Monthly Archives: October 2017

New Lancet study shows it’s time to take our medicine on climate change

When we think about the impacts of climate change it’s often melting glaciers, stranded polar bears or tropical hurricanes that most readily spring to mind.

But a new study published today in The Lancet medical journal suggests that global warming is fundamentally a health crisis on a global scale. The findings are stark.

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwave events has increased by approximately 125 million.

Need to migrate

Undernutrition is identified as the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century. Related impacts of climate change on crop production referenced in the report include a 6 percent decline in global wheat yields and 10 percent fall in rice yields for each additional 1 °C rise in global temperature.

A 9.4 percent increase in the vectorial capacity for the transmission of Dengue due to climate trends since 1990. With 50 to 100 million infections of Dengue estimated to occur each year, this will exacerbate the spread of the world’s most rapidly expanding disease.

– The world has seen a 46 percent global increase in weather related disasters since 2000. This contributed to $129 US billion of economic losses caused by climate related events in 2016 alone. 99% of losses in low-income countries are currently uninsured.

– More than one billion people globally will be faced with a need to migrate within ninety years, due to a rise in sea level caused by ice shelf collapse, unless necessary action is taken.

This report is no half-baked effort from a campaign group: 26 major institutions contributed including the likes of the World Bank, World Health Organisation, University College London and Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Warning signs

Professor Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of the report and Director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, didn’t pull any punches in summarising the predicament.

He said: “We are only just beginning to feel the impacts of climate change. Any small amount of resilience we may take for granted today will be stretched to breaking point sooner than we may imagine.”

It’s particularly cruel that most of these impacts are being felt first and worst in the developing countries that did the least to create this health horror show, and why it’s so shameful that the Daily Express, among others, is calling for the mere 0.7 percent of our national income we spend on international aid be clawed back.

As the first nation in the world to industrialise, Britain should be proud to lead the way in helping those suffering from the health impacts of climate change.

These finds should be a wakeup call to politicians meeting in Bonn, Germany, next week for this year’s UN climate summit, but the report highlights some signs that we may already be starting to heed the warning signs.

Health opportunity

The study authors write: “Although progress has been historically slow, there is evidence of a recent turning point, with transitions in sectors that are crucial to public health reorienting towards a low-carbon world.”

Global coal consumption appears to have peaked in 2013 and is now declining. This coincides with the increasing decarbonisation of national electricity systems.

We’ve also reached an important crossover with global employment in renewable energy at 9·8 million people last year, compared to jobs in fossil fuel extraction trending downwards to 8·6 million.

The rapid growth of electric vehicles will also lead to drastic improvements in urban air quality. The report also reveals that there has been an uptick of 78 percent in global newspaper coverage of the health impacts of climate change since 2007, and scientific studies on the subject have tripled over the same period. It would make sense that this public awareness would only increase as the impacts become more obvious.

While climate change may be our greatest health challenge, the report authors point out that it is also our greatest global health opportunity.

Professor Anthony Costello, report co-chair and a Director at the World Health Organization said: “The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.”

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s former climate chief who helped coordinate the Paris Agreement said political leaders meeting in Bonn next week needed to follow doctors’ orders: “When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention and it’s important that governments do the same.”

This Author

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and a New Voices contributor to The Ecologist. He is on twitter at @wareisjoe.


Why tree planting is a win win win opportunity

In recent times, as awareness of the threats posed by CO2-driven climate change has increased, I have focused my attention on considering the possibility that trees, especially when successfully growing on impoverished soils with little agricultural potential, may provide an important ‘sink’ for the carbon released by human activities. I see such tree planting activities as providing WIN WIN WIN opportunites. 

The first WIN obviously involves CO2 capture, and hence contribution to the UK’s commitment under the Paris Climate Change Agreement to reduce CO2 emmissions.

The second WIN, arising from the conversion of unproductive moorland soils to productive forests involves the provision of an economically valuable product which can reduce our dependence upon timber imports while serving as a significant source of employment in rural areas. 

Simulated conditions

The third and no less significant WIN concerns environmental diversification. The UK has the lowest proportion of forest cover in the whole of Europe – currently at around 12 percent.

As they mature, these forests provide diverse environments that can serve as  health-giving playgrounds for human recreation.

I like to cite the example of England’s largest National Forest, Park-Kielder in Northumberland. This covers an area of over 250 square miles – 90 percent of which consists of coniferous trees. 

These are the homes of red squirrels, various deer species, and ospreys-amongst much other wildlife. The Park hosts over 300,000 visitors a year. 

