Ed Davey MP writes…Tackling climate change

Flooding in Cedar Rapids, IAI’m writing from the Climate Change Summit in New York, hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. While Liberal Democrats don’t need reminding just how much of a threat climate change is – from the increased risks of flooding, to the impact on the world’s poorest – I thought it timely to give you an update on the progress we’ve made and what comes next.

The UN Climate Summit itself is an important staging post as we continue to build political momentum towards the crucial Paris talks next year – when the world has said it would do the climate deal we so desperately need. We’ve seen strong political commitments from President Obama backing up the new regulations he’s putting on American coal power stations. And the UK has been leading the way too, with important announcements on new funding to protect vital global forests and the publication of a key report called the “New Climate Economy Study” which I helped commission, and which sets out the most authoritative academic case ever for green growth.

But this UN Summit is only part of the momentum we need to see. In Europe, next month will be critical – both for the EU’s own efforts and for our collective global leadership: the European Council at the end of October has to agree on Europe’s climate policy to 2030.

The good news is that the proposal on the table is ambitious. But it wouldn’t have been but for strong UK leadership. Through the 15 country strong ‘Green Growth Group’ I established, we have successfully pushed for the European Commission to propose a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target of at least 40%, by 2030. If in the next four weeks we can get over the remaining opposition –mainly from Poland – the EU will be able to influence others, from China to the US, from a position of strength.

UK leadership at the EU and UN is only possible because of our achievements at home. Since 2010, we’ve more than doubled the electricity generated from renewable resources, as onshore and offshore wind have expanded fast. Thanks to the Energy Act 2013 – only possible because of Liberal Democrat leadership – Britain is now seen as one of the most attractive countries in the world for investment in green energy. So our renewable electricity capacity will double again by 2020.

So, we have a green energy and climate change record of delivery to be proud of. But at our Glasgow Conference I will also be setting out further details of how as Liberal Democrats we want to go further. One of the five green laws we are proposing in our Pre-Manifesto is a Zero Carbon Britain Bill which would include a legally binding decarbonisation target and measures to end the use of unabated coal.

The next few months are crucial as we work towards a binding deal on tackling climate change and I look forward to giving you another progress report at conference along with debating Liberal Democrat proposals for another term in Government.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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  • It doesn't add up... 24th Sep '14 - 1:14pm

    With China’s emissions now higher per capita than the EU’s, perhaps Davey could comment on how this really helps control emissions from the world’s biggest emitter? Setting an example has been a massive failure. Exporting industry to China an even bigger one.

  • So that can only mean lots more nuclear – what are the governments plans for kick starting a UK-based nuclear construction industry with export potential, or will this be yet another miss opportunity to invest in British R&D and enterprise?

    [Aside: I use ‘British’ to mean the whole of the UK and NI, and not simply as a euphemism for England.]

  • It doesn't add up... 24th Sep '14 - 3:08pm

    William Hobhouse:

    100 percent renewables is unattainable for modern society – it means being at the whim of the wind and sun. If you want a realistic plan you must deal with engineering and scientific reality.


  • Yet again I look at the motion you want the people of the UK to adopt and your concern is getting the world following “us”

    The costs attached are significant in the next couple of decades and it seems you have little care if we can afford our energy bills

    This winter we may see power cuts why lack of investment in normal energy production but offshore wind will charge a few batteries for use when main generation fails

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Sep '14 - 5:06pm

    National grid status currently shows coal 12gw nuclear 6 gas 13 wind 3. If we doubled the wind to 6′ that only backs out 1/4 of the coal. Not enough. Short term lets have another 12 or 15 gw of nuclear to back out all the coal, and use the relatively modern gas plant to balance the renewables. Preferably built by direct contract to th govt, none of this muking about wiht contracts for difference aka subsidy. Longer term, concentrated solar in hot sunny places and long haul HVDC grids. The French electricity is nearly all Nuclear an d Hydro. If they can do it, why can’t we?

