Cop 26: successes and failures

There is much to be pleased about with how the cop26 conference went, unfortunately we are still not at a point where the promises made are going to meet the targets we know we need to hit. It seems that at least for now, the Climate change deniers have now been banned from the room – climate change ‘realists’ who basically claim nothing can be done and it is nothing to do with humans, are unfortunately still being listened to in some places.

Cop 26 brought together many of the world leaders

It is now recognised that while 2 degrees Celsius has been listed as a maximum increase target for some time, warming of this quantity will leave the world in a very poor place.

This is why for a long period, when these gatherings have occurred, the aim has been to reduce carbon emissions by enough to hit 1.5 degrees Celsius rise.

All of the current promises would get us to 1.8 degrees Celsius rise. Now it is encouraging to be that close, however clearly we have not succeeded yet.

There are other significant issues. Most countries promise to phase out the use of coal for electricity generation. This is because it is widely recognised that energy generation from coal is one of the most polluting. Unfortunately China, India, the US and Australia failed to join in this pledge. It should be remembered that Climate change is expected to cause the biggest financial burden on India US and Brazil, so it should be a self preservation move for these countries to help, but as yet this does not seem to be happening.

It should be noted that these countries do not deny the science they nearly aren’t willing to engage in a sensible solution.

Personal update on cutting carbon emissions – the failure of the green house grant

I wrote a while ago about ways that my household was trying to cut emissions. There are lots of things that we are changing to the way that we live, however there were a couple of ways that we intended to reduce emissions from our house.

The UK had a scheme called the green housing grant – with the intention of helping people green their houses. This only ran for a short period of time, and did not use anywhere near the relatively small pot of money that the government had set aside. Initially, the scheme was given £1.5 billion, to be given out in amounts of £5000, or £10,000 for specific groups.

We applied for thermal solar and additional external insulation – as we live in a concrete conclad house, which is well known for more insulation. Unfortunately, though the person who came to look at our house suggested that they could both be done for 10k – this proved to be rubbish. The best quote we got for thermal solar (this is a system that pumps liquid through tubes on your roof and then transfers the heat to your water, for both hot water and heating your home, greatly reducing the amount of gas or electricity you would have to use) was about £8500. This was felt to be unduly high by the green housing grants, so needed explanation so we had to appeal, our reasoning was accepted. The problem is, that by the end of this process, the people who had agreed to install the thermal solar are fully booked for the length of the installation period allowed by the government and there is no way to extend.

This was frankly a complete waste of time.

What is more annoying, is that we bought photovoltaic solar that was supposed to be installed at the same time to reduce cost. So what have we done?

Well, our 2.8kw of solar panels are standing in the garden, and as we have to pay for installation we thought that we should look at how much we could get the thermal solar equipment for.

My go-to on many things like this, is to look at ebay or similar second hand sites. I realize that many people would calculate that the equipment may not last long enough to make this worth the savings, but on the other hand, if we can get things used there are two advantages. Firstly, the item comes essentially carbon neutral: it does not increase the manufacturing carbon footprint to reuse it. Secondly, it should save money.

In our case, we paid roughly £600 for our solar panels. Brand new, the general rule of thumb is £2000 per kwh so , these panels are only slightly over 10% of standard price

For our thermal solar system we have paid 300, and for that we get the panel (this collects the heat) a pump, and an incredibly well insulated tank (this is necessary so that the hot water stays hot until you need the hot water). The general thought is that thermal solar systems cost between £3000 and £6000 to buy. Our green housing grant included installation, but even so, would suggest an expensive install

Installation, is something that we are still looking at, but should not cost more than a few thousand.

So what savings can we look forwards to? Well, a thermal solar system should save us roughly 2/3 of our gas bill (though some suggest it could be as high as 4/5. Our electricity supplier octopus, has a one in one out tariff, which means that our electricity use should drop in price dramatically (potentially coming close to a net zero charge. This would suggest, that our financial savings are likely to approach £1000 a year. Furthermore, while we are on a zero carbon electricity tariff, as we will be supplying about enough for ourselves, this will free up enough carbon free electricity to eliminate perhaps a tonne of carbon emissions. Our thermal solar will also eliminate roughly a tonne a year.

