Sunday, 28 February 2010

Profit and Loss

Recently, the House of Commons voted against the proposed amendment to the Energy Bill (NC6) which would have set Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) (described as legislative CO2 emissions caps) on power stations.

In a recent campaign, several environmental groups proposed the amendment, and asked constituents to email or write to their MPs to ask them to vote in favour of it. In response the Energy Minister, Joan Ruddock, wrote to all Labour MPs (the Lib-dems and Conservatives supported the amendment) asking them to vote against it (a link to a PDF of her letter is here

I notice that the first objection in her letter is that the introduction of EPS now would pose a threat to investment (a concern originally voiced by the TUC and the CBI). Boldface emphasis states that this could mean "no investment in new coal at all" and asserts that, as EPS would apply to gas also, it would threaten investment there too.

The vote was 252 against to 244 in favour. Very close.

You should be able to find out how your MP voted here (

Previously on this blog, I have voiced my concerns about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and the government's regulation of the coal in the UK, along with the actual ecological destruction caused by extraction of the coal and disposal of the waste. These concerns have been voiced more eloquently by many NGOs such as FoE and Greenpeace.

To my mind, the argument of threat to investment (i.e., companies won't put money into it if it isn't profitable) highlights one of the big weaknesses of capitalism and the reason why we will not be able to buy our way out of the current environmental crisis. Given the limited window of opportunity we have before global tipping points are reached (if they have not already been passed) waiting until something shows a profit may not be an option.

It also leads me to question the priorities of business and governments (the UK government's controlling share in RBS and it's failure to act in the face of RBS's involvement in oil extraction from the Alberta tar sands illustrates the point in question, see the link here

Some of these priorities are also clearly illustrated in an as yet unpublished report for the UN (reported by the Guardian here estimating that paying for the actual environmental cost of their activities would cost the worlds largest 3000 companies about a third of their profit every year. They do not pay for it, of course, or anything like a reasonable contribution towards it.

It seems bizarre that we teach children to tidy up after themselves, but do not hold these companies accountable for clearing up their environmental messes.

In short, the rich get richer and the planet and the poor pay the price.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Empty Vessels

The January 31st deadline for the Copenhagen Accord has passed with some announcements by politicians, declaring the pledges to cut emissions of their respective states as follows:-
EU 20% against 1990 levels
US 17% of 2005 levels (dependent on domestic legislation).
UK 40% against 1990 levels and 80% by 2050
India 20-25% emissions reduction by 2020
and China has pledged to de-carbonise it's economy by 40-45% relative to 2005 levels.

Unfortunately, these targets do not go nearly far enough, nor are there any mid-term targets; they are not legally binding (with the exception of the UK's targets under the Climate Change Act); they are not easily enforcible and, as several recent reports have highlighted, they may not actually be achievable.

In an attempt to show the collective failure at Copenhagen as some sort of "success" to domestic audiences, our politicians may be misguiding us (not necessarily deliberately).
The current debate centres around prevention of a 2 degree centigrade rise in global mean temperature, but while the error by the IPPC in their 2007 report regarding the demise of the Himalayan glaciers is seized upon by the sceptics, I believe that we are on course for a much greater challenge and that without full commitment and awareness at an individual and societal level we will fail to meet that challenge.

It is time to own up to our failures and admit the reality and scale of the challenge facing us. All available resources must be focused on adapting to this and there must be truth and openness with regard both to the margin of scientific error and to the realistic prospects (however grim) facing us.

Only then will we be able to do what is needed, both as individuals and collectively as the human race.