Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Climate watch: watch the airlines wriggle

The airline industry thought it was being clever. Its pledge on climate change engineered by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) – bizarrely a specialized agency of the UN – was to commit to not breaching carbon emissions above the averages for 2019 and 2020. Any increases would be paid for in carbon offsets by the offending airline. But of course the current year, had it gone according to plan, would have been a record year for aviation. Now with most planes on the ground indefinitely, the committed target will be really really low. So, yes, let’s embrace it.

Shareholders against the planet – knowingly or unknowingly

Stelios Haji-Ioannou (right) is founder and major shareholder (about 34 per cent) in easyJet, the budget airline. When he established the airline that challenged incumbent “full-service” airlines back in 1995, climate change was not well understood in business circles (though as we know, the science was maturing and the Earth summit had taken place 3 years’ earlier in Rio). Easyjet is now a very large airline with over 300 aircraft and a market capitalisation of £4bn.

In recent times airlines have become environmental villains responsible for almost 3 per cent of all carbon emissions (and about 12 per cent of all emissions from transport). The low-cost model of easyJet and others has encouraged travel and made it possible to commute over long distances. This has been regarded as a good thing economically. A global pandemic, however, sees airlines at the forefront of a new battle against another invisible enemy, Covid-19. That market capitalisation has collapsed, and the 300 aircraft grounded indefinitely. Easyjet – along with other airlines – may well seek state aid to support the business through the crisis.

The question of state aid for airlines – major contributors to climate emissions and hence climate change – puts the Government in a difficult position. Neo-Liberal Governments like that in the UK are generally opposed to state support. Indeed they do not even protect strategic industries and businesses from foreign buyers. So any support eventually given to scheduled airlines serving a free market (I accept that some airlines serve niche, fragile and social markets such as Logan Air) will challenge neo-liberal ideology and raise questions about ministers’ proximity to business leaders in the industry. Cash transfers to easyJet would lead to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic receiving similar. That would be difficult to countenance.

The management at easyJet now has an added problem. Knowing full well that their industry is a problem in the carbon economy, there are two – what one calls – mitigating policies. One is more effective that the other, but neither are a solution. The first is offsetting; in the easyJet case, that involves committing to planting trees, though there are many offset schemes that involve investing in developing countries’ own mitigation policies. The second is buying a fleet of more efficient aeroplanes. Easyjet has opted for a fleet of Airbus A320 Neos and they are arriving in batches.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou is not, seemingly, very happy with this. He is now calling for the whole order to be cancelled. He believes, with some justification, seemingly, that the order threatens the solvency of the company. Moreover, as Nils Pratley in the Guardian writes, the company may need to be recapitalised: “Haji-Ioannou says he would support a rights issue – as he should given that his family has collected £620m in dividends since 2011, including £60m this month – but he is vowing to make his backing dependent on an Airbus cancellation. Given the size of his shareholding, he has some clout.”

So here is the conflict of capitalism laid bare. Without the new planes the company will see carbon emissions increase and probably be subject to some regulation or tax (or both). The company will also lose considerable customer credibility on anything it says in the future about caring for the environment. But with the planes, at best shareholders will have to recapitalise, at worst, the company goes under. Plus, very rich man determines the future of the planet. Which side are you on?

Picture: Audiopedia

Climate Watch: the EU’s Climate Law

The new EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyan, and her deputy, Frans Timmermans (left), are championing climate change. There is a Green Deal for Europe which will facilitate the creation of a sustainable new growth model. The Deal’s critics range from activists like Greta Thunberg and climate scientists Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Van Ypersele argues that the deal does not seek to keep temperatures below the 1.5 degrees agreed at Paris in 2015. Indeed, he argued, that the EU should be pushing for carbon neutrality by 2040 rather than 2050.