In short, the the financial payback period will likely only be a few years. As we are using second hand thermal and photovoltaic panels, we will be saving emissions from day one, and are likely to save a couple of tonnes a year, or perhaps as much as 40-50 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the lifespan of the panels.

There is still much to do, including greatly increasing the insulation on the house, and buying an electric car. However, cutting roughly 10% off our family emissions is a useful activity.

If all the readers of this site carried out these measure, net carbon reductions could amount to as much as 10 kilotons. There are many things that humans need to do, in order to cut our carbon emissions rapidly over the next decade or so. There are, however, few that can save so much money or be done so quickly.

Does the UK government care about River pollution?

New rules on polluting rivers came into force in the UK in 2018. Despite a documented 243 cases of unauthorised pollution not one fine was issued.

One argument is that the environmental agency is being poorly funded by the government, and therefore doesn’t have the resources. Of the roughly 10000 environmental agency staff in the UK only 40 are responsible for inspecting farms, meaning that each farm should be inspected roughly once every two centuries.

In defence the environmental agency said that well no fines or prosecutions were mounted 14 letters of warning were sent. The idea that this is a defence of their success rate is quite peculiar. It is clear that in its current form the environmental agency is completely incapable doing the job it is given to do. This needs to change in fast if we are to have a country that has a good environment for both us and the animals we share the the land with.

World leaders are falling short again on delivering on their promises

One of the biggest issues that have been recognised, is that a similar route to prosperity is not open to the developing world. As Europe and north America developed their economy they emitted huge amounts of carbon – much of our power was created by burning coal.

In order to help developing countries jump this stage completely and move straight to renewables, the west had promised money. Developed countries had together committed to 72 billion a year to make this happen. While this sounds like a great deal, when you remember that without it, we are on course for devastating levels of global warming, it comes more into balance.

It was hoped that the G7 could boost this process in advance of Glasgow COP26. Given the G7 accounts for 60% of the worlds wealth, but its population accounts for only 10% of the global population, you would think that we could afford roughly 10 billion a year to be able to continue to live in a hospitable environment. Now of course, this is not all that we need to do – we also need to cut our own emissions to zero as fast as possible, however, there is much money to be made in this work.

The COVID epidemic has taken everyone’s attention off global warming. This is understandable, but we now need to refocus and make the changes that are required as quickly as possible.

Are the rich countries living up to their promises?

After the Paris climate accord, there are large numbers of climate activists who are becoming increasingly frustrated.

The rich countries promised dramatic cuts to their emissions. These cuts will change the way the world works. However, as they are so far from business as normal, governments need to take a leading role in incentivising and requiring cuts (carrot and the stick).

In the UK, we did some good things, but they did not last. One example, is the green housing grant. This was ostensibly a program designed to get various trades people back to work by retrofitting buildings all over the country. The retrofit should in turn cut the carbon emissions of the house that they are used for, and therefore can help towards meeting our Paris climate accord. However, the program was closed a year earlier than was discussed, with the government claiming that it had succeeded in what it was there to do – namely boost the economy.

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Was Trump really the business president?

Trump ran for office on the basis that he was good at making decisions on the information at hand.

However one of the clearest decisions that needs to be made (and he refused to consider seriously) is climate change.

The constant refrain is that “97% of scientists agree that global warming is happening” however, as I have written in the past( this is more like 99.99%

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There are calls for the international energy treaty (ECT) to be scrapped

The international energy treaty or ECT has a clause which allows fossil fuel companies to sue the government for any damage that they might incur by governmental moves to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Initially set up as Western energy companies moved into new markets after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this treaty has increasingly been used by fossil fuel companies to block government from cutting their emissions in a way that all the science says is necessary.

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As the UK fights another election neither leading party will commit on aviation strategy

As with many countries in the world, one of the biggest parts of our carbon footprint is air travel. I am not someone who thinks that all people should be grounded for life, not least because the majority of the wild places on the planet rely on tourism to bring in the money to pay for their upkeep. Without a tourism income how can we say to a country in Africa” you may not shoot the Lions that keep eating your cattle”.

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