Thursday, September 01, 2016

Not the Sustainable Futures Report

This is the text of the 2nd September podcast, available at  

Hello. This is Anthony Day and this is not the Sustainable Futures Report.

As you know, I decided to take July and August off and I had a great summer. I promised to come back to you today, 2nd September, but I’ve decided to suspend this podcast for a further month. Here’s why. Two weeks ago I had emergency brain surgery. Not nearly as dramatic as it might sound although it was quite serious at the time. Our NHS is truly wonderful and I'm happy to say I am making a rapid recovery. However my next appointment with the consultant is on 28 September so I have decided to suspend the Sustainable Futures Report until then.

I'll take the opportunity to review the purpose and direction of the report. My aim has been to bring you topical news on issues relating to sustainability and also to report on new technologies which will help us to make the world more sustainable. I hope it's interesting and I hope it's valuable. Each episode is around 3,000 words each week and with research, writing and recording it takes a day to a day and a half. I have readers and listeners all over the world, but to be perfectly frank not an awful lot. I need to be sure that what I am doing is useful and of course if you have any ideas of what you would like to see included please don't fail to contact me: 

Of course we had a busy summer on the political scene in the UK with Brexit, a change of government, the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, questions over environmental policies and a spat with the Chinese over the Hinkley C power station. Why start building it, given that nobody has yet been able to make this design work? In fact this summer has been a whole series of questions and it's only now that we're beginning to get some idea of what the answers will be. By the end of the month we might have a clearer idea of which way we are going, but there is no doubt that Brexit is going to make things immensely complicated and it's going to strain our resources, our civil service and relations between those who voted out and those who wanted to stay.

So that's it for the moment: probably the shortest Sustainable Futures Report of all time. Do get in touch if you have some ideas of what I should include in future episodes. Do get in touch if you’re an expert and would like to do an interview. The next Sustainable Futures Report will appear on Friday 7 October. Hope all goes well for you until then.

This is Anthony Day. As I explained this has not been the Sustainable Futures Report but there will be another one in early October. 

Thanks for listening

Monday, July 04, 2016

Over and Out

Broadcast as a podcast at on Friday 1st July

Well we’re not quite out and I sincerely hope it's not all over.

Hello, this is Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 1st July and in a change to the advertised programme this is the final episode before September.

Yes I'm going to talk about Brexit, I'll try and avoid all the things which have already been said. This week IEMA presented an important webinar on the legal consequences of Brexit for environmental regulation and I’ll tell you what I learnt. I’ll tell you about the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group  and the new LinkedIn group which will take it forward.

Energy Minister Amber Rudd remains committed to carbon reduction. There’s more helium than we thought - why is this good news? But first, electric lorries are on trial. 

Electric Highways

Electric lorries? Well no, perhaps more electric highways.
Global Construction Review informs us that “A truck-clogged traffic artery leading to the Port of Los Angeles will be the testing ground for the world’s first “eHighway” – a stretch of road strung with overhead cables to power heavy vehicles that will coast along without burning diesel and spouting fumes.” 

Actually Los Angeles was beaten to it by Sweden which opened a 2.2 km electrified section of the E16 motorway between Sweden and Norway last week. For both projects the catenary infrastructure is installed by Siemens, working with Mack trucks in the US and Scania in Sweden. On normal roads the trucks burn diesel or natural gas but, when they hit the eHighway, sensors locate the overhead cables and the trucks automatically connect. The system lets trucks change lanes to overtake other vehicles at speeds of up to 90km/h. Siemens claims that the eHighway system is about twice as efficient as burning diesel, and is emissions-free. The trucks’ braking systems also feed energy back into the grid. The Swedish government aims to achieve zero fossil fuel transportation by 2030. It has predicted that using electricity from renewable sources to power the trucks will lead to a reduction in carbon of up to 90%. It sees the eHighway system as one way of reducing carbon emissions without building railways where none exist now. 

The next logical stage must be to couple multiple trucks together under the control of a single driver. And the stage after that is to have no drivers at all. All we need is an overhead power line infrastructure and a supply of electricity. I can’t help thinking that this might be a much better investment than the UK’s HS2, the planned high speed rail link.Helium
The discovery of a helium gas field in Tanzania's East African Rift Valley could help ease fears of a global helium shortage on our planet, according to the Washington Post, which reported the news last Wednesday.


Helium is a noble gas used for the super-cooled magnets in MRI machines; a mixture of 80% helium and 20% oxygen is used by deep-sea divers and helium-neon gas lasers are used to scan barcodes at supermarket checkouts. Vast amounts are needed to keep superconducting magnets cool at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern near Geneva. Helium is also used to blow up party balloons but fears of a shortage led Nobel laureate, the late Robert Richardson, to say that helium balloons should cost £75 each to reflect the true cost of the gas.

Helium is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, but Earth’s initial stocks seeped into space many billions of years ago.  It cannot be synthesised; it only occurs in nature. It cannot be replaced or renewed. What is available for use today is produced inside rocks through the steady radioactive decay of uranium and other elements. The hard part is finding where the gas builds up into useful reserves. Now a team from the UK and Norway has uncovered a huge resource in Tanzania after applying expertise gleaned from oil and gas exploration to understand how helium is produced in rocks and where it accumulates.
According to independent analysts, this natural store of helium found in the Rift Valley contains an estimated 54bn cubic feet of the gas, enough to inflate a similar number of party balloons, or to fill 1,200,000 hospital MRI scanners.

Let the party continue!

Who is Amber Rudd?

