The Paris Climate Deal

Last weekend ministers and representatives from nearly 200 countries came to what has been hailed as an historic agreement to tackle climate change and deliver a net zero carbon emission this century. The agreement which was approved by all 195 countries targets to keep temperature rises “well below 2C” and to strive towards 1.5C for the first time. It also promises to deliver on a scientific target that is being widely interpreted as requiring net zero emissions this century. The agreement also promises $100 billion a year of support finance from 2020, introduces new mechanisms for climate adaption, and includes support for carbon markets.

When asked about the climate agreement British Prime Minister David Cameron said “the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change. In striking this deal, the nations of the world have shown what unity, ambition and perseverance can do. Britain is already leading the way in work to cut emissions and help less developed countries cut theirs – and this global deal now means that the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change. It’s a moment to remember and a huge step forward in helping to secure the future of our planet.”

EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said the deal represented a “major win for Europe because it had achieved its key objectives on ensuring countries submit five yearly reviews of their national targets alongside a long-term goal.

“But more importantly, it is a major win for the global community. Now, what has been promised must be delivered. Europe will continue to lead the global low-carbon transition we have agreed.”

Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, said the deal provides “an unequivocal signal to the business and financial communities, one that will drive real change in the real economy. This agreement establishes a clear path to decarbonize the global economy within the lifetimes of many people alive today, reaping the benefits of accelerated infrastructure investment, cleaner air, greater security and a growing low carbon global economy,”

Phillipe Joubert of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change agreed with Mr. Polman and said the deal marked an historic milestone. “Business leaders and investors now have a clear direction of travel, a global framework to speed up and scale up of their solutions,” he said. “The Paris agreement will accelerate the shift to a new sustainable, equitable and decarbonised world. We thank everyone who’s contributed to this historic achievement, including visionary leaders from business and governments.”

Green investment groups were also very positive regarding the agreement. “Institutional investors called on Governments before and during COP21 to provide an unequivocal signal sufficient to accelerate the low-carbon transition,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the IIGCC. “By setting a long term goal for net zero emissions in the second half of this century, and by putting in place a five year review cycle sufficient to require ever more ambitious domestic action to deliver an irreversible downward trend in emissions, this agreement provides an unequivocal signal for investors to help escalate the development of low carbon infrastructure and energy systems across the globe.”

Dirk Forrister of the IETA emissions trading body also welcomed an agreement that promises to support the development of international and national carbon markets. “We congratulate governments on a historic agreement, grounded in a new spirit of cooperation,” he said. “With the endorsement of more than 190 governments and a strong foundation for markets going forward, businesses can begin planning for a vibrant new future.”

Speaking at a session that followed the approval of the agreement US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Paris deal would send a message to the global marketplace and help unleash the power of business innovation in order to tackle climate change.

“We are sending literally a critical message to the global marketplace,” he said. “It won’t be governments that actually make the difference. It will be the genius of the American spirit, it will be business unleashed.”

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said the Paris deal heralds an exciting opportunity for business. “We now have a climate deal agreed by the world’s leaders that puts us on a sustainable low-carbon path and which can provide the framework for business to invest with confidence,” she said. “It will now be for governments to show how they plan to turn global ambition into national reality. Businesses will want to see domestic policies that demonstrate commitment to this goal and none more so than in the UK.”

However despite the positive mood the agreement is not perfect and has left some wondering if it will make a difference akin to that being spoken about. The cap on emissions is not rigid enough which is likely to lead to increases in temperature of 2.7 – 3C higher than pre-industrial levels and therefore breaching the 2C safety level and potentially leading to more damaging floods and droughts often at catastrophic levels.

Poorer countries are worried that the amount of financial support will not be enough to protect them and provide aid should such catastrophes occur. Also not all of the agreement is legally binding, so future governments of the signatory countries could yet renege on their commitments.

However Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, remained positive “It sometimes seems that the countries of the UN can unite on nothing, but nearly 200 countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today, the human race has joined in a common cause. The Paris agreement is only one step on a long road and there are parts of it that frustrate, that disappoint me, but it is progress. The deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole that we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

Previous attempts at climate agreement, despite being initially positive, have ended in failure with the largest polluters refusing to either take part or come to an agreement. Therefore the Paris agreement can at least be seen as a step forward but it will not be without difficulty.

For example the EU has admitted it has not yet looked into the policies needed in order to make the agreement work and will ask a UN climate science panel for advice involving “negative emissions” technology.

