Joe Jordan

the geek of hearts

"No Government is taking Climate Change seriously." – George Monbiot

I have my differences with this guy – I often get cross and post hostile comments on his blog. However, given that NGOs have been ejected from the COP15 conference venue, I had time to head over to the KlimaForum to listen to him talk about the history of human fossil fuel usage and the Challenges ahead.

George Monbiot at KlimaForum

He said something that I hadn’t heard before:

No Government is taking Climate Change Seriously.

This may sounds a bit wacky, given that they are all here in Copenhagen discussing a global solution to try and avert it; and although some of them might not want a successful deal (like Saudi Arabia or Canada, perhaps) the rest are at least trying. But he had me hooked on a very simple argument;

They are all looking at reducing demand for fossil fuels. Are any of them looking at reducing supply?

There are a lot of fossil fuels left to use, and while the Reserves might be running out; this is only part of the story (since the Resource might not be just yet). Let me quickly expand on what that means; Reserves are ready to go; we have the technology, and we have mapped the area. Resource, on the other hand, is the amount physically in the Earth’s crust; for most minerals (including Coal), we have only mapped a tiny proportion of what is there. (For example, if the UK decided it needed more coal, it could start digging under the north sea; it would be expensive, but we have the technology to do it, and we could increase our output by 11 times if we did). For Oil this is less the case, i.e. we have mapped out most of it.

He calculated that in order to hit our 2 Degree target, we can only use 60% of the reserves between now and “forever” (i.e. 2500). Yea, that means we can’t even let the oil/gas/coal companies hit peak. He argues, on this basis, that in order to be taking the 2 degree target seriously, we need a moratorium on prospecting for new fossil fuel sources, and we need to be deciding who can sell what proportion of their reserves.

As far as I can see this is actually better than a Carbon trading scheme, as it controls the price through scarcity itself rather than by applying a false cost though a tax. It also enforces the rules much more strictly, since it isn’t possible to release too much CO2 without breaching an international treaty by mining the stuff in the first place. However, I have a question for you George:

Under a Carbon Trading Scheme, you would be able to allocate a fixed amount of resources to all families in the UK so that everyone had a basic starting point of food and shelter. People can then bargin for Consumer Carbon amongst themselves, with people making a profit by just “being green”, and others paying a premium to pollute. Under your scheme, people’s energy bills just go up. While what you have proposed is “cleaner” economically, it doesn’t allow for any social energy allowance and exposes most earners in the UK and elsewhere to a massive bill they can’t afford, while we wait for industry to pull their thumb out, which will take years or decades, not months. Is your suggestion fair?

Back to the negotiations: why isn’t this even part of the discussion? George says it’s a lack of “joined up government” under New Labour – the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is essentially two autonomous departments; one of whom lobbys to reduce demand for carbon fuels (the DCC), and the other of whom lobbies for maximum possible supply of fossil fuels to keep prices down (the DE). Unless these two departments actually talk to one another at some point, we aren’t going to get anywhere! This is a fundamental policy contradiction that needs to be addressed if we are actually going to hit the 2 degree target.

originally appeared here