Speaking at the Business and Climate Summit in London this week, energy secretary Amber Rudd said that Brexit would make it harder for the UK to tackle climate change but its commitment to do so would be undiminished by the EU referendum result. "While I think the UK’s role in dealing with a warming planet may have been made harder by the decision last Thursday, our commitment to dealing with it has not gone away," she said. She also insisted that the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point would not be affected by Brexit.

On Thursday the Government announced that it had agreed with the Climate Change Committee and proposed that the emissions target for the  fifth budgetary period covering 2028 to 2032 should be set at 1,725 MtCO2e., the organisers of the edi sustainability conference report that if met, the Fifth Carbon Budget would put the UK firmly on track to meet the legally-binding carbon reduction targets laid out in the UK’s Climate Change Act (2008), which sets an 80% emissions reduction target for 2050.

According to the CCC, the UK is currently on track to outperform the Second and Third Carbon Budgets, but off track to meet the Fourth - which covers the period 2023-27 and requires a 50% emissions reduction from 1990 levels.

Ahead of this announcement, concerns had been raised by green groups and sustainability leaders that the Government's Fifth Carbon Budget would be postponed or perhaps even weakened in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) last week. But Amber Rudd had already made it clear at the Business and Climate Summit that this acceptance of the CCC's proposals sends a clear message to green investors that the Government remains “fully committed” to delivering a clean and affordable energy supply for Britain.

Amber Rudd has a history of firm commitment to environmental and sustainability issues, but since becoming energy minister she has become a hate figure in some quarters. It was Amber Rudd who announced the block on on-shore wind farms just after the last election. It’s Amber Rudd who says fracking is the future. It’s Amber Rudd who continues to insist that the nuclear power station at Hinkley C will be built, despite resignations at contractors edf, technical problems with the proposed design, cost overruns and extensive delays at similar plants under construction and the fact that it will make no contribution to UK supplies for at least 10 years. Chancellor George Osborne, a known climate sceptic, appears to have been in overall control of energy policy, so some would say that she’s simply been mouthing his words. Amber Rudd was on the Remain side of the referendum debate, unlike her junior minister Andrea Leadsom, so her continued role in government may be in question. The fact that she has pushed through adoption of the CCC’s proposals for the Fifth Carbon Budget is encouraging. Hopefully the government will be too busy dealing with the consequences of Brexit to have time to come back and revise it.

Unlike Andrea Leadsom, Amber Rudd made it clear that she would not enter the race for the Tory leadership. When asked at the summit about the possibility of a climate-sceptic leader she said:

 “When I consider who to back as leader of the Conservative party and future Prime Minister, knowing where they stand on this issue, which is so important to me and I think is so important to the whole country and to everyone here, will be absolutely central to who I support.
“And I will be very, very clear about that and very vocal in holding anybody to account on that and getting the sort of commitment that will reassure all of us.”

This was taken to be a direct criticism of leadership favourite Boris Johnson who has expressed climate change scepticism in the past. And then at 12 noon on Thursday as nominations closed and I finalised this script we learnt that Boris would not stand for the leadership.

You couldn’t make it up!


And now to the legal consequences of Brexit. IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment presented a webinar this week on the consequences of Brexit. It was their most popular webinar ever: 700 people signed up and overwhelmed the system. Fortunately they made a recording so I've been able to catch up with it. You can find that recording at . Here’s my account of what was discussed. If you want further information or intend to act on the information provided I urge you to take the advice of the presenters. The session was introduced by Josh Fothergill, policy lead at IEMA, and the main presenter was Simon Colvin, Partner and National head of the environment team at law firm Weightmans, .

Josh reported that in polls of 4000 institute members prior to the referendum 83% believed that EU regulations were beneficial  and 76% thought the regulations were positive for business. He didn't think that there had been enough on sustainability and the environment in the referendum campaign and he hoped that DECC would continue to adopt the fifth carbon budget by the end of June as normal. Which we now know it has done.

Simon Colvin admitted that he went through a range of emotions on Friday, finally arriving at acceptance. His presentation set out what had happened, what was going to happen, and what we could or should do about it. To start with, he said that the referendum vote has no legal effect, although the government accepts that it has a moral duty to follow it. Many people expected that the results would be to remain, so many people were unprepared. 

So what's next? Article 50 is the piece of European legislation which governs the exit of a member from the EU. The process is that the departing member must notify the European Council and then the process must be completed within two years unless this is extended by the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining members. He thought this was unlikely, so two years would be the limit. Under article 50 the departing country takes no part in the discussions around the exit. Indeed, this week we have seen the first EU meetings for 43 years held with UK representatives excluded. The exit agreement has to be approved by the European commission and by the European Parliament. Clearly under article 50 power lies with the remaining states and the process is designed to be difficult to deter states from leaving. Article 50 can only be triggered by the departing state although the EU could possibly insist if there is undue delay. The British government is quite happy to defer invoking the article because the two year time clock starts ticking from the moment that that action is taken. They want to wait until there is a new Conservative leader, a new prime minister and effectively a new government. Simon thought that there was a possibility that there could be a general election in the autumn, but he felt that the timescale was very tight and that this was unlikely to happen. He thought also that a second referendum was theoretically possible, but highly unlikely. Once article 50 has been triggered then the EU will insist that the exit is completed. There will be no opportunity for reviewing the agreement or putting it to a second referendum.

