Chris Davies MEP writes: A view from the North (2/3)

You can read the first instalment of Chris Davies’s View from the North here.

It will some as no surprise to members in the North West that I asked them some questions on issues relating to the environment and reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

I have led on environmental issues for the pan-European Liberal group in the Parliament since 1999, but since being re-elected in 2009 I have made sustainable reform of the CFP my biggest policy priority.

I asked whether members agreed with the majority of the world’s scientists that the climate is changing. 88% agreed and only 6% disagreed. The economic woes of the country dominate the headlines and climate change is not top of the political agenda at present but our planet is warming faster than UN scientists had originally predicted and I am glad that my fellow Lib Dems recognise that reality.

When I asked about wind power 77% supported onshore wind power and 74% were in favour of offshore wind power. In all honesty I am surprised at the level of support for wind farms given the extent of public opposition when applications are made. The choice of location is crucial and we need to think about how the UK can maintain its technological lead in the field of offshore wind in particular.

Given the work going on off the coast of the Fylde peninsula to recover shale gas through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking I asked whether people felt it should go ahead. 61% said yes, double the 30% who said no. You can’t get more controversial than shale gas but a majority of Lib Dems said we should continue carefully with its development.

I asked how people thought our seas were being fished. 78% agreed that they were being overfished and only 16% thought we were taking about the right amount of fish from the sea. Putting in place a sustainable fisheries policy is my number one priority. Scientific evidence strongly supports the argument that we are overfishing our seas and oceans.

The European Commission wants fish that is caught to be landed and to ban fishermen from discarding dead fish into the sea. 87% of North West members agreed that this should happen and only 7% disagreed. I am pretty sure we are on course to get a discrad ban put in place. Even more important is that we allow fish stocks to recover, first in European waters and then across the globe.

To restore fish stocks to former levels some fishing may have to be reduced temporarily. I asked members if this should be done even if it costs fishermens jobs. 80% of members said yes with only 11% saying no. This is a painful issue for the industry and in the UK our fishing fleet has now been reduced to match stock levels, but elsewhere there are too many boats chasing too few fish. If there are no fish there can be no fishermen,

Finally, one of the more controversial findings of the survey. I asked if nuclear power should have any part to play in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. 62% said yes, 28% no and 9% did not answer the question. The North West is not entirely typical of the UK in that the nuclear industry in west Cumbria and around Warrington means that nuclear power is a significant part of the Regional economy but support for nuclear power was consistent across all five of our counties. The majority of our members support a role for nuclear power. This is the reverse of the party’s policy position and I support it, having accepted that nuclear energy has a role in combatting climate change. But rising costs may price nuclear power out of the market.

In the final instalment I shall talk about the answers people gave to questions about what barriers they find to participation in the party and what they already do.

* Chris Davies was Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West from 1999-2014.

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12 Comments

  • LDV surveys have also shown general support for nuclear. I don’t think the party can be said to be opposed on principle to new nuclear.

    I think you’re right about price, though. EDF’s boss the other day suggested that a new power station at Hinkley Point could produce electricity for £100-140/MWh. Even if that estimate isn’t going to rise (again), that’s more expensive than onshore wind is today, and more than projections for offshore. Presumably successive plants would reduce costs but by then renewables technologies and supply chains will also have improved further.

  • Quite amazing, the change over the years of opinions in the UK on nuclear. You’d have thought that with events such as Fukushima, and with our plentiful supply of other energy sources – both fossil and renewables – opinion would have moved as it did in, for instance, Germany. For our intelligent well read Lib Dem membership, you would also have thought there would have been a reaction against nuclear based on the fact that it is reponsible for carbon dioxide emissions.

  • So a significant proportion of people grasp that Climate Change is a real problem but – at the same time – think we should be exploiting yet more sources of carbon pollution? Jesus wept. We’re really not getting this are we? If we burn our existing known fossil fuel supplies we will create warming way beyond the two degrees target, yet alone if we burn shale gas too.