With that in mind, how do we explain the EU’s lack of ambition, for want of a better term? Could it be the fossil-fuel lobby? Aude Massiot, writing in the Guardian, has identified the lobbyists and their targets, and they are uncomfortably close to one another. Guido Bortoni, Croatia’s environment minister, current holder of the EU presidency, goes to his mailbox and finds a dinner invitation from MEPs part of the European Energy Forum (EEF), headed by Jerzy Buzek (right), a MEP for the European People’s party (EPP). He’s a former prime minister of Poland, a former president of the European parliament and chairs the industry research and energy committee. The forum has associate membership – with a €7,000 a year in membership fee. There are 82 of these all from the oil and gas sector. And dinner is sponsored by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). No journalists, no NGOs. The IOGP’s access is seamless. On 17 December it met Ditte Juul Jorgensen, the head of DG Energy; though seemingly other EU directorates are equally accessible.

Prior to this dinner IOGP spent €350,160 in 2018 lobbying in Brussels. The real lobby costs are much higher, perhaps as much as €250m. Thinktanks are common vehicles for influencing legislation. In this case the favoured thinktank was the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Lobby breakfasts have been attended by key policy makers such as Timmermans who is directly responsible for the composition of the law. Moreover, the lobbyists often have accreditation to the European Parliament building. Also watch out for this year’s Eurogas conference on 19 March in Brussels; the keynote speaker will be Kadri Simson (above left), the energy commissioner. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about the industry.

Massiot calls this “revolving doors”. Former officials of the EU becoming lobbyists and vice-versa; for example, Jean-Arnold Vinois (below right) is energy policy adviser at the Jacques Delors Institute. Delors, for course, was a former EC president and so the thinktank that bears his name seems to be respectable enough. However, Vinois is also an honorary director for energy at the commission and a consultant at FleishmanHillard, another Brussels-based lobby organisation. FeeishmanHillard has an interesting customer portfolio; including, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Gas Naturally and Fuels Europe all rather interested in keeping things just as they are.

For readers looking for indicators of scepticism and keeping things as they are, any firm or lobbyist suggesting the carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a solution, should be a clue. CCS has potential, no doubt. But it is only potential and has insufficient capacity and scalability to make much of an impression in carbon emission totals towards 2030. Eurogas is, notes Massiot, working closely with the Global CCS Institute to promote the technology and conceivably divert resources away from reducing carbon emissions toward an unproven and unrealisable technological fix. The fix is simple: reduce carbon emissions, keep fossil fuels in the ground, consume less and stop deforestation and promote reforestation.

Pictures: Timmermans, European Parliament from EU

Jerzy Buzek, Euku – Own work

Kadri Simson – subject’s own work, Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kadri_Simson#/media/File:Kadri_Simson_2017-05-25_(cropped).jpg

Jean-Arnold Vinois – screen grab from youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tu3S7FW-2iw

 

 

 

 

Onshore wind turbines again supported by the British Government

Out of the blue – at least for me – comes the news that the British Government is lifting its opposition to subsidising onshore wind turbines in support of meeting carbon emission targets. In order to meet those targets, it is estimated that onshore wind turbines will need to triple in number in the next 15 years. Wind turbines are unloved by Conservatives but are the cheapest and cleanest source of renewable energy. Whilst projects can now compete for funding against other renewable sources, it is not clear how the planning system will accommodate the change.

Picture: Erik Wilde from Berkeley, CA, USA – harvesting wind

Darning socks

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to knit my socks. I did think it was very uncool to wear knitted socks. Even worse, when a hole appeared, my mother darned the hole. My feet were always warm. And as a child, sartoriality was not much of a factor.

Today I have darned my own socks. Two motivations; first, the environment. It the past, holes such as those (left) would have warranted disposal. Against the backdrop of climate change, darning them is now just another one of those Sunday tasks. Second, I am on strike. This is knocking quite a hole in my finances. Repairing saves money. And quite a bit. It is not just about buying another pair of socks. I do not think I ever go to the shop and buy only what I intended to buy. The solution is not to go to the shops at all!

 

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.

Picture: www.heathrowexpansion.com

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.