A serious problem is that the focus of politicians and civil servants is going to be exclusively on the process of unwinding UK membership of the EU for the next 2 1/2 to 3 years. This means that everything else is effectively going to be on hold. The environment will be some way down the agenda because emphasis on negotiations on the economy and trade will take priority. Environmental regulations are unlikely to change in any case until it is clear how our trading relations will change because to some extent they will be interdependent. The financial conduct authority issued a statement last Friday morning saying that there would be no immediate change to financial regulations. The environment agency has said something similar privately. Simon was concerned that in the face of uncertainty there will be reluctance to change which could lead to effective paralysis over the next few years. He thought that there would be a new piece of primary legislation possibly called the independence act which would confirm the status of laws which are based on EU legislation. There would also be a piece of legislation to repeal or amend the European communities act which gives EU law precedence over UK law.

It is known that DEFRA has prepared a contingency plan for Brexit but so far this has been confidential. It is now time to reveal and discuss it. There is a great deal to be done with legislation. For example there is a significant amount of referential legislation. That means that there are UK laws which simply say that they will enact specific European regulations or directives. Once these no longer apply, the UK laws will have to be rewritten to provide the detail which is now in the European documents. There is also the question of how we treat new EU laws issued in the next two years while we remain a member of the EU. Decisions have to be made on whether we adopt or replace technical standards. In many environmental areas there is a policy vacuum because the UK government has been content to follow the EU lead.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, there are serious doubts as to whether the UK civil service has sufficient people with the skills and experience to handle this immense volume of work.

Once we are finally out of the EU the European Court of Justice will no longer have jurisdiction, although it will continue to do so during the two-year period. There is therefore a question of at what point we stop referring issues to that court, bearing in mind that its proceedings can take a year or more. There's also the question of caselaw and whether it will continue to be binding and acceptable as a precedent in UK courts after we leave the EU. Simon thought it would, but he also said that there may well be barristers who might see it as a point of weakness and there could be increased litigation.

Well, what can sustainability professionals do about all this? The first question is what legal obligations are written in to your environmental management system. Do they relate to the UK or EU legislation? This needs to be reviewed. There will be some impact from trade agreements and there will inevitably be changes to legislation, at least eventually. Now is the time to carry out risk assessments, to derive an action plan and timeline, and talk to customers and suppliers.

Simon presented an overall timeline for the whole Brexit process.

First there will be a 3 to 6 month period of clarification, and this of course will include election of new leaders for both our major political parties, the appointment of a new prime minister and doubtless the shaping of a new government. At that point article 50 will be triggered. This leads to the two year negotiation process. This will be a dominant activity which means in the next 2 to 5 years there will be inactivity on almost all other issues. In the next 3 to 7 years surplus legislation will be removed but it will take 3 to 15 years to plug gaps, to accommodate new trade agreements and finally recover from the break. Simon's message was that nobody should put their head in the sand - an awful lot is going to go on.

The webinar closed with a range of questions. For example does there need to be an act of Parliament to trigger article 50? Answer, no, the referendum result is sufficient to authorise the government to take that action.

The UK tends to follow the EU baseline on a number of regulations. With the absence of this baseline will legislation be watered down in order to stimulate growth? Certainly this is a possibility.

What important EU environmental legislation is expected to come out in the next 3 to 4 years? 
The circular economy is extremely important because it cuts across so many areas. The EU model will no longer apply to the UK. There is an absence of policy from the UK government here, especially with regard to waste management, as they have relied on the EU to lead. Will we be able to redefine waste in the UK in future? Yes, but if these materials are to be transferred to the EU they will not be acceptable unless they comply with EU legislation.

Will consultation still go ahead on the European environmental impact assessment directive? We'll still need to comply until the end of our membership.

Will Brexit cause delays to the Paris agreement? Probably not. The UK is an independent signatory as well as part of the EU. It's exit will have little effect.

Nick Blyth, IEMA Policy & Practice Lead, brought up the question of ESOS - Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme - and CRC - Carbon Reduction Commitment. Both of these are out for consultation this summer and it remains to be seen whether DECC will hold this timetable. ESOS after all is a mechanism to implement a European directive,. Will this still be the government’s approach?

How will Brexit affect UK as an entry point to the EU? Anything exported from the UK to the EU will have to comply with EU regulations as now. The only difference is that we will no longer have any say in framing those regulations.

What about the habitats and birds regulations? Will they be removed from UK legislation because of pressure from housebuilders? There may be some softening of the regulations, but in general EU legislation will continue to apply at least for the next two or three years. There will be no wholesale destruction of legislation in any field following Brexit. Legislators will be preoccupied with negotiating and implementing the U.K.'s exit.

What about the industrial emissions directive? Again, there is unlikely to be any change for two or three years. The present European standard states that the best available technique should be employed to reduce emissions. It is difficult to believe that the UK government would move away from this.

At the close of the webinar Josh thanked speaker Simon Colvin from Weightmans and said that there were still 500 listeners logged to the webinar. The Institute’s publication, The environmentalist, is available online with more information on all the points discussed.
Some people have suggested that now that we have voted to leave it's no longer necessary to carry out environmental impact assessments. This is certainly not the case. Compliance with the existing regulations will continue to be required until those regulations are replaced with something else which could be years hence. In any case, legal compliance is not only the reason for respecting our regulations. There is a moral and an economic reason as well.

As I said, the whole of this webinar is available online. It runs to just over an hour and you can find it at–Reports   

I'm sure this will be only the first of many discussions.

And Finally...SBPMg...

