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Archive for March, 2008

Last week ‘The Reverend’ Tony Blair announced that he had been working with a group of climate change experts since he left office, and that he thinks the problem is extremely urgent (1). He said that failing to act on climate change “would be deeply and unforgivably irresponsible” and that the UN is “the right forum to reach the global agreement” . He then popped off to Japan, India and China to have a little chat with them about it all.

It’s not the only problem Blair is trying to help solve at the moment – he’s also Middle East Peace Envoy on behalf of the US, Russia, UN and EU, advisor to the insurer Zurich and investment bank JP Morgan (who will probably be wanting all the advice they can get at the moment), and seminar speaker on “faith and globalisation” at Yale University (2,3). Not to mention trying to encourage investment into Rwanda (2).

Oh, and there is always the ‘Tony Blair Faith Foundation’ that will be launched later in the year (3). I can’t wait! I saw someone in Westminster the other day with a t-shirt saying “WWBD? (What Would Blair Do?)” Well, judging by his recent actions he would probably either a) invade, or b) save. Both while smiling.

You can imagine the conversation at the Reverend’s breakfast table.
Cherie – “Can you pick the kids up tonight? I’m going to be a bit busy.”
Tony – “No sorry, solving Middle East crisis tonight.”
Cherie – “How about tomorrow?”
Tony – “Nope, sorry. Wednesday is Rwanda night with the boys.”
Cherie – “How about we go away this weekend to relax?”
Tony – “Cherie, I’ve told you before, I save the world at weekends! Saturday is climate change and Sunday is a day of rest, unless God has a job for me.”

The Reverend’s climate change record isn’t as bad as Mr.Brown’s, but then that’s not really saying much is it. Blair is generally recognised for helping to get climate change the attention it deserves in the international political arena, and that is one thing he seems to be good at. He will be working to his strengths with this trip, doing what he does best – smiling from ear to ear and speaking with……..as……..many……..pauses…….as…….humanly…….possible…..to try and add sincerity to what he is saying.

The only problem in Blair’s climate mission seems to be the target. He said that “A 50% cut by 2050 has to be a central component”, but anyone who listens to discussions of emissions targets will know that isn’t enough. Even Mr. Brown has admitted that the climate change bill may have to be tightened to 80% by 2050, and many people believe that cuts of 90% or more may be required to avoid the worst of the catastrophes in the pipeline. Hopefully Mr.Blair’s tactic is to get everyone on board and working towards 50% and then try and persuade them that actually it will need to be more at a later date. It would be a much harder sell if he was pushing for 80% or more straight away.

But leaving the Blair’s plans aside for a moment, there was precious little cause for optimism this week in the news. The World Glacier Monitoring Service announced that glaciers around the world had record levels of ice loss in 2006 (4) and aerospace giant EADS announced that they are planning a commercial plane to take space tourists up 100km from Earth (and expect demand to be enough to warrant building 10 of them a year) (5). I’m guessing they won’t be solar powered. How can we pretend we are concerned about climate change when plans like that are still being drawn up?

Not to mention the announcement from Shell this week that it is going into Canadian tar sands in a big way to try and aid it’s falling oil production (6). Extracting oil from tar sands produces even more carbon dioxide than petroleum extraction, and as the oil giants invest heavily in this method, the chances of us avoiding the very worst effects of climate change slip further from our grasp.

The Reverend is well aware of the challenge we face. “If the average person in the US is, say, to emit per capita, one-tenth of what they do today and those in the UK or Japan one-fifth, we’re not talking of adjustment, we’re talking about a revolution.” He said, speaking in Japan.

If Mr. Blair can help to get the international agreements and targets that are desperately needed then that would be a great thing. Let’s face it, we need all the help we can get.

