Climate change deal shows there has never been a better time to support the Lib Dems

The world woke yesterday morning to an early Christmas gift. Not a novelty knitted jumper or bottle of tipple, but something more poignant altogether. Unconventionally, the gift in question was not only immaterial, but universal, unquantifiable, and intergenerational: the prospect of a deal on climate change in Paris.

The final agreement includes a commitment to keeping temperature rises ‘significantly below’ 2C, with the aim of 1.5C as a target. Whilst 2 degrees may sound inconsequential, the difference between today’s average global temperature and that during the last ice age is around 5 degrees. Our climate has never changed so rapidly, it’s unequivocally due to human activity, and avoiding the problem could result in temperature rises of 5-6C by the end of this century. Ask a climate scientist to describe what a 5-degree-world would be like, and you might just wish that you hadn’t.

Whilst a UN agreement provides a mandate for action, the thorny issue of how we get there is likely to make the COP21 negotiations look like a doddle. To this end, we must turn to the pillars of reasoned progress: science and politics. Earlier this year, the Tyndall centre (host to some of the world’s leading climate scientists) published an analysis of future climate projections for the 21st century: exploring 400 different possible ‘routes’ to achieving what has since been agreed in Paris. Of those, 86% rely on unproven technology, such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). For the remaining scenarios, emissions would have had to have peaked in the past at around 2010. Assuming technology will solve the climate problem is an aspiration, not a grounded projection. Whilst it’s unlikely that non-existent technologies will fit the bill, it’s even less-likely that Dr. Emmett Brown will be using his DeLorian to help us fix the emissions of the past.

The science looks discouraging, leaving us to examine the main political parties’ plans to secure the low-carbon future, which we owe to our children. Developed nations like the UK, will need to reduce emissions to close-to-zero by 2050. Whilst David Cameron and pals have paid lip-service to the rhetoric of ‘2 degrees’ in Paris, back home Osborne, Rudd and Truss are divesting in renewables, revoking the Green Investment Bank, and performing a monumental U-turn on the UK’s £1bn CCS competition. At the opposite side of the spectrum the Greens continue to propagate their vision for a UK energy mix based on sentiment, not science: asserting we can meet the UK’s energy demands through 100% renewable energy. To suggest this is to expect a cultural shift beyond reason and recognition, whereby the entire population willingly sacrifice high-tech, energy intensive lifestyles at the altar of Natalie Bennett’s flimsy ideology. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour fail to accept nuclear power and onshore gas as part of the solution. Like much of Labour’s policy, Corbyn’s environmental strategy is constituted of empty rhetoric, characterised by an emotive – rather than empirical – foundation. Unless the British people are prepared to swap their Breaking Bad box-set for an Enid Blyton paperback, and their widescreen televisions for a Ukulele, we are going to need a dynamic, 21st century solution: nuclear, renewables, and onshore gas must all have a part to play.

Since becoming leader of the Lib Dems in July, Tim Farron has championed climate change as a priority in almost every speech, interview, and article. Despite being an unpopular and intangible issue to the wider electorate, Farron’s Lib Dems are utilising their strong, internationalist principles to develop the most sensible stance on the most pertinent issue of our time. An uncompromising, scientifically grounded environmental strategy – which sets the ambition for a close-to-zero emission UK economy by 2050 – is what sets the Lib Dems out from the rest.

I invite you to join me in raising a glass to Laurent Fabius – the chair of COP21 – and his heroic efforts at the UN this weekend. This is a proud moment for international diplomacy and cooperation. But let’s not lose sight of the challenge, and the imperative for immediate action on climate change in the UK. Whilst the Tories, Greens and Labour indulge in denial, fantasy and endless posturing on this issue, there’s never been a better time to support the Lib Dems.

* Jim Hodgson is an environmentalist who joined the Liberal Democrats on 8 May 2015.

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19 Comments

  • From what I’ve read the Paris ‘agreement’has more caveats than a Hollywood wedding….As for, “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”??????????????

    Apart from ‘hot air’ governments don’t pollute…I still don’t believe that the major corporations, who do, have much to fear from governmental action…
    As for the UK; how does our promises in Paris tie in with the governments actions in actively encouraging maximising the extraction of fossil fuel (fracking ,etc.)?

  • Peter Watson 13th Dec '15 - 11:22am

    At a local level Lib Dems appear to pander to nimbyism just as much as the other parties in opposing fracking and onshore wind farms. At a national level the party appears to be as divided over the importance of nuclear power and onshore gas as any other party.
    Furthermore, sadly the Lib Dems are now a much weakened and diminished party that looks unlikely to apply pressure or wield much political influence for the foreseeable future, and risks being little more than a talking shop for many important issues.
    To make a difference to climate change and to achieve targets by 2030 or 2050, action is needed now. Surely it would be much better to join a party with a chance of political power (Tory, Labour, SNP) or a single-issue group (Greens, Friends of the Earth, etc.). Why the Lib Dems?