Well, before I go and sign off for the summer, what else is going on? Not the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. The meeting scheduled for next Thursday, 7 July has been postponed indefinitely. I've had a lot of support and enthusiastic feedback from sustainability professionals. The problem appears to be that while business owners and chief executives will pay for mastermind groups for themselves they will not pay for similar activities for their senior professionals. Sometimes they even grudge them the time. My suggestion is that if you would like to work together with fellow professionals and we are talking here about a mastermind group, not a conference or workshop but a regular event when you work with and get to know similar people. If you have a spare conference room why not invite colleagues to meet on a regular basis? I have spoken to a large number of people in relation to SBPMg. I cannot share their contact details for obvious reasons but you are all encouraged to join the SBPMg LinkedIn group and I hope that you will be able to find people that that you can work with to increase the sum of knowledge and the fund of best practice. I wish you the very best of luck with it. 

Right. I'm signing off now until September. On 2nd September we still won't have a new prime minister, we presumably will not have initiated article 50 and things will very much be in limbo. 

I'm not really happy about the future. We are going to devote our best brains in the civil service and in Parliament to negotiating our exit from the EU. All that effort will go on for 2, 3, 4, 5 or more years. None of that skill and expertise will be available to work on education and schools, on health care and hospitals, on transport, poverty, defence, social justice and all the other important things which should be the government’s first priority. Somebody in my local newspaper said that this would be Britain's finest hour because we always perform best with our backs to the wall. I don't think we needed to put our backs to the wall. I don't think we needed to shoot ourselves in the foot. 

Maybe everything will all have changed by September. If it does I sincerely hope it's changed for the better. 

Have a great summer. This is Anthony Day and for the moment that was the Sustainable Futures Report

The next episode will be available on Friday, 2 September.

Getting Hotter

Text of the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday the 24th of June, published as a podcast at

The big news in the UK this week is the EU referendum and by the time you hear this you will probably know the outcome. As I write this episode all I can say is that it is very finely balanced. The referendum has displaced most other news, some of which is arguably far more important. You'll remember that I have commented that each month this year has been the hottest month since records began. In fact there has been a sequence of 13 months, each one the hottest for the time of year since records began. This week I’m looking at what the scientists say is causing this, and what the consequences could be.

Global Temperatures

The US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that for the 13th consecutive month, global temperatures hit a new record level in May, and those 13 months are the longest such stretch in 137 years of record-keeping.

According to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.  

The globally averaged sea surface temperatures were at a record high for May,
The Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent was the fourth smallest in the 50-year period of record.
Much-warmer-than-average temperatures contributed to North America’s fourth warmest May since continental records began in 1910 and unusually warm conditions were present across much of northern Europe. In Finland, 20 locations set new all-time high May temperature records. 
Africa saw its fourth warmest May since 1910
New Zealand recorded its highest May temperature since national records began in 1909, while Australia recorded its second highest May temperature since 1910.

NASA reported earlier this year that 2016 Arctic Sea Ice Wintertime Extent had hit Another Record Low
The new record low follows record high temperatures in December, January and February around the globe and in the Arctic. 

The atmospheric warmth probably contributed to this lowest maximum extent, with air temperatures up to 6℃ above average. The wind patterns in the Arctic during January and February were also unfavourable to ice growth because they brought warm air from the south and prevented expansion of the ice cover. But ultimately, what will likely play a bigger role in the future trend of Arctic maximum extents is warming ocean waters, said 
Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“It is likely that we're going to keep seeing smaller wintertime maximums in the future because in addition to a warmer atmosphere, the ocean has also warmed up. That warmer ocean will not let the ice edge expand as far south as it used to,” 

This year’s record low sea ice maximum extent will not necessarily result in a subsequent record low summertime minimum extent, Meier said. Summer weather conditions have a larger impact than the extent of the winter maximum in the outcome of each year’s melt season; warm temperatures and summer storms make the ice melt fast, while if a summer is cool, the melt slows down.
Arctic sea ice plays an important role in maintaining Earth’s temperature—its bright white surface reflects solar energy that the ocean would otherwise absorb. But this effect is more relevant in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky in the Arctic, than in the winter, when the sun doesn’t rise for months within the Arctic Circle. In the winter, the impact of missing sea ice is mostly felt in the atmosphere, said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “In places where sea ice has been lost, those areas of open water will put more heat into the atmosphere because the air is much colder than unfrozen sea water,” she said. “As winter sea ice disappears, areas of unusually warm air temperatures in the Arctic will expand. These are also areas of increased evaporation, and the resulting water vapour will contribute to increased cloudiness, which in winter, further warms the surface.”

Atmospheric CO2

These climate records come as atmospheric co2 continues to rise, and at an increasing rate. Carbon dioxide surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) at the South Pole for the first time in 4 million years on 23rd May 2015, [last year] according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. One year on the level has reached 408ppm. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fluctuates throughout the year because large amounts are absorbed by vegetation in the northern hemisphere during the growing season. But this summer levels are not expected to fall below 400 ppm and in fact they are not expected to fall below 400ppm again in our lifetime.

Prof Richard Betts, of the Met Office Hadley Centre and University of Exeter, says that the human-caused rise in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is being given an extra boost this year by the natural climate phenomena of El Niño . Betts is lead author of a recent paper in Nature Climate Change. He said: "The atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is rising year-on-year due to human emissions, but this year it is getting an extra boost due to the recent El Niño event. This warms and dries tropical ecosystems, reducing their uptake of carbon, and exacerbating forest fires. Since human emissions are now 25% greater than in the last big El Niño in 1997/98, this all adds up to a record CO2 rise this year.” Carbon dioxide, CO2, is of course the most common greenhouse gas but by no means the only one.

