STANDING OUR GROUND

 

This piece was first published by Friends Of The Earth here

 

white elephant foe nukes

 

 

On a very cold morning forty years ago I got into a bright red Mini outside the FoE offices in Poland Street. Together with John Price, an Australian physics PhD, I was about to set off on a nationwide tour of the FoE local groups. Our goal was to run a series of teach-ins and public meetings on nuclear power.

The first oil price hike had only recently taken place. There was much anxiety that the world was running out of oil. This prompted a lot of governments to begin massive, heavily subsidised programmes of nuclear power. ‘Limits to Growth’ had just been published and there were many environmentalists who thought nuclear might be the answer to the oil resources running out.

Our task was to explain to the public and the FoE local groups why this wasn’t so. Then, as now, we had four arguments. Nuclear was too expensive, it was not safe; it would lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and would leave behind unmanageable radioactive waste. In short, there were cheaper, cleaner and safer ways to meet our energy demand.

As events transpired, we were right then as FoE is now and, as later, it proved to be about Thorp. In 1979, Walt Paterson wrote a long article for the Journal of the Institute of Nuclear Engineering. It traced the history of FoE’s central role in igniting the public debate about nuclear power in the Britain from 1973 onwards. It documented the extensive evidence base that FoE produced to support its position.

Nowhere in that evidence base will you find any objection to nuclear power ‘in principle’. This particular campaign was an expression of the founding principles of FoE. One of those principles is that whatever our ethical motivation for a campaign, the policies we proposed should be based on solid evidence. Another, was to pick specific issues on which to campaign that focussed attention on wider issues.

Among the most successful of FoE’s early campaigns was the whale campaign. Much as FoE cared about whales, the point of the campaign was to dramatise the wider need to preserve all endangered species. If you couldn’t save the whale, what could you save? Similarly, the focus on nuclear power was not just on the choice of technology but on the wider issue of what kind of energy policy was best for the environment.

So, does it matter that a slipshod journalist got FoE’s position wrong on the BBC? I think it does but not because whether FoE is arguing about safety or economics matters. It has, and hopefully will continue, to argue both. And when it is appropriate and fits the media’s fickle attention, I hope FoE will add the rest of the compelling suite of arguments about why nuclear power is a distraction.

Harrabin’s sloppiness with the truth matters for a far more strategic reason. FoE, along with the rest of the environmental community, is widely trusted by the public. Trusted far more than journalists or politicians. This trust has been built up by generations of FoE staff and activists over forty years. The source of that trust has been FoE’s commitment to basing its policy on sound evidence.

FoE is, in principle, committed to protecting the environment. It is also, in principle, committed to opposing anything which is in its judgment, damaging to the environment. But those judgments are based on the best evidence it can assemble. Those judgements, like any judgements, are subject to change as circumstances change. But the whole point of principles is that they do not change with circumstances.

To describe FoE’s opposition to nuclear as ‘in principle’ is to attack the basis on which public trust in FoE has been built. That is to suggest that there can never be any evidence that would change the judgement that nuclear power is bad for the environment. The public, quite rightly, does not trust anyone who believes they cannot make a mistake. Opposing nuclear power in principle would be to assert infallibility and would be deservedly distrusted.

Furthermore, the public understands principles. They are things you stick to even when the going gets tough. To change your principles as the winds of opinion change is to show moral cowardice. For Harrabin to accuse FoE of changing its principles is to further attack the basis on which FoE’s trust asset is built.

So Harrabin was wrong on two counts. FoE has never opposed nuclear, nor as far as I know, any other technology on principle. Nor has FoE ever changed the principles it does have to suit the headlines. As this century progresses the forces we have long opposed will work harder to weaken us. It will be ever more important to know what our principles really are and to protect them and the public trust that we built standing up for them from attack whether motivated by carelessness or malevolence.

 

Tom Burke

September 18th 2014

London

 

 

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Tackling climate change is more of an opportunity than a threat

 

 

our future our voice

 

 

Here are three pieces I have done this week for the BBC and Sky News. They are about Ban Ki Moon’s climate summit in New York. A key point that I make is that climate change is impacting on people’s lives right now. Another is that there are more opportunities than risks in acting ambitiously to tackle it.

