Monday, 28 December 2009

China might be as bad as us, but we still need to act

Since I wrote the last Copenhagen post there has been an explosion of comment on China's role in the failure of the Copenhagen COP (although I can't claim this had anything to do with me). Some people blame China outright, others say we must not as this might lead them to give up on the process altogether. Still others seem unable to imagine that a non-western country could be fundamentally at fault, and suggest that China was only objecting to the process and mechanisms of the COP.

As usual I would suggest that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I think we need to accept from the comments of those who where there (Lynas, Milliband etc) that China did play an obstructing role in getting binding targets. This also fits with what I know of the Chinese authorities in other fields, such as conservation, and what some of my contacts said about Copenhagen. China, like the USA, believes it is an exception to the rule, and does not like binding treaties, or anything which might limit its sovereignty. It is also nervous about how quickly it is leaving its developing country mantle behind, and the 'responsibilities' which come with being a great power.

At the same time, it hardly seems to be all their fault. Okay, we might have had a better deal if China had allowed the developed countries to adopt strong measures, but we still had puny offerings from the USA, Canada and Australia. Europe has a good target, but could still do much more in implementing it.

No one can deny that the process was flawed and chaotic. A lack of transparency and democracy caused confusion and got everyone's backs up. The complexity and stupidity of some of the avoided deforestation schemes and carbon trading plans on the table upset southern civil society(such as allowing carbon credits for monoculture plantations - effectively a subsidy for palm oil grown on chopped rainforest). The poorest developing countries were excluded, both by design and through the complexity of the negotiations. China, Europe, USA, India all conflicted through their proxies.

At the end of the day it seems that the big forces of the world all played for their own advantage. Perhaps some more than others, but the general result was the same.

In any case, all we can do is to continue to press our governments, local or national, for the best possible outcomes, and continue to try and build a better world. At the same time, we need to bypass those institutions that fail and build our own structures for dialogue and action.

Perhaps most importantly there cannot be time for defeatism. There will be a strong temptation for those who seek to oppose action to say that we cannot act without China. In much the same way as we were told we could not act without America. Both are false. We need these countries on board, but we can still act without them. Perhaps we won't stop climate change in time for 2 degrees, but we might avoid 3 or 4, while building a greener world in other ways.

Two cheers for Camden Council?

I am looking into getting solar panels for the roof of my house… I have had the quotes and the simulations, and it looks like it would make sense. A small system will cover about 60%-70% of my electricity needs for the year, and save about 400 kg of carbon dioxide…but they don’t come cheap, and this has always stopped me before.

The reason I am looking into it now is that this is a good time to do it if you live in the UK. The old system of grants is being phased out, and a new feed-in tariff (fixed payment for every kWh produced) is being brought in next year. This means that right now you can get the grants and the feed-in tariff.. (I can hear the Telegraph howling!).

This still leaves a gap however, and this is where Camden Council comes in with its own system of top-up grants to make the panels even more affordable. Altogether, these schemes can provide nearly £4000 in grants, and a feed-in tariff! (Well, we all subsidize the fossil-fuel industry, let’s give small scale renewables a go!)

The question is, why isn’t the council making a bigger deal out of this? It wasn’t exactly well advertised, and I only found it on my fourth visit to the website, and after conducting an advanced search. This is a decent set-up, which Camden Council should be proud of! They have the chance to really roll out solar across the Borough, which would surely be a feather in their cap.

It could be of course that they simply don’t have the money and are hoping that nobody will notice, but even if that is the case there are a lot of things they could do (solar loans etc.). In any case I thought mention it, as I think that more people need to know.

I am not really sure where this post is going, but I suppose the message is, scour your local authority’s information, because there might be more support available for these things than you think. And if there isn’t, write to them to ask why not!

(Hasten to point out that I still haven't forgiven the council for its poor redesign of the Kings Cross area, but that is for another day!)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Copenhagen a failure, what now?

So Copenhagen has ended in spectacular failure. No legally binding targets, no workable mechanisms, no further cuts, no deal on green tech. Okay, maybe we can go forward, and at least the US and China have been drawn into the process, but the sight of the world's leaders falling apart so dramatically is unedifying.. the contrast with the calm exteriors shown in the face of the financial crisis is stark.

