Baroness Sheehan leads debate on climate change targets in Lords

Yesterday afternoon, the Grand Committee of the House of Lords debated climate change targets. The debate was initiated by Shas Sheehan who emphasised the importance of grasping the nettle of collaborative action on climate change during 2021. She criticised the UK’s investment in fossil fuel projects oversees and worldwide fossil fuel subsidies totalling £3.9 billion annually.

Baroness Sheehan highlighted the planning system which is not aligned with the government’s climate change targets.

Shas Sheehan is a Lib Dem life peer. She opened the debate with a plea for environmental housekeeping:

“This year presents a unique opportunity for the UK to really grasp the nettle of collaborative global action on climate change. It is an existential issue for our planet and we owe it to our children and future generations to get this right. For us to lead the world we must, when all eyes are on us, present a clean domestic scene, which means some good housekeeping.”

She criticised the UK for its contradiction of using oversees development aid to support fossil fuelled developments, approximately £568 million of UK aid has been invested in fossil fuel projects.

“If we include export credits provided by UK Export Finance for fossil fuels, that figure rises to £3.9 billion. This makes a nonsense of our commitments to tackling climate change—not just the Paris Agreement but the sustainable development goals and our own Climate Change Act.”

This was while trying to “combat dreadful climate-related disasters overseas, such as the effect of famine in the Sahel due to increasing desertification.”

Globally, annual fossil fuel subsidies were valued at £5.2 trillion dollars in 2017 – 6.5% of the world economy.

Pointing out another contribution, Baroness Sheehan said the Oil and Gas Authority has a duty to maximise revenues from petroleum despite the Climate Change Act committing the government to aim for a target of net-zero carbon by 2050. She told the Lords that the government has shown no urgency and has done no more than tell the fossil fuel section to reduce its carbon footprint, deliver carbon capture and storage, and support the development of blue hydrogen. But “the extraction of fossil fuels is the fundamental root of the problem of greenhouse gases that we face today.” Carbon capture and storage is unproven technology. The very least the government can do is stop issuing new extraction licences.

Baroness Sheehan also called for urgent action to bring existing planning rules into line with net-zero legislation, including national planning policy statements.

She commended the Swedish Government’s climate action plan, published in December 2019, which gave a commitment to review all relevant past legislation and objectives for compatibility with the plan, as well as a commitment to align future legislation.

Responding for the government, Lord Callanan said from 31 March, the UK will no longer provide any new direct financial or promotional support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas but there will be a continuing demand for oil and gas.

The full debate.

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  • What caused the Roman Warm Period and Medieval warm period, both of which were about two degrees warmer than today and which had nothing to do with carbon dioxide?

    Until climate scientists can answer that, they have no business making claims about future temperatures.

  • Jenny Barnes 28th May '21 - 1:53pm

    “blue” hydrogen, I believe, is created by reforming methane (CH4) with steam (H20) fo give hydrogen and CO2, and then, importantly, to capture the CO2 using CCS. So it’s another way of carrying on with business as usual, as CCS is an expensive, and mostly theoretical, technology. Oh, yes, there have been demos. But to cool CO2 to liquid takes much energy (even more if it’s hot) and then it has to be stored for thousands of years, likely in old fossil fuel formations which will almost certainly leak.

    Are there any targets for 2022? 2025? It’s easy for Mr. Johnson, a man well known for promising things, to promise net zero by a date 15 – 20 years in the future when he’ll be long gone.

    Where are the increases in Air Passenger Duty, road fuel tax, proper support for active travel, rail electrification, changes to building regs to zero emission houses, ?????

  • David Evans 28th May '21 - 4:11pm

    Peter, climate scientists *can* explain the two ‘Warm periods’ you refer to. They were both periods where it was warmer in Europe, but colder elsewhere. Overall there was no global warming at the time, and CO2 levels were broadly constant. What is your problem with this?

  • @Peter

    There’s as you prob know a debate on the temp in Roman times. But it is noted that the Romans could grow grapes in Northern England so it *may* have been *slightly* warmer.