With others in the University of Sheffield, I obtained significant Reasearch Council funding for the construction of a facility, the Sir David Read Controlled Environment Laboratories, in which trees and agricultural crop plants can be grown under simulated conditions of atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment. 

Re-greening our future

This facility provides us with the unique capability both to predict impacts of future atmospheric CO2 scenarios and to select species which promise to be most adaptable to the evolving environments. 

It is currently in use to investigate the responses of tropical as well as temperate tree and food-crop species to grow under elevated CO2 (and temperature) environments.

I am passionate about the need to confront the emerging CO2-driven scenarios. And I am glad to have lived a long and happy life with the chance to have added to atmospheric carbon enrichment. 

I feel a sense of duty, for the sake of future generations, to contribute to and encourage, if only in a modest way, activities that can reduce the threatened impacts.

For this reason I am delighted to be joining the panel at The Tree Conference in Glastonbury on Saturday 4th November, where leading tree scientists, tree and reforestation project leaders and artists, will come together to share their research, practical projects and visions for re-greening our future.

The panel and talks at the event will also be available to watch via Livestream on the day, so people can tune in from around the world. 

This Author

Professor Sir David Read is the lead author of the Forestry Commission’s report Combating Climate Change: A Role for UK Trees. He is Emeritus Professor of Plant Science in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at University of Sheffield. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and was formerly its Vice President and Biological Secretary until 2008.


Why is the NHS spending a billion pounds on publicly-researched drugs?

The pharmaceutical industry is often touted as the most profitable industry in the world. A common defence for expensive drugs is that pharmaceutical companies need to recoup their research and development (R&D) costs.

But in fact, marketing costs often outstrip R&D costs, and as recent research shows, the top pharmaceutical firms spend more on share buy-backs and dividends than on R&D.

The companies’ claim is further undermined this week by a new report by Global Justice Now and STOPAIDS which argues that the public purse is a major contributor of health R&D.

Denied access

In particular, treatments for multiple sclerosis, prostate cancer and rheumatoid arthritis are among drugs that have had significant contributions to their R&D from public money, but are now costing the NHS vast sums of money.

Public money into R&D should lead to positive outcomes for public health rather than lining the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies.

Instead, we are seeing a big rip-off taking place. Last year the NHS spent more than £1 billion on drugs that were discovered with significant public funding.

But rather than ensuring they are publicly available for all patients who need them, these drugs have been priced to maximise drug company profits.

Two of the top five most costly medicines for the NHS have received substantial public research funding. As pharmaceutical companies reap the profits, the people who need the treatments are denied access.

Too expensive

This is a classic case of socialising the risks but privatising the rewards. The public pay twice – first for the research and then in high prices and some would say they pay a third time as patients suffer needlessly.

Innovative discoveries based on public funding are often bought up by drug companies who then sell the drugs produced back to the NHS at extortionate prices. Take the drug abiraterone (brand name: Zytiga), a treatment for advanced prostate cancer (where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body) and where other hormone treatments have not worked.

The drug has the potential to help some men to live longer and can also help control symptoms.

Abiraterone was discovered at the Institute of Cancer, part of the University of London, and tested in clinical trials with the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

Through a number of acquisitions, the drug was bought up by Janssen, which is part of Johnson and Johnson. But the drug was initially marketed at a price that was deemed too expensive for the NHS.

Government action

In the five years of negotiations, spanning two reviews, and following pressure from patient groups and the Department of Health, the drug was finally approved for NHS use only after the price was dropped to just below the limit of acceptable cost.

During the period of the second review, 5,900 people could have benefited from the drug. Eligible patients had to take their chances of getting the drug through the NHS’s Cancer Drugs Fund, which rationed its use. For those untreated patients, abiraterone could have been a life-saver – a recent trial showed a 37% improvement in survival rate three years after treatment.

Even today, the NHS now spends £98 per day per patient on the drug, despite an estimated cost of production of £11 per day.

It is far beyond time for public investment in medicines to yield public returns, with health outcomes and patient access prioritised over profits.

We need to attach conditions to taxpayer funded research and development  to ensure that drugs produced as a result are both affordable and accessible.  This needs government action – as NHS England has this week suggested, in response to our report.

String of controversies

There also need to be stronger measures to ensure transparency around the contribution of public money to the development of drugs. In the long run, a radical overhaul of the whole R&D model is needed.

