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Three years ago, I felt like a bit of a loan voice. I’d been increasingly highlighting my concerns about a mounting reliance on a magic bullet (or a number of them) to mitigate against climate change. But, most of the time, I just got glazed looks, or doe-eyed responses from proponents of technological fixes (e.g. nuclear or carbon capture and storage) that: ‘all I care about is preventing runaway climate change’. As if I don’t.
But now, two mechanical engineers, Patrick Moriaty and Damon Honnery have published a paper that sums up part of my argument.
I’ve spent the last week glued to the television. I hardly watch any normally, so this is enough to feel pretty exhausting. There is some opposition already about the coalition government, but – for some aspects at least of the new economics – it seems to me to open up some thrilling possibilities.
Yes, I am also a Liberal Democrat (I think I ought to declare my political leanings at this point) so my heart is bound to leap a little at the thought of Liberals being in government for the first time for 65 years.
But even if I wasn’t, the cancellation of the Heathrow third runway – in the face of all those corporate lobbyists, and all that money – would be enough to make me prick up my ears.
For the emerging new economics, there are at least four areas where things may now move quite fast:
- Tackling the banks: Vince Cable will be doing more than just putting in place the banking levy, the coalition agreement has set out a path towards breaking them up – and creating a more diverse, local and mutual banking system.
- Localism: it wasn’t clear whether there was anything behind the Conservative commitment to localism. Now there is: the coalition has committed itself to large scale decentralisation of power.
- Low carbon economy: did Cameron know what this was when he used the phrase? That isn’t clear. Why did Clegg repeatedly use the phrase ‘green sustainable growth’? That isn’t clear either. It is up to us to define it on their behalf, but it is clear that the political will is there for a major shift.
- Co-production: the same applies to the so-called ‘Big Society’. It wasn’t clear if there was any thought-through policy to support it. Now there is a commitment to devolve power to communities, and – if co-production is not explicitly on the agenda – there is a hole in coalition policy shaped like co-production.
But for some of these, if not all, the political rules have now changed. Two of the new cabinet in particular now control both elements of a potential Green New Deal, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne. But if Cable acts on radical reform of the banking system, he will do so in the face of bitter opposition from the City of London and elements among bankbench Conservative MPs.
What he, and those like him, are going to need is explicit political support – as well as research, information and basic cheerleading – if they are going to be able to press forward their ambitions.
Those of us in the voluntary sector, or in campaigning NGOs, who have become used to simply demanding things of politicians, are going to need to develop a more sophisticated strategy.
We are going to encourage and then protect those ministers capable of creating a new economic revolution. Tackling the banks and building a low-carbon economy is a matter of co-production, and our side of the work starts now.
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 »
A letter published in last weekend’s Observer, Times and Sunday Times:
We urge the UK Government not to heed the siren’s song of the 20 economists who, having failed to predict the crisis, now seek to advise on its resolution.
The world economy is in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. In the UK, output has collapsed by £70bn on an annual basis. Under such conditions, common sense tells us that the government must compensate for the collapse in private investment and address the high level of unemployment.
The only way to restore the public finances to health is to restore the economy to health. And that means public investment (not cuts) to create jobs and income in the private and the public sector. Government should oblige the banks that have been effectively nationalised to lend to the public sector at low rates of interest. Consequent tax revenues raised and savings on benefit expenditure will reduce the public debt. As Keynes observed: “Look after the unemployment and the budget will look after itself.”
There is already a credible plan on the table. It is called the Green New Deal. Invest now and we could kick-start the transformation of the UK’s energy supply while creating thousands of new green-collar jobs, restoring the UK’s skills-base and building the recovery on the manufacture of necessary goods. We urge the government to act now and implement the Green New Deal without delay.
Policy director, nef (the new economics foundation), London SE11
Professor of economics, Dartmouth College
Dr Anastasia Nesvetailova
Assistant professor, international political economy, City University
Emeritus professor of economics, University College London
Senior lecturer in political economy, City University London
Director, Advocacy International
Professor of accounting, University of Strathclyde, Scotland
Convenor, Green New Deal Group
Professorial research fellow, University of London, SOAS
Senior lecturer in banking, Manchester Business School
Professor of accounting, Centre for Global Accountability, Essex Business School
Tax Research LLP
Dr Stephanie Blankenburg
Department of Economics, SOAS
Chief economist, nef
Spending a fortune to prop up the banks but only small change on the urgent transition to a dynamic, low-carbon economy, is like building a crystal palace on sand, then shoving a few bricks under it as an afterthought for foundations.
New investment to match the Government’s rhetoric on climate change amounts to a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of the public support given to the finance sector. Such lack of ambition is counterproductive and a missed opportunity if Alistair Darling wants to pay down the public debt. As the Green New Deal Group point out in their report, The Cuts Won’t Work, productive investment in renewable energy, efficiency and green transport both pays for itself through the economic multiplier effect of spending, and ensures that more people are in work to pay taxes.