 

BBC World Service 22nd September 2014

BBC WORLD SERVICE

 

 

 

 

“It’s now becoming increasingly clear that renewables are the place for investment to go. A world in which you are having to invest massive amounts of money simply to get more fossil fuels out is looking increasingly unattractive financially, and you’re seeing all the oil companies already in trouble with their capital expenditure. So what I think we are seeing is something that is both morally good but also very smart in business terms”

 

 

BBC News 22nd September 2014

BBC NEWS PIC

 

 

 

 

 

“We have seen what’s been happening to the oil industry  getting overextended, having real difficulty finding new investments that generate good return on their assets, they are all cutting back on their capital expenditure. So people are really beginning to see that investments in this sector are under stress. And then they are seeing events, and seeing the kind of demonstrations we saw all over the weekend, all over the world, beginning to push governments into taking more action of climate change. Well at that point, the future value, given that you have to wait a long time before you get your money back in the oil industry, that then begins to look a lot more risky, and I think that is what the Rockefellers are being shrewd about.”

 

 

Sky News 23rd September 14

SKY NEWS PIC

 

 

 

 

 

“The real problem here is to get people to realise that it’s not about ‘doom mongering’ there’s a much smarter, cleaner, more efficient world available which will also reduce the pressure on the climate. We have got to stop thinking about it as a binary situation, yes or no, good or bad, it’s more complicated than that, a bit like the situation in the middle east, but there is much more opportunity in that than there is threat.”

 

 

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‘IT’S THE ECONOMY STUPID’

 

 

Treasury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the debate on the Fourth Carbon Budget began in Whitehall in 2012 the Treasury had a clear view. No. Meeting its requirements would be too damaging to Britain’s economy. How did they know this? Their model of the economy told them so.

The Fourth Carbon Budget covers the period from 2023 to 2027. The Treasury’s model told them that agreeing this Budget would knock 1% off GDP in 2027.  The Treasury cannot tell you confidently what Britain’s GDP was last year. They are even less certain about what it is going to be next year. This makes believing you know what it will be in 15 years time pretty heroic.

In the event, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary combined to over rule the Chancellor and after some huffing and puffing and a bit of delay the Fourth Carbon Budget has been adopted. You should not imagine, however, that this is the end of it. The Treasury will take advantage of every little downward ripple in the economy or scare about energy security to try to re-open the question such is its confidence in its model.

WWF also has a model. To be more precise, Cambridge Econometrics has a model. A rather well regarded one as it happens. WWF asked them to see what meeting the first four carbon budgets would do to Britain’s economy. They came to a rather different view. If we did so we would be better off not worse off.

Their results, just published, show that If we succeed in delivering the Fourth Carbon Budget then, by 2030, Britain’s GDP will be 1.1% greater than it would otherwise have been. Families will be £565 a year better off. There will be 190,000 additional jobs. The Treasury’s tax take will go up by £5.7 billion a year. We will use 30% less oil and 55% less gas not only hugely improving our energy security but also knocking £8.5 billion off our balance of payments deficit.

With benefits like this you would think that the Treasury would be falling over itself to accelerate the decarbonisation of the economy. Instead it is throwing up obstacles at every turn. Some of this is clearly ideological. The green has been washed off the Conservative Party by the rise of UKIP. But more of it is simply they really believe they are right.

We base a lot of really important political and economic decisions on the basis of our model of the economy. So how is it possible that two different groups of experienced modellers, modelling the same economy, can come to such dramatically different answers to the same question?

And even more importantly, which one should we believe?

Models of the economy are fickle beasts. The problem is that different modelling groups use different equations to describe the same economy. Furthermore, modelling outputs are hugely dependent on the choice of inputs. Change an assumption here, import some disputed data there, and pretty soon you get different answers to the same question.

This greatly undermines the utility of economic modelling in public policy decisions. Different interests shop around for models, assumptions and data sets that they hope will give them the answers they want. Politicians simply use them as arsenals to be raided  for ammunition to defend positions they have already adopted.

Different climate models, for all their uncertainties, offer a far more consistent  description of the real world than is offered by different economic models. This is a result of the intensive and transparent effort managed by the IPCC to provide useful knowledge to inform policy making. It is long past time that economists subject their modelling to a similar transparent, global process.

So the honest answer to the question of who is right, WWF or the Treasury, is I don’t know. I do know who I would prefer to be right and I do know that it matters. If the Treasury is wrong we will have taken a pass on a load of immediate benefits and put the stability of the climate at risk. If WWF is wrong we will have delayed increasing our wealth by a few months.