  • @Joe, passing laws are fundamental because it is often not the Government who are ‘just doing it’ – it is private businesses and the public.

    Therefore, Laws are required to set down a framework for those businesses and the public to have the certainty, tools and ‘motivation’ to act on climate change.

    Certainty for businesses that investing in Green will be more profitable than carbon.

    The legal tools to make things such as forming contracts for green business deals easier.

    The motivation that knowing an investment in green will have positive results and the motivation that sticking with carbon will at best be negative for you, at worse a breach of the Law.

  • I couldn’t have answered Joe’s point better about laws and binding targets on this, Liberal Al. Thanks. I do think Joe has a point with regard to local self sufficiency and small scale developments. And funding streams to help ordinary people convert is the point. And, Joe, that is moving away from the deficit obsession (and, let’s face it, the anti public service and funding agenda) that some still have (not naming any names!)

  • As a PS TEN years ago, I saw a good demonstration of a near self-sufficient in power personal set up, which balanced wind and solar generation, often producing output at different times. I have also seen the same idea used at a primary school effectively. In the last ten years solar technology, and price, have moved up several gears. I believe it is being held back by a number of factors:
    1 The big scale energy industry has been hit hard by Germany’s rapid progress to renewables, and they lobby ultra-hard to stop other countries taking the same, desirable road.

    2 The affordability, and the help for upfront schemes to instal both residential renewable capacity and proper insulation, has only been timidly approached, because no-one is prepared to invest on the speed and scale necessary (see my point above).

    3 Despite the renewables industry’s strong attempts to make compromises on siting of bigger installations, the anti movement has successfully frustrated and slowed progress.

    I find Ed Davey hard to believe or take seriously until he at least engages with these problems, rather than engaging in his perpetual propaganda stream to tell us all is good in his world.

  • Tim13 25th Sep ’14 – 8:29am
    In the last ten years solar technology, and price, have moved up several gears. I believe it is being held back by a number of factors:
    1 The big scale energy industry has been hit hard by Germany’s rapid progress to renewables, and they lobby ultra-hard to stop other countries taking the same, desirable road.

    Absolutely correct Tim13. The German example is never discussed by Ed Davey because it makes his own ambition look timid and lacking in determination. The lobbying power of the unaccountable energy barons who profit from the status quo is enormous. Unfortunately politicians of all parties in the Westminster Bubble spend too much time rubbing shoulders (and worse) with these lobbyists. So they lose sight of the realities of what can be achieved today with renewable technologies already available to us at minimal cost of investment. How mad is that?

  • It doesn't add up... 25th Sep '14 - 2:01pm

    The laws you can’t repeal are those of science. Canute knew that, but Davey seems to think he has greater powers. We will all find out the hard way when we have none.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Sep '14 - 9:12pm

    @It doesn’t add up… Date and time irrelevant

    The THEORIES of science are being refined all the time as we expand our knowledge and challenge the existing assumptions and laws. You want to try adding to your knowledge base and the possibilities science and engineering offer us today.

    You would have us believe that renewable energy is limited to the wind and solar PV (which by the way runs very well on my own roof).
    How about wave power … don’t know if you have ever noticed but the waves (of energy) still come in when the tide is going out. The wave energy around the British Isles is equivalent to three times current UK electricity demand. What you like to call the Laws of Science (and engineering) mean it is already technically possible to convert a sizeable fraction of this wave energy to electricity – the technically and economically recoverable resource has been estimated to be 50-90TWh of electricity per year, or 14-26% of current UK demand (http://www.pelamiswave.com/global-resource)
    How about tidal power – with or without storage lagoons or reversible turbines.
    How about geothermal power – areas of the UK have serious hot rock thermal gradients. Others may wish to read ‘Direct application’ at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_gradient
    Average heat flow is high enough heat homes, factories etc.
    Air to space or water heat exchange – a member of my family successfully heats their home using this method.
    Although not renewable as such how about obtaining the energy trapped in all the food and packaging waste that presently goes to expensive land fill.