Negative emissions usually means the mass development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies which bury CO2 in underground fissures. These would be linked to power plants which use ‘carbon neutral’ bioenergy that removes carbon from the air as it grows. The theory is that more carbon would be saved than re-released into the atmosphere, so creating net zero emissions.

However the method is not without its critics including Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change branding negative emissions “highly speculative” stating “in the absence of negative emissions, staying below the 2C commitment demands levels of reductions in emissions far beyond anything discussed during the Paris negotiations.”

It would be churlish to disregard this climate agreement despite the obstacles. For the first time all countries have agreed to a deal which will see them bring down carbon emissions with the aim of stopping the global temperature increase.

Whether the agreement will both hold and work only time will tell however we choose to remain optimistic that events in Paris last weekend was a major stride in the right direction leading to all countries working together to reduce their carbon emissions, halt the global temperature increases and ultimately end the threat of environmental catastrophe.

The Future of Eco-Housing

WWF Scotland have confirmed that strong winds in Scotland this November has increased electricity generation from wind turbines by more than 40%, producing enough electricity to supply all domestic properties in the country. It also meant that November was the second highest month for power output from wind turbines behind January.

Scottish turbines provided approximately 1.2 MWh of electricity to the grid in November, enough to supply the electricity needs, on average, of 3.2 million homes (131% of homes in Scotland), which  is an increase of 42% on November 2014.

WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks speaking from the climate talks in Paris said: “Thanks to a combination of increased capacity and stronger winds, output from turbines was up more than two-fifths compared to the same period last year – supplying power equivalent to the electrical needs of 3.2 million homes.

“As well as helping to power our homes and businesses, wind power is helping Scotland to avoid over a million tonnes of polluting carbon emissions every month.

“I’m currently at the UN climate talks spreading the word about Scotland’s world leading climate targets and the rapid progress we’re making on renewables.

“I hope that news of November’s renewable output will help inspire other countries to follow our lead. Doing so would help kick-start a renewables revolution that would help transform our ability to address the threat of global climate change.

“If Scotland wishes to continue to set an example to the world on addressing climate change then it cannot rest on its laurels.”

Dennis Robertson, MSP with the Scottish National Party, said: “As the world meets in Paris to agree an ambitious and legally-binding new climate deal, these impressive figures demonstrate how Scotland is showing the way.

“Scotland can continue to be a world leader when it comes to renewable energy – which can boost the economy, create jobs and protect our environment.”

With the Paris summit expected to agree upon new targets for carbon emission reduction it is reassuring to know that electricity generation from renewable sources such as wind are contributing towards reducing these emissions.

However if we are to succeed overall and bring our carbon emissions back to at least pre-1990 figures then  more new technologies must be promoted and more initiatives taken on. Plus current projects, even if they are successful should improved upon to become even more efficient.

One such example of this is a £240,000 four bedroom Passivhaus in Merseyside which has built from insulated masonry and concrete.

Eco-homes are nothing new (Passivhaus comes from a low energy design standard for German homes developed in the 1980s and 90s) however due to clever design and build techniques along with modern technologies such as LED lighting and an air source heat pipe the house runs on the equivalent of a 40W light bulb at a cost of £15 per year.

The home recently scooped a national award at the Buildings and Energy Efficiency Awards and owner Colin Usher stated that being honoured dispelled the myth that eco-homes are expensive and radically different.

Mr Usher, an architect and director at Liverpool based John McCall Architects designed the house for him and his wife to live in stated that the property was “very comfortable to live in and its appearance is not incongruous with surrounding houses.

“There is a seriously growing trend towards wanting to live more sustainably whilst reducing our energy performance and saving costs. We need more houses, yet we need to look at the design carefully and build them in a way that helps us meet our environmental objectives” he added.

The property has been designed in such a way that windows and solar panels on the roof receive the optimum amount of sunlight. All rooms have high ceilings and carefully positioned glass to let in the most natural light and heat.

The couple have lived in the property for two years and the cost of heating, lighting, hot water, and cooking £15 per year. Mr Usher concluded “This is a simple building and, in effect, runs on the same amount of power used by a 40W light bulb which is almost four times better than the Passivhaus standard it was targeting.”

According to the Passivhaus Trust Passivhaus buildings “provide a high level of occupant comfort while using very little energy for heating and cooling” and the properties feature “rigorous design and construction according to principles developed by the Passivhaus Institute in Germany.” In the UK, a property needs to include very high levels of insulation, airtight construction, a ventilation system with heat recovery and high-performance windows to achieve the Passivhaus standard.

