Archive for February, 2020|Monthly archive page

Climate Watch – airport expansion

It’s always worth an appeal, or challenge. There we were with the full might of Heathrow Airport’s construction owner, Ferrovial, thrown behind the case for a third runway. It was inevitable, a £2.4bn project to expand a very busy airport and to facilitate the transfer of more people, to more aeroplanes, to more destinations. Such an ingenious project – a civil engineering wonder. It’s all now in tatters. The authors of the business case either forgot – or willfully ignored – the UK’s legally-binding commitment to meeting carbon emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. Someone is out of a job this weekend, for sure. The Airport will appeal, of course, but the owners have fewer friends now. Even Willie Walsh of AIG, one of Heathrow Airport’s biggest customers, declined to support the appeal on the radio this morning (28/2/20). It seems unlikely, too, that the UK Government will support it either.

The ramifications are significant. The same logic is equally applicable to the UK Government’s road-building programme. For years, campaigners have fought against new capacity on the road network and failed, often at the expense of protected habitats and tolerable human habitation. An international treaty with binding targets just means the numbers no longer add up. Or they add up to too much (carbon). It might get the Government off the hook when it comes to investment commitments post-Brexit that it cannot really afford; but at last, there is a check on ever-increasing capacity to accommodate cars and commercial vehicles. This is great news. And I am a driver. And I fly.


Just when I thought there would be no more cigarette advertising

Then Lucky Strike emerges with an old campaign.  The “show the packet and then write something nonsensical” campaign is back. Eine für Länger. Als Eine Nacht seems to defy translation. One for longer. As a night? Even native speakers make no sense of it. This is no fun. Where are the beautiful people with cigarettes? Where are the people in bathtubs? The zest for life and inevitable death? The attitude? Come on, if cigarette advertising is back, make it interesting.

Climate Watch: “EU green washing”

The UK has now left the EU just as a seemingly progressive new president, Ursula von der Leyen, sets out her plan for addressing the climate emergency. According to Yanis Varoufakis (left), Greece’s former Finance Minister, and unwelcome interlocutor during the currency and debt crises that nearly saw Greece default, it all amounts to Green washing.

Varoufakis asks us to compare the intervention by the EU in the banking crisis to that “committed” for climate change. He notes that €1.6tn was channelled to Europe’s bankers, “while imposing stringent austerity upon the European citizens they pledged to serve. When in 2015 they realised that more support was necessary, the European Central Bank printed €2.6tn”. The European green deal is worth €1tn over 10-years “to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% compared with 1990”. The contrast is not all it seems. The money used to bail out banks was new money, of the Green Deal budget only €7.5bn is new money, the rest comes from existing budgets and is designed to trigger a private-sector investment boom. Moreover, the EU Commission is is providing €29bn for gas projects.

The EU Commission itself estimates that annually it should commit €260bn to meeting its own emission targets. Varoufakis argues that the EU remains committed to its austerity package at a time of need (for drastic emissions cuts) and opportunity (to transform the economies of European member states). There is a thing called the “just transition mechanism” which recognises that some member states’ economies are more locked into fossil fuels than others; for example, Hungary and Poland, both of which have overtly populist governments, themselves not on message when it comes to climate change. For Varoufakis, the “just transition mechanism” is anything but – but it might just go some way to at least prevent these member states from making too much noise.

Picture: Olaf Kosinsky 

Climate Watch: the Johnson record so far

The Guardian newspaper in the UK is doing some pretty good cataloguing of the UK Government’s climate change record in contrast to the declared commitments. The latest – from which I draw prose – further develops the Prime Minister’s record.

First of all, Johnson has an unenviable record when it comes to voting for policies to tackle climate change. He has opposed policies for onshore wind subsidies, emissions-based vehicle taxes and carbon capture and storage. Indeed, he is on record as referring wind turbines as “white satanic mills”. He is reported as being in receipt of donations of £5,000 from Michael Hintze and £25,000 from Terence Mordaunt (via First Corporate Shipping), who fund the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation whose honorary president is Nigel Lawson.

When he was foreign secretary he oversaw a 60% cut in the UK’s team of climate attaches across the world from 165 to 65 charged with furthering the Paris Accord.