    One of my biggest issues with those who support nuclear is that they believe that this technology is unique amongst human endeavours in that it will never go wrong.
    Do planes and trains crash, ships sink? Yes Stephen of course they do … its laws of science and averages you know!

    Do nuclear power stations ever meltdown? Er, er well er yes occasionally but that was in the past, the ones we will get the French and Chinese to build for us will be of such a high standard and be manned by human beings that never make mistakes, that accidents just won’t happen! Yeah right!

    “It doesn’t add up…” Perhaps you just need more fingers?

  • What Stephen Hesketh says !!

    Especially on the risk of failure of nuclear power stations. So far major failures at nuclear power stations include Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima .

    If a solar panel fails you replace it. If a Fukushima fails you spend billions trying to cope with the result, you section off a huge area of your country for ever, you evacuate all the inhabitants and hope that their health will not have suffered.

  • I will not debate the Three Mile Island incident because that one is a fair example, but:

    Fukushima was built on a stupid location to a substandard quality.

    Chernobyl was an outmoded, badly maintained soviet relic and is about as comparable to modern NS as the Wright Brother’s plane is to a modern day place.

    Germany is probably not mentioned because their supposed great green ambitions are not that great upon closer inspection. Denmark, however, is an example worth noting that people seem to forget.

  • Liberal Al 26th Sep ’14 – 9:46am
    Fukushima was built on a stupid location to a substandard quality.

    And Hinkley Point is not a stupid location to build another generation of nuclear power stations ?? (within spitting distance of the River Parret and large stretches of Somerset flooded for weeks earlier this year, and upwind from Cardiff and Bristol)

  • Paul In Wokingham 26th Sep '14 - 10:19am

    @Liberal Al – I am not an expert in nuclear power but I have a distinct recollection of reading that Fukushima was not simply in a dangerous location, but there was a fundamental flaw in the design which meant that pumps always had to be powered on to supply cooling. If the pumps stopped then there was a real risk of a serious malfunction. That seems a fundamental design flaw.

    I recall that Tepco said that they had considered the risk of pump failure due to tsunami and concluded that it was a “1 in a 1000 year event”. Given that the anticipated lifespan of the plant was 50 years it would seem that they were prepared to take a 20/1 shot that the plant would not suffer a catastrophic failure.

  • Bishop Hill
    Have you considered for a moment that the Natonal Grid might be a self serving organisation that vigorously opposes local power generation using renewables and uses all the lobbying and scare tactics it can to maintain its own privileged position?

    I expect that the National Grid was a good way to distribute electricity in the 1940s and subsequent decades. In an age when many domestic electricity users could generate enough of their own electricity off grid maybe it is time to question just how useful the National Grid is and if it should be changed.

  • Ruwan Kodikara 26th Sep '14 - 1:36pm

    Hang on! John you mention the ‘German’ example is never discussed by Ed because it makes “his own ambition look timid and lacking in determination”. So I looked at the German example you mention and this is what I found…

    • In the past year Germany had the largest proportion of electricity generated from dirty coal for 24 years
    • Average household electricity prices are 60% higher there than the UK
    • Energy Taxes (including support for renewables etc) is 29% of the electricity bill in Germany compared to 11% in the UK
    • Germany had LOWER investment in renewables last year than the UK (according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance figures) despite having a much larger economy.

    So I am not surprised that Ed doesn’t discuss the German example! Happy to post the sources but essentially looked at DECC figures on the website and the Energy Price index.

    Despite being the junior partner, despite the Tories holding the keys to Treasury and despite nutter Tory backbenchers and a right wing press our party has made incredible progress with the green agenda. We should of course strive to do more, but we shouldn’t ignore the successes we as a party have already achieved.

  • What is concerning is the government are proposing to build 12 nuclear power stations with next to no public debate. Taking the build price ticket of Hinckley Point at circa £16bn as indicative, the government is effectively committing the taxpayer to underwriting (through a variety of financial instruments) circa £184 bn of investment. That is before we also consider the various upgrades to the grid that will also be needed – to support all those new ‘homes’ that politicians say we need and the rollout of rapid charge points for electric cars to name two examples.

