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February 12 2014


Green taxes aren't the answer to Britain's floods, just ask Australia

Britain's flood crisis will need a firm response from Government but David Cameron should resist the urge to follow Australia's example on green taxes

May 10 2012

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April 30 2012


April 23 2012


April 17 2012


On Our Radar: Cautious Support for British Fracking

Experts recommend the use of a "traffic light" control system in which fracking operations are suspended if a red light indicates seismic activity beyond a certain threshold.

April 03 2012


On Our Radar: A Soupçon of van Gogh?

Using advanced digital animation, scientists simulate ocean and sea-ice flows to better understand systems that move heat and carbon. The goal is to understand the ocean's role in future climate change.

March 30 2012


February 10 2012


A Carbon Allowance in Every Pot

A researcher proposes that the distribution of personal carbon allowances and shorter working hours be embraced to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and equitably.

December 23 2011


December 05 2011


November 18 2011


July 09 2011


A Pan-European Approach To Banning Unconventional Gas?

A German member in the European parliament (MEP) is proposing a straightforward way to prevent (or outlaw) exploration and drilling for unconventional gas in the European Union (EU). His plan, bypass national strife and instead build consensus for a European-wide ban.

Jo Leinen, chair of the committee on the environment, public health and food safety, is considered one of the most influential MEP’s. He recently told The Guardian that he wants to work on a new energy quality directive that is expected to focus on penalizing and/or banning the extraction, import and use of fuels which are environmentally destructive – namely unconventional gas and even tar sands oil.

While some consider unconventional gas as a clean burning source of fuel, each day seems to bring more and more bad news about its damaging health and environmental effects.

What’s more, the International Energy Agency has found that gas reliance would be disastrous for fighting climate change. This is supported by recent findings from Cornell University which show that over a 20-year period, unconventional gas emissions are at least 20% greater than coal, and maybe as high as 50%.

At the national level, efforts to regulate the unconventional gas industry in Europe have been a mix of success and failure.

France just banned hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), passing both the lower and upper houses of the French National Assembly. While this is a success, a full ban on unconventional gas was viewed as too prohibitive by the governing UMP party and subsequently dropped from consideration before it ever came to a vote.

In Britain, the debate around unconventional gas rages on. Huw Irranca-Davies, the Labour party’s shadow energy minister recently wrote to energy minister Charles Hendry urging him to temporarily ban gas drilling and fracking, at least until the technology and its impacts can be studied [pdf] further.

At the moment, drilling supporters in parliament outnumber detractors. The parliamentary committee on energy and climate change just rejected any possibility of a moratorium on unconventional gas. The committee stated: "We conclude that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present." Tax breaks to encourage drilling are still being considered.

Unfortunately, in other countries like Poland, the unconventional gas “barometer of Europe,” drilling is advancing at an “unprecedented speed.” At present, Polish leaders are touting unconventional gas as a pan-European project.

Jesse Scott, program leader with E3G, a British NGO promoting sustainable development, said the portrayal of unconventional gas as the "European solution" is a battle yet to be won.

This fight will soon be waged in Germany, where diversifying sources of energy has become especially important, since parliamentarians recently voted to end the use of nuclear energy by 2022. Without nuclear, Germany will rely more and more on alternative energy options like hydropower, wind and solar, which it already wants to grow to at least 35% by 2020.

With many countries in Europe either reluctant to ban unconventional gas drilling or ready to push ahead with it - and with unconventional gas drillers trying to label their fossil fuel as a green energy source - Leinen’s proposed energy directive faces an uphill struggle.  But it may encounter success at the European level where MEPs previously passed Europe’s “20-20-20” targets (20% less carbon emissions and 20% of energy production from renewables by 2020).

Photo Credit: The Economist

May 31 2011


On Our Radar: South Korea Investigates Dumping of Agent Orange

A controversy erupts after veterans tell a Phoenix TV station that they were ordered to dump the herbicide at Camp Carroll, in southeastern South Korea, in the late 1970s.

March 31 2011


February 17 2011


February 15 2011


February 07 2011


What Would Robin Hood Say?

The plan, which has not been finalized, aims to transfer control of historic woodlands like the Forest of Dean to private charities and foundations. Other woodlands would be leased.

