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New UK Prime Minister Sets Example for Obama on Climate Change

RP Siegel | Monday August 2nd, 2010 | 1 Comment

The UK’s new Prime Minister David Cameron is taking bold steps to combat climate change, setting an example for the Obama administration and other world leaders.  The government’s recently released comprehensive Annual Energy Statement highlights its four major initiatives:

I. Saving energy through the Green Deal and supporting vulnerable consumers
II. Delivering secure energy on the way to a low carbon energy future
III. Managing our energy legacy responsibly and cost-effectively
IV. Driving ambitious action on climate change at home and abroad

The Green Deal is a new program which allows homeowners to overcome financial barriers associated with energy efficiency improvements by providing money up front. The funds are repaid directly through the energy savings realized on the homeowner’s bill.

In conjunction with this action, the government will be extending their Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) and increasing it by 110 million tons. The statement also provides for the introduction of smart meters to give consumers more control over their energy consumption by enabling them to manage cost through the avoidance of peak demand periods, which results in and increase in the overall efficiency of the system. Additional resources will also be provided to low income residents.

The second category contains a number of initiatives specifically aimed at reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Recognizing that their level of energy imports is likely to increase dramatically on a world market that is facing increasing demand and decreasing security, this initiative contains a number of aggressive actions. These include investments in renewables and in a smart grid infrastructure. Specifically called out are biomass, offshore wind and waste-to-energy programs and distributed generation. Nuclear is recognized as a potential low carbon contributor so long as there are no subsidies and any proposals for new plants contain adequate funding from the outset to take care of waste and decommissioning. The initiative also talks about the marshaling and stewardship of domestic fossil fuel sources including the projected 20 billion barrels of crude still lying in the UK’s continental shelf. The statement calls for a doubling of inspections of offshore drilling platforms in direct response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Coal is also included for the medium term with the proviso that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is “vital … because it will enable coal and gas to continue … without jeopardizing our emission reduction goals.”  Treehugger’s report on this appears to contain a bit of environmental wishful thinking stating that, “since there are no large scale carbon capture and storage technology projects in existence, it’s a safe bet that there will be no new coal-fired power plants built in the UK for some time to come.” That doesn’t mean they won’t be coming at all. What the Annual Energy Statement actually says is that they will be funding a number of technology demonstration projects in the hopes that the UK might gain “a head-start in a technology that can be exported across the world.” They also mention that “This country has significant storage capacity for captured carbon dioxide in depleted oil and gas fields under the North Sea and considerable experience in offshore engineering.”

More sanguine on this topic are the folks at Southern Company who recently decided to pull the plug on a $700 million CCS project in Alabama, citing economic concerns. American Electric Power (AEP) is more cheerful, reporting that their demonstration project in W.Va. is successfully capturing CO2 and storing it underground, albeit only about 2% of the plant’s output is currently being captured. They claim they can improve that number to close to 20% by 2014, though that amount of capture is still far less than what would be required to make a coal plant even comparable to a natural gas plant in carbon emissions.

Back to the UK Annual Energy Statement, the third initiative deals with the management of legacy nuclear plants with an emphasis on the safe disposal of radioactive waste.

The final initiative deals with actions in the political arena, both domestically and abroad. It calls for an investment of $2.35 billion to assist developing countries in dealing with climate change. They also call for the EU to enforce agreements and commitments that are already in place. It also offers support for promotion of renewable technologies, and funding for the reduction of deforestation around the world.

A Triple Pundit post last week, highlighted some local renewable initiatives in the UK. These initiatives, taken at the national level underscore the current government’s commitment to dealing with the climate issue with the urgency it warrants. We have our work cut out for us in convincing our own government to follow suit.

RP Siegel is the coauthor of Vapor Trails, an eco-thriller that highlights the dangers of carbon sequestration.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  • shelhorowitz

    A good plan, mostly, but WRONG about nuclear. When you look at the entire fuel cycle: mining, milling, transportation, processing, and dealing with the waste–nuclear is not so carbon-neutral after all. And it is extremely ungreen in other ways, such as the potential for catastrophic accident that would make the Deepwater Horizon disaster seem like a broken sewer pipe in a low-density neighborhood, and the need to have technology in place that successfully isolates waste from the environment for an unworkable quarter-of-a-million years Remember, pretty much the oldest human-created objects we have are litlte fragments like arrowheads from 25,000 years ago. We're talking about needing to keep this stuff safe for ten times a s long.