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New Hope for BiFab?

It’s excellent news that the BiFab yard in Fife will reopen over the next few months with the prospect of 290 jobs working on the production of eight platforms for the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm project.  It’s a time for optimism but also a time for organising to ensure that this is not another false dawn. 

 Burntisland Fabrications yard at Methil by Bill Kasman CC BY-SA 2.0

Neart na Gaoithe is just 15km off the Fife coast.  When complete the windfarm will have 54 turbines generating enough electricity to power 375,000 homes.  54 turbines require 54 platforms, and it makes environmental sense to build these massive structures as close to the site as possible.  But BiFab will only be making eight, the others will be produced thousands of miles away.   

Announcements from the new private owners are positive about more orders in the pipeline, but we have heard this before – and back in 2017, prior to all production ending in early 2018 there were 1400 workers at BiFab.  There have been four wasted years.

We’ve argued on this site that the Methil yard should be a key part of the engineering infrastructure that’s needed to build a new sustainable, zero carbon economy.  The Methil, Burntisland and Arnish facilities can form part of the much more extensive network of sites required as we build an integrated, full-scale green energy economy.

We’ve also argued that the transition to the new economy we need so urgently can’t be left to the chaos and instability of the market. The workers at BiFab paid the price for the anarchy of the market in 2017/18.  To avoid this happening again, to guarantee jobs and a future for our children and grandchildren, we need public investment, public ownership, long term planning and democratic control.  

The ‘net zero’ con trick

Last month the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, together with Oil and Gas UK released the text of the North Sea Transition Deal.  We will look at this document in more detail in a future post. 

Suffice it to say that this is ‘transition’ that references the climate crisis, and talks about net zero, but is wholly driven by the interests of the oil industry.  The two big ticket items in the strategy are ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ and ‘Hydrogen’.  And although the document comes out of Westminster, the minutes of the North Sea Transition Forum that brings together the industry with the UK and Scottish governments, suggest that Holyrood is on board with the strategy. 

A case study on the Oil and Gas UK website illustrates the kind of thinking that informs the strategy.  The study is headlined 

Injecting new life into assets – Supporting Net-Zero goals and producing more oil. A novel polymer flooding agent is helping to improve field recovery rates and accelerate the energy transition process.

You may need to read those headlines a few times!  The new polymer makes it easier to extract the oil.  This reduces the amount of carbon emissions associated with the effort of extraction.  Oil is pumped faster, and more oil can be extracted from a given reservoir.  So, there’s a small reduction in emissions at the point of production and more oil released into the system.  The magic here is that we are not supposed to count this massively greater amount of carbon because the greenhouse gases will be captured (by as yet unavailable technology).  And, of course, the polymer is available now – the oil is being pumped now – and carbon capture may be available at some unknown point in the future.  

Check out Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26 which outlines action to cut through the greenwashing and magical thinking that currently characterises policy on transition from fossil fuels.

Photo by Snapper CC BY 2.o

Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26

With the delayed COP26 United Nations Climate talks scheduled for Glasgow in November the eyes of the world are on Scotland in 2021.

The Westminster and Holyrood governments aim to present themselves as international leaders in tackling the climate crisis.  However, the policy of both governments is to maximise economic recovery of North Sea oil and gas.  The Sea Change report shows how this policy is completely incompatible with keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees centigrade.   Oil and gas production needs to stop here in Scotland and worldwide.  At the same time the lives and livelihoods of those working in oil and gas must be protected.

We therefore demand:

  1. The immediate cessation of all new exploration, development and drilling activity in the British sector of the North Sea.
  2. A planned and phased end of oil and gas production in the North Sea that would ensure that activity ends by 2030.  
  3. The establishment of a publicly owned and democratically controlled Scottish Climate Service with a five-year target to create 100,000 climate jobs. The SCS would for new investments in the production, distribution and storage of renewable energy and Scotland wide projects, for example, retrofitting homes and offices to high insulation standards and district heating.
  4. Guaranteed employment and retraining with the SCS for all oil and gas workers whose jobs end as a result of decommissioning.