The Ethane Impact

Tomás Sherwen directs me to an article in reporting on ethane and a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder, recently published in Nature Geoscience.
This found that a steady decline of global ethane emissions following a peak in about 1970 ended between 2005 and 2010 in most of the Northern Hemisphere and has since reversed. The decline of ethane and other non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) starting around 1970 is believed to be primarily due to better emission controls which resulted in reduced emissions from oil and gas production, storage and distribution, as well as combustion exhaust from cars and trucks. Between 2009 and 2014, ethane emissions in the Northern Hemisphere increased by about 400,000 tons annually, the bulk of it from North American oil and gas activity.

"About 60 percent of the drop we saw in ethane levels over the past 40 years has already been made up in the past five years," said Associate Research Professor Detlev Helmig, lead study author. "If this rate continues, we are on track to return to the maximum ethane levels we saw in the 1970s in only about three more years. We rarely see changes in atmospheric gases that quickly or dramatically.”

Ethane, propane and a host of other NMHCs are released naturally by the seepage of fossil carbon deposits, volcanic activity and wildfires, but human activities, which also include biomass burning and industrial use, constitute the most dominant source of the NMHCs worldwide.
"These human sources make up roughly three-quarters of the atmospheric ethane that is being emitted," said Helmig.

A component of natural gas, ethane plays an important role in Earth's atmosphere. As it breaks down near Earth's surface it can create ground-based ozone pollution, a health and environmental risk.
Chemical models by the team show that the increase in ethane and other associated hydrocarbons will likely cause additional ground-based ozone production, particularly in the summer months.
"Ethane is the second most significant hydrocarbon emitted from oil and gas after methane,"

The air samples for the study were collected from more than 40 sites around the world, from Colorado and Greenland to Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and Earth's polar regions. The study also showed that among the air sampling locations around the world, the largest increases in ethane and shorter-lived propane were seen over the central and eastern United States, areas of heavy oil and gas activity.
"We concluded that added emissions from U.S. oil and gas drilling have been the primary source for the atmospheric ethane trend reversal," said Professor Helmig.

Implications for fracking?

Nobody actually mentions fracking in the article, but on the one hand they attribute the original decline in ethane emissions to improved controls by the oil and gas industry, and on the other they identify US oil and gas drilling as the primary source for the reversal. Maybe this is due to an increase in activity or maybe it is due to increased fugitive emissions caused by the development of fracking. Either way, greenhouse gases of all types must be controlled if we are to control emissions and slow down global warming. They must be monitored and controlled across the world, including at UK fracking sites.

"There is high interest by scientists in methane since it is a strong greenhouse gas," said Professor Helmig. The new findings on ethane increases indicate there should be more research on associated methane emissions.

Global warming is an issue because it is expected to lead to more unpredictable and violent weather. We’ve had a lot of violent weather in recent years and we’re always careful to say that it’s consistent with global warming  although of course it doesn’t prove global warming. We’ve had unpredictable and violent weather this very day in London. 
In the suburb of Bexley, south-east London, over 20mm of rain fell in one hour – close to half the June average. Two polling stations in Kingston were washed out and had to be relocated. Rail and Tube services were suspended, cars were submerged and the London Fire Brigade received more emergency calls in an hour than it expects in a whole day. More storms are expected later today. It’s not more than a couple of weeks since heavy rain led to extensive floods in Paris. 

By comparison, of course, all this is a minor inconvenience. 

Indian Heatwave

Last month India recorded its hottest day ever as temperature hit 51C (that's 124F). This has serious consequences both for agriculture and for human health. In other parts of India the monsoon rains have been falling. Lightning is not uncommon at the time of the monsoon, but this year it has been unusually violent and nearly 100 people have been struck and killed.

Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said recently: “These [record-breaking events] are very worrying signs and I think it shows we are on a crash course with the Paris targets unless we change course very, very fast. I hope people realise that global warming is not something down the road, but it is here now and it affecting us now.”
“What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate,” says Rahmstorf. “It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”

But the spikes in global surface temperatures in recent months have been anything but stable. They did not just break the records, they obliterated them. “The numbers are completely unprecedented,” says Adam Scaife, at the Met Office in the UK. “They really stick out like a sore thumb.”
The scorching temperatures mean 2016 is all but certain to be the hottest year ever recorded, beating the previous hottest year in 2015, which itself beat 2014. This run of three record years is also unprecedented and, without climate change, would be a one in a million chance. Scaife says: “Including this year so far, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have been since 2000 – it’s a shocking statistic.”
Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US said, “It is in my view highly unlikely that we would be seeing record drought, like we’re seeing in California, record flooding in Texas, unprecedented wildfires in western North America, and the strongest recorded hurricanes in both the northern and southern hemisphere were it not for the impact of human-caused global warming.”

The Precautionary Principle

All these events are consistent with global warming  although of course they don’t prove global warming. But what about the precautionary principle? If we can’t be sure that something is true but we know that the consequences could be horrendous if it is, isn’t it time to take precautions just in case?

