LibLink: Wera Hobhouse – UK must commit to phasing down fossil fuels for good

In an article for Politics Home, Lib Dem spokesperson for climate change Wera Hobhouse argued that 2023 must be the year that the UK finally commits to a timescale for phasing down fossil fuels for good.

This year we witnessed the consequences of climate change first hand. The British summer saw temperatures of over 40 degrees and Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine left us exposed to volatile international markets, unveiling the true cost of our dependence on fossil fuels.

Evidence shows the phasing down of fossil fuel production being vital to preventing temperatures rises above 1.5 degrees. But the United Kingdom is the second largest producer of oil and gas in Europe and is actively encouraging greater North Sea extraction.

To get on track, the government should decline Equinor’s proposed Rosebank development, the UK’s largest undeveloped oil field.

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  • Wera’s right. Except the real challenge is to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Stopping producing them is the easy* part.

    * Easy from a technical and practical point of view. Those who are making lots of money from it, along with governments relying on the associated tax income, will drag their heels as it’s not so easy finding other sources of easy income.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Jan '23 - 10:10am

    84% of primary energy used in the world comes from fossil fuels. 3.5% comes from solar & wind. We can probably run an economy on renewables – after all, we did before 1700 – but it’s not going to be possible to run the economy we have now.

  • Mel Borthwaite 4th Jan '23 - 10:21am

    I think the real challenge is to have practical and affordable alternatives to fossil fuel use in place before we phase down the supply. For example, current electric cars have a range of only around 300 miles on average and this can be reduced by 20% in cold weather. For someone like me, living in the north of Scotland but with family in England, an electric car is not an option that would enable me to travel by car to see family without an overnight stay on the journey. I hope to stick with my diesel until electric cars begin to match its performance.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Jan '23 - 10:39am

    I have an electric car, with a IRL range of about 70 miles. (1st gen Leaf). And if I need to visit family in the midlands, I will either go by train (strikes permitting ofc) or hire a petrol car. There’s a lot to be said for keeping cars a long time if you must have them, and a lot to be said for walking, cycling & public transport wherever possible.

  • Chris Platts 4th Jan '23 - 10:58am

    I agree with sentiment,unfortunately I have a diesel car, but would be willing to exchange it for an electric car. The limit on distance is irrelevant to me if we were going on long journey I would make regular stops anyway and I think 300 miles is a good limit. I think it would be good if some companies could convert people’s fossil powered cars rather than people having to buy a new vehicle.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Jan '23 - 12:27pm

    “There’s a lot to be said for keeping cars a long time if you must have them”
    If you don’t do a high mileage but still need the car e.g. lack of public transport, then as long as the car can be maintained economically, spending (borrowing?) a lot to buy an electric one doesn’t make much sense.

    “I think it would be good if some companies could convert people’s fossil powered cars rather than people having to buy a new vehicle.”
    There are some firms doing this but primarily to old classic petrol vehicles (Porsches, VW Beetles etc). And it’s expensive.

  • Committing to phasing down fossil fuels will require a change in society. As we saw during lockdown, a simple change in the normal working practice of many resulted in a significant drop in journeys, fossil fuel consumption and emissions. The data coming in from various sources is that the world has changed and will continue to change in ways that will make Rees-Mogg look like a modern day Canute.

    The challenge will be doing it fast enough (*) to motivate people to change and to drive the innovation necessary to support it, whilst at the same time finding the monies necessary to rebuild our society into something more inclusive and sustainable than it is today.

    Also, the change has to be fast enough to force changes in habits, ie. people simply replacing their current ICE car with an EV isn’t going to be of benefit. Hence I don’t see the need for expediting the rollout of EV charging points for example.

    (*)Based on the evidence from lockdown, 20% reduction every 2 years for the next decade, is probably achievable.

