Commentary on the UK Committee on Climate Change Report

After reading Brian Davey’s chilling account of the abstractive strategies of the powers refocusing towards a new green industrialisation, I noticed an exact similarity to the UK Committee on Climate Change Report, which was published last week.

The Committee on Climate Change 2019 Report

Here are the committee’s findings with regards to economic changes required for a zero-carbon emitting UK by 2050:

• Resource and energy efficiency and some societal choices that cut demand for carbon-intensive activities.
• Extensive electrification, particularly of transport and heating, supported by a major expansion of renewable and other low-carbon power generation.
• Development of a hydrogen economy to service demands for some industrial processes, for energy-dense applications in long-distance HGVs and ships, and for electricity and heating in peak periods.
• Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in industry, with bioenergy (for GHG removal from the atmosphere), and very likely for hydrogen and electricity production. CCS is a necessity not an option.
• Changes in the way we farm and use our land to put much more emphasis on carbon sequestration and biomass production, while shifting away from livestock.

In short, it recommends that our way of life need not change at all.

1 It says (elsewhere in the report) that little can be done for aviation, since the technology does not exist. It does not recommend a reduction in aviation.

2 Similarly, it recommends no reduction in domestic, or commercial transport, merely that they will be electrified. It does not point out that rapid replacement of internal combustion engines will require a massive injection of fossil fuels for the manufacture of alternatives and of scarce materials from the Earth for production of batteries. It is not concerned with the re-organisation of profligate supply chains.

3 It says that our existing domestic/commercial infrastructures need not change – again merely that they will be electrified. It does not tell us how that electric industrial revolution will be enabled by anything other than an increase in fossil fuels for manufacturing, installation and cement (a large emitter) for construction. It proposes a new industrial revolution powered by electricity to replace the old one, which was powered by coal, oil, gas and timber.

4 It makes no reference to the fact that a very large part of UK emissions is from out-sourced manufacturing – that is by the purchasing powers of a high-wage economy from the supplies of a low-wage economy. Similarly, it makes no reference to the inequity of emissions within the UK and that the richer we are – the more we spend – and so the higher our emissions become. It ignores the remedies embodied in that equation.

5 It does not connect climate change to GDP, even though the two follow almost identical trajectories on a graph.

6 It proposes a large roll-out of non-land-use-change biomass production for electrification – from forests and from existing arable areas.

Although it also proposes that carbon capture and storage must accompany that production, it falsely concludes that this can achieve so-called negative emissions. Its founding hypothesis is false. It assumes that if we remove biomass from a living cycle and without land-use change (forestry and arable areas), future photosynthesis will replace that loss.

Every grower has tested and refuted that hypothesis, season by season. If we remove a crop and return nothing to the soil, but gas and possibly ashes, then the following season’s crop will be reduced – photosynthetic metabolisms will shrink and soil biomass and biodiversity (which some call carbon) will also shrink. Burning biomass has a far greater greenhouse effect than burning coal, because it emits the same CO.2 while also impoverishing soils on which the future depends. It follows that coal with CCS is far better than biomass with CCS. What’s more, Earth does not grow sufficient timber for the scale proposed. Alone, the three Drax biomass power stations in Yorkshire, already consume a mass (annually), which is three times that of the total annual timber production (for all uses) in the UK. The bulk of that timber is imported from South American and Canadian forests.

7 It proposes a new hydrogen economy for transport and particularly, shipping, but hydrogen is not a source of energy. It is a useful means of storing surplus electrical energy – perhaps generated from distant-from-population sources, such as large and remote hydro schemes.

8 It avoids agriculture altogether, seeming not to, by substituting superficial and (it assumes) safe assumptions. For instance, it says that the Welsh agricultural economy will be hard to change, because it is so dependent on sheep. It does not connect the 80% Welsh export of sheep with both a precarious economic future and the obvious solution of forestation for both photosynthetic power and an acute shortage of timber. Neither can I find a reference to the benefits of the mostly manual, yet highly-efficient use of land, that is horticulture. It mentions increasing yields of the diesel-powered, very high-input, existing arable systems. It does not mention how that can be achieved – military invasion of Tunisia for her phosphate reserves perhaps? GM?

9 It implies that we need not change our lives at all and that silly hypotheses, carbon trading schemes, energy efficiencies and new undreamed techniques (progress), along with CCS will propel our mass silly walk to chaos and finally oblivion.

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.