October 21, 2013
by phil
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In this month’s show we continue to look at solutions, but with renewed urgency in the light of the latest IPCC report.

  • Colin Hines, founder of the Green New Deal Group explains how we can finance the transition to a Zero Carbon Britain
  • Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party outlines her programme for government
  • Cat Hobbs, founder of the We Own It campaign tells us why the railways would be better under public ownership and
  • Louise Hazan, campaigner for the Fossil Free UK campaign tells us how a new divestment campaign has the power to cut the dirty energy companies down to size.

What the latest IPCC report means

For this programme we interviewed one of the lead authors of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Pierre Friedlingstein. For technical reasons, we were not able to use this in our broadcast, but we will be posting the interview here shortly for your information. Here is our summary of the key points from the report.

A greater urgency

Global emissions have risen by 54% since 1990. Of the four future scenarios modelled for the IPCC, we are on the uppermost trajectory with the likelihood of an additional warming of 2.6 – 4.8C by the end of the century on top of the 0.85C rise we have seen to date (i.e. a total warming of 3.5 – 5.7C) compared to the pre-industrial baseline. The consequences of this rise would be catastrophic.

However the IPCC have modelled a scenario which keeps us below a total 2C global average temperature rise. To get on this track requires a global agreement which would result in emissions peaking within a few years and then starting to rapidly decline.

A safe carbon budget for the UN talks

The IPCC have introduced the concept of a safe carbon budget into their report for the first time. The total amount of CO2 that we can emit to give us more than a 66% chance of keeping below 2C is 800 GtC (giga tonnes of carbon). We have already emitted 531 GtC, which leaves 269 GtC. This is the figure that we need to agree how to share between countries and across time at the UN talks as a matter of urgency. The longer we leave it, the more drastic and difficult the annual rate of reductions becomes.

The “below 2C” scenario that IPCC looked at is known as “RCP2.6” and can be viewed in detail by looking at the original RCP2.6 paper. The authors acknowledge that more research on low-emissions scenarios are needed. It includes a number of assumptions that might need challenging and in the meantime Climate Radio prefers the “Cleaner, Fairer Future” set out in the Two Energy Futures report and that we covered in last month’s programme.

Green Party

We interviewed Green Party leader Natalie Bennett because the Greens’ manifesto (p.34) includes the aim to decarbonise the UK by 90% by 2030 through a 10% annual reduction in emissions. This is much more in line with what the science is saying we need in the context of a fair global deal.

At the international level the Greens favour the contraction and convergence model for sharing the remaining safe emissions budget. They favour using some form of Financial Transaction Tax to raise the over $150 million per year needed for poor countries (for adaptation and clean energy technology) under a global climate deal.

Green New Deal

In last month’s programme we looked at how the UK could be powered by massively scaling up existing renewable energy technologies on the one hand and scaling down our energy use by some 60% on the other. This plan for a Zero Carbon Britain has been modelled by the Centre for Alternative Technology using the latest research. The question is – how could such a rapid and radical transformation be financed?

The Green New Deal Group has argued since 2008 that we need to give austerity the boot and instead invest massively in greening our economy if we are to tackle climate change, create jobs and get the economy moving again. In 2009, the group argued that The Cuts Won’t Work and indeed the UK’s debt rose from £811 billion in 2010 (55% of GDP) to over £1 trillion in 2012 (70% of GDP).

The group propose investing £50bn/year for four years in a programme that would include insulating every home in the country and scaling up our renewable energy supplies. The money would be raised in the following ways:

  • clamping down on tax evasion (£70 billion/year) and tax avoidance (£25 billion/year)
  • quantitative easing – where the Bank of England electronically “prints” money (the Bank has generated £375 billion in this way since 2009 but has given the money to the financial sector rather than investing in our low carbon future)
  • underwriting Green Investment Bonds which can offer attractive returns for pension funds

Read the group’s latest report and listen to our interview with Andrew Simms about the group’s original report in 2008.

A national project?

We asked our guests whether the scale and speed such a transformation implies might be better handled as a national project with renationalised energy and transport sectors under democratic public control, rather than merely trying to incentivise for-profit corporations to do this, as we are – rather lamely and ineffectively – trying to do now.

The consensus from Natalie, Colin and Cat seemed to be that while it would be popular and beneficial for rail users to bring the railways back under public ownership, energy was best left to a mixed economy that certainly incentivised resilient community-owned supplies, while having a clear national overarching purpose (including rapid decarbonisation). The “Big Six” energy companies currently wedded to fossil fuel energy generation see no shame in profiting from driving customers into fuel poverty and could be incentivised to do the right thing through green subsidies, or could be renationalised.

The lobbying power of the big six and their infiltration of government certainly needs to be tackled if we are to make any progress on this front. Is nationalisation an effective way of achieving this?

In the wake of the China/EDF deal signed last week to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in the UK, Owen Jones discusses nationalising the energy sector in today’s Independent.


It’s all very well having a sensible set of alternatives to business-as-usual that would save us from climate catastrophe but what tools do we have for advancing them? Non-violent direct action has been effective in putting the breaks on some of our elite leaders’ worst excesses – such as airport expansion, coal power and fracking – but is there an additional form of pressure that civil society can wield to jolt the powerful out of their corporate-friendly complacency?

A new study from the Smith School at Oxford University of past divestment campaigns shows they have generally been successful, with the end result being some kind of legislative change. The new global movement for divesting from fossil fuels has an encouragingly rapid emergence. Since Bill McKibben wrote his article in Rolling Stone in 2012 asking US students to put pressure on their universities to start divesting, 6 universities and 18 cities in the US have committed to divesting. The UK campaign launched this summer and this month the Quakers declared their intention to divest. The Fossil Free Tour arrives in the UK at the end of this month – you don’t have to a student to get involved!

The campaign is focusing on the upcoming United Nations talks and the importance of including the IPCC’s safe carbon budget in an internationally binding agreement which kicks in quickly enough to make meeting the budget practically achievable.

In the past a massive civil society coalition focused on ending fossil fuel subsidies which are still incentivising brown energy at the rate of an astonishing £775 billion a year. We should redirect that money to scaling up our safe, low-risk, low-impact renewable energy technologies as a matter of urgency. We don’t need a UN agreement to do this: we already agreed to do this at the G20 – let’s get on with it.

1 comment

  1. Jenny Stables

    But why does nobody want to listen to any of this? Why do people seem to not care? When is the panic going to set in? I can’t help thinking that the nay-saying popular press has a lot to do with it.

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