However, we would all be better off if we stopped guessing.  The Treasury and the WWF should sit down together and work through their differences publicly. They should do this on-line so that we can all follow along. In the 21st century there is no excuse at all for such a fundamental analysis to go on behind closed doors whether they are green or black.

 

Tom Burke

September 9th 2014

London

 

 

 

 

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Tusk – not as bad for climate as it first appears?

 

This piece first appeared on the E3G website

 

Donald-Tusk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The appointment of Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, to replace Van Rompuy as President of the European Council has provoked jitters within Europe’s environment community. No-one would ever have described Poland under his leadership as an environmental leader. He seemed to relish his role as the brake on European ambition on climate change.

Coming from a country as heavily dependent on coal for its energy, and nervous about any dependence on Russian gas well before Mr Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, this behaviour is hardly a surprise. Prime Ministers are there to protect and promote their countries’ interests. He may not have been right to identify a dirty and dying industry as in Poland’s interest but he was effective in defending it.

This skill may not work as badly for the climate as it first appears. It is worth remembering that Tusk is Merkel’s pick whatever the No.10 spin machine tries to make you think. Their relationship is close. Climate change matters to Merkel and she now leads Europe on it. Tusk is unlikely to pick unnecessary fights with his sponsor and also his strongest ally as President.

Furthermore, being the President of the European Council is a fixer’s job. Van Rompuy was more successful than expected because if he had a personal agenda he kept it very much to himself. The President’s task is to find and secure the agreement of the leaders of the member states. This means Tusk is now charged with promoting and protecting the common interest of Europe. This may make it more difficult rather than easier for his successor in Poland to put the brake on European climate ambition.

Finally, the Council is only one of the Union’s institutions. The Council has to work with both the Parliament and the Commission. What ultimately happens to EU policy is a result of a resolution of their pushing and pulling on each other. This makes tedious copy for the media but is actually a more robust way of dealing with an increasingly uncertain world than it is given credit for.

The new Parliament is in place but yet to show its intent on climate change. The new Commission takes office in November. How they will relate to each other and what kind of influence on the Council they will have remains to be seen. The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the Commission however raises an interesting prospect.

Lyndon Johnson was far more substantively successful than any subsequent US President. He was a creature of the Senate and knew better than his successors how to make it work for him. Juncker is the pick of the European Parliament. This makes for a new and potentially more dynamic relationship between the Council and the other two institutions.

Against this background it is too early to call the impact of Tusk on European climate ambition. There have been two interesting straws in the wind from Juncker. He was far keener than his predecessor in having a strong energy efficiency target. Access to more European funding for efficiency improvements would help Poland more than most. There is also some talk of bringing the energy and climate directorates together. Since your energy policy is your climate policy this would make achieving a resolution of the security-affordability-climate equation less fractious.

The Tusk big idea which propelled him to prominence in the debate on Europe’s future was the idea of an Energy Union. In its original form it was transparently a plug for Poland’s coal and was met with a mixed reaction. Turn this into an Energy and Climate Union driven forward by a combined energy and climate directorate and well led European institutions might be able to accomplish something most of its governments have so far failed to do.

 

Tom Burke

September 1st 2014

London

 

 

Posted in Blog, Climate Change, E3G, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy Security, Environment, European, In the media, Oil and Gas, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE FRAGILE CITY AND THE RISK NEXUS

 

 

fragile city & risk nexus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a new short book I have written with leading urbanist Charles Landry. It brings together for the first time two disconnected narratives. The first is about the future of the cities in which half the planet’s population now lives. The second is about the interaction of climate change with food, energy and water security – the risk nexus.

The success of cities – they are now responsible for 80% of the world’s economic growth – flows from their creativity in managing a torrent of material and social change. Urban politicians mobilise business, public authorities and civil society to deliver collective solutions to shared problems. This allows them to channel the turbulent stresses of city life in more sustainable directions.

Climate change threatens the fragile stability that city politicians must maintain. It does so directly by imposing huge additional costs on the physical infrastructure essential to urban life. But it also does so indirectly by undermining the food and water security without which cities quickly become dysfunctional.

Cities everywhere have not waited for governments to act. They are nimbler, more able to deliver the innovative and integrated responses required to deal with the risk nexus. But however enterprising and creative they are their own efforts will be overwhelmed if climate policy fails.

But governments are hobbled in their efforts to meet this challenge by their lack of legitimate authority. Some have the authority to act but without the legitimacy to command the support of their population. Others have legitimacy but cannot assemble enough authority to act decisively.