We all recall that he said that he would lie down in front of the bulldozers starting on the Heathrow third runway. However, he was absent from the vote in Parliament that sanctioned it and we also recall his own preferred option, a hugely environmentally damaging project to build a new airport on the Thames in East London. He has written in his newspaper columns about his support for shale gas fracking and has argued that warming has more to do with solar activity than carbon dioxide emissions.

Notwithstanding all this, he still seems to be squabbling with the Scottish Executive about the venue for COP26 rather than finding a viable and respected president to get a result come November.

Picture: Ben Shread – User:AlbanGeller received this from the Cabinet Office.

COP26 – it gets worse

Today was the day of the Prime Minister’s big speech on the climate emergency. This quote from the Guardian: ““I hope that we can as a planet and as a community of nations get to net zero within decades.” “We’re going to do it by 2050, we’re setting the pace, I hope everybody will come with us. Let’s make this year the moment when we come together with the courage and the technological ambition to solve man-made climate change and to choose a cleaner and greener future for all our children and grandchildren.” Ah yes. The Children.

The Independent quotes him as saying: “Even the aviation industry has now committed to being carbon-neutral by 2050. We are on the verge, I am assured, within a couple of years, of having viable electric passenger aircraft. And we will get there. That is the lesson of that electric taxi. The sceptics are wrong to doubt the Promethean genius of humanity to solve these problems.” This kind-of confirms that he does not get it. Or anything, for that matter. Boeing and Airbus are still building regular planes. Planes are long-lived.

Talking of the Aviation industry. They have a plan, too. The CEO of Heathrow Airport was on the radio this morning arguing that black is white (more runway capacity leads to less carbon dioxide, that 70 per cent growth and carbon neutrality are possible with new planes, new fuels (that still cause carbon emissions) and the already-discredited “offsetting”). The interview can be heard here:

The Prime Minister did announce that the manufacture of diesel, petrol and hybrid cars and vans will be ended by 2035. And that seems to be it for how carbon neutrality is going to be achieved. The Times is additionally reporting that the Prime Minister asked David Cameron and William Hague to replace the sacked Claire O’Neill as COP president. Need I say more?

Climate Watch: COP26 farce and contraditions

The most important meeting the planet has ever had, COP26 is in trouble. COP25 in Madrid was a failure. No new substantive plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 was agreed. From that moment on, the focus moved to COP26 in Glasgow, possibly the last chance to prevent catastrophic warming (above 2 degrees celsius).

Meetings like this are not about the day, there is a whole diplomatic effort required ahead of the arrival of the world leaders. Essentially, the substantive papers making up future agreements are rubber stamped at these events. They are not negotiating fora. But we learn this morning from the newly-sacked Chair of COP26 Claire McNeill, that the venue has not even been confirmed because of a “stand-off” with the Scottish Executive – “playground politics” as she called it. And we now learn that the Prime Minister “does not get climate change”. This bizarre interview can be heard here .

Then we need to put November into context. The UK will be one-month away from not agreeing a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. It is the same month as the US presidential election. The incumbent, as we know, is not only a denier, but also someone who is actively unpicking environmental protections and promoting fossil-fuel extraction and consumption. That was already going to be a tough ask, now it seems almost impossible. One wonders whether the UN will move it. As O’Neill said in her interview, the politics has got to be stripped out of this; there is too much at stake.

Then let us look at the UK Government’s own contradictions. I have been listing these over the past few weeks. So far we have reduced-energy efficiency regulations for house builders, and approval for dirty electricity generation. There’s more, it seems. Less than two weeks ago, The Prime Minister was at the UK-Africa summit announcing an end to the funding of coal-fired power plants in Africa. What he did not say was that the conference agreed £2bn of investment into African oil and gas.

Then at his 3 February press conference on a trade deal with the EU, Johnson said that he wants a deal on aviation, so “cheap flights can continue”. And then without even a hint of irony, that UK climate policy will be determined by science, not by “mumbo jumbo”. The science is clear, fossil fuels have to stay in the ground and that aviation has to be taxed, not promoted.