And yet if there’s no consensus on the EU referendum, even within parties, there’s certainly no consensus on climate change and global warming; on what we should do about it or whether we should do anything at all. That’s just the UK. All parties in all countries have to come together, reach a consensus and implement actions. After last year’s Paris climate summit David Cameron said: “We've secured our planet for many, many generations to come– and there is nothing more important than that.” Sadly that’s untrue. Yes, there is nothing more important than securing the planet for future generations, and yes, 195 countries came to an agreement. They committed themselves to INDCs, Individual Nationally Determined Contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gases. But these INDCs were all calculated on different bases and did not explain how the reductions would be achieved. When they were all added together the conclusion was that they would not be enough to limit global warming to 2℃, let alone the ideal 1.5℃ level. Achievement of anything depends on implementation of measures, as yet undefined, to fulfil these INDCs. There will be a review of progress in 5 years time. I feel that might be too late.

 All very depressing, but as I’ve said before, if you don’t believe anything can be done you might as well not get out of bed. There are things to be done. They take the form of reiterating facts, of highlighting risks, of exposing the fallacy of unquestioned business as usual, even of public protest. Many people have said that the referendum campaign is about the future of our children and grandchildren. So is the protection of our way of life on this planet. Only it’s much more important than the EU. And if we make the wrong decision on the planet there really is no way back. Of course, even though the EU voting is over, the reverberations of the decision will go on and on. Don’t let that distract you from more important things.

Air Quality

Air quality, for example. Recently it was shown that some VW cars were programmed to emit far less pollution during test than they would in normal operating conditions. The saga goes on. Now it has been revealed that cars from VW and many other manufacturers switch off their pollution control systems automatically if the ambient temperature falls below 18℃. This is to prevent damage to the engine, and is perfectly legal within the regulations. Last year the temperature in the UK exceeded 18℃ on only 50 days out of 365. 

I commented last week on the Deregulation Act, which implies that regulations, including environmental regulations, should be implemented giving priority to economic growth. Should we soft-pedal on emissions legislation for cars to protect our automotive industries? Where’s the economic growth in preventing early deaths from respiratory diseases? If we treat fewer patients for respiratory diseases that actually cuts the contribution to GDP growth from that aspect of healthcare. Or to look at it the opposite way, the more patients we treat for such diseases, the more economic growth. The world can really be perverse.

Just a couple of news items before I go.

News from China

The i newspaper published a letter this week from Elizabeth Broderick Barker. “Over the past year, my husband and I have bought five household items of Chinese origin, ranging from a leaf blower to a tin opener, and each one either broke shortly after purchase or simply did not work at all. Have I just been unlucky or has anyone else had  similar experiences? I am now feeling very nervous about our nuclear power stations.” 

This was followed up by another from Chris Phillips. 
“Until 2013 I owned a small company producing components for the car trade.  However Chinese manufactured components flooded the market. They were for the most part perfect copies of German, French and Japanese designs ( no fear of patent laws ). They looked good and were widely available and were cheap. Unfortunately the quality of the metals used was poor, resulting in a high warranty rate and short life expectancy. I too am feeling very nervous about our future nuclear power stations.

And late news just in. Apparently as a result of unprecedented turnout of people to vote in the referendum the government decided to extend the vote to two days. Anyone intending to vote leave was told to come back on Friday.

Well by now you’ll know what effect, if any, this had on the result. I don’t know the result yet, but if the people who did the exit poll at the general election are as accurate this time, I’ll know at about ten past ten this evening. That’s last evening to you.

I’ll no doubt comment on it next week. That’s next week to all of us.

This is Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

That’s all for now.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Blowing in the Wind

Published as a podcast at on Friday 10th June

Hello this is Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 10th June, and I’m delighted to say that it could almost be summer. Gone is last week’s cold spell, plants are bursting out all over, especially weeds in our allotment garden, and my bees gave me 20kg of honey last week. Amazing when you think that I got less than that for the whole of last season and didn’t get any at all until September.

In the news this week - words about wind power, news from Norway and a White Elephant galloping north.

This week we heard from RenewableUK Chief Executive Hugh McNeal about limits to onshore wind.  RenewableUK is the trade body for the UK wind industry. In an interview with the Telegraph he said, “We are almost certainly not talking about the possibility of new plants in England. The project economics wouldn’t work; the wind speeds don’t allow for it.” However, although the Government has implemented its manifesto pledge to end subsidies for new onshore wind farms, the industry believes it should be able to deploy more turbines onshore if it can show that this is the cheapest form of new power generation capacity. In some cases that may mean replacing existing turbines with larger units. The sums may not add up in England, but there’s a lot of wind in Scotland and maybe in Wales and Northern Ireland as well. Current wholesale electricity prices are too low to spur investment in any new form of power generation, so the Government has already had to make subsidies available to new gas plants. If financial support required by onshore wind is less than that required by gas, the industry argues it should receive such support which should no longer be regarded as “subsidy”. This is of course a political hot potato as the government had a manifesto commitment to cut back onshore wind power and set about achieving this as one of its first actions in this parliament.

John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), said claims that wind power was the cheapest failed to take into account the wider cost impacts on the system.
“There has to be grid expansion to remove bottlenecks and short term response plant to cope with errors in the wind forecast, and the cost of operating a conventional fleet of [power stations] of almost unchanged size to guarantee security of supply,” he said.

Wikipedia reveals that The Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) was founded in 2004 by UK TV personality Noel Edmonds. It’s a United Kingdom-based registered charity with a stated aim of promoting the development of sustainable energy technologies. Its funders include Barclays Capital and Calor Gas. In 2011 it was revealed in a Guardian article that it had been in discussion with the Charities Commission about its possibly overly political nature. In the UK political organisations are not allowed charitable status.