  • Jenny barnes 13th Dec '15 - 12:29pm

    The trouble with”onshore gas ” is:
    1 there will be methane leakage, and methane is amuch more powerful greenhouse gas than co2. So net replacing coal fired electric with onshore gas will likely make no difference.
    2. We have aleeady found 5 times or so the fossil fuel we can safely burn. Finding more will probably mean it gets burnt, making things worse. There is plenty of natural,gas in Qatar, for example.

    The trouble with Ccs is that it seems to be very difficult, to make it work at industial scale. If you imagine several trainloads of coal per day going into a 2gw power station, multiply that weight by 3 for th oxygen added to the nearly pure carbon, then think about cooling and compressing that enormous quantity of gas from 600 deg c, you can see why that might be. Once you have done that, it has to be pumped into areservoi r that will stay sealed for at least 1000 years, when MBTF of well containment is typically in the low10s at present.
    ImAO abandoning the 1 billion potential spend on that was sensible.

    Concentrated solar in hot sunny places and long haul HVDC lines is pobably the way to go, together with relocating high energy intensity industry (steel, cement, fertiliser, aluminium etc) nearer the concentrated solar plants. Morocco has just started up a 500MW one…

  • Hi Peter, thanks for your comments and questions. To make a difference we need an ambitious energy strategy which recognises that energy supply must equal or exceed energy demand. Only the Lib Dems manage to do this; there’s no point in supporting another party if their stance on this issue fails to get us to our targets. The other reason is that despite the battering at the last election, Ed Davey did lead succcessful investment in renewables and decarbonisation of our energy supply…for all the arm-waving going on this is what we need to be focussed on: a low carbon energy supply. Tories seem obsessive about reversing this at speed, the Greens want a no-growth economy, and the current Labour cabinet fail to understand that we can’t meet energy demand without low carbon technologies such as onshore gas and nuclear. I don’t like the idea of nuclear power, but I’m convinced it’s a safer option than climate chaos.

    This issue also needs leadership…it needs to be as relevant to an investment banker in the city as it is to a trainee druid in glastonbury. For that we need leaders to be championing the issue. Hence, the nod to Tim for his good work on this so far as leader.

  • Hi Jenny, you are right about the scale of the problem, but overstating the risks associated with onshore gas. Whilst the USA have shown us how poor regulation compromises safety, UK regulators have proven that this is a safe technology, and the lowest-carbon fossil fuel. Furthermore the Committee on Climate Change (Government’s independent climate change watchdog) have also suggested that onshore gas is compatable with the climate change targets we desperately need to meet.

    Don’t get me wrong, we need huge and immediate investment in renewables too (the opposite of what the Tories are doing). The point is we need all of these technologies NOW to help us do our bit. As a developed nation we are in the spotlight and need to set an example….no excuses.

  • Hi Expats, I agree that the agreement isn’t perfect…it’s only as strong as countries’ commitments to meet the targets. As demonstrated by the Tyndall centre data, there is a disconnect between scientific and political reality. This is why we need urgent leadership on the issue. For this, the Lib Dems are the most progressive…this is one of the main reasons why I joined the party in May.

  • Yes, I seem to remember that Laurent Fabius was France’s youngest ever Prime Minister at 38. Well here’s another achievement from the great man in, presumably, the later part of his career!

  • Jim
    Two points: 1) Unless we redefine economic growth fairly substantially, I find it difficult to believe we will eliminate global climate change, or any of the numerous other environmental or resource threats.
    2) One problem with nuclear is of course, the combination with what you have called climate chaos. It is very easy to see immense damage being done to nuclear stations all over the world by extreme weather, for which the station was not designed to withstand. I am interested that we had a news blackout on Sellafield during the Cumbrian floods.

  • Jim Hodgson 13th Dec '15 - 4:20pm

    Hi Tim.

    Absolutely agree on redefining economic growth…oil is the lifeblood of the global economy…so growth and carbon emissions must decouple…this can only be achieved through effective regulation: putting a price on each tonne of CO2…something I feel all political parties need to be discussing.

    Nuclear power stations must have adaptation strategies built in, again another argument for tighter regulation. The impacts from Fukoshima were overstated…it caaused 0 deaths from radiation exposure.

    I feel inherently uncomforatble about nuclear…I’d much rather place my stakes on a fluffy world powered by renewables….but the numbers won’t stack up…so we need it. a great book “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” By David Mackay explains this more fully, and changed my mind on this issue.

