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Bookmark and ShareDr Victoria Johnson is lead researcher on climate and energy at nef.

The capture and the long-term storage of CO2 is now central to plans for reducing CO2 emissions from large-scale fossil fuel uses. But new and controversial research argues the storage potential of CO2 may have been overestimated.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) involves the capture of the greenhouse gas CO2 produced from the combustion of fossil fuels. The captured and compressed CO2 is then transported to a location for long-term storage. While several proposals for the storage phase exist, geological storage has received the most attention. This is partly because it is believed to have the least logistical constraints.

While discrete components of a geological CCS system are mature, there is a broad consensus [subscription required] that significant technological and cost improvements are necessary for commercial CCS deployment. But in the absence of large-scale CCS demonstration plants, the technology is still surrounded by a haze of uncertainty such as cost and speed of deployment.

Adding to these uncertainties, a new study published in The Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering argues the potential for geological storage has been significantly overestimated. The results have prompted a very public and highly technical spat. A large body of experts from industry and academia have now contested the paper’s claims. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bookmark and ShareAndrew Simms is nef‘s Policy Director and head of nef’s Climate Change programme.

Vestas

Is the Vesta case merely a symbolic blip, or something more interesting? Dim hope can be found in this dismal affair.

Picture the scene. It’s the beginning of the second world war. Germany’s industrial war machine is in full production and Hitler is advancing across Europe. Back in England, the government decides that the cost and planning complications of building tanks and aircraft are just too great and lets the factories – who would be willing to build if there was a demand for them – close. In compensation, it offers the firms a grant from an already existing budget to carry out research and development.

As bizarre as it sounds, a rough equivalent of this otherwise unimaginable scenario is playing itself out at the Vesta wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight – the subject of a high-profile sit-in protest by some of its workforce. The company says that the government has failed to make the domestic market happen, and so plans to shut up shop. The government, for its part, braces to endure a crushing symbolic failure just as it publishes its strategy for a transition to a low-carbon economy, and it is reported that it has offered the firm a little compensatory R&D money (£6m).

Which brings us to the strategy itself. It arrived just weeks before the clock ticks down to 88 months left until global greenhouse gas emissions tip us into a new, more dangerous phase of risk of runaway warming.

Depending on which parts of the strategy you look at (actually having one is, of course, a good start), it seems to be characterised either by some good intent, but too few resources (renewable energy), severe blind spots (peak oil and the role of communities) or a lack of vision about real alternatives for our oil-addicted economy (transport, food and farming). Through the document you can almost feel the begrudging effort of a system coming to terms with external realities that can no longer be entirely ignored or simply “news managed”.

Symbolic events in politics can sweep away even the very best intentions. But is the Vesta case merely a symbolic blip, or something more interesting? On the one hand, it couldn’t be worse. If the UK were to specialise in any form of renewable energy, it is in wind that we are particularly wealthy. The UK has access to 40% of the total wind energy resources in Europe (pdf). And the government plans for another 10,000 wind turbines to be erected by 2020.

So for the nation’s only full turbine factory to close, and for its sit-in protesters, who were trying to keep it open, to be sacked by letters tucked in with a lunch box, it’s hard to imagine a worse message being sent to the public and the marketplace. Why bail out banks to the tune of billions, to keep profit-hungry, bonus-obsessed financiers in work, who then still fail to provide necessary capital to the productive economy, and allow the foundations of our future energy system to crumble? Anyone wishing to register their thoughts can sign a petition on the No 10 website.

One dim hope filtering from this dismal affair is the way in which the environmental and trade union movements have finally found common cause over the future direction of the economy.

It is just one incident, but the message is getting through that a low-carbon economy, and the transition to it, is going to generate a vast number of new jobs. With the vast range of skills that will be needed in a world in which we will almost inevitably do many more things for ourselves, it could also represent a rebirth of useful and interesting work. It’s not just about the number of jobs, but their quality. The reason that this won’t just happen is because the government is still in thrall to market mechanisms.

As Vesta’s business decision to move production to the US shows, markets aren’t there to solve your, the nation’s or the planets problems, they are there to make profits. That is why they need to be subservient to the social and environmental objectives that we choose. On this case, at least, if you want to know the future for employment and the environment in the UK, and whether or not we are likely to avert catastrophic climate change, the answer, my friend, really is blowing in the wind.

88 months and counting

Bookmark and ShareAndrew Simms is nef‘s Policy Director and head of nef’s Climate Change programme.

Hard hats to symbolise a Green New Deal, handed out by Avaaz during last Saturday's demonstration (© Avaaz.org 2009)

Hard hats to symbolise a Green New Deal, handed out by Avaaz during last Saturday's demonstration (© Avaaz.org 2009)

The UK economy faces a triple crunch: a recession triggered by a major credit crisis, the looming reality of runaway climate change and critical resource depletion. As a result we face serious challenges to our livelihoods and increasing threats to our fuel and food security.