In both cases city politicians, closer as they are to the base of society, are better placed to respond to climate change. But they are isolated from each other. In our short book we argue that cities, if they are to continue to succeed, must combine together to negotiate a more explicit and binding political contract with their national capitals on how to manage the risks and opportunities of maintaining climate security.

 

Tom Burke

 

The book can be bought online for £9.95 here

You can find more information about the book here

 

fragile city & risk nexus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NO-ONE HOME

 

This piece first appeared in BusinessGreen

 

city-lights

 

There is no-one at home in Britain’s political parties. Increasingly they are empty shells with ever fewer members. On a good day less than 400,000 people belong to all our political parties combined. That is about 0.5% per cent of the population. This is a precipitous decline from the four million who belonged to Britain’s political parties in the fifties.

All 650 MPs are drawn from this rather shallow talent pool. Assuming, rather generously, that half those members are active, Britain’s political talent pool is about the size of Bournemouth. So something more than simply nostalgia for a mythical golden age may explain why our current crop of political leaders are so lacking.

By comparison, the membership of the RSPB is about 1.2 million and that of the National Trust perhaps 4 million. Membership of a political party makes you part of a marginal fringe of society. Belonging to an environmental body puts you deep in the mainstream of British public life.

This hollowing out of political parties has significant consequences. Fewer members means less income. That leads to ever more intimate relations with business and union leaders to pay for the party, especially at election time. This inexorably distorts agendas and priorities.

It also means the parties can no longer communicate directly with voters. Instead they must rely on the media to build the electoral coalitions necessary to achieve office. This makes them hugely dependent on the prejudices of editors whose primary interest is retaining the loyalty of their paying customers.

Political discourse thus becomes over focussed on the near term, emotionally potent, social issues whilst paying less attention to analysing the difficult, strategic issues that make up the national interest. In recent decades politics has boiled down to choosing which celebrity politician you prefer to micro-manage marginal improvements in public services which are actually quite good.

Of course, these realities are camouflaged by a hurricane of heroic spin whose primary purpose is to keep voters confused and distracted. The result is an ill-informed electorate, ill-prepared to deal with the multiplying stresses generated by a changing world. The empty political parties of both the right and left have been unwilling to seek electoral mandates to deal properly with an avalanche of looming threats to prosperity and security of which climate change is the most serious.

Parties of the right are pre-occupied with their drive to reduce taxes, regulations and spending by government. Their core purpose is an ever expanding realm of personal individual choice. They believe markets are always wiser than governments. As Mr Cameron has painfully discovered, it is difficult for politicians from the right to accept the level of government activism required to tackle a changing climate.

Left wing parties seek to maximise economic growth as fast as possible to create the wealth to improve public services and alleviate poverty. Anything thought to put economic growth at risk is anathema. They are not so viscerally opposed to government interventions as those from the right but they are timid, preferring marginal change to the transformations needed.

As far as national politics is concerned choice boils down to a leader who has gone form hugging a husky to throwing out the ‘green crap’ or one who after four years has yet to make a significant speech on the environment. Some choice!

But if national politics is failing the environment, the same cannot be said for local politics. After the Earth Summit in 1992 local authorities picked up Agenda 21 with far more enthusiasm – and impact – than national government. All over the country local authorities got stuck into developing their local sustainable development agendas. This was followed in 2006 by the Transition Towns movement which mobilised local communities to build a more sustainable future.

The same is now true on climate change. Throughout Britain, and across the world, cities everywhere are not waiting for national governments to act. City leaders are closer to their citizens than national leaders. They have more legitimacy to speak for their people and are better able to build consensus around common purposes and a collective response to shared problems.

They are nimbler than national governments, more able to deliver the innovative and integrated responses required. They are already doing so. City leaders everywhere are bringing together business, communities, voluntary bodies and public authorities to reduce their emissions, invest in renewables and become more resource efficient.

But however creative and enterprising cities are their own efforts will be overwhelmed if climate policy fails. Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call. Few cities are sited in countries that can afford one $60 billion relief effort let alone the many that will be required if the 2°C threshold is passed. On current rates of carbon emissions this could well be before 2050.

The efforts by many cities around the world to make themselves more environmentally and socially sustainable are impressive and inspiring. They show what can be done where political leaders are still close to the base of society. No national political leadership has been anywhere near as effective in mobilising its people to deal with climate change. But unless city leaders can combine with each other to exercise more political authority at national level their best effort will be undone by the enfeebling emptiness of our political parties.