  • Thanks, Jim. I do feel there are more sides to the renewable + energy efficiency vs nuclear argument. I know some experts go one way and some the other, and as so many issues in this field it very much depends what assumptions you make. Nuclear has a very long design / installation life, there seem to be many more things that CAN go wrong (I can’t remember the management – speak for this, but very high risk factors which perhaps may happen rarely).
    Renewables have changed their economics very speedily, and one of the key issues, batteries / storage of intermittently generated power seems to be moving forward by leaps and bounds. So, personally, my assumption is that it is better to make quick conversion supported by subsidy than hang around, burning “dash for gas” or other fossil fuels while we face the long wait for nuclear to catch up. And then the latter will be no cheaper, if as cheap. The issue of long term storage of waste continues, of course. And, as I said, the more the extreme conditions that pertain, the more likely the big accidents are to be. I am dubious about Fukushima impacts in the long term. It, and Chernobyl, of course, have economic and social effects which will last for many years.

  • David Allen 13th Dec '15 - 7:26pm

    Ed Davey has written a good LDV piece on this – with loud praise for the historic deal itself, followed by a quiet mention for the positive role played by the Liberal Democrats, and no sniping at anyone else. That’s the right approach.

    This article, by contrast, takes quite the wrong approach. Bombast about how the Lib Dems are brilliant and the Greens and everyone else are terrible, backed up with precious few detailed arguments, is just a big turn-off. Particularly so when the Paris deal clearly depended on everybody compromising, nobody talking about who won or who lost, nobody playing (blatantly) silly games, everybody coming together. That’s what it should be about.

  • Jenny Barnes 14th Dec '15 - 8:25am

    5 times the fossil fuel we can burn has already been found. Onshore gas is absurd. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-talks-15c-marathon-negotiating-physics

  • Yes Jim ….
    “Ask a climate change scientist what a 5 degree world would look like, and you might just wish you hadn’t”.
    I’m sure the answer would be terrifying.

  • From the Guardian….

    “UK pushing for limits on air pollution to be relaxed, documents reveal
    In papers seen by the Guardian, government calls for carmakers to be allowed to far exceed the nitrogen oxides limit until 2021″…………

    It didn’t take long.

  • Jim Hodgson 14th Dec '15 - 9:42am

    Hi David Allen,

    Danks for your thoughts and contributions. Whilst I accept the point about the importance of collectivism here (the Lib Dems can’t save the world…to suggest to would be naiive beyond measure) the point of this article was to provide some sobering facts on the inadequacies of other partis’ stances on this issue. It’s a 500 word limit, so I can’t provide all the detailed arguments, but on the grounds of exploring party policy on what the energy mix needs to look like, I feel I’m entitled to make this point as strongly as I have. The Paris agreement is just an agreement, not a solution in itself. It follows that domestic energy policy should be scrutinised by the electorate: is it up to the job? How can we keep the lights on whilst also ensuring a low carbon future? these are the tough questions I’m trying to answer.

    These are important questions and in order to instigate action immediately (as is required); we must look for the most scientifically grounded policies and prop them up, regardless of our political persuasion. The Greens are in an ideologically-driven fantasy land, The Tories are in denial, and the (current) Labour cabinet are beyond disappointment given that they 7 years ago they were the party that put the Climate Change Act in place. I’ve not seen Corbyn discuss climate change with any sense of immediacy or passion, and this needs to be challenged. The point of the article was to highlight that leadership and scientifically-informed policy are important.

  • David Allen is absolutely right.

  • >“Ask a climate change scientist what a 5 degree world would look like, and you might just wish you hadn’t”.

    Given the way some scientists, who object to current climate models, go on, there is a likelihood they go off on a tangent about the lie of global warming and hence not actually answer the question…

  • Jim Hodgson 14th Dec ’15 – 9:42am………………………. the (current) Labour cabinet are beyond disappointment given that they 7 years ago they were the party that put the Climate Change Act in place. I’ve not seen Corbyn discuss climate change with any sense of immediacy or passion, and this needs to be challenged…………….

    Did you even look at what Corbyn has, or has not said, before making this statement? In almost his first speech after nomination Corbyn highlighted climate change he said he would put the “long-term interest of the planet” ahead of “the short-term interests of corporate profits” and issued a 10 point plan in support…. He has since made speeches on the matter….

  • Jim Hodgson 14th Dec '15 - 1:58pm

    Hi Expats,

    Sorry if there was any confusion, but I didn’t say he hadn’t mentioned CC…I said he’s not discussed it with any sense of immediacy or passion. He’s just not a convincing orator from where I’m standing. He pays lip service to the most important issue of our time. The point of the article was to highlight how well Tim Farron is doing on this issue.

    I have indeed taken the time to read Corbyn’s environmental strategy, in full, and have watched many of his speeches in full. The strategy is weak and has very little scientific grounding (as explained above). I think he’s doing a poor job on this. Even if his speeches were excellent, they need to be supported by an adequate strategy.

    A credible opposition would be ripping the Government to shreds on this issue, attacking subsidies for offshore oil, the scrapping of support for renewables, and the fact that Osborne’s father-in-law is a fossil-fuel lobbyist . I can’t see any evidence of this from Labour’s cabinet.

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