    There are thoughts that *may* be the world got (slightly) colder from then until the industrial revolution since when it has warmed up. This would suggest that industrialisation and use of fossil fuels is responsible for it warming up.

    See for example the New Statesman article –

    Other studies suggest that temperatures have been very stable in the 2,000 years before the industrial revolution.

    It may also be that the global average temperature was the same in Roman times but higher in some areas and lower in others.

    On the “medieval warm period” Wikipedia states: ” it was a time of warm climate in the North Atlantic region lasting from c. 950 to c. 1250. It was likely related to warming elsewhere while some other regions were colder, such as the tropical Pacific. Average global mean temperatures have been calculated to be similar to early-mid-20th-century warming.

    In general Wikipedia notes: “More recent research, including a 2019 analysis based on a much larger dataset of climate proxies, has found that this putative period, along with other warmer or colder pre-industrial periods such as the “Little Ice Age” and “Medieval Warm Period” were regional phenomena, not globally coherent episodes. This analysis uses the temperature record of the last 2,000 years dataset compiled by the PAGES 2k Consortium 2017.”

    You can pursue the references Wikipedia uses at states: “The data show that the modern period is very different to what occurred in the past. The often quoted Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age are real phenomena, but small compared to the recent changes.”

    A very large majority of climate scientists (?90% +) do believe that there has been global warming, that it is caused by humans, will have adverse effects on the planet and will continue unless we control carbon emissions.

    Hey… they *may* be wrong and there is a debate to be had on each aspect. But on the precautionary principle at least it is worth taking these warnings seriously.

  • Jenny Barnes is correct. Carbon capture is very unlikely to work in a financially viable way for two simple but fundamental reasons. The CO2 molecule is extremely small so physically it is very difficult to trap and retain as a gas. It is also almost inert meaning that not much reacts with it apart from the well known reaction with calcium hydroxide. Normally when something is fairly inert you need highly reactive chemicals or extreme conditions of heat and/or pressure or expensive catalysts to produce a reaction. All of this leads to high energy costs, high equipment costs and high safety costs. These constraints can be tolerated at laboratory scale but not when processing many billions of tons.
    There is no shortage of money men lining up with fantastic technical schemes that require massive funding from desperate but science illiterate politicians.

  • suzanne fletcher 29th May '21 - 11:13am

    Thankful one of our Peers is raising this, thanks Shas

  • I shall try to answer David and Michael1 together. The leading climate scientists claim that CO2 controls the climate. This is at the heart of their belief that the climate cannot change without a forcing first taking place. A forcing is climate speak for intervention by an external factor like a change in the sun or gases introduced by man. This is why historical perturbations in climate are so important. Co2 was not a factor so what caused them? Scientists do not know.

    The details of these climate events are fiercely debated because they challenge the belief stated above. Some scientists tried to make them disappear altogether. Remember the hockey stick with the very flat shaft? Some insisted that they were local to Europe. Some said the Northern hemisphere. But counter claims popped up in parts of the Southern hemisphere too.

    Michael, just a word about Wikipedia; a climate activist, William Connolley, spent about a decade altering many thousands of entries relating to climate science to give information that reinforced the alarmist message. It still a useful source of references though they might favour one side of the story.

    I largely agree with the rest of your comment. The greenhouse effect does warm the planet, but the models upon which policies are based are not fit for purpose. The temperature projections greatly exaggerate the risk and the models run so hot that when trying to simulate the present they are hotter by a factor 0f between three and seven depending on the model. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is obtained from the same models and gives a range of 1.5 to 5.5. That is the warming in degrees expected from a doubling of CO2. Climate science is such a mess.

  • @Peter, for all you supposed learning, I think you are failing to understand the real problem we face.
    We are facing a many-faceted perfect storm, forecasted for some 50 plus years now, of which the rising CO2 levels is just one. Turning this complexity into something simple that enables measurement, communication, effective policy to be set, people to take action, required much simplification. It was recognised back in the 1990’s that many of the measures needed were complementary and that by focusing the public message on CO2 reduction we would also impact many of the other facets of the storm…
    Hence whilst CO2 is probably no longer the driver of atmospheric warming, it being surpassed by H2O being released from the warming oceans, focusing on its reduction means we also attend to the reduction in use of fossil fuels, food waste, packaging, food miles etc.

