2035 or 2040 before it starts producing electricity if it follows the pattern of Hinckley C.
While wind, solar, and to some extent, nuclear can provide surplus electricity, present UK energy storage capacity is negligible. The major storage facilities are pumped storage, where water is pumped to a lake at the top of a hill with surplus energy, and is released down into turbines to generate electricity at times of high demand. The principal constraint on systems of this type is suitable geography. In previous episodes, I have talked about plans to lower large weights on cables into unused coal mines, so that as the weights descend they generate electricity and they are wound back up again when there is an electricity surplus. The same sort of principle has been suggested using a very heavy railway train on an incline, pulled slowly up with surplus energy and allowed to roll down, driving generators when demand requires. None of these schemes has been installed at a commercial level, and there must be doubt as to whether they ever could be.
One of the key issues that must be addressed is the difference between storing energy as electricity, kinetic power, or heat. I think one of the most promising technologies that I've covered this year is the sand battery. The technology is incredibly simple. It is nothing more than a very large heap of sand enclosed within a concrete bunker. Surplus energy is used to heat the sand to a very high temperature and because of the size, and the ratio of the surface area to volume, temperature can be maintained for days. The heat can be extracted to create steam and run a conventional turbine electricity generating system or it could be used for district heating systems which are widely installed in Europe and America. So far the sand battery is a nice idea, but as far as I know, it has not yet been implemented as a commercial scale.
The fact remains that John Redwood’s warning is very cogent. We do not have clean energy available when our current renewables cannot work. In the face of the climate crisis the UK, and no doubt many other nations, has an energy crisis and solving one with conventional methods can only prejudice the other. In other words, more fossil fuels, more climate crisis. Less fossil fuels and the lights go out and people shiver.
Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough!
Nuclear fusion is attractive because science says that a constant supply of electricity can be produced from minimal material inputs, leaving only low-level radioactive waste. The whole thing looks infinitely preferable to conventional power from nuclear fission. This month scientists announced that they have been able to maintain a fusion reaction delivering more energy than the energy put in to stimulate it. This could be enough energy to boil several kettles. They admit that there is much work to be done to develop the technology to a commercial scale and therefore another 10 or 15 years will be needed. They also need to get over the fact that while the reaction itself produced a net surplus of energy, it relied on an environment maintained bye a vast bank of lasers which were powered separately, so the overall result is clearly negative.
Another Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough!
And here’s some news from 18th February this year.
“News this week that researchers have made a significant advance in the development of fusion energy.
At the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, the Joint European Torus (JET) produced 11MW of power for 5 seconds, more than twice as much as its previous record in 1997. Research continues, to achieve a reaction which will be self-sustaining indefinitely.”
Fusion energy is all promises. It’s been under development since the 1950s. It's no solution to our immediate needs. It may not ever be a solution.
Whitehaven Coal Mine
It's not strictly an energy issue, because the new Whitehaven coal mine will produce coal for the steel industry, not for power generators. Permission was finally granted over a year late earlier this month, despite the fact that the arguments for a new coal mine are very weak. First of all, there is no shortage of coal available on world markets. Supporters of the mine have said that it makes sense to use domestically produced coal in British steel works rather than importing coal from other nations like Russia. The problem with this is that the sulphur content of the coal means that it cannot be used by most of the British steel industry, and therefore 90% of it will be exported. We don’t import coal from Russia for steelmaking in any case. Steelworks in Europe are moving towards processes which use electricity or hydrogen instead of coal, so the market is likely to decline.
I put these points to the president of the National Union of Mineworkers when we were interviewed on GB News earlier this year. “Ah,” he said, “You’re talking about experts. I’m talking about common sense.”
Promoters of the mine say it will be carbon neutral because they are going to purchase carbon offsets from the Gold Standard organisation. The chief executive of the Gold Standard organisation has responded by saying that they will not sell their offsets to the mine because their business is helping organisations which are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, and a coal mine producing fossil fuel does certainly not fall into that category.
The award for fatuous remark of the year goes to an unnamed supporter of the mine who said that it would not prejudice the government’s net zero 2050 targets because it was planned that the mine would cease operations in 2049. Incidentally, it appears the ultimate ownership of the complex is based in the Cayman Islands. This suggests the profits will be sent offshore and it may be difficult for Cumbria County Council to compel the owners to reclaim and restore the site when mining operations have finished.