  • Laurence Cox 4th Jan '23 - 12:46pm

    If we are to even think about phasing out fossil fuels we need both to make the National Grid more robust and to increase storage capability; in 2022 with wind power breaking new records, there were some days when the National Grid had to tell some wind turbine operators in the west of Scotland to shut down:

    More storage is essential if we are to move away from fossil fuel and this can be achieved most easily by converting existing hydro-electric plants to pumped storage. Strathclyde University has shown that in Scotland alone this could yield over 500 GWh of storage from about a dozen large hydro-electric sites and this has been known for more than a decade (it is referenced in Sir David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”).

    Infrastructure improvement is essential if we are to get to a fossil fuel-free future.

  • I think the main problem is that in a democracy you have to take people with you.

    Outside of London and possibly Cambridge/Bristol/Oxford the British people love their cars and the freedom to go where they want, when they want without relying on public transport.

    Any political party the jeopardises this will not get elected.

    Therefore anything we want to do must be politically palatable to the electorate otherwise not one word of our policy will be enacted.

  • Barry Lofty 4th Jan '23 - 1:02pm

    I know I am repeating myself but a high degree of common sense will be needed in the transformation from fossil fuels not a sledgehammer.

  • Helen Dudden 4th Jan '23 - 1:45pm

    Barry Lofty. I agree the sledgehammer approach does more harm than good.
    There needs to be a better approach to farming cutting air miles, better Farmers Markets.
    Homes, that are thoroughly insulated and heated adequately, cold homes are damp homes.
    I use a Power wheelchair and on a full charge can manage 17 miles. Colder weather can affect the wet cell batteries. The present batteries are not the most efficient. Also, production tends to be Chinese.
    If changes are made steadily, then they tend to work.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Jan '23 - 6:26pm

    People lovetheir cars.
    Yes. And their long haul holidays etc etc. We’ve had a good run as a species but it’s time to go.

  • We need a coherent national energy strategy and that’s something that’s long been lacking in the UK.

    In Victorian times Britain’s huge coal reserves made it an energy superpower until we hit ‘Peak Coal’ in 1913 just as the world began transitioning to oil. Arguably that fortuitously smooth transition bred complacency that’s continued to the present helped along by the lucky break of North Sea oil and gas.

    But now the world looks close to if not past ‘Peak Oil’ and that, irrespective of global warming, will force change or economic collapse become inevitable because, along with land and labour, energy is a necessary input for everything we do. We can (and should) learn to use it more efficiently, but we can’t do without it.

    By the same token, phasing out fossil fuels can only be done by first developing alternative energy sources or the economy will shrink proportionately.

    So, two big things, global warming and impending hydrocarbon reserve depletion, both point to the urgent need for an energy strategy. What should that be?

  • Martin Gray 5th Jan '23 - 6:10am

    Hundreds of thousands are employed in the oil & gas industry across the UK & it’s supply chains..
    That is not going to change anytime soon , certainly not 2030 that’s for sure …
    People up down the country are travelling to work in a ford/astra etc worth about £1500 just to get work as a care worker , shelf stacker , warehouse op …
    There is no public transport & never had been at those times of day …
    Welcome to the real world ..

  • My cousin has one of the modern, longer range EVs and has happily travelled between the south of England and central Scotland more than once. The distance between charging points wasn’t the problem. With a young family he’d have been making stops anyway, and it’s not safe to drive long distances without a break. The rapid chargers were more than quick enough for his needs. What was potentially a problem was not enough rapid chargers and not all of them working properly, and a more resilient system is required. And worth pointing out that most of his driving is more local and they have a home charger. If he were doing a 600 mile journey every second week then he might be more concerned about potential queues for a charger, and we don’t need all solutions to be perfect solutions before we start to implement them.