We would like individuals and organisations to discuss the pledge, support and campaign for it.  If you, or your organisation, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email Scot.E3 at triple.e.scot@gmail.com .  You can use the form on our contact page if you wish.  The list of signatories is here.Please get in touch If you would like someone from Scot.E3 to speak at a discussion on the issues that the pledge raises

A Material Transition

War on Want’s new report ‘A Material Transition’ exposes the environmental destruction and human rights abuses that mining for renewable energy could unleash. The climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and rampant global inequality all have their roots in our resource-intense society.

The report highlights what can be done to avert this devastation and sets out a pathway for a globally just energy future: respect for the rights of affected communities, ensuring just and fair supply chains, and a reduction to harm for workers and the need for new resource extraction.

We’d like to publish a review of this report please get in touch if you would like to submit one.

The Petroleum Amendment Bill – why the silence?

In the year that COP26 comes to Scotland Neil Rothnie asks why there is no public debate on the Petroleum Amendment Bill

For the last 15 months the Petroleum Amendment Bill has been sitting on the table in the House of Lords.  The Bill is a private member’s bill based on the recommendations of the Sea Change report.  It calls for an end to oil and gas exploration, the rapid phasing out of production and a transition for oil and gas workers into the renewables industry. 270,000 jobs are supported by the industry.

So just when were the oil and gas workers, their families and communities going to be informed of the existence of this plan, and get the opportunity to scrutinise and discuss it?

Who has been in on this discussion? Who has been making what plans? 

Presumably the Government has a view on the Bill.  Why the silence? Their current plan, the Act that the Bill aims to amend, is spectacularly unfit for purpose.  It calls for “maximising economic recovery” of North Sea oil and gas. This is at complete odds with their claim to be leading the world against climate change. When UK Cabinet Minister, Alok Sharma, chairs the COP26 discussions in Glasgow in November is he going to be inviting delegates from Russia, Saudi Arabia, America, China and every other fossil fuel producer to follow the UK lead and maximise economic recovery of their own fossil fuels?  

Are the trade unions in on the discussion?  Have they informed their members on the North Sea what is being proposed?

Does the industry not feel the need to comment on a radical plan that has massive implications for their business on the North Sea and internationally.  If it’s necessary in the UK such a plan not necessary internationally? 

Do the Labour Party, the SNP and the Greens have positions on the Bill?  Lady Sheehan is a Liberal Democrat so presumably her party has a view.  What is it?

Why the silence?  Does the media, the BBC and the newspapers, know of the existence of this Bill.   Are they deliberately ignoring it and going to continue only to report what is written for them in the oil company public relations departments?  A proud tradition that has disappeared the North Sea from national scrutiny.

What about the environmental movement itself?  Scot.E3 has been campaigning on employment, energy and environment for three and a half years; but such is the silence that it was only alerted when Baroness Sheehan and Mary Robinson (past President of Ireland) alluded to the Bill in a recent article in the Times. 

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad on Pexels.com

Divest Strathclyde

On April 1st Glasgow City Council will be debating whether to end investing pension funds in fossil fuels. If successful, this will be a big step forward for divestment campaigns. The motion is proposed by the Green Party and we post their press statement below.

Image from Friends of the Earth Scotland on Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Scottish Green Party
25/03/2021Glasgow City Council to vote for end to fossil fuel investments.  Today will see the publication of a motion by Scottish Green party councillors in Glasgow for the Council to commit to ending its pension fund investments in fossil fuels. At present the Strathclyde Pension Fund, which GCC is part of, has over £500 million worth of holdings in fossil fuel companies.  The motion, included below, is part of the budget agreement between the SNP administration the Scottish Green Party, so is expected to pass with overwhelming support when the vote takes place on April 1st.Green Party Councillor Kim Long, who will be moving the motion on April 1st, said: “It makes no sense, financially or ethically, to continue to invest in the fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. We know that in Glasgow, the climate crisis will impact the poorest communities the hardest – and all the money the city plans to spend on mitigating this damage is wasted if we keep pouring money into the very thing we know is making the problem worse. But this is also an opportunity – local government pension funds are the single biggest public store of wealth in Scotland. We need to stop fuelling the crisis, and instead invest in a Green recovery to create the fairer, greener Glasgow we need.  “Isla Scott from Divest Strathclyde, which supports the move, said: “We urge Councillors and the Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) committee to show climate leadership as we head towards COP26 and to commit to start divesting immediately. The continued investment of over £500 million in fossil fuels is abhorrent and cannot be justified in a climate crisis. Furthermore, it risks pensioners’ money being lost in stranded assets, money that could be better invested in funding climate solutions and a just transition to a green economy. We will continue to campaign for divestment for as long as the SPF continues to fund the breakdown of our climate.”  The motion is below. 

