Fine words, more dubious actions


in Politics, The environment

Admirably, the British government has chosen to accept a tougher target for emissions reductions by 2050: pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. They are right to stress how commitment to climate change mitigation cannot falter in difficult economic times.

Unfortunately, two major contradictions continue to exist in British policy: a continued intention to add extra runways to its busy airports, and the proposal to add two new 800 MW supercritical coal-fired power units to the Kingsnorth Power Station. We have reached the point where we must simply refuse to allow coal power plants that do not capture and store their emissions to be built in developed countries.

[Update: 15 January 2009] The British government has announced that it is going forward with a third runway for Heathrow. Hopefully, they will be stopped by popular protest.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Berry October 17, 2008 at 9:41 am

If coal fired plants represent such a threat, why should any distinction be made between developed and undeveloped countries?

. October 17, 2008 at 10:06 am

Budget fears dominate EU summit
By Laurence Peter
BBC News, Brussels

The severity of the financial crisis has had an impact on the EU’s ambitious plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which look likely to be watered down under pressure from a new “eastern bloc”, along with Italy.

Milan October 17, 2008 at 10:09 am


Because developed countries are unambiguously rich enough to do better. Saying “no coal” in Canada, the US, or Australia means we will need to invest in cleaner forms of energy. Saying the same thing in India or China is (a) arguably unfair, since we developed in a dirty way (b) arguably unfair, because more of their populations are in extreme poverty (c) not politically feasible.

In an ideal world, no new conventional coal would be built anywhere. In a practical world, countries like the UK, US, and Canada have no excuse for building coal, given their level of wealth and how much we know about climate change.

Milan October 17, 2008 at 10:12 am

All that being said, developed states certainly shouldn’t be helping developing ones to choose coal, as the World Bank is doing in India.

. October 17, 2008 at 10:16 am

Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 4: The most urgent climate policy (and it isn’t a CO2 price)

“The bottom line is that we need an immediate moratorium on the construction of new traditional coal plants. That is a higher priority than a cap & trade bill, although such a bill is also a high priority. If the West cannot stop building such coal plants and quickly show the world that multiple alternatives — particularly efficiency and renewables — are practical and affordable, then how will we be able to convince the developing world, especially China and India, to stop building such coal plants within the decade?”

. October 17, 2008 at 11:37 am
Sarah October 18, 2008 at 1:07 am

Well the airport expansion makes sense as long as the UK government continues to exclude international flight emissions (which is almost all flight emissions) from its calculations. We really need an international agreement on how to count flights, cos otherwise I can’t see how domestic governments can be persauded to restrict airline emissions.

Milan October 18, 2008 at 11:27 am

It is encouraging that the EU is aiming to incorporate flights into their Emissions Trading Scheme.

That should do a bit to reduce air travel emissions in the period until a true international agreement emerges.

. January 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

It’s inconceivable you can hold those two things in your mind at the same time: [that] you’re really going flat out for rapid decarbonisation and perfectly reconciled to expansion of aviation.

Jonathan Porritt comments on the UK government’s decision to give the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow. The verdict has caused some to speculate that the government was really just having a laugh when it comitted to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of 1990 levels last autumn.

. May 22, 2009 at 10:18 am

Crash Landing
Posted May 22, 2009

As BA reports massive losses, isn’t it time to scrap the airport expansion programme?

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian’s website 22nd May 2009

So will Heathrow’s third runway still be built? Like most airline operators, British Airways seems to be going down in flames, yet the government is still intending to double the UK’s airport capacity between now and 2030 “in response to rising demand”.

Of course this could be just a temporary crisis. But it has two interesting features. The first is that the airlines have been hit much harder by the recession than most of the rest of the economy, even though the price of fuel has fallen dramatically over the past year. The second is that the sector which has contracted most sharply is business travel. Even before the recession began, almost all the business-only airline companies collapsed as a result of high fuel prices.

. May 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm

The Real Expenses Scandal
Posted May 26, 2009

It’s a thousand times bigger than the one we’re talking about, so why doesn’t it ignite public anger?

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 26th May 2009

For a moment, my heart leapt. The headline on the front of yesterday’s Daily Mail contained the words travel, scandal, extortionate and £6.2. I imagined, until I read it properly, that it referred to the £6.2bn contract to expand the M25 motorway, which has just been signed. Some hope. “The £6.2m bill: Scandal of how MPs are taking taxpayers for a ride with extortionate travel expenses” referred to a rip-off precisely 1000th of the size of the travel expenses scandal that interests me.

But just in case anyone is still reading, I’ll try again. The terms offered by the new M25 scheme are so generous that an orang utan in a suit and tie couldn’t fail to clean up. The new price appears to represent the cost to the government of keeping the banks in the deal. The scheme is meant to be ready in time for the Olympics, but the companies involved have spun out the negotiations for so long – demanding ever more outrageous terms – that the government is now prepared to pay almost any price to get the road widened on time, regardless of future liabilities. The option of tackling the problem by reducing the volume of traffic – an orbital coach network is the most obvious solution – was never considered. When Alistair Darling was transport secretary, he was asked about this alternative in the Commons. He dismissed it out of hand(6).

One of the consistent features of PFI is that the projects are reverse-engineered to meet the demands of corporate investors. This, for example, is how the £30m public scheme to refurbish Coventry’s two hospitals became a £410m private scheme to knock them both down and rebuild one of them – containing fewer beds and fewer doctors and nurses(7). The old scheme was too cheap to attract private money. Similarly, an orbital bus system offers only modest profits.

. July 7, 2009 at 9:21 am

Subsidising the Climate Crash
Posted July 6, 2009

Why have government agencies been paying to increase the number of flights?

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 7th July 2009

Here’s an odd thing. Air travel to and from the United Kingdom has plummeted. Several small airlines have gone bust; British Airways has deployed its landing gear. In some respects, according to the industry, this descent could be permanent. Yet the government is still planning to double the capacity of our airports by 2030.

Between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, the number of people using airports in the UK fell by 6.4 million, or 13%. Convinced that its previous estimates for the growth of demand were wrong, the airport operator BAA has delayed its plans for a second runway at Stansted. British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair are demanding that BAA reduce the £900m it wanted to spend on upgrading Gatwick, because the business case is now “unproven”.

. October 12, 2009 at 8:01 pm

UK ‘needs step change’ on climate
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

The UK needs a “step change” in policies to reduce carbon emissions if it is to meet its own climate targets, government advisers have said.

The Committee on Climate Change says emissions are falling at 0.5% per year, whereas 2-3% is needed to meet targets.

The government should intervene more in the electricity industry and set up a national home insulation plan, it says.

The government acknowledged the need for a “step change,” and said it was “focusing on active steps” in energy.

. October 25, 2016 at 1:41 pm

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