This has been recognised internationally, at the UN. But without urgent action now, the cost to the cash-strapped NHS will be unsustainable. And the even bigger human cost, where people can’t get hold of much-needed treatment, will only grow.

The industry has been marred by a string of controversies, from suing the South African government for importing non-branded life-saving medicines during the height of the AIDS pandemic, to charging extortionately high prices for a drug that could cure hepatitis C. The inflated price of drugs should be the next. 

This Author

Heidi Chow is senior campaigns officer at Global Justice Now, which is hosting a Sick Of Corporate Greed speaker tour from 31 October to 9 November 2017.


FlipSide festival debuts unique, environmentally themed writing competition

What does it take to create a conversation about the environment? Sometimes, as poet Jackie Kay said at the recent FlipSide Festival in Suffolk, it requires the space for it.

And this was clearly demonstrated by the Green Alphabet Writing Prize (GAWP) the results of which were announced during the event.

Flipside is East Anglia’s leading literary and arts festival with a Latin Beat, being the sister festival – literally the flipside – to FLIP (the Festa Literaria Internacional de Paraty) South America’s first and largest international literary festival.

Everything interacts

This year, FlipSide debuted its unique, environmentally themed writing competition, in association with Friends of the Earth, attracting entries from all over the world.

Writers were asked to submit, fiction, non-fiction or poetry with a green theme – and to take one letter of the alphabet as their starting point. 

“The more threatened we are, the more creatively we respond,” said poet Jackie Kay at Flipside where, at an event entitled Singing From the Page, she both launched her new poetry collection Bantam and announced the results of the GAWP competition, for which she was one of the judges alongside Blake Morrison and Jon Canter.  

“It feels like art finds a way to value the world,” Kay said, in conversation with me after the event. “We can’t forget how deeply and dearly we love our planet and everything in it, and art shows us a way of treasuring our planet.

“It articulates for us, if you like; it is the earth’s voice speaking. Art is the landscape speaking, it’s the roar of the sea, it’s the sky, it’s the planet, it’s the moon. It’s how everything interacts and moves around each other.  

Future generation

“The very fact that people write poems, create pieces of music, write literature, means that they have to have some sort of hope – hope, for a start, that someone else will be receiving it, this gift, in some way or another – and the fact that there is this open conversation between a writer and a reader is cause for hope.

“If we didn’t have that there would be cause for concern, because the minute our voices are silenced, the minute we can’t speak about something, however difficult it is, the minute we can’t speak – that becomes a real problem.”

Announcing the winners, Kay said that in looking for solace, in trying to find meaning and make sense of the senseless, then poetry – for example – “… holds out a helping hand…”. 

“The competition was extraordinarily valuable in contributing to this conversation,’ said Kay. ‘We got such amazing, different responses and different ways of looking at the environment, ways of caring for it – it was really inspiring.

“And particularly the children’s contributions, because they seem to instinctively care about the planet, they don’t need necessarily to be taught to care, they know the value of things and it’s exciting to me that we have a future generation of children that are passionate about looking after our world.”

Planting seeds

In the under-16s category, winner Dhylan Patel imagined what it would be like if the only animals we could see were dead, stuffed and exhibited in a museum, in his poem The X Animal Museum, extracted below:

This one’s an X polar bear,

But its nose is made of coal,

Its white fur is polyester,

And not from the North pole.

We couldn’t get the originals,

Because we made them flee

When we melted their icy world,

And dumped it out to sea.

“So if we look to the future we look to those children who wrote for the competition,” concluded Kay. “We look to what they want to survive of our world and what would be awful if we lost it.

“Dhylan’s poem was a frightening vision of what it would be like if all the animals were gone and there was just an animal museum and because he conceived of this, the horror of it, the horror of losing things and of species becoming extinct, and because children are asking these very deep questions, then that’s cause for hope, too.”

Grace Blackwood’s poem S for Survival – which came first in the over-16s category – explored what small steps are necessary to create a larger survival through the metaphor of planting seeds in your own pocket, extract below:

Line your pockets with soil (trouser turn-ups are an option, if you have them)… Soon the seeds will split and spindly yellow-green shoots will yearn up towards the slit of sky at the top of your pocket/turn-up. Keep frets at bay by cultivating a positive hum inside your body. Walk carefully, keeping your arms at, but not on, your sides. If conditions are right, a verdant fringe will eventually appear at the top of your pockets/turn ups. Act casual. Prepare to become a laughing stock, both for your appearance and ambition.

Another festival

All art is political insofar as it engages with society in some way, either being influenced by or influencing it. Protest art in particular, but often in small, quiet but meaningful ways, through the literary expression of hopes and fears.