    It is true we need to bring the public with us, but it’s part of our job to convince the public that a better way is possible. We are competing against the car adverts, where all roads are clear and there are no pesky other drivers getting in the way. Making trains, buses, cycling and walking more attractive to more people in their every day lives is essential.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Jan '23 - 9:46am

    “My cousin has one of the modern, longer range EVs”

  • @Martin Gray Hundreds of thousands are employed in the oil & gas industry across the UK & it’s supply chains.. and paying taxes etc.

    That’s one of the reasons why the decarbonising our economy and society is such a big challenge. What I think is certain, a decarbonised economy will be a much smaller economy than what we have today.

    I suspect once climate change begins to become visible, people will be surprised just how fast they can change and adapt – we saw it with the CoVid lockdown and before that WWII…

  • @Nonconformistradical I don’t know. I doubt it was cheap, but I was responding to a statement claiming it was impossible, so commenting on the technical viability, not saying it was easy for everyone to do now. The real point is that we don’t need to plan everything around our trickiest journeys. How many people claim petrol cars are useless because they aren’t suited to getting them to the Med for their Summer holidays?

    Doing a bit of extra planning to ensure your journey breaks are at service stations with good EV charging for a once a year trip isn’t the stumbling block for most people whose day to day use of a car is well suited to having an EV.

    The real question is why not use the train more for these journeys? In answer, my uncle used the train to visit at Christmas, helped by a lift to and from the local station. He had a nightmare, delayed return journey with cancelled services, having to stand for chunks despite having booked well in advance. The technology exists to fix that too.

  • David Garlick 5th Jan '23 - 3:44pm

    Spot in Vera. Can’t burn it if it is not produced…
    I expect that it will only become a fossil fuel world if the rich can make money from renewables instead!
    No change there then.

  • @David Garlick
    “I expect that it will only become a fossil fuel free world if the rich can make money from renewables instead!”
    From previous discussions around renewables and alternative power another issue is the government making money from it ie. taxation.

    Hence why the government have tended to sponsor alternative energy schemes that dovetail into the current big business-controlled energy supply market with all the opportunity for taxation, rather than local schemes which are effectively an upfront sale and nothing until the installation is replaced some decades down the road.

  • Phil Beesley 5th Jan '23 - 5:05pm

    Jenny Barnes: “I have an electric car, with a IRL range of about 70 miles. (1st gen Leaf)”

    It is dismaying that first generation technology almost always fails to match real world requirements. I hope it serves you well for local trips.

    As others here have commented, more recent EVs (affordable ones) have a range which allows you to get most of the way. Far enough to judge the claims of companies providing recharging points.

    If UK government is serious about converting the transport fleet to electric power, it requires more than statements. Homes and the electricity distribution network are not designed sudden demand for overnight charging. Did I miss a ministerial statement changing the specification for local transformers?

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Jan '23 - 10:41am

    @ phil B My electric car works well for anything up to 30 miles away, which covers over 99% of what we need to do. Outside that range, I’ve successfully, but with some difficulty, used fast chargers, trains, or hired petrol cars.

    @Martin Gray “People .. are travelling to work in a ford/astra etc worth about £1500 just to get [to]work” There are alternatives. You can get a similar 1st gen leaf to mine 2nd hand for under £5k; a 50cc petrol scooter is less than £2000 & gives 100mpg or so, electric bicycles, ordinary bicycles, walking… depending on distance.

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Jan '23 - 10:44am

    Mind you, electric cars are a bit of a blind herring. Because our marginal electicity units are gasfired, they are effectively burning methane at one remove. To make them truly green would need a huge, and probably infeasible, increase in renewable or nuclear energy supply.

  • David Garlick 7th Jan '23 - 9:55am

    Bring forth the Electrcity Generation Levy…

  • Peter Hirst 11th Jan '23 - 3:00pm

    Achieving net zero by 2050 was never going to be easy. This government has made it all nigh impossible. If citizens are going to do their bit the government must lead by example. And it’s doing the opposite. Posturing and reaching concrete achievable goals are both important. It is doing neither. Ceasing all fossil fuel production and use would be a good start.

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