Council. 

Recalls its previous support for a transformative Green New Deal to respond to the climate and ecological emergencies; 

Believes that a Green New Deal for the city region will require massive investment, and that the Council’s own pension investments could play an important part in that;
Recognises that the Strathclyde Pension Fund supports low carbon initiatives through its direct investment portfolio, but is concerned that the Fund retains large holdings, worth in excess of £500 million last year, in fossil fuel industries that are driving the climate and ecological emergencies and perpetuating global inequalities;.

Notes the Council’s fiduciary duty as administering authority for the Strathclyde Pension Fund must be paramount in all decision making around the pension fund. Further notes the calls made over many years from campaigners on the issue of fossil fuel divestment and notes that many other major public and private institutions have already made and acted on commitments to fossil fuel divestment, demonstrating leadership on the climate emergency at the same time as protecting the long-term interests of their individual investors;.

Believes that in the year of the COP26 climate summit, when the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, the city and its institutions must show climate leadership; and therefore.

Resolves to write to the Strathclyde Pension Fund committee, asking that it make a formal commitment to fossil fuel divestment prior to COP26, with the intention of divesting completely as quickly as possible, and no later than 2029; and that it further considers how it can reinvest the Pension Fund Members’ hard-earned money to drive a green recovery for the Glasgow region.

Andrew Smith
Communications Officer
Scottish Greens
0141 321 7940
07800 972393

Made in Scotland

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) together with Peace and Justice have published an excellent report ‘Made in Scotland’ which highlights how Scottish arms manufacturers have fuelled the war in Yemen.

Scot.E3 argues that workers in the arms industry should be redeployed to provide the engineering skills that are necessary for building a new sustainable, zero carbon< Scottish Economy. For more on this see Briefing 5.

Excerpt:

UK-made warplanes, bombs and missiles have fuelled the conflict in Yemen which has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 24 million people, 80% of Yemen’s population, requiring humanitarian assistance as of January 2019. Saudi Arabia and the UAE lead the coalition, alongside Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait and Morocco. Coalition forces have targeted hospitals, clinics and vaccinations centres across Yemen, and after nearly six years of conflict, the country’s healthcare infrastructure has “almost collapsed.”

Polls over recent years have found the Scottish public are significantly opposed to Saudi arms exports. Just 11% of Scots said arms sales to Saudi Arabia were acceptable in a 2019 Opinium poll. In 2018, a ComRes poll gave similar results, with only 14% of Scots supporting continued arms sales to the Kingdom.

Despite this public opposition, weapons and military goods made in Scotland, from Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Midlothian, Glasgow and Lanarkshire, are all in operation with the Saudi-led coalition forces. At least 16 arms companies operating in Scotland have applied for military export licences to Saudi-led coalition members or worked directly with military forces since 2008.

In the Scottish Parliament, the Government has faced criticism over grants and support given to arms companies by its business support body Scottish Enterprise. Scottish Enterprise provides ten of the companies mentioned with free account management services, yet held meetings around diversification from arms sales with only four of them over the past 12 months.

Cumbria and climate jobs

Congratulations to climate campaigners in Cumbria who have fought so hard to prevent the building of a new coal mine. The council had given the go ahead but the application has now been called in by the Westminster Government with the result that there will now be a public enquiry. The proponents of the mine say that it will bring 500 jobs to West Cumbria. The campaign has argued that tackling the climate crisis means that the carbon must remain in the ground and that serious responses to the crisis will create many more jobs. The report they commissioned ‘The potential for green jobs in Cumbria’ shows exactly how this could happen. Local conditions vary but this is possible everywhere.

Fight the Fire

Jonathan Neale spoke about his new book “Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs” at a Scot.E3 online public meeting on 12th March 2021.  The book is a tremendous resource for climate activists and trade unionists.

