by Jo Abbess
9th November 2007
The UK Government’s draft Climate Change Bill proposes a 60% cut in national net Carbon Dioxide emissions by the year 2050. The big question is : how are we going to do that ?
Just imagine that we keep the level of home heating, transport, manufacturing, construction, and public facilities where they are now : no new airports, no new roads, no new libraries, hospitals, supermarkets or schools, no new high-energy homes.
Even then, it still means that almost 60% of our current energy consumption needs to be dropped, because over 90% of our energy comes from Carbon sources : fossil fuels.
It’s no good asking cows and sheep to stop passing gas. Over 80% of our Carbon Dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels.
But what about Carbon Trading, people will ask ? Can’t we ask people in other countries to make the Carbon cuts, and receive Carbon Credits for that and trade with us so that we don’t need to make any changes to our own energy consumption ?
In fact, the European level policy is a system of Carbon Trading between high energy nations and low energy nations. VERs (Voluntary Emissions Reductions) and CERs (Certified Emissions Reductions) are being worked up in various countries under the auspices/aegis of the United Nations Kyoto Protocol and other international efforts, in anticipation of a global Carbon Market.
There are problems with this however. Recent news shows that alarmingly, Carbon Credits are being held back from the “pipeline” to the Carbon Market, and in some cases, Carbon Credit schemes are being officially rejected.
We will see the full scenario emerging within a few years, but it seems likely that that there will not be enough bananas in the banana market for the people that need to buy bananas.
Although the United Kingdom directly produces only around 2% of global Carbon Dioxide emissions, it is indirectly responsible for roughly 15%, through imports of foreign manufactured goods and food, and foreign investments.
Add in the effects of air travel and shipping, which are excluded from official Carbon accounts of the nation, and it seems that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is responsible for around 20% of global Carbon Dioxide emissions through trade, transport, manufacture and domestic energy consumption.
Which countries are going to have to make which emissions reductions in order to trade with us for our 60% Carbon cuts ?
Let’s see now…the United States is directly responsible for roughly 25% of global Carbon Dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, and China, Russia, Europe, Brazil, Japan, Russia and Mexico are responsible for most of the rest.
So, which country will we be able to persuade to cut their emissions in order to feed our need for Carbon Credits if we make no reductions ourselves ?
We can ask Indonesia and Brazil and other countries rich with forest to stop deforestation, even pay them to do so, but after the first bans on logging and agricultural incursion, there will be no extra Carbon Credits to come out of preserving forests and peat bogs.
The bananas are getting a bit thin on the ground here. Clearly, we need to be making Carbon cuts in our own back yard.
Which leads me back to my original question : if we are committed to a 60% cut by 2050, how are we going to do that ?
We can imagine that through complex accounting and quite a lot of cost, we could Carbon Trade about 10% of our Carbon emissions away.
But what about that 50% of our current Carbon Dioxide emissions that we cannot trade away ? How are we going to tackle that ?
Can we ask one sector of our national energy life to reduce by 90% to allow the other sectors to stay as they are ? Or do we need to consider a 50% cut in emissions in all sectors ?
The sector of energy consumption that creates the most Carbon Dioxide emissions is space and water heating : how can we make a 50% cut in our heating requirements, given the current state of the UK’s housing stock ?
With calls to take voluntary action to cut Carbon, only about 20% of people have made changes to their home energy consumption, affecting only about 20% of their total. Are voluntary changes going to be enough ?
And how are we going to reduce our transport needs by 50% ? About 20% of the nation have taken steps to reduce their travel by choice. Can we rely on more people making the change for themselves, or are we going to need social direction ?
Will we have to ban air travel advertising ? Are we going to have to stop advertising cars because nobody is driving them any more ? Are we going to have to stop selling cars ?
Are we going to have to ban shopping trips, the school run, family visits, work travel ?
How are we going to stop buying half of all the gadgets and machines we currently purchase each year ?
How are we going to stop heating our public buildings for half the time, or half the heating ?
How are we going to stop half of all retail and half of all construction of homes, roads and schools ?
The plain fact is that despite the rapid increase in Renewable Energy in the United Kingdom, it still only accounts for about 10% of the electricity sector, which is only 20% of total energy demand.
Most of the rest is provided for by the burning of fossil fuels, which causes new Carbon Dioxide to be released to air, where it can float for a thousand years, adding to the Global Warming greenhouse effect.
We haven’t yet heard from the Government about how they intend us to de-carbonise all the energy sectors of our lives, although we have heard a lot about them answering the call for electricity Carbon cuts.
If the majority of current energy use cannot have the carbon taken out of it, we had better start asking serious questions.
Are we going to have to have a massive increase in Renewable Energy and use the extra electricity for electric cars and electric home heating ?
Are we going to have to abandon centralised electricity generation ? These old thermal power plants are so energy wasteful. Will we need to have to invest in town-scale combined heat and power stations in order to cut the Carbon ?
Are we going to have to insulate all homes, by law, to a certain standard ?
Will local councils be obliged to remove central heating systems from people’s homes as citizens prove they cannot control their use of Natural Gas supplies ?
And how are we going to re-generate community and local employment for people when centralised Carbon-hungry businesses start toppling ?
And how are we going to eat if the Supermarkets are told to stop emitting half of their greenhouse gases and have to close half their stores ?
The Climate Change Bill makes provision for a Committee on Climate Change, and a series of graduated phases of Carbon Dioxide emissions reductions targets, with reporting and the power to regulate and issue measures for Carbon cuts.
But is the Government going to raise a Carbon Tax to pay for all the alterations that are necessary to the energy infrastructure ?
And which companies will get the contracts ? And will they be British ones ?
Is the UK Government planning a radical shake-up in the way that public transport services are provided, to compensate for the private vehicle transport that will have to be shed ?
Do the UK Government envisage massive green services employment creation programmes to make the Carbon cuts happen ?
When will the UK Government admit that they need a total stop, a moratorium, on high energy public spending, including transport, and legally halt energy-hungry private property development ?
Are you ready for 60% Carbon cuts ? Have you any idea how we’re going to do it or how much it’s going to cost ?