January 28 2011


A “Dash For Gas” Will Threaten Renewable Energy Development And Climate Action: British MPs

A new report from Britain’s House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee warns the government that proposed energy reforms may have the perverse effect of encouraging companies to focus on building cheap gas power plants, limiting investments in renewable energy. As well, the Committee agreed with testimony from Friends of the Earth arguing that a “dash for gas” [80],  could prevent the country from reaching its climate action targets, especially since gas plants are expected to rely on unproven carbon capture and storage technology.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said that £200 billion of new investment in energy infrastructure is needed by 2020 to meet rising demand and achieve renewable energy and climate change targets. First published in November 2009, and revised in October 2010, six draft National Policy Statements on energy (NPSs) laid out the importance of building and funding new electricity infrastructure, to include renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels and improved grid connections. The NPSs aim to increase confidence for investors and to speed up the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
According to the report, gas plants provide low-cost, flexible generation that can be brought online quickly and reliably. As such, the Committee sees a continuing role for gas in Britain’s energy mix, especially during peak time usage.

While neither the report nor the Committee recommends a hierarchy of preferred technologies for investment, Tim Yeo, MP and Chair of the Committee, emphasized:

“If these new policy statements don’t put the cleanest forms of energy at the top of the agenda they will leave us dangerously dependent on fossil fuels.”

“The UK’s energy security and our prospects for creating a successful low-carbon economy depend on the government kick-starting a dash for low-carbon technology, not a new dash for gas.”

When commenting on the report, a spokesman from the DECC made clear that his department favoured a flexible approach, and would not abandon gas:

“Some new gas-fired power stations will be needed to complement low-carbon generation.”

“The National Policy Statements set out a clear need for investment in a diverse range of energy sources, so that we are not heavily reliant on just one or two technologies. By setting out this need, we give investors the certainty to bring forward proposals that maintain security of supply and reduce the carbon intensity of our energy mix."

Responding to a possible “dash for gas,” Tom Foulkes, Director-General for the Institution of Civil Engineers, said:

“Government must clearly demonstrate its long-term commitment to low-carbon energy generation by setting an effective floor price for carbon and delivering on the principles outlined in the proposed Electricity Market Reform.”

“Only then will we be able to attract the hefty investment needed and avoid an ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.”

This report has significant implications for Britain. Not only has the government pledged to be the “greenest government ever,” but it must also live up to its European Union commitments to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, and to generate 15% of its energy from renewables. The government should therefore understand that expanding gas production will hurt Britain in the long-run by locking it into fossil fuel intensive development. With this in mind, prioritizing renewable energy and considering an energy technology hierarchy is the optimal way to reach its clean growth targets.

January 24 2011


British Government Continues Greenwashing Effort, Ignores Ecological Decline In UK

A recent Guardian article by John Vidal examines the misleading spin attempting to paint Britain’s leadership as the “greenest government ever.” 

With 2010 drawing to a close, UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced triumphantly:
“Over 95 per cent of England’s finest wildlife and geological sites, covering more than one million hectares of countryside, are now in favourable or recovering condition.”

Spelman’s overly rosy interpretation of the current state of Britain’s environment is at odds with an independent report from Professor Sir John Lawton and a team of leading conservationists who are much less enthusiastic about Britain's environmental record. Measured according to the scale SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), Sir Lawton’s team found that just 30% of these sites were in favourable condition, with the rest in a mode of “unfavourable recovering.”

Indeed, most at-risk wildlife species have shown no improvement between 1999 and 2008, and 125 of 289 species are in decline. Birds, in particular, are struggling.
In another example of misleading spin, just 15 months ago the UK Environment Agency boasted that the quality of rivers in England and Wales was the best it has been for more than a century. Yet according to European legal standards, nearly 75% of all rivers in England and Wales do not meet the highest European environmental standards. In fact, a mere 26% of rivers are in "good” quality, and only five rivers out of nearly 6,000 achieve the highest standards.

Vidal concludes that Britain’s greenwashing is far out of step with its actual environmental record:

"What government agencies and ministers are doing is continually overemphasising the positive, cherry-picking a few success stories to blind us to the real state of the environment and deliberately ignoring broader indicators that use wider and more sophisticated ranges of measures of quality. It's politically convenient, but misleading, and serves neither the environment nor people well."

For those keeping score, the Guardian is tracking Prime Minister David Cameron’s commitment to be the “greenest government ever” with its green-o-meter.

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