 

Tom Burke

August 18th 2014.

London

 

Tom Burke has recently written more on this theme with Charles Landry in their pamphlet ‘The Fragile City and the Risk Nexus’ purchasable online from www.charleslandry.com or by clicking on the image below

 

fragile city & risk nexus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Business, Business Green, Changing the Politics, Cities, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy Security, Environment, Politics, renewables, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE POWER OF DREAMS

 

 

This piece first appeared in The Guardian on Thursday 10th July

 

nuclear lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has always been difficult to see what was attractive about the proposed deal with EDF to build a nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset. To bring this off the Government is offering to sell 35 years of index linked tax receipts to the French government to buy electricity at twice its current price.

This is a very big bet on the ability of EDF to build a reactor on time and to budget – a feat they have never accomplished with the reactor type we are buying. It is an even bigger bet on the price of electricity doubling. If it fails to do so then the Government will have to pay EDF even more subsidy.

This is because the Government has guaranteed the price that EDF will receive for all the electricity it produces. It has set this at £92.50. If EDF can only sell Hinkley’s electricity at less than this the Government makes up the difference from a levy on consumers, effectively a tax.

This creates a paradox. The Government is keen to keep electricity prices low to reduce household bills and improve industry’s competitiveness. But if this policy succeeds it will have to pay even more subsidy to EDF from its nuclear tax.

This makes the recent report by Moody’s very bad news indeed for DECC. Wholesale electricity prices have fallen ‘over 40%’ since 2011. They expect power prices to remain this low until at least 2020. Moody’s attribute the price fall to rising renewable output and falling demand.

Thanks to Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine the downward pressure on demand is likely to accelerate. The Commission’s proposal to set a Europe wide energy efficiency target of a 27% reduction by 2030 is widely seen as unambitious. Many voices are now suggesting 41% as an achievable and cost-effective target. That would reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas by about 80% and easily pay for the necessary investment by the efficiency saving.

Nor is there any sign that the momentum driving renewables is slowing. Renewable capacity, mainly solar and onshore wind, is now over 290GW in Europe. This is an increase of some 85GW since 2009 and equivalent to the capacity of 300 of Europe’s nuclear power stations.

This is an average of about 21GW of new capacity a year. Even if you divide that by a third to allow for the variable output of renewables, you are still adding 7GW of dispatchable electricity a year. This compares rather well with the decade or more it would take to generate that much power from new nuclear power stations in Britain.

These numbers not only make nuclear a very bad economic bet they also make it too slow to make a useful contribution to reducing carbon emissions. A combination of energy efficiency and renewables will reduce carbon pollution faster and more cheaply. If this were not bad enough news for Britain there is more to come.

Moody’s expect German wholesale power prices to stay low at around £25/MWh – half that of the UK. Nordic power prices, excluding Finland, will be even lower at about £23/MWh. Both Italy and Spain are also likely to have lower wholesale electricity prices than Britain.

It is hard to see what is clever about a policy that will damage the competitiveness of Britain’s manufacturing industry, slow rather than hasten carbon emissions reduction and force Britain’s electricity consumers to subsidise a French nationalised company. It is a tribute to the compelling power of the nuclear dream that England’s political parties have all bought into the fantasy.

 

 

Tom Burke

London

July 6th 2014

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blog, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy Security, Environment, The Guardian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SPEECH AT E3G TENTH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION – THE DECK AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE – JULY 2ND 2014.

 

REMARKS BY MR TOM BURKE CBE AT THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION FOR E3G, THE DECK AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE, JULY 2ND 2014.

 

view from the deck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First of all, let me thank you all for coming this evening. We are celebrating an important waypoint on the journey we started ten years ago. You have all been with us on this journey – helping and encouraging us on our way.

We wanted you to join us as we celebrated our progress and as we work to maintain our reputation for throwing good parties.

I will say something about how we got here and what we do. Then Nick will tell you where we will be going next.

I learnt a long time ago that what really makes the world go round are conversations. If you want to make the world go round differently then you have to make the conversations go round differently.

E3G started in a conversation about setting up a European equivalent of the World Resources Institute. Like many good conversations it did not end up as we expected.

Quite quickly we came to the conclusion the WRI had the wrong business model. Their approach is to pour large quantities of very high quality information into the public policy process in the belief that this will eventually bring about change.

