Friday, March 09, 2007

2020 vision at the EU

This week European Union leaders have been debating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and they have a firm commitment to achieve at least a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. Furthermore, they will increase energy efficiency in the EU so as to achieve the objective of saving 20% of the EU's energy consumption compared to projections for 2020,

Central to this is a binding target of a 20% share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020 and a 10% binding minimum target to be achieved by all Member States for the share of biofuels in overall EU transport petrol and diesel consumption by 2020.

Leaving aside the controversy generated by Channel 4’s film – whether CO2 reduction is possible or worth while – there must still be doubts about whether any of this is achievable. Elsewhere in this blog I have commented on how biofuels are much less green than people would like to think. Biofuel crops absorb CO2, but growing, harvesting and processing them takes up so much energy that the net gain is small or in some cases negative. Growing the crops puts pressure on food crops or rain forests, and to some extent we will burn green fuels while exporting the disadvantages of the fuels to third world countries where the crops are grown.

Biomass is part of the way towards reaching the EU’s 20% target. Today Drax Power, which runs the UK’s largest power station, announced plans to grow biomass on an area equivalent to one fifth of the land of Wales. This will produce sufficient fuel to provide 10% of the requirements of Drax. The station produces 8% of the UK’s electricity, so biomass will account for just 0.8%. If we took over the whole of Wales to grow biofuel crops we would still only achieve 4% of the UK’s electricity – and where would we put the Welsh? -

The Great Global Warming Hoax

Last night’s Channel 4 documentary has caused a great deal of comment.
The film didn't say that global warming wasn't happening; just that man-made co2 wasn't the cause. Whether they are right or wrong, we need to cut fossil fuel use because it's finite and it's beginning to run out. That will cut co2 emissions, and, depending on your point of view, that's either a bonus or irrelevant!

Also we should recognise that there are two aspects to global warming (or overheating, as I prefer to call it - warming is stable and essential to life.) One is trying to stop it, and that's undeniably difficult and may not work. The other is that we are observing the effects of global overheating through climate change and we should be doing what we can to protect ourselves, and others, against those effects.

If we go ahead with a high-carbon solution to the 3rd world's energy shortage we will raise expectations, invest a lot of money and end up with something which doesn't work when the fuel gets too expensive. We're talking 3-5 years.

Focussing solely on co2, and solely on its climatic effects, is very short-sighted. It is absorbed by the seas and it changes the acidity of the seas and affects the fish and other organisms that live there. That's the base of the food chain. When we burn fossil fuels and emit co2 we also emit other pollutants, particularly nitrous compounds. These pollute our air, our food and rivers and seas, again damaging the very environment we live in.

It would be great to be able to rely on one television programme and say that there's no problem at all - we can go on as usual, only more so. The oil is running out (gas too, though maybe 30 years later) and in the short term we can get oil from coal, shale and tar sands. All of these are highly polluting, but if we can create a consensus that co2 doesn't matter the oil companies will be happy to exploit these resources. They will ignore the energy inputs, the vast quantities of fresh water needed and contaminated water released. Life will continue as usual, we'll just run out quicker.

I am firmly against the eco-warriors who want to smash capitalism and put the blame on multinationals, George Bush and anyone else they can think of. I am very concerned that the arguments are so polarised, because I believe that there is a middle way, a rational, pragmatic approach to the changes on our planet and a sensible re-evaluation of the risks and the actions we can take. Business as usual is not an option, but selling the car, putting out all the lights and living on bread and water in a tent is not a sensible strategy either!

That’s why I believe in common sense on climate change.