The quote on the BBC from Xie Zhenhua, Head of China's delegation, says it all: 'After negotiations both sides have managed to preserve their bottom line. For the Chinese this was our sovereignty and our national interest.'

If short-term national interest is the bottom line.. ..

I'm going to stop writing before I lose my temper. Our only hope for now, while we wait for our leaders to understand, is to take whatever action we can. Unilateral deals, EU movement, green tech research, local environmental councils and boards in our communities, NGOs, charities, and continuing to build a political movement that can really take on the environmental crises which are facing us.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

European Investment Bank gives E300 million to offshore grid

Amid all the chaos and disappointment in Copenhagen, I thought I would mention a tiny bit of progress. Last week the European Investment Bank finally announced that they would be providing 300 million euros for an electricity connector between Britain and the Netherlands. This is seen as the first tentative step towards realising an offshore 'supergrid' of wind turbines stretching from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay and the Baltic. Although it can be used to trade any electricity between the two countries, this is of vital importance to wind power, which flows variably across the region. The ability to trade power allows wind to be utilized more effectively.

Shortly after the E300 million announcement another couple of hundred million euros was announced by Commission for connectors between the UK and Norway, Shetland and the mainland and in the Baltic. New offshore wind farms should be able to plug into these systems, reducing a major expenses in offshore wind development.

This grid development, along with with Commission support for nine offshore wind farms, European Investment Bank loans and recent UK government moves to improve the payments for offshore wind, it looks like we might see some significant progress in this area in the next year or two. Some small comfort that something is happening perhaps.

Monday, 14 December 2009

African countries walk out of climate talks

Just heard that the African countries, backed by the G77 (and China?), have walked out of the main session of the Copenhagen climate talks (COP-15), accusing the developed countries of trying to get out of Kyoto obligations.

Will wait to see what happens, but if true this is unsurprising. They have been threatening for a while.. is it just brinkmanship, or does it reflect a unbridgeable gap...?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Arrests or repression in Copenhagen?

It seems that the Danish police have begun making mass arrests at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, with 968 people arrested on Saturday. I don;t want to say too much about, but having witnessed the UK police in action at protests, it all seems very dodgy. I suspect that the vast majority of those arrested will be innocent and that the mass arrest is more a pre-planned show of force than anything else. The draconian anti-protest laws passed before the Copenhagen summit give the police power to do almost anything, so none of this is surprising.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Climate hypocrit alert - me

Hi folks. I am a climate hypocrite, as I suspect we all are. My girlfriend (who is lightly less involved in these issues than me) has wonderfully arranged a surprise trip to New York. This is a big deal, as this sort of thing is not cheap. And I am excited to go, I have never been. But I do feel guilty, very guilty. The carbon! The example! What of all those things I have written about? It has caused a few tears.

Fortunately for me, those who know me are aware that I have never been a fan of hair-shirt environmentalism. Don't get me wrong, I believe we need to reduce consumption, I believe we need to change our lifestyles and I believe that it is not all down to technology. I also believe however that people cannot do it all themselves - because they do not have the power. Individual actions do count, but are in themselves not enough. This is why we need to change the economic andpolitical systems and we need to fundamentally alter the means of production and consumption.If the plane was fuelled by something green and renewable, my carbon guilt would disappear, and my only guilt would be windmill guilt, or whatever the side effect of the new energy source will be. If my plane was taxed so that the money went into investments in new energy, at least that would be better than nothing, and maybe the tickets would have been too much. I have never been one for attacking Al Gore for his flights, or saying that if you don't walk to a protest you are a failure. I can recognise the inherent contradictions in all our behaviours.

As far as I am concerned this is a fight for a better future, the other option is a slow slide into a grim, grounded, impoverished and natureless world. I know which one seems like more of a hair-shirt to me.

But I still feel guilty.

Should the Copenhagen talks fail?

So it seems that even James Hansen, climate scientist extraordinaire thinks that it would be better for Copenhagen to fail than for us to be lumbered with a half-baked plan, based on false solutions, half hearted cuts and attempts to keep on with business-as-usual. This is something which I have been wrestling with for some time. Part of me wants it to end in acrimony so that at least we can all the mess we are in (and not just with climate), and begin to look at the underlying problems.. another part of me simply wants progress, to feel that something good is happening… If the only proposals put forward are the feeble statements from China, India, USA, Canada, then we would be better off letting it fail, and saying why.