Despite its name the Renewable Energy Foundation seems to be diametrically opposed to the objectives of RenewableUK. Indeed, a previous CEO of RenewableUK is on record as saying “They don't foster or promote or develop, they just try to undermine the case for wind energy all the time.”

But the REF’s point about backup has always been an issue with renewables. There are times, sometimes days or even weeks, when there’s no sunshine and no wind. Electricity demand remains the same, so logically we need a fleet of conventional power stations capable of meeting maximum demand always on standby. For nuclear power stations standby is not really an option. They are either running or not and cannot be easily or quickly switched on and off. For this reason they are used to meet base load. Coal stations are more flexible. Standby still means that they are running, although at a low level which can be fairly rapidly increased. Gas stations are the most flexible, but if you have a conventional generating fleet which can meet total demand, why invest in renewables which can only satisfy part of demand part of the time? Leaving aside the low carbon aspects, that logic is based on the assumption that electricity cannot easily be stored. Elon Musk of Tesla with his Powerwall domestic battery is starting to challenge that belief. Now news from Norway takes it to another level.
According to Spectrum, the magazine of i-triple-e the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Norway is setting itself up to be Europe’s energy warehouse. Norway’s hydropower reservoirs make up nearly half of Europe’s energy storage capacity. And European grid operators need energy storage to cope with constant variations in the output of wind power. In December, engineers will energize a new subsea power cable. The 240-kilometer cable across the Skagerrak Strait separating southern Norway and northern Denmark is Norway’s first new power link to Denmark since 1993. Called Skagerrak 4, its high-voltage direct current (HVDC) converters—the electronic units at either end of the line that transform AC into high-voltage DC and vice versa—are also the building blocks for more ambitious cables from Norway to wind-power heavyweights Germany and the United Kingdom. Construction on those is expected to commence during the coming year.

The existing Skagerrak interconnection, three HVDC cables with a combined 1,000 megawatts of capacity, is already showing the world just how well wind and hydropower complement each other. According to the Danish Energy Agency, such interconnectors are why Denmark can accommodate the world’s highest levels of wind power, which met 41.2 percent of Danish demand in the first half of this year. At times wind power production even exceeds the country’s domestic power demand.
“We store their surplus in the hydro reservoirs and then feed it back on a seasonal basis or a daily basis. This is a very strong business case,” says Håkon Borgen, executive vice president at Statnett, Norway’s state grid operator.
Norwegian hydropower turbines throttle down as Norway consumes Danish wind energy instead, leaving an equivalent amount of energy parked behind dams. And when the weather shifts and becalms the North Sea winds, the reservoirs and Skagerrak’s cables feed that stored energy back to Denmark. 
A pair of Norway–U.K. cables, a joint effort of Statnett and London-based National Grid, is slated to start by 2020.
There should be many more cables to come if European countries make good on official goals to eliminate carbon emissions from power generation by 2050. The German government’s Advisory Council on the Environment, for example, concluded in its influential 2011 report that an optimal zero-carbon power system for Germany would need more than 40 gigawatts of interconnection to Norway. That system, the council projected, would deliver power at a very affordable 6 to 7 euro cents per kilowatt-hour. Without Norwegian storage, power costs would rise to 9 to 12 euro cents per kilowatt-hour.

You can find more, and a lot of technical details, at

Norway made the headlines again this week with press reports that it would ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025. Already nearly one in four cars on Norwegian roads is electric, partly because they are heavily subsidised. Norway has vast electricity supplies, 99% of which come from hydropower. And it also has a small population of only 5.2 million citizens, which is a lot less than London. An article in Huffington Post expresses sour grapes. This is only possible, it tells us, because Norway is a significant producer of oil and gas. It’s using oil revenues to finance its escape from oil. True, Norway has used oil revenues to build a substantial sovereign wealth fund. I think that’s called “saving up for a rainy day”, or “fixing the roof while the sun shines.” Sounds like a good plan to me, although I think it’s a bit late for some other North Sea oil producers.

An extensive post on Facebook from Robert Goldman includes this prediction: “In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don't want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will never get a driver's license and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for that. We can transform former parking space into parks. 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 km, with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.”

Somebody once said, and research indicates he may have been Danish although that’s probably not important, “Prediction is hazardous, especially about the future.” Self-driving cars do look to be an ideal solution, especially as we’ll be able to get rid of all those parked vehicles that are idle 95% of the time. But cars are much more than a means of transport for many people. They are an expression of individuality and independence. Even if the cost and safety arguments are compelling I’m sure there will be a backlash. After all, my car is nearly 11 years old and I don’t want to get rid of it. It runs as well as it ever did and was paid for long ago. It’s a hybrid so it’s relatively clean and the manufacture of any replacement, even an electric car, will have a substantial carbon footprint. 

But perhaps we’ll all be travelling by train. Will we? I wanted to share an article about HS2 that I read in Tuesday’s Guardian. HS2 is the high speed train planned to run from London to Birmingham, and to be extended in Phase Two with separate lines to Manchester and Leeds. I’ve been mildly in favour of it, to release capacity on existing lines so that more freight can be sent by train rather than by road. If we build a completely new line to achieve this, the argument goes, we might as well make it high speed because the incremental cost will be very small.