Between us we had worked for too long in government, business and civil society to believe that this works. Our experience was that changing environmental outcomes required you to tunnel through the institutional and political obstacles to change.

It was out of this insight that E3G was born.

We are often asked about the name. There is some disagreement among us as to who came up with it. Like many good ideas it has several fathers. If we have another ten years as good as the ones we are celebrating tonight perhaps it will acquire several more.

We have always been clear that we are part of a long tradition of environmentalism in Britain. The first generation of environmentalists were the conservationists from the middle of the 19th Century.

It is a tradition that is alive and thriving to this day and good to see it represented this evening by Mike Clarke from the RSPB.

The second generation were the environmental campaigners who arrived at the end of the nineteen sixties with the founding of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and many other campaigning organisations.

The third generation are the environmental professionals. They are largely the product of the huge success of the first two generations in raising public awareness about the fate of the earth.

When I started working for Friends of the Earth in the early seventies there were very few people working professionally on the environment. Now there are hundreds of thousands here and abroad.

They work in business, central and local government, academia, the law, accountancy and consulting and many other places. There are even environmental crime specialists in the police and customs.

What we do in E3G is not really very different from what is done by the conservation and campaigning organisations with whom we work every day. It is more the way we do things. We saw our task as to add capacity to the environmental community – to build on what had already been achieved.

So let me say something briefly about some of the distinctive features of our approach.

We understand the difference between policy and politics. Policy is about where you are going. Politics is about how you are going to get there. As a community we understand policy better than we understand politics.

We understand the need to bring a systems approach to environmental politics to avoid simply shifting problems from one place to another. Otherwise you end up with cannibalistic policies such as trying to deal with climate change by driving the price of carbon up and fuel poverty by driving the cost of energy down.

We know that dealing with climate change and the other mega-stresses facing the planet demands the pooling of sovereignty. This dissolves the difference between foreign and domestic policy. It also makes the success of the EU, as the world most ambitious experiment in the pooling of sovereignty, an imperative.

We focus on developing methodologies to encourage more systematic thinking about the politics of the challenges we face. This has taken us deep into understanding the political economy of key countries for climate change to enable better targeting of climate diplomacy activities.

We are driven as much by a sense of a planet at risk as by the need for government, business and consumers to act more responsibly.

In some ways we are a kind of hedge fund for the environment. We take some intellectual capital, we borrow a lot more and then apply some smart algorithms to leverage political outcomes.

We find ourselves at an extraordinary moment in human history. Almost exactly a hundred years ago the German poet Rilke, wrote these words on the brink of the Great War: ‘strange to see all that was once relations so loosely fluttering, hither and thither in space.’

They could not be more appropriate to now.

We learnt a hard lesson about systemic risks in recent years as the excesses of the bankers came within a whisker of bringing the global economy to its knees.

To keep the globalised economy functioning in a world of seven billion people the financial system must keep investment flowing.

But that financial system itself requires political stability. Without it, the money will not flow and the economy will seize up just like a motor running out of oil.

Few people have yet grasped that political stability requires a stable climate.

As the climate warms and politicians fail we stand on the edge of a systemic geopolitical risk that would be far more catastrophic than anything we experienced a hundred years ago.

It has been a huge privilege for me to work on these issues for the past four decades. The incredible creativity and energy of people and communities everywhere as they tackle the challenges of the Anthropocene is a constant inspiration.

We have the knowledge, the technology and the capital to solve these problems in abundance. There is nothing wrong with the people. But they are let down by the politics.

A core part of our task in E3G is to build a bridge between aspirations and abilities in the base of society and frailties in the commanding heights of government.

And now Nick will say something about how we intend to do our part as we go further along on this journey.

 

Tom Burke

London

July 2nd 2014

 

 

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CHINA NIGHTMARE

 

This piece first appeared in Business Green

 

safety first

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prospect of the Chinese becoming owners, managers and even constructors of nuclear power stations in Britain has caused anxiety in some unexpected places. Both the right and the left, united in their determination to press ahead with more nuclear, have raised objections. Carefully wrapped in a blanket of security rhetoric, their argument boils down to an Augustinian ‘Bring me nuclear, but not by them’.