Whatever the mistakes that allowed this situation to arise, there is growing international consensus that the best way out is via a green new deal policy package. Parts of the UK economy are in freefall with unemployment rising rapidly. At the same time, with less than 100 months to go before the world enters a new, more dangerous phase of global warming, there is an urgent need for the rapid environmental transformation of the economy.

A green new deal demands a comprehensive array of new checks and balances on the financial sector and a range of new economic instruments ranging from new bonds to business incentives and taxes. At its heart is an environmental stimulus package designed to begin the rapid environmental transformation of UK businesses, while simultaneously softening the worst impact of the recession, creating countless jobs in the environmental and renewable energy sector – often referred to as green-collar jobs – and laying the foundations for a truly green recovery.

Possibly for the first time in history, the green new deal could propel environmental measures to the heart of economic policy and decision making. The way that the UK government handles this challenge will reveal its aptitude for crisis management.

It’s possible to test that aptitude by looking at what has been done to date, and comparing it with a range of other policy measures. The simple, telling question is: what is the government doing that is new and additional to stimulate the economy by spending on the environment?

The answer indicates that the government is missing a huge opportunity – the chance to boost the economy, ensure energy security and act on climate change by directing new and additional resources into the environmental transformation of the economy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster. He also draws cartoons for nef‘s newspaper.

When he was Prime Minister, Tony Blair liked to pretend that Britain was ‘leading the world’ in the fight against climate change. Of course, the UK was never really leading in any meaningful sense: yes, we had a Climate Change Bill making a slow and convoluted journey through Parliament, but our efforts paled next to the renewables boom in Germany and Sweden. But Blair’s soundbite survived because, at the time, it was hard to quantify what ‘leading the world’ might mean.

These days it’s pretty obvious that Britain is not at the cutting-edge of climate change policy. We have a government which is doggedly pursuing the construction of coal-fired power stations and the expansion of airports,  damning the consequences for our planet, our economy and our civilisation.

Writing on Comment is Free, GND group member Jeremy Leggett wonders how we got stuck in a ‘grey old deal’ which bails out the car manufacturers rather than investing in a sustainable economy. Leggett explains how retrofitting old houses with insulation and energy efficient technologies in Germany has created 140,000 jobs and lowered emissions and energy use to boot. He also cites a new report from the Washington think-tank World Resources Institute which says that $1 billion of government investment in green recovery programmes would create 30,000 jobs. Let’s imagine that this same equation held true for the UK: if we take the £37 billion which the British government has invested directly in bailing out the banks – a figure which leaves out the bigger picture of extra, hard-to-quantify support which propped up the banks – that money could have created well over 1.5 million green sector jobs.

The rest of the globe is moving rather faster, with the Guardian reporting that ‘calls for “green new deals” are coming from every part of the world‘. The Financial Times has a neat little graphic which lets you compare the ‘greeness’ of the stimulus packages for different nations, both by volume of expenditure and by percentage of overall stimulus spending. As reported previously, South Korea has been enthusiastic about the Green New Deal, so it’s not surprising that the UK’s stimulus plan looks pretty paltry by comparison. What’s more striking is that the UK is now being eclipsed in its environmental ambitions by those countries normally thought of as big polluters – the ‘climate criminals’ of the USA and China:

greenstimulus

Green bail-outs by percentage

Today, Gordon Brown is holding a ‘low-carbon summit‘ with business leaders, unionists and select members of the environmental movement, in which he will discuss how the UK might boost the economy via a ‘Green New Deal’. The target for job creation is rather modest, however: Ed Miliband suggested 400,000. Which is better than the 100,000 previously mentioned by Brown, but still much lower than needed. And those green activists who’ve been left outside the conference have reminded us that this Government doesn’t exactly have a good track record on helping low-carbon business: Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, was ‘slimed’ on his way to the summit by Plane Stupid‘s Leila Deen who was protesting his closed-door meetings with BAA corporate lobbyists.

The Financial Times also reports on how the world will quickly lose the opportunity to re-engineer the economy along  low-carbon lines unless more nations follow South Korea’s ambitious example. If the UK really wants to be a pioneer, to be remembered in the history books as a nation which helped rather than hindered the creation of a sustainable future, our Government has a lot of work to do.

____________

UPDATE: Gordon Brown’s call for a Green New Deal is now the top story at Number10.gov.uk. Watch Brown, Mandelson and Miliband talk about it in this video:

I can’t help but ask why a Prime Minister needs to ‘call for a Green New Deal’. Surely that’s our job, as citizens. His job is to make the thing happen.