In December this year global population exceeded 8 billion. Back in 1950 there were only 2.5 billion people in the world growing to 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 6 in 1999, 7 in 2011 and now 8 billion.
The signs are that the rate of increase in population growth is beginning to slow, but that does not change the fact that population is growing, and that every citizen of the world needs to be fed. Not something that is successfully achieved even now.
Population is an issue which I have not covered in much detail in 2022 so I've put it on the list for research next year.
God Save the King
In many ways, 2022 was a turbulent year for the UK. We lost our queen who had reigned for 70 years and was the only monarch that most people had ever known. We now have King Charles III, and although there is a large proportion of the population who say they would prefer a republic, not enough people are sufficiently concerned by the idea to consider deposing him.
Three Prime Ministers
On the political side, we are on our third prime minister of the year. Boris Johnson resigned in disgrace, although many people didn't see it as that and surprisingly have been happy to accept his lies, lawbreaking and incompetence. Liz Truss followed on for a little more than six weeks, but created lasting damage to the economy in that short time. Now we have Rishi Sunak, the richest prime minister in history, who doesn't seem to understand the climate crisis at all. In fact, he decided not to go to COP 27 and told the king not to go either. Then he learned that Boris Johnson would be at COP 27 so he decided to go after all. Charles played a prominent role at COP26, but in spite of a pressing invitation from Egypt, the conference host country, the king was advised to remain at home. Instead he hosted his own reception for world leaders en route to Sharm El Sheik for the conference.
Rishi Sunak also avoided COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference. As far as I know Boris Johnson wasn’t there either.
And what about greenwash?
Dr Dominic Tantram, founding partner of Terrafiniti, posted an article on LinkedIn last year which seems just as relevant today. It’s about CERTIFIED GREENWASHING: the Real Greenwash Kitemark. This is available to any organisation for just £197,000 + VAT, provided that at least two of the three following statements are true:
> Claims must be demonstrably unclear
> Claims must be wildly (or at least substantially) inaccurate
> Claims should be totally, or at least significantly, unsubstantiated
Who is Allegra Stratton?
Well she was in the news this time last year, but now seems totally forgotten. After being appointed to the role of PM’s spokesperson at the Cabinet Office, which was cancelled before she started, she joined Alok Sharma to handle PR for COP 26. She then went on to prove her total ignorance of the issues, making fatuous suggestions for saving the climate such as not rinsing your plates before putting them in the dishwasher, not letting bread go mouldy and using soap, not shower gel. And when asked when she was going to change her diesel car for an electric, her response was that she didn't fancy it just yet.
Thank goodness we now have Thérèse Coffey as Environment Secretary, who made it quite clear on Sky News that the answer to the climate crisis is re-usable coffee cups.
On 28th January, my interview guest is Peter Wang Hjemdahl of rePurpose. Further interviews follow throughout January but so far the slate is largely clean for the rest of the year.
People all over the world listen to the Sustainable Futures Report, although not nearly enough. Although this is probably the original sustainability podcast - it’s been going since 2007 - the audience is small. I think the message is important and therefore needs to be heard by more people. I shall be addressing that next year. All suggestions greatly received.
One idea I have for the future is to develop national perspectives. Of course as a UK-based podcast there will always be a UK bias, though as climate deniers are always eager to remind me, the UK accounts for only about 1% of global emissions. That ignores the major emissions we generated as the earliest nation to industrialise and certainly doesn’t justify awarding us a free ride in future. We have to set an example.
Australia, US and China
Anyway, earlier this year we looked at sustainability from an Australian perspective. In the coming year I’ll aim to get insights from the US and from China. If you can suggest appropriate interviewees please get in touch.
New Year’s Resolutions
In summary there are two things I want to achieve: one is to provide content which you find interesting and useful. And secondly I want to bring the Sustainable Futures Report to a wider audience. You can help. You can become a patron and make a small financial contribution to keeping the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad free. I realise many people are not in a position to do that, but one thing you could do, which would be really valuable is to like this podcast, wherever you find it, like my postings on Twitter, and like it on YouTube as well.
It only remains for me now to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year and to play you out in the time-honoured fashion of all my Christmas episodes.
I am Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report .
Until next week.
Emma Smart - hunger strike - Insulate Britain
1900 1.65 billion
1950 2.5 billion
1960 3 billion
1975 4 billion
1987 5 billion
1999 6 billion
2011 7 billion
2022 8 billion
43% 19th Dec
1% previous week
Chief Medical Officer’s Report