“Art has something to say about the world we live in,” concludes Jackie Kay. “What resonates is the way it’s said, which allows the space for everyone to join the conversation.”

The competition hopes to be repeated and winning entries are to be considered for a future anthology. Full details about GAWP and this year’s winning entries is available here.

The FlipSide Festival has another festival, specifically for children, running over half term on 24th, 25th and 26th of October. Further details available here.

Jackie Kay’s new collection of poetry Bantam is published by Picador, priced £14.99 in hardback and £9.99 in paperback.

This Author

Harriet Griffey is cultural editor of The Ecologist.


Theresa May must act before Brexit to turn the tide towards living seas for Britain

Watching The Wildlife Trusts’ president Sir David Attenborough enthuse about the wonders of our Blue Planet for the new BBC series; we were given tantalising glimpses of an amazing underwater world.

These wonders are not limited to tropical islands or the cold arctic though. Our seas around the UK coast are worth boasting about too. 

There’s a breath-taking world below our waves, where pink sea fans stretch out their tentacles to snatch food passing by; jewel anemones in pinks and orange light up reefs, and shape shifting cuttlefish change colour to escape predators.

Unsustainable development

I’ve been passionate about our seas and have been campaigning to protect them for the last 30 years; whether it’s kayaking the coastline, whale watching off a headline, or diving deep, there are blue planet moments to thrill and mesmerise, right here.

Although we don’t often see what’s living below the surface of the sea, we do know what it provides for us. A vital resource for wildlife, marine industries and leisure.

Whilst there is much to celebrate, our seas all over the world are seriously under threat from over fishing, waters becoming more acidic, pollution and unsustainable development.

We are witnessing unprecedented pressures on UK seas and their fragile seagrass meadows, reefs and mud plains on which fish, dolphins and whales depend.

Plastic is in the marine food-chain and is now affecting humans too.  Seabird numbers are dropping due to lack of food. More dolphins are being caught in fishing nets than ever and sea bass stocks have declined by 50% in five years.

Fish stocks

The natural balance of our seas is at an all-time low and we need a brand-new strategy for the new era that we’re entering which tackles all these threats together – simultaneously.

That’s why today The Wildlife Trusts has launched a new report which sets a challenge to the government to bring back living seas, and shows a way forward.

There are unprecedented challenges for our seas which must be addressed before the UK leaves the European Union.  

Government’s first responsibility is to ensure that we bring across existing European regulations which provide protective measures for our seas and sea-life – we need to safeguard existing protective law, as promised in the Withdrawal Bill.

We need more, and a greater range of protected wild places at sea to ensure our marine life thrives. After the significant reform of the Common Fisheries Policy we have begun to see some of our fish stocks recover.

Killing wildlife

But there are still significant discard issues. We need to make sure that this process is continued which will benefit jobs, consumers and wildlife

Marine planning needs to be more coherent. Competing interests – fishing, oil rigs, wind farms and gravel extraction from the seabed all take a huge toll on UK seas, fragile seabed habitats and the wildlife that lives in them.

We need to plan our seas so that we have space for wildlife to recover and to provide certainty to industry for areas where they can develop and fish. 

We urgently need to reduce pollution. Sewage, farming chemicals, plastic litter washed out to sea, abandoned fishing nets and noise pollution from new developments off shore are killing wildlife and adversely affecting human health

A holistic approach with regional sea plans would tackle many of these issues.

Living seas

Working together is supported by Peter Barham, Chair, Seabed Users Development group. He says: “Marine industries are essential to meet the challenges of Blue Growth and UK climate change targets.

“Marine industry is also quite rightly highly regulated to make sure that developments have minimal impact on the environment.

“We are working with The Wildlife Trusts and decision-making authorities to examine potential impacts and using that information to look for better ways of working. In this way we can meet the needs of both the economy and the environment.”

Finally, we’re asking everyone that we all consider our impact on this amazing blue planet. Everyone can play their part in creating living seas, seas which can sustain and delight us for generations to come.

This Author

Joan Edwards is The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of Living Seas. The new report by The Wildlife Trusts, ‘The way back to Living Seas’, is published today, Wednesday 25th October, and will be presented to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Dr Thérèse Coffey MP.


A Lush £200,000 up for grabs in spring prize

Projects worldwide demonstrating environmental and social regeneration can apply for the Lush Spring Prize, awarded by Lush cosmetics and the Ethical Consumer Research Association.