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

newdealThere’s a lot of Green New Deal news this week, so I’ll take it in stages. Today, the fall-out from the confirmation that Heathrow Airport will get a third runway. Tomorrow, I’ll say something about this afternoon’s inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Just before the announcement on Heathrow, the newspaper comment pages were overflowing with the pros and cons of expansion. The prospect of  new jobs at the airport was enough for TUC leader Brendan Barber to support the new runway. Simon Jenkins was less convinced, pointing out that there are plenty of ways to create jobs – such as by improving healthcare infrastructure – which don’t involve flattening villages. Indeed, as Greenpeace’s Joss Garman points out, we need to get our jobs from a Green New Deal, not from more airports. He asks:

Should Britain be building a sustainable economy with a green fiscal package centred on creating millions of green-collar jobs? Or do we plough on with the industries of the past irrespective of their impact on disadvantaged people all around the world?

GND author and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas had a letter in the Times on the day after the decision came, arguing that, despite the double-talk of Brown and Hoon, there is simply ‘no such thing as a “green” airport‘. Like Garman, she attacked those who used economic arguments to justify the expansion:

It’s simply laughable to say that “the jobs outweigh the climate danger”. First, climate change will wreak havoc on the world’s economy. Second, the greening of our economy will require us to create huge numbers of jobs across many sectors, not least transport. Hence the need for a Green New Deal. It really is time to ditch the false ideology of environment versus economics.

The trouble is that what passes for ‘economics’ under this government is a mixture of vain hope and voodoo. As nef‘s Policy Director Andrew Simms explained to the Guardian,

You are talking about a highly carbon-intensive piece of infrastructure that might be finished at exactly the moment when global oil production is collapsing and its price is rocketing. The government’s case is based on fantasy economics.

We need to wake up to the fact that the expansion isn’t about jobs for ordinary people. It’s about big business getting it’s way, regardless of how the rest of us are affected. And, yes, I realise that any argument about corporate influence over politicians sounds trite to the point of being a cliché, but the reason it’s repeated so often is because it’s largely true. The news that there is a ‘revolving door’ between Downing Street, Whitehall and airport operator BAA, is shocking, infuriating, but hardly surprising.

What is surprising is the silver lining to this sordid collusion between BAA and New Labour: the Conservatives are green again! With impeccable timing, the Tories announced their plans for a green revolution just as our Heathrow rage had reached its zenith. Their plans? A £1 billion “super-grid” of high voltage direct current power cables, which will save enormous amounts of energy compared with today’s alternating current cables. They’re also promising grants of £6,500 per household to help people invest in insulation and energy efficiency measures.  Good old George Monbiot, who first suggested many of these ideas in his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, can hardly believe that they are finally being taken seriously, let alone by the Conservatives. And as Brown and Darling continue to mess around with more taxpayer-funded bank bail-outs, it is Cameron who seems more clued up about how a Green New Deal might actually work:

The stuff in [our proposal paper] will help employ people and bring jobs. We have got to do things that are both good for us now and good for the future.

If Cameron can convince us that he will make good on these promises, then he might catch a rising wave of enthusiasm for green economic recovery. Witness the following articles, all of which mention nef or the Green New Deal:

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

We’ve had some very encouraging endorsements of the Green New Deal – from the UN, from the Environment Agency and from the IEA – but aside from some lofty promises from Barack Obama, there has been little in the way of national programmes along GND lines.

raising the standard of green investmentUntil now, that is. A couple of days ago the government of South Korea announced that it would invest 50 trillion Won – £25.2 billion – over the next four years on environmental projects which will create nearly a million jobs. According to the Associated Press, the money will be directed to “energy conservation, recycling, carbon reduction, flood prevention, development around the country’s four main rivers and maintaining forest resources”.

Our government should take note. Gordon Brown will meet with business and union leaders at a summit on Monday to discuss the jobs crisis. He’ll no doubt remind them of his promise to create 100,000 jobs by investing in public services, infrastructure and green technology. Mr Brown has, however, given no indication of when these jobs will be available. Compare this South Korea’s plan. Despite having a lower GDP than the UK, and a smaller population, their government is aiming at 140,000 new green jobs in 2009 alone. Surely we can match this?

London City Hall is also getting in on the green jobs action. After announcing that he was in favour of some Green New Deal policies at the end of last year, Boris Johnson is launching a scheme to “retrain Londoners left unemployed by the economic downturn as energy efficiency advisers in a drive to make the capital greener”, reports the Guardian. It’d be fantastic news if he actually pulls it off, but as the Guardian’s leader observed on Tuesday, “Green new jobs are fast becoming the political equivalent of a new year’s diet – a commitment nearly everyone yearns to make but finds damnably difficult to put into practice.”

Finally, Australian think-tank, the Centre for Policy Development, has a good round-up of the some of the best ideas for tackling the financial crisis with green solutions. A Green New Deal is one of the publications mentioned.

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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.