References
1. ‘Blair to lead campaign on climate change’ – Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 14th March 2008.
2. ‘Blair wants ‘climate revolution’’ – bbc.co.uk, 15th March 2008.
3. ‘Former British Prime Minister Blair to Teach at Yale’ – Yale University News Release, March 7th 2008.
4. ‘Glacier ice loss at record levels’ – Geoffrey Lean, The Independent Online, 16th March 2008.
5. ‘Space planes ‘to meet big demand’’ – Jonathan Amos, bbc.co.uk, 17th March 2008.
6. ‘Shell pushes into Canadian tar sands to arrest falling production’ – Danny Fortson, The Independent, 18th March 2008.

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Mr. Darling’s first budget was this week, and days before he announced it there was lots of speculation about a big green, tree-hugging, hippie-loving budget coming our way. Reading the section on these issues entitled “An Environmentally Sustainable World”, I think the verdict from Environmentalists is likely to be ‘Improving, but could do a lot better’.

The first announcements are car taxes. From next year it’s going to cost you £425 to tax your car if it emits more than 255g CO2 per kilometer, and from 2010 the ‘most polluting cars’ will have a first-year rate of £950. There will be reductions in tax for cars emitting 150g CO2 per km or less and discounts for ‘alternatively fuelled cars’(1).

Unfortunately, I doubt this will be enough to stop people from buying heavily polluting cars, but it might add a small amount of pressure on car manufacturers too, which has to be a good thing. It’s hardly the £2000 tax that had been speculated in the press(2) – if these taxes increased year-on-year then I think we might be getting somewhere – but it’s a start.

Next up was tax on fuel. It is increasing above inflation, which is going to piss a lot of people off, but is likely to have a pretty minimal effect on emissions on its own, if any. People need to get from A to B, and if their only option is a crappy, expensive bus or an unreliable, expensive train, then they are going to pay for petrol no matter how much it costs.

Which brings us on to public transport. If you can find it. Of the 20 pages in the chapter, six lines of text are given to public transport. Am I the only one that finds that a bit alarming? Apparently the Secretary of State for Transport will soon publish a document on ‘the reform of bus subsidy’ to include carbon emissions and technology proposals. Something tells me it’s not going to exactly revolutionise our public transport, but we’ll see.

And then there comes the dreaded B word. Biofuels. You can almost hear the collective sigh from the environmentalists across the nation (see previous post on biofuels).

But hold on, this may not be as bad as it first appears. Although the Government is still planning on using biofuels as a big part of it’s climate change strategy, there is going to be a study of the “wider economic and environmental impacts” and the Chancellor and several other senior Government figures have written to the EU to outline what they believe should be the principles governing EU policies on biofuels. These include ‘robust sustainability standards’, making sure they are reducing emissions, and ensuring they take into account the indirect effects of biofuels.

If this rhetoric is not followed up with strictly controlled regulation of biofuels sourcing and use, then we are in for big trouble. But if these are put in place to make sure they are reducing overall emissions and not causing an escalation of food prices etc. then it might be a small help.

There is lots of reiteration of general Government policies – carbon pricing, investing in new technologies etc. but the only real news is that all non-domestic buildings should be zero-carbon by 2019 – adding to the previous announcement that all new homes should be zero-carbon by 2016. (This is a great start, but I suspect the Government hasn’t even begun to think about the huge change and investment required for this to actually happen.)

And of course there is always the news that there will be Government intervention if retailers don’t do something about plastic bags – which, although undeniably a good thing, is not going to have a significant effect on global warming.

If you thought that sounded vaguely encouraging, think again. The next sections on aviation and energy supply are as lame as you would expect from a Government that is planning to expand airports and build lots of new coal power plants. No wonder Charles Clarke (former Home Secretary) thinks that the Governments action on climate change is embarrassing(3).

The ‘greenest’ budget yet? Probably. But future budgets will need to be a lot better than this unless we want Downing Street to be underwater in the future.

References
1. Budget 2008, Chapter 6 – “An Environmentally Sustainable World”. This can be found here.
2. Budget to target cars with new taxes – Ben Russell,The Independent Online, 10th March 2008.
3. Clarke attacks Brown’s ’embarrassing’ green policies – Hélène Mulholland, The Guardian Online, 6th March 2008.

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