  • Jenny Barnes 29th May '21 - 2:05pm

    I’ve been thnking about the idea that planting trees would capture CO2 to assist with climate change. There’s a problem. Trees only live 50 (silver birch) to a few hundred (oak) years, but the CO2 needs to stay locked up for 1,000 years plus. One option is to plant trees that will be grown to maturity and used as timber in buildings, orfor other long term uses; another would be to make bio char out of the wood and use it as a soil improver. Biochar – it’s a bit like making coal 🙂 . So if the trees are just planted, and not managed for their lifetime and beyond, there’s no real benefit.
    If you keep the deer and rabbits out, trees grow all on their own anyway.

  • @ Roland, I have monitored climate science for about 12 years. I had no interest in the subject before that. I heard climate scientists make claims that I thought were ridiculous. Twelve years on, I am still hearing claims that are ridiculous.

    Here is an example which I think everyone will understand regardless of knowledge.

    How can climate scientists let politicians base policy on these models? These are CMIP5
    models. The next generation started appearing last year. They try to deal with clouds and everyone expected an improvement but in fact they show even more warming compared with observations (reality).

    I find it astonishing that the science is “settled”. I have a different name for it.

  • Peter 28th May ’21 – 11:45am:
    What caused the Roman Warm Period and Medieval warm period, both of which were about two degrees warmer than today and which had nothing to do with carbon dioxide?

    Until climate scientists can answer that, they have no business making claims about future temperatures.

    Indeed. Computerised models of climate change are analogous to the the algorithmic models used for trading stocks or commodities based on Technical Analysis. To have any credibility such models must be able to accurately predict previous movements, when presented with prior data.

    David Evans 28th May ’21 – 4:11pm:
    Peter, climate scientists *can* explain the two ‘Warm periods’ you refer to. They were both periods where it was warmer in Europe, but colder elsewhere. Overall there was no global warming at the time, and CO2 levels were broadly constant. What is your problem with this?

    It’s neither plausible nor supported by the evidence. What would possibly cause such a mass of warm air to be centred over Europe? And why would it stay there and not be convected around the Earth’s atmosphere? Moreover, there is a large (and growing) body of research showing that the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age were global events; for example, this study from 1994…

    ‘Tree-ring and glacial evidence for the medieval warm epoch and the little ice age in southern South America’ [March 1994]:


    A tree-ring reconstruction of summer temperatures from northern Patagonia shows distinct episodes of higher and lower temperature during the last 1000 yr. The first cold interval was from A.D. 900 to 1070, which was followed by a warm period A.D. 1080 to 1250 (approximately coincident with the Medieval Warm Epoch). Afterwards a long, cold-moist interval followed from A.D. 1270 to 1660, peaking around 1340 and 1640 (contemporaneously with early Little Ice Age events in the Northern Hemisphere).

  • @David, there are many opinions about the earlier warming and cooling periods but there is no conclusive evidence. Many scientists suspect that the solar cycles have something to do with it. The sun ejects charged particles which vary according to its magnetic field. They could affect earth’s cloud formation according to Danish scientist Henrik Svensmark.

    @ Jeff – You are so right. That is what the link in my previous comment shows. Just in case some people don’t realise, the graph shows the results for different models and actual measurements of temperature over the same period of several years. If the models correctly simulated the climate the temperatures would be identical. for models and measurement. But the models are running hot by a long way.

    As Jeff correctly states models that fail to simulate correctly are worthless. These are used to set climate policy which is why I go on about it.

  • @Jenny, Your thoughts took you into interesting places. For example, trees are good, trees left in the ground for a long time – aka coal – are bad. Where is the science or the logic? You start to realise that these qualities are not the same as the fashionable high value opinions of the Green high priests that quickly gain traction because they are politically correct and the decision makers do not understand the counter arguments.