Meanwhile, a truly substantial reason why we should worry about Chinese involvement in the nuclear industry is yet to be noticed by anyone but the French Nuclear Safety Authority. They have just complained publicly about the lack of communication with their Chinese counterparts. Explaining this to the French Parliament they pointed out that ‘one of the difficulties in our relations is that the Chinese safety authorities lack means. They are overwhelmed.’

This led one of the French regulators to worry that ‘It’s not always easy to know what is happening at the Taishan site.’ (where Areva are constructing a reactor of the same type as they want to build in Britain). Another French inspector reported seeing big machinery such as steam generators and pumps not being maintained at ‘an adequate level.’

So why does this matter to us? We have very good safety regulators with an impressive track record of managing nuclear facilities well. We should worry about it because the Chinese are currently building only 28 reactors at the same time. This is the fastest rate of reactor build anywhere ever. Even so, they intend to double this build rate before the end of this decade. This is likely to make ‘overwhelmed’ seem like an understatement.

The importance of a rigorous regulatory regime has long been understood by the nuclear industry to be essential to retaining public confidence. ‘ An accident anywhere is an accident everywhere.’ has long been a mantra of industry leaders. Among the many contributors to the seriousness of the accident at Fukushima were failings in the nuclear regulatory culture.

Britain’s nuclear reactor programmes may have been a regulatory success but they have been an economic failure. A former head of the then nationalised electricity industry told Parliament that the AGR programme was ‘the worst civil engineering disaster in British history’. But this had one huge, if unlooked for advantage. No-one else had reactors like them. This meant that when the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima happened we were well placed to argue that it couldn’t happen here.

If we go ahead with the reactor at Hinkley this comfortable position will no longer be defensible. Hinkley will be a pressurised water reactor (PWR) just like most of the reactors in operation around the world and all those the Chinese are building. If the already stretched  Chinese nuclear regulators prove unable to prevent a nuclear accident in China it will have  direct repercussions here.

This compounds the gamble that the British government is taking with Hinkley. Not only are we selling 35 years of index linked tax receipts to the French government in return for electricity at twice the price we are currently paying for it but we are also placing the security of our future electricity supply into the hands of China’s ‘overwhelmed’ nuclear regulators.

If they fail to prevent an accident at a PWR in China it is very unlikely that the people of Somerset, or the rest of the country for that matter, will consent to one continuing to operate in Britain.

 

Tom Burke

London

24th June 2014

 

 

Posted in Blog, Business Green, Economics, Energy, Energy Security, Environment, International, Nuclear | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE FUTURE IS COMING READY OR NOT

 

The following speech talks about the looming collision between $6 trillion of investment in oil and gas over the next ten years and the agreement by governments to keep the rise in global temperature below 2°C. This collision will transform the human prospect. It poses a dilemma for governments struggling to maintain both economic and climate security. The step out from between the horns of this dilemma we need imagination, Innovation, ingenuity and investment.

 

charging bull statue wall street

 

Thank you very much for asking me to come and speak to you this evening. In recent years, working with Rio Tinto, I have been much more involved with iron mountains than green mountains.

So it was a particular pleasure not only to get the invitation but also to learn about what is happening under your green mountain in Norway. It is a good story and I am pleased to be able to help to bring it to a wider audience.

The edict that you should never make predictions, especially about the future is usually attributed to the baseball player Yogi Berra.

But, as with many other lines that have passed into our collective memory, there are many claims to authorship. These have ranged from the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of the atom bomb, to the Hollywood film maker Sam Goldwyn.

Since Yogi Berra also said that ‘ I never said most of the things I said’ it is quite possible that he never did say it. Indeed, several authorities have another baseball player few people have ever heard of called Casey Stengel as the author.

However, this is not a knot I am going to untangle this evening. Instead I am going to take as my theme another Yogi Berra saying: ‘The future ain’t what it used to be.’

It is definitely a different future than the one we might have expected at the beginning of this century.

And ten years from now it will be different again.

If you think you have seen a lot of change in the last ten years, then, to quote another famous American, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’.

This extraordinary acceleration in the rate of change is driven by the tectonic forces globalisation and population growth.

More people, doing more things with each other, faster and more often equals more change. So much change that these days the future sometimes seems almost to have passed before it arrived.

Much of this change has been for the better. More better educated people lead healthier, longer, more prosperous and more secure lives than ever before in history.

But, as the opportunities have grown so, too, have the risks. As we have learnt from our brutal experience with the bankers, it is all too easy to pay more attention to opportunities than to risks.