However, in his article dated 7th June Simon Jenkins demolishes every argument in favour of the line. Read the whole thing at, but here are some highlights. While Jenkins doesn’t mention freight capacity, he does point out that London to Birmingham trains have typical occupancy levels of around 60%, while commuter lines around major UK cities are straining at 100%. Is a high speed line only marginally more expensive than a normal line? The project has been estimated to cost £42billion, but others suggest £70billion and the Institute of Economic Affairs predicts £80billion. All that has to come back over time from train fares, because there’s no suggestion that this will be funded with public money. Travellers who are not in a tearing hurry will doubtless find highly competitive rates on existing routes. Regardless of who pays for the project - expected to be the biggest civil engineering project in Europe by far - it will account for a significant proportion of GDP. It will create jobs, but it’s not clear whether the UK has sufficient skilled people to fill those jobs or what they will do once the construction is finished. The skilled people absorbed by HS2 will not be available to work on other parts of the UK infrastructure, so we need to be absolutely sure that HS2 is more important than new hospitals, new roads, a new power generation and distribution system or even a new airport runway in the southeast.

Going back to the question of high speed. The latest plan is to future-proof the line by building it to carry trains at up to 400kph. That’s 250mph and no trains capable of that speed currently exist, not even Flying Scotsman. High speed has two consequences. At least. First, air resistance is proportional to the square of the speed of the airflow, or of the vehicle through the air. This means that there is four times as much drag acting on a vehicle travelling at 150mph as when it travels at 75mph. At 200mph it’s seven times as much and at 250mph 11 times as much. It will take 11 times as much energy to drive the vehicle at that speed, with energy costs increased in direct proportion. And carbon footprint as well, unless we have eliminated fossil fuels from electricity production by the time the train sets off. The second consequence of ultra high speed trains is that the lines have to be as straight as possible. It’s difficult to choose a route and it’s much easier to build out-of-town parkway stations than to actually serve stations in city centres. As a result, door-to-door journey times can be as long or even longer than before. It reminds me of a quip by the comedy duo The Two Ronnies. “The Department of Transport has just announced,” they said, “that the Littleplace bypass was completed today. This was the final stage in a project bringing bypasses to every community in Britain. This means that you can now drive all day without going anywhere at all.”

I was at a presentation to a group of businessmen in Leeds, West Yorkshire, this week and they made it clear that improved transport links were urgently needed. George Northern Powerhouse Osborne has muttered something about HS3, a high speed line from Liverpool in the west via Manchester and Leeds to Hull in the east. It’s probably as likely as any other part of the Northern Powerhouse show. We don’t need a high speed train from east to west in the north, we just need an upgrade to the standard of the existing north-south main lines. The route needs to be put back to four tracks so that fast trains are not stuck behind locals. Most of the route originally had four tracks, and when it comes to getting through the Pennines there are still two unused tunnels alongside the existing line.

Mind you, the future may yet be the car. Not a diesel car. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Finance Minister) Gordon Brown lowered the tax rates on diesel cars because of their lower carbon emissions. The proportion of diesel cars on British roads rose from 13% then to 28% now. But it’s now been shown that their emissions of particulates and nitrous oxides are many times higher than suspected (although I thought we always knew about particulates.) Current Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said this week that consideration would have to be given to taxing diesel cars off the roads, which has caused a storm. Drivers have pointed out that they were guided by the government in choosing diesel, and rather than being penalised they should be subsidised with a scrappage allowance or some other sort of compensation. They also say that when it was proved that VW had fiddled their emissions figures that company was instructed by the US government to compensate owners for the fall in the value of their cars. No such compensation is available in Europe. Is this because the Europeans want to protect their car industry? George Osborne has frozen fuel duty and reduced the tax on running high carbon, high consumption vehicles so on past performance he may be unlikely to take action. Of course the difference is that CO2 is about climate change and the Chancellor is a known sceptic. Particulates and nitrous oxides are about air pollution and respiratory health, so with 50,000 UK deaths from poor air quality each year, this one could be more difficult to dodge.

When I say that cars could be the future, I mean of course electric self-driving cars. The capacity of roads is much greater than the capacity of railways, mainly because of braking distances. According to the driving test a car takes 96m to stop from 70mph in ideal conditions. That includes 21m while the driver is thinking about it. Because of the much lower adhesion between wheel and track, a train will need nearly two kilometres. This means that trains must be spaced for safety. Trials of self-driving cars are planned for British motorways next year, and in time they could travel at 150kph only two metres apart. If they are all controlled by the same system they will all slow down together, with negligible thinking time. Given the right control systems and the right vehicles, a  three-lane motorway will have a vastly greater capacity than a railway. Maybe that’s where we should be investing £80bn. In fact we could probably achieve a lot more for a lot less.

I still like trains, though. You can have a coffee, walk around and use wifi. I don’t mind travelling backwards in a train. You can sit round a table and talk to your friends. I don’t fancy travelling backwards in the front seat of a car. 

And that’s the Sustainable Futures Report for this week. I’m Anthony Day and in just a few weeks I’ll be hosting the first meeting of the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. Details here: . I’m always grateful for feedback and I’d particularly like to thank Eric in Canada for an extensive range of links which look like a good source for future episodes. He’s particularly interested in rare earth metals and critical resources, so if you have any information or ideas, particularly if you're doing research in this area, please get in touch. Thanks for letting me know that I got the chemistry wrong in a previous episode, Tom. I hope I got the physics right this time. Manda, you suggested we should look at ethical and green investing. I’ve sent my financial advisor off to look into this for us - and if there’s anyone out there who has a view or specialist knowledge in the field please get in touch. 

The Sustainable Futures Report normally goes out as a podcast at 1am on a Friday morning, UK time. Last week I finished at five minutes to one. This week I’m pleased to say I had five hours in hand!

That’s all folks. 

This is Anthony Day

Bye for now!