The Passivhaus in Mersyside is great example of what can be achieved if existing ideas and principles are improved upon. A home which uses so little power will in turn emit hardly any carbon. There is nothing stopping projects like these being produced on a massive scale so that individuals can benefit from the developments and we can all benefit from the reduced carbon emissions.

Coal use reduction in energy generation

A new report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change published last week has shown that electricity generation by the UK’s major power producers using coal and gas has fallen by 13% compared to the same period (July to September) for the previous year.

Also stated in the report is that use of coal and other solid fuels fell by 23% and natural gas by 0.5% compared to the same period as before. It also reported that bioenergy and waste consumption was up 16%, nuclear up 4.7% and both wind and hydro increased by over 50%. Energy production in total was 10.8% higher than in 2014.

The report added that total primary energy consumption for energy uses rose by 0.6%. However when adjusted to take account of weather differences between the second quarter of 2014 and the second quarter of 2015 it fell by 2%. This was apparently due to the decreasing amount of coal use in electricity generation.

The news of coal consumption falling dramatically will please the government as also last week the Committee on Climate Change published advice to Parliament on the level of the Fifth Carbon Budget which covers the period of 2028 – 32.

The budget places a restriction on the total amount of greenhouse gases the country can emit over five year period in order to the targets relating to reducing overall carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

Commenting on the Budget, Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said: “Intriguingly the Committee suggests that meeting the fifth carbon budget could be very cheap or perhaps even free, once you take the real costs of energy into account.

“For example, adapting the national grid for clean electricity generators does incur a cost, but that could be offset by reductions to the public health bill due to less pollution.

“The Committee also makes the point that continuing power sector transformation from fossil fuels to clean generation is essential for an economy-wide low-carbon transition, because that unlocks carbon-cutting in transport and buildings – sectors where progress is currently languishing in the slow lane.”

Simon Bullock, Friends of the Earth senior energy campaigner said: “This is not a fair or just response to the climate change crisis.

“The Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation is at the very lowest end of what they were considering. This means developing countries will have to do far more to help tackle climate change, while the UK can carry on polluting for longer.

“Ahead of crucial climate talks in Paris, the Government should be setting far higher targets, rather than drilling for more oil and gas and weakening policies on energy efficiency and renewable power.”

Emma Pinchbeck, WWF-UK’s Head of Climate and Energy said: “This is a necessary step that would enable the UK to play its fair share in tackling global climate change, and would provide the long term commitment to low-carbon growth that businesses and consumers need.

“The government should accept the committee’s advice and commit to a strong fifth carbon budget this summer.   It should also accept proposals to improve the way carbon budgets are set and accounted for to ensure that the 61% reduction is achieved.  The Energy Bill currently before Parliament contains a proposal to effect this change.  This also deserves Government support.

“Only by acting with clarity on domestic climate policy can the Government show leadership on the international stage.”

Jenny Hogan, Director of Policy at Scottish Renewables, said: “The publication of the Fifth Carbon Budget reaffirms what the Committee on Climate Change – the Government’s own advisors – have already said: the amount of renewable electricity generated in the UK must double by 2030 if we are to meet our legally-binding climate change targets.

“It is important to note that onshore wind and solar, our cheapest renewable energy technologies, play a significant role in all scenarios for our future energy mix, and must be included if we are to decarbonise at the lowest cost to the consumer.

“However it is hard to see how any of these renewable technologies will be able to progress given current uncertainty around future support for the sector from the very Government whose advisors are recommending their expansion.

“The report also contradicts the UK Government’s recent statement to only support the deployment of future offshore wind projects if they further reduce costs by an unspecified amount. The Committee clearly argues that it is UK deployment of offshore wind that drives down costs, not the other way around, and that the future energy mix should include the roll-out of offshore wind.”

The fall of coal use for energy generation is a welcome one but as confirmed above much more has to be done in order for us to reach our current carbon emission reductions. With the Paris Climate talks now well under way it will be interesting to see what agreements are made on further future reductions.

If as expected these targets are increased then we must act quickly to ensure we are on track to meet them. A return of renewable subsidies must not be ruled out, especially when the cost of them will ultimately be a lot less than the alternatives. We await news from the Paris summit with the hope that any new targets will force our policy makers hand and renew their commitment to renewable energy generation.