You can watch the full video of Jonathan’s talk below.  But do read the book – it’s available in hard copy from Resistance Books – make sure your local bookshop stocks it.

“The most compelling and concise guide to averting climate breakdown.”

Brendan Montague, editor, The Ecologist.

The Ecologist has published the digital version of Fight the Fire for free so that it is accessible to all. Click on this link to download a PDF or ebook from the Ecologist website.

Electric cars are no panacea. The government’s focus on them is a sham

A transition to electric cars is part of both the Scottish and UK governments’ plans to tackle the climate crisis. Here we reprint (with permission) a post by SIMON PIRANI first published on the People and Nature blog, which takes a critical look at the Westminster government’s strategy.

The UK government has put electric cars at the centre of its disastrous climate strategy, which doesn’t even aim for half the needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The focus on electric cars – which goes together with a gigantic £27 billion road-building programme – is opposed by researchers of climate science, transport policy, engineering and urban planning. Their advice has in practice been ignored.

The Labour leadership is happy with the electric cars narrative, leaving researchers and campaigners outside parliament to point out that electrification, without an immediate, giant shift towards public transport, cycling and walking – and away from individually-owned cars – will never come close to decarbonising transport at any meaningful pace.

In the run-up to the international climate talks in Glasgow in November, it is vital that the government’s cynical PR strategy is unmasked.

Support for electric cars was a highlight of the government’s ten-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, announced in November. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030 – that is, after the most vital decade for action on climate has already passed.

Electric Car CC0 http://www.pixabay.com

The plan includes a promise of about £2.8 billion to subsidise manufacture of, and infrastructure for, electric cars – just over one-tenthof the cost of the £27 billion national road-building programme. (That, transport researchers say, will add 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) to the atmosphere where a 167 million tonne reduction is needed).

Labour called only for a tweak to the government’s plan – bringing forward the ban on hybrid vehicles from 2035 to 2030. Even Greenpeacesaid the electric car policy was the “star of the show”, needing only more support for delivery.

The seductive logic, shared across the political spectrum, is that the cost of electric cars will soon fall fast enough that motorists will snap them up.

The fact that electric cars are far from “zero carbon” gets lost. (See Note 1 below.) The fact that, if we don’t want global temperatures to go more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, emissions will have to be cut at more than twice the rate the government intends, gets lost too. (See Note 2.)

The voices of researchers who actually study the role of transport systems in the climate crisis need to be amplified.

Why the ten point plan makes no sense 

Although the 2030 phase out of petrol and diesel cars is welcome, “in reality it is a delaying tactic”, argued climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Dan Calverley in response to the ten-point plan. “Climate change requires immediate action, not a promise for action in ten years.”

The plan passes the buck of mitigating climate change to another government, several electoral cycles down the line. More importantly, it obliges our children to remove colossal quantities of (our) carbon directly from the atmosphere, or attempt to live with the consequences of dangerous climate change. […]

Far from being a ‘green revolution’, this is simply business as usual, where the predict-and-provide paradigm of car ownership and road building go hand in hand.

That last point was echoed by Nick Eyre of the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions, a prominent UK energy policy researcher. The government plan is “very far from a coherent strategy”, he wrote.

It “reads like a shopping list of interesting technologies that might be grafted on to the existing energy system” – but “fails to recognise the more fundamental needs for change and links to other policy areas”.

The plan mentions £9.2 billion for public transport, cycling and walking – but “on closer inspection, none of this is new money”, Eyre pointed out. So that would just put pressure on austerity-damaged local councils … while the £27 billion road building plan stays in place – albeit under legal challenge.

For transport researchers, the electric-car-focused plan was proof of government indifference to their calls for integrated transport policy that reduces the number of car journeys, and the speed and number of cars, and boosts public transport, cycling and walking.

“If we really were committed to reducing climate-damaging carbon emissions […] we would cancel road building and switch all the funding to world-best joined up thinking about transport”, wrote John Whitelegg of the Foundation for Integrated Transport.

