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Energy Crunch: A new political consensus on climate change?

 
Flooding image via number10gov/flickr

Three things you shouldn't miss this week

  1. Climate change is world's 'most fearsome' weapon of mass destruction - US secretary of state compares climate change sceptics to people who believe the Earth is flat.
     
  2. Mapping the UK's extreme weather


    Source: Recent Storms Briefing - The Met Office
     
  3. Public concern over the environment overtakes crime and education


    Source: YouGov
     
"The science is unequivocal…When I think about the array of...global threats...terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction...climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.”
Those were the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech this week in Indonesia. Climate change is back in the headlines in the US and also in the UK, where the Met Office linked recent flooding events to climate change, and senior politicians including Defence Secretary Phil Hammond and Labour leader Ed Miliband acknowledged the link.
 
If it weren’t for the awkward fact that Britain’s Environment Secretary Owen Patterson is widely regarded as a climate sceptic, we might even dare to hope the increasingly obvious effects of a changing climate are rebuilding the political consensus. If so, not before time, as a quick look at this week’s energy news demonstrates.
 
The idea that natural gas might serve as a bridge fuel to renewables was undermined by a review of 200 studies on the subject. This new report found that US methane emissions are considerably higher than official estimates, and that the gas industry is an important part of the problem. Fracking is just one technology opening up new sources of emissions.
 
Also in the news this week are plans to develop coal gasification in the US and China, and harvesting methane hydrates in Japan. Any future global agreement will need to decide how much of these resources to leave in the ground, or at the bottom of the ocean. The necessary answer: most of it.
 
In the UK, with much of country still dressed in waders, the focus has turned to adaptation to the effects of climate change. On the energy front, around a million homes were affected by power cuts following the recent high winds and floods. Meanwhile a forthcoming report warns of the potential impacts of drought on UK power plants as more extremes of weather become the norm. The recent storms have shown the extreme vulnerability of UK homes, business, agriculture and infrastructure.
 
The Prime Minister says “money is no object” in dealing with the crisis, but with fossil fuels the driving force behind climate change, it begs the question - what’s the real cost of cheap energy?
 
Related Reports and Commentary
Are we underestimating natural gas emissions? - A new study threatens the conventional wisdom that natural gas emits half the greenhouse gases that coal does.
How the UK Can Unlock the Community Benefits of Renewable Energy – With “sufficient financial rigour, affordable expansion [of local energy schemes] is achievable,”… “We can build the Big Sixty Thousand.”
"Peak is dead" and the future of oil supply - I use the ATM analogy: it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got in your account, you’re still limited by the daily withdrawal limit.

 

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