That’s without counting the additional benefits of cutting carbon emissions, increasing energy security and tackling fuel poverty. It’s odd that such basic economics is so hard for the Government and the opposition to grasp. History told us that it was when Roosevelt stopped spending three years into his New Deal that things went wrong and plunged the country back into depression. More than with the banks, the biosphere really is too big to fail and we should invest what is needed to maintain it, not small random amounts. Around £50 billion a year on a Green New Deal to create jobs and make the UK fit for a low-carbon future is needed to get us on track. The PBR prescription is more like medieval bloodletting, it is more likely to kill than cure the patient.
Cuts, cuts, cuts… The word is chanted in politics until we work ourselves into a frenzy. We’re transfixed by a large and growing public debt brought on by banking failure. But does it make sense, now, to cut public spending? Can we even afford to? History suggests not.
For three years after Roosevelt announced his New Deal in 1933, regulating the banks and launching a bold programme of public spending, things went well. But then he blinked. Afraid of rising debt, he cut spending – and made the depression worse. It was only later, when there was a surge of production for the war effort, that things turned around again.
Public spending creates jobs and has a positive, “multiplier” effect in the economy. There are more economically active people to pay taxes, in turn reducing the public debt. It is a false economy and counterproductive to cut in a downturn.
It’s also a schoolboy error to think that a national economy should be managed just like a personal budget. Governments can issue and manage money for a wide range of purposes, individuals can’t.
But, of course, that doesn’t just mean the government should go ahead and spend on just anything. On the contrary, some spending can do more harm than good.
It’s hard to be precise, but it’s very likely that most of the benefits from the blanket cut in VAT and the bung given to the car industry through the scrappage scheme leaked out of the UK – not to mention encouraged environmentally wasteful consumption.
Targeted spending, however, in the face of climate change and rising energy insecurity, could do an awful lot of good, creating jobs, cutting carbon and fuel poverty and helping to reduce the public debt.
A new report The Cuts Won’t Work by the Green New Deal group (of which I am a member) shows that earmarking just £10bn in “green quantitative easing” (that is, releasing more money into the economy on the condition it is spent on low-carbon initiatives) could create 60,000 long-term jobs in the energy efficiency sector (a total of 300,000 years worth of employment). The same amount could multiply by five the contribution to the UK’s electricity supply of onshore wind power.
Spending on some things creates more jobs than spending on others. Spend on public transport, housing and energy efficiency and you will create far more jobs, pound for pound, than you would if you opted for unproductive military expenditure. Cancelling the Trident replacement and spending instead on the great low-carbon transition would create 105,000 jobs according to a York University study.
So, should the chancellor implement cuts when he announces the pre-Budget report on Wednesday?
Medieval doctors used to think that the best way to cure patients of a wide range of ailments was to drain their blood. More often than not it killed them.
The government and the opposition parties all need to understand that economic bloodletting will not work. It’s far more likely to kill the ailing, carbon-addicted economy.
The Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy’s plans for the transition to a low carbon future for the UK are welcome, and not before time. But is the scale of the vision set out in The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan up to the task at hand?
Beginning with the first element of Ed Miliband’s ‘Energy Trinity’, investment in wind and tidal energy is long overdue good news. However, at £180 million or 23 per cent of the estimated £775m annual bonus package for staff at the failed Royal Bank of Scotland, we have to question how far the rhetoric is matched by real commitment.
Nuclear power, now given the green light, poses serious unsolved problems to do with long-term waste, cost, inflexibility and international security. In any event, it couldn’t deliver in time to meet the real world target set, not by government, but by the atmosphere – of reducing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere to 350ppm.Neither can the climate system wait for unproven carbon capture and storage technology to come on line.
The answer for coal must be elegantly simple. Leave it in the ground.
The first part of the Energy Trinity is vastly under-resourced; the other two are of a different nature entirely. They are a dangerous diversion which, if we follow, would undermine efforts to preserve the climatic conditions under which civilisation emerged. Remove them and focus resources on the transformation of our aging energy infrastructure, massive scale-out of proven renewable technologies, the transformation of our building stock and the creation of a low vehicle transport system and the plan might begin to look like the Green New Deal our environment and our economy so urgently needs.
nef will be at the Hay Festival Wales from Tuesday 26 May presenting a series of talks called Surviving the Crash. Our event on the Transition Towns movement is already sold out, but it’s not too late to get tickets for the rest of our programme.
We’ll be exploring how Cuba survived its oil crash of 1989, examining the power wielded by city investors in deciding our environmental fate, dbeating the potential of the Green New Deal and discussing what Britain’s homefront during World War II can teach us about a national response to climate change.
We have a host of fantastic speakers including the economist John Kay, gardening guru Monty Don, London Food czar Rosie Boycott, Guardian journalist John Vidal and our own Andrew Simms and Stewart Wallis.
At every event, the onehundredmonths clock will be ticking down in the background, bringing a sense of planetary urgency to an otherwise sleepy, secluded part of the country.
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.
Andy 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:
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.