But of course the government is not really committed, at all. And Whitelegg pointed to one reason why … car culture, that is such a key element of 21st century capitalism:

The prioritisation of cars goes deeper. We allocate huge amounts of space to cars that could very easily be used for green space, affordable housing, trees and parks. We encourage anti-social, unpleasant pavement parking in residential areas so that children and other pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the road. There is no space for anyone with a pushchair or wheel chair. The car takes up space that belongs to the people and this is ignored by councils and central government.

University-based transport researchers have churned out dozens of articles, over years, explaining ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent one highlighted that in order to meet the climate targets implied in the 2015 Paris agreement, the UK would need, first, to ban hybrid cars (that can run on either petrol or electricity) as well as petrol and diesel ones, and, second, support “lifestyle and social change” that would alter the nature of journeys people need or want to make, and encourage non-car ways of making them:

Only the earlier phase-outs [of fossil-fuel-heavy vehicles] combined with lower demand for mobility and car ownership would make significant contributions to an emissions pathway that is both Paris-compliant [i.e. hits the targets set out at the international climate talks in Paris in 2015] and meets legislated urban air quality limits.

Engineering researchers come to similar conclusions via a different route. They reason that the best way to slash fuel use quickly – not in ten years’ time – is to cut the total weight of cars on the road.

Researchers at Cambridge published analysis showing that  “fostering vehicle weight reduction” could save more emissions by 2050 than current policies that focus on electrification – unless there is “an extreme decarbonisation” of the UK’s electricity grid, e.g. more than 50%.

Simple. Obvious. But resisted tooth and nail by motor manufacturers.

Thanks in large part to those companies, the average weight of cars in Europe has risen from 1320 kg in 2005 – when they already knew fine well about global warming – to more than 1400 kg now.

Cars on average carry 1.8 people, who weigh on average about one-twelfth of that … “so almost all petrol is used to move the car, not the people”, says the Absolute Zero report, which proposes how the UK could go to zero carbon with current technologies.

The authors’ scenarios imply that the UK could get to a place where non-fossil electricity generation is three times the current level, and transport without fossil fuels uses 60% of the energy it uses now. And that would mean:

Either vehicles are modified – with regenerative braking, reduced drag and rolling resistance (better tyres), and weight reductions, or we can choose to use them less – through ride-sharing, better freight management or an overall reduction in distance travelled.

Simple. Obvious. And because the motor manufacturers won’t hear of it, the government keeps away from it.

Changing transport systems, so that we can live more happily with fewer vehicle-kilometres, is not just about cars, or even just the roads and parking spaces. It is also about the design and layout of the cities in which we live.

Current transport and land use planning practice is “fundamentally unsustainable” at a time of climate emergency, warned a reportlast month by the Royal Town Planning Institute (hardly a bunch of rebellious eco-warriors).

It called for urban planning to be turned upside down to avoid locking-in “car dependent lifestyles”.

The report proposed a four-step pathway. The fourth step is “fuel switching”, i.e. electrification of transport.

But before that, the report urged, (i) “all new development” has to be “planned, designed and delivered to achieve net zero transport emissions”; (ii) demand for transport should be reduced “through local living”, i.e. remaking cities so that necessities (schools, doctors, shops, and so on) are within walking distance; and (iii) government should encourage a shift from private vehicles to walking, cycling and public transport.

Simple. Obvious. But of no interest to the property developers who rule the roost in urban planning.

Researchers vs politicians

Since policy is influenced so profoundly by the relations of wealth and power in society – by the motor manufacturers and property developers, by car culture –researchers who seek to advise government sometimes wonder whether they are hitting their heads against a brick wall.

Jillian Anable, one of the UK’s foremost transport specialists, vented her frustration at the University Transport Studies Group conference in 2019. “We are letting more and more water on board our Titanic, while our implements to bale ourselves out are getting increasingly ineffectual”, she said.

Three decades into the climate crisis, the transport sector is 98% dependent on fossil fuels, she reminded her colleagues.

“We need a profoundly more challenging mitigation agenda than the academic community has countenanced to date”, she argued. “We have to expose the gap between current measures and what needs to happen.” To “produce the knowledge we need to tell the truth”, research needs to go further, to “challenge the dominant frame held by policymakers” of “neoclassical engineering and microeconomic approaches”.

By implication at least, this call to go further was answered by Giulio Mattioli and his colleagues in an article published last year that highlighted five key elements of the “car-dependent transport system”: (i) the automotive industry; (ii) provision of car infrastructure; (iii) the political economy of urban sprawl; (iv) the provision (and, I would say, lack of provision) of public transport; and (v) cultures of car consumption.

This thorough analysis of the social and economic drivers obstructing decarbonisation concludes that:

Alternatives to car-dependent transport systems will have to be civic-minded, strategically coordinated for the public good […] Such alternatives can not benefit from a purported technocratic or apolitical presentation: instead, they should be argued for on the firm grounds of public coordination and delivery of public goods for all, while continually exposing the hidden workings of car-dependent transport systems.

This goes way beyond the framework of advising government that constrains so much work.

It underlines that the rift between research and politics – which has been so dramatically exposed in the last year with respect to the coronavirus – runs deep when it comes to climate change.

Where’s the opposition?

In the UK, this gulf between rational thinking and politics is deepened by the Labour party’s crisis. There is no functioning political opposition to the dysfunctional government.

Labour’s wimpish response to the government’s ten-point plan was just a symptom. Its own muddled climate policy is tied to discredited notions of pumping up “economic growth”. In fact the “green industrial revolution” slogan was coined by Labour and then stolen from it, and made infinitely more vacuous, by Boris Johnson and his corrupt cronies.

The gap between words and actions runs through Labour’s climate policies as it does the government’s. London mayor Sadiq Khan, arguably Labour’s most powerful elected politician, talks about tackling climate change – but his biggest spending decision has been to go ahead with the £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel project, which would help ensure there is more traffic in the coming decades, when it’s so vital that there is less.

The Labour-controlled Greater London Authority have simply ignored the reality that more roads produce more traffic, and defended the tunnel with the false argument – identical to the government’s – that electrification will make traffic “zero carbon”.

As campaigners in London (me included) have shown, the tunnel project is incompatible with London’s own emissions reductions targets, let alone those implied by the Paris climate conference.

How to turn the tide

So while politicians enthuse about electric cars, and motor manufacturers use them as greenwash, all the carbon emissions reductions from electric car use are being wiped out by the relentless rise in SUV use.

In 2020, a global reduction of oil use of about 2 million tonnes (40,000 barrels a day), achieved by people switching to electric cars, was “completely cancelled out by the growth in SUV sales over the same period”, research published last month by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed.

While more than 3 million electric and hybrid vehicles were sold in 2020, SUV sales fell – but only to about 27 million, bringing the world’s total SUV fleet to more than 280 million, up from less than 50 million in 2010.

And the SUVs made a noticeable contribution to climate change. Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 7% in 2020, across all the categories the IEA tracks … except those from SUVs, which edged up by 0.5%.

What’s more, the electric vehicles being sold are getting larger and heavier, on average, earlier IEA research showed.

Clearly, meaningful action to tackle climate change and make city life better means cutting the total number of cars on the road. 

It means communities fighting for investment in cheap and free public transport and infrastructure for cycling, walking and genuinely energy-saving transport modes such as electric scooters. It means combating the influence of motor manufacturers and the car culture on which they thrive.

It means social and labour movements making common cause with workers in the motor industry, to seek ways to use their skills, without producing climate-wrecking gas guzzlers – as is starting to happen with aviation workers.

And it means recognising that electric cars – which, over the long term, can combine with fossil-free electricity generation as a means of transport – are not a short- or medium term fix for the climate emergency.

Note 1. Why EVs are not zero-emission

□ Calling electric vehicles (EVs) “zero emission” is meaningless propaganda. Greenhouse gases are emitted when the car and battery are manufactured, and very often from the power stations that produce the electricity. There are heated controversies about EVs’ lifecycle emissions, measured in grams per kilometre travelled (g/kw), compared to petrol and diesel cars. The bottom line of a recent study by Carbon Brief was that EVs in Europe are usually more than twice as carbon-efficient (i.e. twice as “clean”) as petrol and diesel cars, depending on the make and where the battery is produced. That analysis cast doubt on a headline-grabbing study by the IFO institute in Germany, which warned that EVs would “barely help to cut emissions”. Over time, EVs have the potential to improve carbon efficiency still further, compared to petrol cars, with better batteries and lower-carbon electricity.

□ Carbon Brief found that, in the EU, a Nissan Leaf used half the carbon emissions of an average petrol car on a lifecycle basis. Half is not “zero”.

□ Much depends on how the electricity is produced. In Paraguay or Iceland, where it comes from hydropower, the carbon “cost” of an EV is only that of making the car and battery. But in China or India, where most electricity is produced from coal and EV markets are growing rapidly, most EVs will do worse than comparable petrol cars in greenhouse gas terms. (This is one of many studies with numbers.)

□ Lifecycle assessments do not include emissions from building and maintaining roads and parking spaces, and the knock-on effect of discouraging non- and low-carbon forms of transport. (The numbers are complex. See Transport for Quality of Life’s work on the UK to get an idea.)

□ EV purchases do not necessarily mean that buyers are giving up petrol cars. Research from Norway, which has gone furthest in electrifying transport, shows that the availability of EVs has increased the proportion of families who own more than one car, and decreased the proportion that use public transport to commute.

□ Plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs), often counted as “low emission”, are being given low emission values from tests, but their real-world emissions are on average two-and-a-half times higher, a briefing by Transport & Environment reports. In 2017 in the UK, researchers fumed, a quarter of all plug-in cars registered were “an SUV in the form of a PHEV and one of the most polluting cars on the road”.

□ Apart from the carbon cost, EVs use metals, in particular lithium, that are mined in the global south under conditions that heap suffering on the people that live there. The huge expansion of EV manufacture envisaged by car companies implies a disastrous assault on those people. Some of the implications were examined by Jamie Morgan, an economist, in this article.

Note 2: Policies lag behind carbon budgets, which lag behind reality

Transport is the UK economic sector that accounts for the most greenhouse gas emissions (in 2019, 113 MtCO2e, 22% of the total). A report commissioned by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), a public body, said in December last year that transport emissions would have to be cut by 70% by the mid 2030s, for the government to meet its own climate targets.

These targets are expressed as “carbon budgets” covering five-year periods. The CCC warns that the government is unlikely to meet them: in the jargon, it is “off track” for the fourth (2023-27) and fifth (2028-32) carbon budgets.

In a letter sent to the government in October 2018, the CCC chair, Lord Deben, specified just how far off track. In 2030, when the CCC wants transport emissions down to around 68 MtCO2e/year, it a projected a 14 MtCO2e/year shortfall due to a “policy gap”, and a further 42 MtCO2e/year “at risk due to lack of firm policies and measures or those with delivery risks”.

In plain language: if the government does not get a grip (and there’s no sign of that, more than two years later), transport emissions could be more or less unchanged by 2030.

All that sounds bad enough. Worse still, climate scientists insist that the “carbon budgets”, on which government and CCC agree, would not even deliver half the necessary emissions cuts.

key research paper that takes the scientific conclusions of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, and applies the principle that rich countries should bear more of the burden (“common but differentiated responsibility”, in the jargon), gives the UK a carbon budget of 3700 MtCO2e for the whole 21st century – compared to the 9000 MtCO2e implied by the government’s targets.

The paper, by Kevin Anderson and others, assumes – unlike the government – that negative emissions technologies will play no substantial part in the next few decades. That means, the authors say, that the UK needs, starting now, to cut emissions by more than 10% per year – as opposed to the 5.1% implied by government targets.

The paper’s assumptions are very modest. That 3700 MtCO2e budget for the UK is based on an assumed global budget, for the 21st century, of 900 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e). A briefing paper by the ecological economist Tim Jackson, with a slightly different angle on the IPCC’s numbers, says the UK’s budget is 2500 MtCO2e, and the global budget 420 GtCO2e. It all depends on how much risk of going how far above 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial times you think makes sense.

In my view, caution is desirable with all these numbers, because discussion of them often implicitly assumes that politicians and diplomats at the climate negotiations have a right and duty to rule on these matters. I don’t think that, but I do think the science in the IPCC reports is a good place to start in working out our view on emissions cuts. But the government obviously does not.

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