Thursday, November 10, 2016

All Change

This is the text of the podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher and at 

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 11th November 2016. This is Anthony Day, and yes, the clip I played you last week was indeed of the next president of the United States. [“It’ll get a little cooler, a little warmer, like it always has for millions of years. It’ll get cooler, it will get warmer–it's called weather.”] 

This Week

This week, are we on the threshold of the greatest shake-up of environmental regulation we’ve ever seen? Last December COP21 resulted in the Paris Agreement. The United Nations now say that enough nations have ratified the agreement to make it legally binding. Legally binding on whom? Maybe we’ll learn more at COP22, which is now running in Marrakech. How are we actually going to achieve the emissions reductions that the Paris Treaty requires? Lord Stern says we’ll need net zero emissions. Does that imply geo-engineering? We’ll have a look at that. 

On the energy front, Lord Turner says that ultra-low-cost renewables are at hand and Iceland is digging deeper into its geothermal reserves.

Meanwhile the British government has responded to the court’s demand that it should do something about air quality (not quite so bad as in India) and DIF16, the latest Disruptive Innovation Festival is in progress. Finally, hear about the amazing expanding moped.

Yes, it's Trump

Yes, on the 20th of January 2017 the United States will inaugurate President Donald Trump. And what will he do then? He has already said that he will have a raft of presidential decrees which he will sign on his first day in office. There is a limit to what he can do it by presidential decree, although he can reverse decrees signed by his predecessor. Much of what he wants to do will be subject to approval by the House and the Senate, but both of those now have a Republican majority. We’ve heard that he’s a climate sceptic. We know that he plans to cut regulations on the coal industry and there’s no doubt that the House and Senate will support him on that. The United Nations announced that countries representing more than 55% of global emissions had ratified the Paris Agreement and therefore the agreement was now legally binding. It is difficult to see how this agreement will legally bind the new president of the United States. He’s said he will repudiate the Paris Agreement. He will not introduce legislation to reduce carbon emissions and he certainly will not contribute funds to poorer countries to help them meet their own climate change targets. Will China, India and the rest respect the Paris Agreement if the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases turns its back on it? Actually I think they will. Beijing’s smogs are legendary, but this week the Indian government closed schools for three days in Delhi. They closed a coal-fired power station and they told drivers to stay out of the city on alternate days, depending on whether their vehicle registration number was even or odd. They did this because the city was shrouded in thick smog which cut visibility and air pollution had reached 800 times safe levels. Action to overcome this is crucial. It is a serious health issue, particularly for young children who may never fully recover from its effects. It will take more than closing a power station for a few days or halving the level of traffic to achieve this, but whatever they do will cut down their greenhouse gas emissions.


The focus of COP22, currently in session in Marrakech, is on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. [COP22 is the 22nd Conference of the Parties within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] The objective of the Agreement was to reduce emissions to a level which would hold global temperature increases to no more than 2℃, but ideally 1.5℃. The actual commitments which delegate countries made in Paris was calculated to be insufficient, implying a rise of over 3℃ with dramatic consequences for the world.  

Negative Emissions?

Lord Stern produced his report on the economic consequences of climate change some 10 years ago. Speaking recently at the Royal Society he outlined his views on what the world should do now, starting from where it now is. Climate Change News reported the speech with the headline: “Lord Stern: we need negative emissions to avoid 2C warming”. If you read the speech in detail - and I strongly recommend that you do - you’ll find that while he did mention negative emissions he promoted zero emissions as a more realistic target. Read more here in Climate Change News: 

Here are some quotes from the speech that caught my eye:

“… if we go beyond warming of 2°C, to 3°C or more, we will create a climate that has not occurred on Earth for millions of years.
“That is far beyond the evolutionary experience of modern Homo sapiens, which has only been around for less than 250,000 years.
“Warming of 4°C or 5°C would likely be enormously destructive.”

