Asking the wrong question – biofuels

I don’t want to do a full scale critique of biofuels – not least because that would be to enter an already crowded field [see Biofuelwatch and Global Subsidies Initiative, for example]. But it’s worth looking at how narrowly-focussed, bottom-up policy-making now means we have somehow put the most financial support into the worst ideas… Continue reading “Asking the wrong question – biofuels”

Do not ditch the Kyoto Protocol

My otherwise peaceful morning slumber was disturbed by a radio interview announcing that social scientists Steve Rayner and Gwin Prins want to ‘ditch the Kyoto Protocol’. In a Nature commentary, Time to ditch the Kyoto Protocol, they have a go at the Kyoto Protocol and claim that ‘political correctness’ is inhibiting proper criticism and unnamed Kyoto supporters insist that Kyoto must remain the only game in town, sternly admonishing any dissenters to this orthodoxy. Luckily for us these fearless academics are ready to speak out. The trouble is, they have nothing much to say! Continue reading “Do not ditch the Kyoto Protocol”

Severn barrage – flawed economics

Sometimes you can be wading through a report and hit something that abruptly tells you it isn’t really worth reading on: the report is mad and you are wasting your time. And so it happened when reading through the SDC report Tidal Power in the UK, and coming across Table 33 on page 119 – see left. Continue reading “Severn barrage – flawed economics”

The Merton Rule – an investigation

Once it was famous only for the ’70s Mod-revival band, The Merton Parkas. And, frankly, it wasn’t that famous even for them. But now the London Borough of Merton is famous for the eponymous ‘Merton Rule’. As the map left shows, local government across the nation [list] is at various stages of implementing the Rule. The Merton Rule is a planning condition requiring on-site generation of renewable energy:

All new non residential developments above a threshold of 1,000sqm will be expected to incorporate renewable energy production equipment to provide at least 10% of predicted energy requirements [Merton council site][Merton Rule site]

But how does it actually work and does it make sense? Continue reading “The Merton Rule – an investigation”

Case for the Severn Barrage – does it hold water?

There’s speculation in the papers [last weekend’s Guardian, earlier in the Independent] that the government is to back the Severn Barrage. This huge project would capture renewable energy in the tidal movement of water in the Bristol Channel – the tidal range is one of the highest in the world: up to 15 metres. There have been various designs and locations proposed, but the leading one is promoted by the Severn Tidal Power Group of major construction companies (see picture left and this 2006 presentation by the group making their case). The Sustainable Development Commission is shortly expected to produce its report on tidal power, and we should have much more data and analysis to consider at that point. But I thought I’d get my own thoughts on this straightened out in advance.

The inevitable question must be: “is this scheme bonkers?” Continue reading “Case for the Severn Barrage – does it hold water?”

It could be worse – winter fuel payments

In my last post I asked for nominations for a worse policy than the proposed ‘Health in Pregnancy Grant’. An anonymous contributor proposes the Winter Fuel Payment, which is designed to help pensioners fight off the cold over winter. I think ‘anonymous’ may be on to something…

As the chart shows, this unconditional payment has now reached about £2 billion per year, and over £12 billion has been spent on this since 1997 [data from PQ, 27 Jan 2007]. Payments of £200 are made to over-60s and £300 to over-80s [guide] ostensibly to see older people through higher winter fuel bills. So this shares with the pregnancy grant two characteristics: very poor targeting of the needy group and very poor link to the stated objective. But it is much larger, and therefore is a bad policy on a larger scale. Could this be done better? It could hardly be done worse… Continue reading “It could be worse – winter fuel payments”

When rich countries make emissions cuts in poor countries

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) argues that richer countries should be able to buy as much as all their emissions reductions through investments in emission reductions in developing countries [see BBC / interview]. Given the global atmosphere is indifferent to where on the surface the reductions take place, there is an argument that countries with obligations to cut should make the emissions cuts where it’s most cost effective.

As long as the rich countries do the paying, then they would not be shirking their responsibilities. Or so the argument goes. And this argument is more plausible than its critics admit – the polluter is still paying, but in theory paying where the cuts are most efficient and thus squaring equity and efficiency objectives. However, the argument is also wrong. The main problem is long-term structural change… Continue reading “When rich countries make emissions cuts in poor countries”

Escaping the reckless EU renewables targets

The Guardian exploded with indignation this week [Revealed: cover up plan on energy target; leader; letters], at the discovery of a leaked government memo discussing how the UK might wriggle out of a European Union renewables target – to reach 20% of EU energy consumption from renewables by 2020. In fact, the real story is different and more worrying than the Guardian has it. The real problem is how this target ever was agreed in the first place and the negative consequences for climate change that will flow from it. Continue reading “Escaping the reckless EU renewables targets”

Cap and trade for cigarettes

If a country wanted to reduce tobacco use to a level that meant it was comparable with other public health risks, then why not simply reduce the amount that can be sold or number of customers they can have, by allocating quotas to manufacturers and allowing trade in quotas? This proposal has surfaced in the US as a legislative proposal: Help End Addiction to Lethal Tobacco Habits Act (geddit?) [full text] by Senator Enzi. This is partly in response to the pointless industry-sponsored Family Smoking Protection and Tobacco Control Act , which mystifyingly also attracts support form big US public health campaigns. I think they have vested misplaced faith in regulation and regulatory bureaucracies. The Enzi approach is an alternative and the idea also has people talking in the public health world [article in New Zealand Herald and here]. But does it make sense? I’m not so sure… here are a few tentative thoughts (and I’d welcome responses from those promoting the idea)…. Continue reading “Cap and trade for cigarettes”

Emissions trading – notes on a scandal

Another day, another broadside against carbon emissions trading. The FT’s Martin Wolf offers advice to the new Chancellor, including:

While simplifying tax, he should also take a close look at green taxation. Simple taxes that apply across-the-board are what is needed. The grant of valuable rights to big polluters through systems known as “cap-and-trade” is a scandal. [here]

This is an increasing theme, with even American giants like Alan Greenspan and Paul Volker coming out against cap ‘n’ trade and in favour of a carbon tax [see article]. I have to say I’m ever more swayed by this view, see my posting To Cap or to Tax.

But is the EU system ‘a scandal’, as Martin Wolf says? Continue reading “Emissions trading – notes on a scandal”