    Fossil fuels need to be left in the ground.

  • Why does no-one mention hydroelectricity these days? Look at the success of Kielder Reservoir – and it also provides leisure facilities and a soulution to drought. According to US Dept of Energy figures, (Wikipedia – cost of energy by sources), average dollars per M/Wh, hydro costs 89.9, onshore wind 96.8, offshore wind 330.6(!) solar 156.9 and biomass 120.2. Wave power is estimated at 611(!!). So hydro really is the way to go, for renewable energy. Regretfully, critics who aren’t interested in pollution problems would point out that most conventional power sources are cheaper than this, particularly gas.

  • Paul in Twickenham 14th Aug '12 - 1:38pm

    What is the party’s position on thorium? This is a comparatively clean source of (non-renewable) power that was of course ignored in the 1950’s precisely because it did not produce weapons-grade fissile materials as a by-product.

  • Richard Dean 14th Aug '12 - 4:28pm

    Hydroelectric power seems to have serious environmental issues … Here is something from New Scientist:

    “In a study to be published in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Fearnside estimates that in 1990 the greenhouse effect of emissions from the Curuá-Una dam in Pará, Brazil, was more than three-and-a-half times what would have been produced by generating the same amount of electricity from oil.

    “This is because large amounts of carbon tied up in trees and other plants are released when the reservoir is initially flooded and the plants rot. Then after this first pulse of decay, plant matter settling on the reservoir’s bottom decomposes without oxygen, resulting in a build-up of dissolved methane. This is released into the atmosphere when water passes through the dam’s turbines.”

    See http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7046-hydroelectric-powers-dirty-secret-revealed.html

  • Yes, I agree that it is good that LibDems can debate the issues.I still support Hydroelectricity for use in Britain. Re: the New Scientist article – some criticisms.

    The amount of decaying vegetation generating gases in a biomass generator like the Amazon Basin is far in excess of somewhere like Scotland – and even the writer acknowledges the results are far less consequence in colder climates.

    Methane would be produced by rotting vegetation whether it fell into the water or not – soil and agriculture produce about half of the world’s methane, and one of the biggest sources is rice fields.
    http://horizon.documentation.ird.fr/exl-doc/pleins_textes/pleins_textes_7/b_fdi_57-58/010025232.pdf

    There have been proposals for extracting the methane dams generate .
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6638705.stm

    There seems to be an assumption that all hydroelectric power needs big dams – certainly they’re useful, but homes near water can have a waterwheel to generate electricity just as easily as having their own wind turbine.
    http://www.off-grid.net/2010/11/19/power-a-house-using-a-waterwheel/

    There’s a great page on the pro/con debate for hydroelectricity on
    http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php/Debate:_Hydroelectric_dams

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Aug '12 - 7:00pm

    Great feedback Chris – Thank you for taking the trouble to consult – a true Liberal and Democrat!
    1) Looks like plenty of Lib Dem support for Thorium reactors (also meltdown is impossible). Please let’s get on and build one – even if we do have to subsidise it.
    2) Cap and agree year on year reductions in carbon-producing technologies.
    3) As I have posted previosly local communities should not be allowed to adopt a NIMBY approach – “no we don’t want wind turbines/barragies etc here, someone else should have shale gas/open cast mining/coal or nuclear power stations in their neighbourhood”. Not having a proportion of LOCAL generation should not be an option!
    4) Let’s please not have another winter of freezing outside temperatures and a moronic open shop door policy. How can the public take global warming and personal responsibility seriously when most town centre doors are hooked open with many of the staff freezing inside. ACTION: Ed Davey! This autumn – Please!!

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Aug '12 - 7:21pm

    I should also like to raise the topic of the amount of non-recyclable thin film food packaging waste that we all throw away every week. This presently ends up in landfill. Could we look into separately collecting and burning this as a proportion of the fuel that goes into coal-powered electricity generation? At least that way we would be getting the energy out of the waste and reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill.

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