And again,

“The milestone events of 2015 have set a new global agenda focused on three simultaneous challenges: re-igniting global growth, delivering the sustainable development goals, and driving strong action on climate change.
“At the centre of all three of these challenges lies sustainable infrastructure.
“Well-designed infrastructure can be pro-growth, pro-poor, and pro-climate.
“But it must be delivered with much greater urgency and scale.
“Delay is dangerous.”

He goes on:

“Sustainable growth requires strong investment.
If policy-makers provide clear direction for new investments, they can realise many significant benefits.
They can create new sources of economic growth, and lay the foundation for sustainable growth in the long term.
They can make our cities more resilient, more efficient, less polluted, and less congested.
They can make economic growth more inclusive growth, with for instance better access to jobs in more mobile urban populations, and more communities connected to decentralised power generation.
They can protect forests, land, ecosystems, water sources and biodiversity.”

And a telling statistic:

“The damages caused by air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels are immense, and of the order of US$3-4 trillion every year, according to an analysis published by the International Monetary Fund last year.”

There’s a lot more. Go to Climate Change News .com and read the whole thing.


Lord Stern may not have specifically promoted negative emissions, but according to Bloomberg the United Nations is actively considering geo-engineering to achieve this. 
Geo-engineering includes a range of technologies from carbon capture and storage (CCS) to mirrors in space. CCS would suck CO2 from the atmosphere, compress it and inject it into depleted oil wells where the theory is it would stay indefinitely. Mirrors in space could reflect back sunlight to reduce warming, sulphates in the upper atmosphere could generate clouds which would shade the earth and iron ore sprinkled across the oceans could stimulate organisms to grow and multiply and absorb CO2 in the process. The problem is that no-one knows with any certainty how any of these techniques will work, and what might happen if they went wrong. 

Dr. Phil Williamson of the University of East Anglia is co-author of a study released in February that concluded geo-engineering ideas were hazardous, costly or unrealistic.
“Risks of having local imbalances of climate are quite high, we’re not quite sure how it would turn out,” he said. “If you have a climate catastrophe, a flood or storm, the accusation will be that it resulted from your action in the atmosphere.”

Ecowatch  reports that the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has concluded on the basis of this study that the chances of geo-engineering reducing global warming are "highly uncertain.” Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns. One report doubted that geoengineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geoengineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.

Where does that leave us? If we intend to make radical reductions to global emissions we need to decarbonise the world’s transport fleet by converting it to electricity. Shipping and aircraft will be very difficult if not impossible to convert, and converting cars and commercial vehicles will take time and massive investment. We need to decarbonise space heating both at home and in industry. We could start reducing demand with insulation and encouraging people to accept lower temperatures. We need to decarbonise electricity generation and stop using fossil fuels - coal, gas and oil - in power stations. At the same time we’ll need to expand electricity generation to meet the new demands from transport and heating. Again, it will take time and investment. The key ingredient will be political will. There may not be much of that in the US now. There seems little sign of it in the UK. And in the rest of the world?

More about Renewables

Renewable energy is a proven path to low carbon electricity. A report commissioned by the Solar Trade Association has found that the cost of backing up solar generation and integrating it into the energy system is “negligible”. As battery technology advances in terms of storage capacity and costs fall, the problem of intermittency disappears. The combination of solar arrays with battery back-up means that supply can continue when the weather is cloudy. Of course this won’t work for extended periods of low light, but it should be able to smooth output on those days when fast-moving clouds can mean that sunshine and solar energy falling on the panels can double or treble in seconds, leading to a power surge. Equally batteries could maintain a constant supply when the sun goes back behind the clouds again. It is claimed that at sufficient scale the cost of intermittency for solar generation could be negative, meaning it would actually have a net benefit for the energy system.
Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission Lord Turner said: “[The report] confirms what an increasing number of analyses are now telling us – that we can build electricity systems with high shares of renewables such as solar and wind, using lower cost batteries, other storage technologies and demand management to deal effectively with intermittent supply.
“We should not be holding back from further renewables investment out of fear that we can’t keep the lights on.”


The Energy Transitions Commission is an international organisation funded by business and industry. Commissioners from all over the world include Al Gore and economist Lord Nicholas Stern.