    I accept energy isn’t as ‘exciting’ as a city centre-to-city centre high speed shuttle, but it is more relevant to more people.

  • Ruwan Kodikara 26th Sep ’14 – 1:36pm
    Ruwan you have taken a number of facts about Germany which I am sure are true, you do not need to provide sources.

    Perhaps in my comment I did not make it clear what I meant.

    I was adding to an earlier comment –
    Tim13 25th Sep ’14 – 8:29am
    1 The big scale energy industry has been hit hard by Germany’s rapid progress to renewables, and they lobby ultra-hard to stop other countries taking the same, desirable road.

    As Tim13 said — Germany has made rapid progress to renewables.

    I don’t think anyone denies that Germany’s progress has been rapid.
    Germany’s plans for further progress are much more ambitious than Ed Davey’s plans for the UK.
    That is not my opinion it is a matter of fact.
    Ed has got caught up in providing new nuclear (possibly Chris Huhne his predecessor dropped him in it) and uses the carbon argument, developed by the nuclear lobbyists, to justify this.
    Germany is phasing out both nuclear and it’s traditional reliance on coal and has targets for renewables and deadlines for achieving those targets, which make Ed Davey’s stated position look timid.

    If Ed’s position is constrained by the coalition, I would suggest that with only a couple of hundred days to the general election he needs to start setting out a distinctive Liberal Democrat position.
    The coaition is held back by the climate change deniers in the Tory Party .

  • John, if you can find any reference by me to Hinkley Point, let alone any comments supporting it, please do highlight them, otherwise your point seems rather moot. I was not talking about Hinkley: my point was that the ‘examples’ people bring up to say ‘look, this happened, so Nuclear must be bad’ are often rather more complicated than the people using them seem willing to accept.

    My thoughts on Nuclear are long and complicated because Nuclear energy is a complicated issue, which requires much analyse, not starry eyed beliefs that it is our saviour or screams of ‘Nein…Nein…Nein…! In the world of energy there are no absolutes because we use more than we sustainability make.

    @Ruwan: thanks for finding those stats. It is frustrating that Germany gets such an easy ride on its woeful Green record, whereas the UK constantly get kicked dispute having (mostly thanks to the Lib Dems and (actually) Labour) a strong record.

  • Paul, there were many problems with Fukushima, that was one of the substandard aspects of the plant which massively exacerbated the problem. There were others – all of which made what could have been a very manageable situation a much worse one – though not as bad as the scream mongering press of the world would have had us believe.

    Fukushima was a big wake up call for Japan as the country had always assumed it had great H&S/construction regulations, without ever really checking if they did.

    It has lead to massive reforms of their energy industry, construction industry (which will hopefully lead to them finally sorting their housing market (one which makes London look sane)) and planning regulations – some of which are insanely overly bureaucratic, despite dealing with minor issues, whilst other areas where one would want strict rules governing the actions of the construction there just seems to be a blackhole.

  • Re: Fukushima – a digression…

    “… there was a fundamental flaw in the design which meant that pumps always had to be powered on to supply cooling. If the pumps stopped then there was a real risk of a serious malfunction. That seems a fundamental design flaw.”

    Many of our buildings in striving to be ‘energy efficient’ etc. also fall into the same trap; without power to run the air pumps, the building can rapidly become as capable of sustaining life within them as a crippled submarine laying on the seabed.

  • Matty England 11th Oct '14 - 9:03pm

    We have to get someone who can count back in charge of Energy and quick before the lights start going out.
    Wind is a bonus. Wind is not something you can ever count on to deliver. Must always be backed up by reliables for on-demand capacity when needed.

  • Eddie Sharpe 11th Oct '14 - 9:11pm

    Is Ed condemning us to electoral oblivion with his plans to commit us to an unreliable, unaffordable energy future ?

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