The hangover we are now experiencing with the economy is a consequence of political leaders everywhere, on both the left and right, being unwilling to face up to difficult choices. Instead, with the willing aid of the bankers, they dissolved those choices in an ocean of public and private debt.

As we all now know, the reckoning when it came was, and remains, painful.

We are now repeating this error in a way that will have much more serious consequences. Unwilling to make difficult choices about our energy future our political leaders are running up a colossal mountain of carbon debt.

When the reckoning with the climate comes it will be more painful and more prolonged that our reckoning with financial debt.

Economies eventually recover. The climate will not.

Many different streams of progress have contributed to the swelling river of prosperity that has enriched the lives of so many people over the last seventy years. Driving each of those streams has been the availability of abundant and cheap coal, oil and gas.

As we burnt the fossil fuels so carbon dioxide accumulated in the atmosphere. From 300 parts per million just after World War Two to today’s 400 parts per million.

As the carbon accumulated so the climate changed. The world is now about one degree warmer than it was a century ago.

This doesn’t sound like much but it is already enough to begin disrupting the prosperity and security we take for granted. As that change progresses, the disruption will grow,

It is this prospect that has compelled the world’s leaders to agree to keep the eventual rise in temperature to less than two degrees. This is a goal the leaders of the world’s largest economies have reaffirmed today at the G7 meeting in Brussels.

To get there we must build a carbon neutral global energy system by around the middle of the century.

The low carbon technology to do this is already available. There will be much more in coming decades. We do not have a technology problem.

But our leaders have yet to match their actions to their words.

Last year the world’s oil companies invested over six hundred billion dollars in getting the oil and gas to drive the economy. They plan to spend about the same for each of the next ten years to keep the oil and gas flowing.

If they do so the world will be burning more fossil fuels by the middle of the century than it is now.

A collision is looming between the six trillion dollars the oil companies are planning to spend and the aim of governments to keep the rise in temperature below two degrees.

The consequences of collisions on this scale can be spectacular but they are rarely good.

This collision will shape the future for all of us.

It cannot be avoided hence the question: Are we ready?

Because of it the world as we know it will be transformed over the next thirty years.

This is true whether climate policy succeeds or fails.

If it succeeds then our energy system will be changed beyond recognition as fossil fuels are phased out.

Success will bring with it a wide range of co-benefits in both economic efficiency and human well-being. Food and water security for billions of people will be maintained.

If it fails then global temperatures will rise inexorably, and for all practical purposes, irreversibly.

Food and water security will be undermined and ever larger numbers of people will be displaced, exposed to conflict and disease and subject to deeper climate induced poverty.

In these circumstances preserving the political support for the international institutions that have sustained the prosperity and security of billions of people over half a century will become progressively more difficult.

The challenge for governments is to maintain economic security without sacrificing climate security. This poses a real dilemma.

Without reliable access to affordable energy, economic security is put at risk. If that access is provided, as now, by fossil fuels, the climate will change. If the climate changes then economic security is put at risk.

Dilemmas are difficult. If you choose to deal with one of the horns, the other one gets you. If you do nothing – the preferred response of government to dilemmas – both horns get you.

The only effective way to deal with a dilemma is to step out from between the horns.

This means using imagination, innovation, ingenuity and investment to avoid making a false choice between economic security and climate security.

We cannot trade-off a bit less economic security for a bit more climate security – or the reverse. Such trade-offs may be possible in economists’ models but they are rarely available in the real world.

We need, and can have, both economic and climate security. But to do so we need to make full use of those human attributes that were so central to building and taking the opportunities that are exposing us to climate risk:

–     The imagination to see a better world;

–     The innovation to develop the tools to build it;

–     The ingenuity to mobilise communities to use those tools;

–     The willingness to invest the resources to make real what we can imagine.

I am not brave enough to say much with real confidence about the future. But two things seem to me to be clear. We will be living in a world that is richer in information and more capable of deriving value from it. Electricity will be a more important part of the way people access energy services.

Those companies that will succeed in the turbulent future we face as our present energy system collides with the climate will be those that are ready to face that future. They will be those companies that have the imagination, ingenuity and courage to invest in innovation to step out from between the horns. This is what Green Mountain are doing and why I have been particularly pleased to come a speak here this evening.

 

 

Tom Burke

June 5th 2014

London

 

 

Posted in Blog, Business, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Energy Security, Oil and Gas, Politics, Speeches, The Human Cost | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment