I wrote Greenhouse Gassing at the beginning of this year. A lot has changed since then, and yet, in many ways nothing has changed. It’s still very much full steam ahead, business as usual. The regular conferences organised by Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum are as much a feature of the Westminster landscape now as they were then, and updates about yet more of them keep dropping into my in-box.
Next steps for climate change policy in Scotland
This conference is to take place on 7th October 2022. Of course, quite apart from all the expense and complexity associated with the net zero project, given devolved government in this country, it’s all replicated elsewhere within the UK. Speakers include David Mallon, Head of Climate Change Policy & Implementation Unit at the Scottish Government, a role he has held since March 2020. In that role, his Linkedin page tells us he “led development of Government-wide package of over 100 policies for Scotland’s Climate Change Plan to deliver ambitious national climate change mitigation targets for 8 sectors up to 2032 (including energy and industry) and contribute to net zero by 2045” (remember, thanks to the provisions of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, the Scottish plan is to complete economic suicide by 2045, five years ahead of the UK government’s plan.
The conference will be chaired by Fiona Hyslop MSP, Deputy Convener of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee. Inevitably, perhaps, other speakers include representatives of WWF and Scottish Communities Climate Action Network, who say:
We serve as the Transition Scotland Hub which links us to the global Transition Network and we are also actively engaged with the European Ecolise network, including their Communities For Future programme. As a community based network, we are active members of the Scottish Community Alliance and, through this, have the opportunity to engage with 25 other community networks that embrace several thousand community organisations across Scotland. These links can help to support and inspire and provide further learning and sharing opportunities for our members as to how best to create the conditions in which community action on the climate and environmental emergencies can thrive – and enable the rapid decarbonisation required whilst creating the sort of future we want.
The more I read, the more I am staggered at the number of these organisations, all hungrily hoovering up grants and subsidies, and distributing cash among others similarly minded. Take a look at the list of members and be staggered at just how many little climate organisations and hangers-on there are – and this is just in Scotland. Reading their potted biographies, it’s obvious that many do good work and are made up of sincere people. On the other hand, others such as Climate Futures (“We are a multidisciplinary environmental consultancy, and are passionate about accelerating a sustainable future. We’d love to help you with improving the impact of your research, business and communication”) seem happy to operate as a business making money out of all of this. However, that’s only my opinion, and I’ve already digressed substantially. What’s the conference about?
Well, “[t]his conference focuses on the way forward for achieving net-zero in Scotland, and a just transition.” There’s a lot about “just transition” in Scotland, and of course in principle this is very good. An unjust transition is something to be avoided, even if for some of us one of the many major problems with the proposed net zero transition is its inherently unjust nature, hitting the poorest in society hardest.
We learn that that there is to be a new Just Transition Commission, but a quick look at the Scottish government website lets you see that there is a lot more verbiage than realism associated with this. The opening words, instead of applying a salve, ignite indignation and irritation in equal measure:
For the Scottish Government a just transition is both the outcome – a fairer, greener future for all – and the process that must be undertaken in partnership with those impacted by the transition to net zero.
Yeah, right. Try telling that to all those communities torn apart by the Scottish government’s relentless insistence on inflicting wind farms on them even in the face of opposition from “those impacted by the transition to net zero.” Words, only words.
This isn’t the first Just Transition Commission, by the way. There has already been one in situ from 2019 to 2021 . The members of the new Commission have already been appointed, and their biographies can be read here. I say nothing against any individual member of the Commission, and I am sure they are all well-intentioned and will all do their best. Nevertheless, colour me unconvinced by a Commission whose membership strikes me as weighted against objectivity, including as it does a Professor of Sustainability who was also a founding member of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, acting as its Scottish champion; a Deputy Executive Director Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF-UK; a project professional with a PhD in carbon capture and storage, and international experience in energy and climate change mitigation working across industry, government, community and academic sectors, whose most recent projects include Uist Wind; a Chief Executive Officer for the Net Zero Technology Centre, an organisation committed to the research and development of technology to accelerate the Oil and Gas industry’s transition to an affordable net zero future; a Policy Coordinator for the joint project between the Boston University Global Development Policy Centre and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); an economist, community organiser and entrepreneur currently leading Bridging Ventures, a global effort working to accelerate a just transition to a thriving and regenerative future through catalytic collaboration and systems change, who serves as an Advisor to Columbia Climate School and who convened the Climate Action Lab in Glasgow at COP 26; the author of The Case for The Green New Deal; a Professor in Practice for Sustainable Finance with the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science who is also author of The Road to Net Zero Finance for the UK’s Climate Change Committee; a Chief Sustainability Officer at SSE; and the Chief Executive of NECCUS, the membership organisation supporting and representing members through the challenge of industrial decarbonisation primarily through Carbon Capture and Hydrogen.
A cynic might think this is a Commission providing jobs for the boys (and girls) who will say what is expected, and that discussions will be less than controversial. A cynic might think that – I couldn’t possibly comment. Suffice it to say, should any member of the Commission read this and not recognise a description of themselves (I haven’t mentioned all of the members), then their lack of a mention is honourable, and I am pleased to see them possibly providing some much-needed balance.
By the way, while a shortage of funds has seen striking Council workers and rubbish piling up on Scottish streets, there is apparently a Just Transition Fund – “a £500m, ten-year commitment to supporting projects in the North East and Moray which contribute towards the region’s transition to net-zero”.
What else is on the climate agenda in Scotland? Just as in the UK more generally, there is a Heat in/and Buildings Strategy. This topic could justify an article in its own right, so for now I’ll just note what the Government website says in terms of its overall objective:
Sets out our vision for the future of heat in buildings, and the actions we are taking in the buildings sector to deliver our climate change commitments, maximise economic opportunities, and ensure a just transition, including helping address fuel poverty.
It was written last October, so almost a year ago, and was put in place just as the energy crisis started to ramp up. How’s it going helping to address fuel poverty? Well, here’s the view from Shetland:
By April, it is estimated that the average energy cost per year for a household in Shetland will be £10,300 – around double that of the UK. Fuel poverty will increase to the point where, by that time, 96% of Shetland households could be spending 10% of their income on energy costs. It is estimated that, by next April, a household in Shetland would need to earn £104,000 per annum to avoid being in fuel poverty.
Statistics show that, even under normal circumstances, the cost of living in Shetland is anything from 20-65% higher than the UK average. Shetland’s significantly colder climate, coupled with the risk of poor insulation and lack of availability of cheaper energy options – for example, mains gas [my emphasis] – further compound the effects on its island communities of the cost of living crisis…
Shetland has contributed, and will continue to contribute, significantly to UK energy exports, and yet people in our communities will struggle to heat their homes in the coming year. This is particularly ironic, given the continued development of offshore and onshore renewable energy production around Shetland.
Yes, that is ironic, isn’t it? I wonder if it will give any attendees at the conference or policy-makers at Holyrood pause for thought? Actually, no I don’t wonder about that. Nothing is likely to change. The agenda is set.
Priorities for UK energy security
This conference is due to take place on 14th October 2022. Given recent developments, its subject-matter is rather important. One might have thought that there really ought to be a single priority – to achieve, as quickly as possible, energy security for the UK, meaning a lack of dependence on imports and the securing of forms of energy that are reliable, and ideally not too expensive. As so often, one might think that, but it seems one would be wrong. For instance, there is no recognition that the UK is sitting on rather a lot of fossil fuels, and that in these difficult times it might be a good idea to make use of them. Instead, the focus remains on reducing fossil fuel use and continuing down the net zero path.
The first session is titled “the way forward for reducing dependency on imported fossil fuels – accelerating the transition towards a clean energy system”.
There are four bullet points here:
the state of UK energy capacity – barriers to increasing energy security – geopolitical pressure
implications of the strategy – for key stakeholder groups
outlook for the UK energy mix – the future role of renewables, nuclear, coal, oil and gas
industry obligations and expectations
I suppose I should be mildly encouraged that they are looking at “the state of UK energy capacity”, though I am less than convinced that the mindset is right, given that instead of looking for solutions they are busy looking at barriers to increasing energy security, apparently including geopolitical pressure. I would like those words (geopolitical pressure) to be explained. Are they talking about international events such as COP26 and nonsense about the UK “leading the way” and “setting an example”? Are they talking about sanctions against Russia?
Then there’s that final circle that can’t be squared – “delivering reliable, cost-effective, and decarbonised UK power supplies”. We’ve been going full steam ahead (or should that be full wind ahead?) for long enough now, and things have got worse, not better, so far as concerns the first two objectives (reliability and cost-effectiveness). What will it take before the penny drops and they realise that we can’t have all three?
Included under the heading “relevant developments” is the Energy Security Bill, obviously a very relevant development indeed. The Government factsheet isn’t terribly encouraging, however. It talks of “diversity and resilience”, which sounds good, but then the meat of it (am I still allowed to talk about meat?) is this:
Accelerate the growth of low carbon technologies. We will introduce state of the art business models for carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen, attracting private investment by providing long-term revenue certainty. Together with the measures on CO2 transport and storage, this will put the country on a path to seize market share and grow the economy.
Enable the set up and scale up of the first of a kind CO2 transport and storage networks. The Bill will establish the economic regulation and licensing framework to ensure successful deployment.
Taking further steps to explore the role for hydrogen to heat our homes and workplaces. We will enable the delivery of a large village hydrogen heating trial by 2025, providing crucial evidence to inform strategic decisions in 2026 on the role of hydrogen in heat decarbonisation.
Scale up heat pump manufacturing and installation, and a new white goods industry in the UK. We will establish a market-based mechanism for the low-carbon heat industry to step up investment and lower the cost of electric heat pumps, through economies of scale and innovation.
Yes, there’s talk of nuclear fusion too, but also delusional stuff like this:
Protecting consumers from cyber threats with new protections for smart appliances. We are taking powers to deliver appropriate protections for consumers and the grid by placing requirements on energy smart appliances.
Helping consumers manage their energy use and cut their bills to help with the cost of living. We are continuing to drive industry progress on the smart meter rollout which is set to deliver a £6 billion net benefit to society [sic].
Another relevant development is the creation of The Future System Operator (FSO). Net zero remains front and central:
The new Operator will have a duty to facilitate net zero while maintaining security of supply, and an efficient, coordinated and economical system.
There we go again – the circle that can’t be squared; the mutually inconsistent objectives.
The next relevant development is the “Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future – from BEIS, outlining the long-term strategy for the UK energy mix and for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050”.No change there, then.
Also, “the ninth round of the Energy Entrepreneurs Fund – £10m aimed at encouraging the development of green technologies that can help cut the UK’s reliance on expensive fossil fuels.” They’re still in thrall to the idea that reliable energy sources are expensive. Yes, gas may temporarily be very expensive, but we are supposed to be planning for the long-term here, not just the short-term.
Finally, “Future Nuclear Enabling Fund opens – designed by BEIS to develop new nuclear energy projects across the UK”. Better late than never, I suppose.
The future of the UK’s electricity and gas system
This conference will take place on 1st November 2022. There is some overlap with the conference about energy security just discussed, though this one deals in more detail with the role of the Future Systems Operator, which we learn is to be established by the end of 2024, with Ofgem’s new strategic functions probably being established next year.
I note the euphemistic language used: “heightened concern around the ability for current networks and markets to cope with changing demands” and “the UK energy market undergoing multiple changes, with potential to develop a more holistic approach to the energy system”. Also “low-carbon energy – meeting energy security needs – overcoming customer affordability challenges”.
Those three little phrases contain rather a lot – I take them to be unspoken acknowledgement of the facts that the National Grid will struggle to absorb large-scale renewables into the energy system, the disruptive and difficult nature of the changes being forced on us by net zero, and that renewable energy is neither reliable nor cheap. Not that they can say so in so many words.
Finally, I think this is curious:
Review of Electricity Market Arrangements (REMA) – major review announced by BEIS designed to ensure cost benefits of cheaper energy trickle down to consumers in the long term, with proposals for initial consultation including changes to the wholesale electricity market to stop volatile gas prices setting the price of electricity produced by much cheaper renewables.
They still seem to think that over the longer term renewables are cheaper than gas, despite the considerable body of evidence to the contrary, especially if one takes into account the problems and costs they know about, but have hidden in the euphemistic language mentioned above. It’s not too encouraging to think that these supposed benefits of cheaper energy are destined only to “trickle down” over the “longer term”. A cynic might think they know that it isn’t going to happen.
Next steps for the UK maritime sector
This conference will take place on 22nd November 2022, and has the sub-heading “Ports, shipbuilding and decarbonisation”. We are told that “[d]iscussion will focus on achievement of decarbonisation objectives, attracting investment, improvement of port infrastructure, plans to re-establish shipbuilding across the UK and its contribution to local economies, as well as changing trade patterns and shipping trends”. Hailing as I do from the town that a little over a century ago was the largest ship-building town in the world (whose shipyards were subsequently devastated), I am delighted to see that there plans to re-establish shipbuilding across the UK, though I am a little bemused at how this is supposed to go hand in hand with “decarbonisation objectives”.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy seems to have had little publicity since it was first published in 2017. Certainly, I was unaware of it until now. As ever, the focus remains on being “green”:
Over £4 billion of government investment will galvanise and support shipyards and suppliers across the UK, with new measures including better access to finance, vital skills-building, and funding for crucial research and development into greener vessels and infrastructure.
This strategy includes the creation of a Shipbuilding Skills Taskforce and there is also to be a Maritime Capability Campaign Office. I learn further that there is a Maritime Skills Office and even a UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions. It is here that we see the net zero agenda in all its dubious glory:
Decarbonising maritime is essential to achieve net zero emissions across the UK economy by 2050, as domestic shipping alone produces more greenhouse gases than buses, coaches and rail combined.
Urgent action is needed today – the average lifespan of vessels means that greener ships must start being deployed by 2025 to achieve a zero-emission fleet by 2050. It’s vital that every sector plays its part to remain in line with the Paris Agreement.
This transition of the shipping industry to zero emissions, as well as fulfilling our objectives to combat climate change, will also improve air quality in and around our ports and coastal communities.
Earlier this year the National Shipbuilding Strategy announced £206 million to establish in my department a UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions, or UK SHORE. This is a world-leading initiative showcasing our climate leadership and commitment to decarbonising maritime…
…We will continue to build momentum towards the publication in 2023 of a refreshed clean maritime plan. This will bring together our commitments, setting out a plan of action towards net zero for the UK domestic maritime sector.
Thus spoke Robert Courts MP.
There’s talk of ammonia or hydrogen-based fuels, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us reverting to the age of sail at this rate.
As ever, they see opportunities, where I see only problems:
The transition to zero emission shipping is a unique opportunity to radically reboot our marine manufacturing and gear up productivity, building on our competitive edge in clean maritime solutions.
I’d like to be wrong and for the policy-makers to be right, for once. Unfortunately, their track-record to date doesn’t give me much confidence.