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Posts Tagged ‘greenhouse gas’

Though not officially announced, the news on the grapevine is that after days of disagreements the coalition government will agree to implement the recommendations set out by the Committee on Climate Change to meet a target of a reduction of 80% of carbon emissions in 2050 compared with 1990 levels (590Mt), with an intermediary target of 60% by 2030 [1, 2].  The UK CO2 emissions for 2010 have been provisionally estimated at 492 Mt (a reduction of 17% from 1990 levels) [3].

Reaching these targets will involve substantial changes to the UK electricity source and coincides with the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which states that the UK must generate 15% of energy through renewable sources by 2020 [2, 3].

Other ways to reduce emissions will include reducing carbon intensity in the transport sector, which is also covered by the EU’s Transport Policy which aims to reduce conventionally (petrol and diesel) fuelled cars  by 50% by 2030 and eliminate them altogether by 2050 [4] and increasing energy efficiency in homes and work places.

This target is great news and, as it was first proposed by the Labour government [5] and will now be accepted by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, is unlikely to be overturned in the near future by a change in government.

Things to look out for:

1)      The incentives the government must put in place to ensure that the UK achieves its carbon targets. As the UK is not a command and control economy, government cannot simply dictate that emissions be dropped. Instead, incentives and disincentives must be put in place in order that industry will move themselves towards these targets. Examples include subsidies (including tax breaks) and taxes.

2)      Will carbon trading be part of the agreement? Will the government allow targets to be achieved through buying carbon offsets (paying for carbon reductions) in other countries? Whether this is allowed or not will affect how this deal changes the UK economy and infrastructure. Insisting that all carbon reductions be made within the UK will have a considerable impact on the UK economy and infrastructure and could pave the way for the UK to lead the way in green technology. Allowing for emissions to be offset in other countries will mean that only immediately cost-efficient changes to the UK economy and infrastructure will be carried out.

3)      Unaccounted exported emissions. A frequent argument against the claim that the UK has reduced carbon emissions since 1990 is that we have outsourced our emissions by importing products produced in developing countries such as China – production emits greenhouse gases and often times the production process is more carbon intensive than it would be in the UK.  It is unlikely that this will be included in the UK official carbon count, but we should all keep this in mind [6].

Read more:

[1] Coalition commits Britain to legally binding emission cuts – Toby Helm and Robin McKie, The Guardian

[2] Committee on Climate Change – Renewable Energy Review

[3] DECC – UK Emissions Statistics – 2010 UK Provisional Figures

[4] THE EU HAVE MADE ANOTHER COMMIE DECISION AND THE SKY IS FALLING!!! – Cowburps

[5] Heat and energy saving strategy consultation – DECC

[6] UK’s total emissions set to rise: new data obtained by PIRC – Guy Shrubsole, ClimateSafety

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While pottering around on the internet I found an interesting graph of the greenhouse gas effects of the Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that three times fast!) volcano, the one in Iceland which blew its top on Wednesday evening.

It is a favoured argument of anthropocentric (human centred) climate change deniers that volcanoes throw up more greenhouse gases than human activity does.  This is understandably a plausible argument for those unversed in climate science, so let’s use a case study to investigate it.

As you probably know, planes have been grounded in the UK since Thursday morning, causing much havoc etc., but also, interestingly, throwing up the question of whether the volcano has created positive or negative net emissions of greenhouse gases.  That is, does the effect of less greenhouse gas emissions from grounded planes outweigh the effect of more greenhouse gas from the volcano?

The answer is that because of the grounding of the planes, the volcanic eruption has actually produced a negative net emission of greenhouse gas, in other words, less emissions.

Unfortunately, the grounding of flights can have other effects including impacting on the UK economy.  However, Anthony Kleanthous points out that had we already “taken steps to redesign our economy according to the principles of sustainable development, the grounding of our air fleet would have been far easier to take“.

An interesting point and I hope our train and ship services are taking full advantage of the situation to show customers how the alternatives can be enjoyable and convenient!

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