    Trees chopped down for biomass are all the rage in green circles. The idea is that you can grow new ones. But the new ones might take 100+ years to reach maturity and maximum CO2 uptake, The Drax power station, converted at huge cost from coal to wood chips (on Green insistence), is actually less green than when it used coal. The wood chips are obtained by chopping down mature forests in the US. They are chipped at high energy cost then shipped to the UK at even higher energy cost.

    Drax, if I remember correctly, was built on top of a coal mine for good reason. All of which proves that “cradle to grave” environmental cost is what matters and for things like turbines, solar panels and batteries it gets into very nasty territory indeed. I refer to manufacturing energy costs, recycling and disposal, raw material mining and material toxicity. This is where knee jerk Green policies end up looking ridiculous.

  • Jenny Barnes 30th May '21 - 4:04pm

    I was thinking about using trees as a long term CO2 store, and it’s clearly not as easy as one might think.
    On the topic of burning wood or coal for energy, they are not equivalent if (a big if) the wood is being grown sustainably as a crop. Coal dug out of the ground adds to CO2 in the atmosphere, sustainably grown wood does not. However, you need a lot of land.
    I ha woodland can generate 4 cu m of wood per year, roughly 2 tonnes dry weight, and that gives 8MWh of heat energy. If you want to generate electricity, it would give you somewhere around 2.5 MWh of electricity output. (Carnot efficiencies depend on the burn temperature, which will be lower than coal) So, if you want to sustainably run a 4 GW power plant like Drax, you would need. 4000/2.5 ha for each hour of the year you want to run it. I make that around 14 million ha. 7 times the size of Wales.
    Each day would need 80,000 tonnes or so…

    There’s the reason why the industrial revolution in the UK needed coal to get it going. Just not enough land for wood, food, and animal fodder.

  • Peter Hirst 31st May '21 - 2:04pm

    The first goal should be 100% electricity from renewable sources excluding biofuel and nuclear. This should be achievable by 2030. No new fossil fuel plants comes a close second. When is the world going to wake up?

  • @Peter Hirst – So all electricity to be from wind and solar? Gravity fed water, hydroelectric and battery storage are effectively negligible.

    What will we do at night when the wind isn’t blowing?

  • Jenny Barnes 1st Jun '21 - 2:43pm

    Apparently the Australians are planning to build a 10GW combined solar and wind farm, including 30 GWh of battery storage, together with a 3GW HVDC cable to singapore to provide electicity for them…

  • @Jenny – whilst on paper this looks good, particularly given the power loss on HVDC cables is 3% per 1000km’s, the fun is going to be in the installation and maintenance of a reliable cable link…

    “The first 400 km and last 1600 km, respectively, Sections A and C, lie in relatively shallow waters, typically 100–200 m deep, with a relatively flat profile. Conversely, the water depth along Section B varies significantly with alternate deep and shallow sections and high gradients. The deepest section is reached at the Timor Trough with a water depth of 1900 m and high slopes at either side.”
    [ ]

  • Laurence Cox 1st Jun '21 - 5:14pm

    @Jenny Barnes

    The capacity of the batteries in these schemes is increasing rapidly and is the key to using renewables. The orginal Hornsdale (South Australia) Tesla battery farm was 100 MW/ 129 MWh in 2017, later upgraded to 150 MW/ 194 MWh. The Geelong (Victoria) battery farm will be 300 MW/ 450 MWh and is planned to be in operation by the end of this year. 30 GWh is a big leap in capacity (I guess it will have a ~2 GW peak discharge rate).

    For comparison, David MacKay back in 2009 calculated that the UK would require 1200 GWh of electricity storage capacity to cope with the intermittency of renewables. Even at current levels we are using over 30 GW electricity during the daytime and evening, with just 5 GW coming from nuclear and another 4 GW over the HVDC interconnectors from Europe (mostly from French nuclear power stations).

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