Thor's Hammer

Iceland is well known for its hot springs and geothermal power stations. It stands on the juncture of two tectonic plates which causes substantial volcanic activity. Up till now geothermal power has been harvested by drilling down into hot rocks, injecting water and using the steam generated. This works at around 300℃. Thor’s Hammer, or the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), aims to drill more than 4km into the earth’s crust and into the magma or molten rock which forms volcanic lava. At this depth they expect to find temperatures of 1,000℃ and at this temperature water becomes a supercritical fluid which can contain up to 10 times more heat than normal water. The plan is to pump this water to the surface and extract the heat - a not inconsiderable engineering challenge! Still, it will be renewable energy, with no carbon emissions. The population of Iceland is only 333,000, less than half the population of Leeds. There may be scope for exporting surplus electricity - indeed, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of an interconnector cable from Iceland to the UK. I wonder if Theresa May will pick it up the idea. Maybe when she’s finished sorting out Brexit. suggests that Brexit could certainly be a delaying factor.

Air Quality

And she’s also got to sort out the UK’s air quality problems. As reported previously, following action by legal pressure group ClientEarth the High Court ordered the government to take much stronger action to clamp down on the country’s air pollution crisis.  With 37 of the UK’s 43 urban zones in breach of legal nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits it’s clear that clean air zones will need to be introduced across most of the country. It seems that there will have to be much stronger action on diesel vehicles which we now know are far dirtier than we were led to believe, by VW and others. To ban private cars would be politically impossible, but expect older buses, taxis, coaches and lorries to be charged to enter city centres.

In the UK each year 96,000 people die from smoking, 3,674 from drug use, 1,732 from road accidents and 574 people are murdered. 
40,000 die from the effects of air pollution.

Read more at:

Whatever we do to meet the challenges of the future we’re going to have to think laterally, out of the box and so on. As I said in one of my presentations a while ago, business as usual is the road to ruin. The Disruptive Innovation Festival, DIF2016, is currently in progress and runs until 25th November. DIF2016 is an online, open access event that invites thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses, makers and learners to explore the question “The economy is changing - what do I need to know, experience and do?”.

Alongside the 2016 main themes – System Reset, Regenerative Cities and The Future of Work – broader themes encompassed are; Design Innovation, Systems Thinking, Sharing Economy, Internet of Things, Regenerative Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, New Business Models, Materials and Energy and 21st Century Science. The event is coordinated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and involves organisations and universities across the world. Go to and find out more about anything from the circular economy and aspiring geeks to pioneering aquaculture and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing. Find all about it at 

Swansea Bay

A quick update on Swansea Bay. South Wales Evening Post reports “A LONG-AWAITED review into tidal lagoon energy has been delayed. It is due to recommend a final decision on the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and was expected to be completed this autumn.

But a Government under-secretary, MP Jesse Norman, told the House of Commons today that the final report was now due by the end of the year.” I’ll watch out for it.


Recycling cycling

Finally an interesting item in Environment Times reveals that environmental regulations have teeth. At Leeds Crown Court Terence Solomon Dugbo was jailed for defrauding the electrical waste industry of £2.2m. He claimed that his company had collected and recycled 19,500 tonnes of household electrical waste in 2011, and he prepared a vast database of falsified paperwork to prove it. It took the Environment Agency nearly a year to go through it all, finding that it referred to vehicles, properties and streets that didn't exist. One vehicle was recorded as having made a journey carrying 991 TVs and 413 fridges. Further investigation revealed that this vehicle did exist, but it was a moped.

Mr Dugbo got seven and a half years.

Well, I hope you had a better week than he did. Mind you, if you’re in the US and you didn’t vote for Mr Trump maybe you don’t think so. But like us in the UK with Brexit, all you can do is roll with the punch.

And I’ll roll up again next week with another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. All being well it will be an interview, but no promises because although it’s recorded I haven’t edited it yet.

This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening, requesting your comments to, and wishing you a really good week. 

I’m off to a school to explain climate change to the students. See you next time!

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