The prize celebrates projects that increase the capacity of communities and societies to thrive in harmony with nature and each other, build health and resilient ecosystems and livelihoods.

Last year’s winners included a permaculture project in Zimbabwe, a regeneration project involving migrants in Granada, an organisation set up to monitor mining in Romania and a group lobbying in favour of small scale agro-ecological farmers around the world.

The 2018 Spring Prize will award prizes in the following categories: Intentional projects (£10,000) for four great ideas in the early stages; Young projects (£20,000) for three projects 1-5 years old seeking to grow; Established projects (£25,000) for two beacons demonstrating success and withstanding the test of time; and the Influence award (£25,000) for two campaigns influencing policy or public opinion in support of regeneration.

Judges include Andy Goldring, chief executive of the Permaculture Association, Filipa Pimental from the Transition Network and Pandora Thomas, founder of the Black Permaculture Network.

For more information on how to enter, click here. Entries must be received by 23.59 GMT on 10 December 2017. Prizes will be awarded in May. Videos showcasing last years’ winners can be viewed here.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.


A gala concert of piano music to sound the climate change alarm

ClimateKeys is officially launching in London tomorrow (October 25) with a gala concert of piano music interspersed with speech, as well as post-concert drinks to continue the conversation.

The new independent movement was founded by London-based composer and pianist Lola Perrin and brings together music and climate change to facilitate audience discussion.

This is part of the artistic response to climate change and the artistic support of COP23, which will take place in Bonn, Germany, from the 6th to the 17th of November 2017. 


The first concert takes place at the St Mary Magdalene Church, in London’s Munster Square. Sir Jonathon Porritt and Hannah van den Brul are among the speakers.

At the heart

The movement aims to break the climate change silence in everyday spaces and foster a grassroots cultural movement in response to climate change.

With scores of international concert pianists collaborating with climate change experts to enable people to actually have a conversation about climate change, this is a unique initiative in the world of classical music. 

It is proof that classical musicians want to participate in raising public engagement on climate change issues, and that climate change experts have a desire for opportunities to talk to communities about climate change.

This is the positive exchange of information and ideas that we so desperately need when it comes to climate change.  In order to move forward with positive global change, we need to understand what it means to ourselves and to others.

There are currently 30 concerts in 9 countries taking place in October and November, with more being planned for 2018.  These concerts will create thousands of new climate change conversations all over the world, and will serve as a symbol of placing climate change issues at the heart of our everyday activities. This is what founder Lola Perrin believes is necessary for awareness and positive response to climate change.

Positive narratives

Each ClimateKeys concert consists of a pianist playing music related to climate change (30 minutes), a short speech on a topic related to climate change (15 minutes), and then an audience conversation about climate change (20 minutes) with some more music to finish (3 minutes). 

The music is selected by the pianist according to what they deem to be climate change music, or pieces that reflect their thoughts and feelings on climate change.

The guest speakers range from NASA scientists to ecological economists to poets, and each of these experts will talk about climate change from their unique point of view and in connection to their subject of expertise. 

Most importantly, the conversation is guided by the audience with the speaker merely facilitating. This is not a Q&A session, this is a chance for people to create new stories about climate change and discuss positive responses to it.

The format of ClimateKeys allows the audience more time to talk than the speaker in order to formulate these ideas and imaginings and have a chance to voice them. We need more positive narratives about climate change, and these concerts are one way of doing just that.

This Author

Julia Marques is ClimateKeys Guest Speaker in London on Nov 11th. If you would like to contact Lola directly then please email lola@climatekeys.comFor more information, please explore the website and have a read of the NewsletterYou can also get updates by following ClimateKeys on Facebook and @climatekeys on Twitter.


Small nuclear reactors are a 1950s mirage come back to haunt us

It’s easy to see why Rolls Royce and other companies in the nuclear engineering business are pushing the UK government finance the development a new generation of ‘small modular reactors’ or SMRs. Whether the project succeeds or fails, there are juicy profits to be had for them at taxpayers expense.

Rather harder to understand is why the government should see the slightest merit in the idea.

According to a recent report by Rolls-Royce and its partners in the ‘SMR Consortium’ (SMRC), a UK SMR program could create 40,000 skilled jobs, contribute £100 billion ($132 billion) to the economy and open up a potential £400 billion global export market.

Nuclear Industries Association chairman Lord (John) Hutton claims in the foreword that a UK SMR programme could “help the UK become a vibrant, world-leading nuclear nation.” He asserts his belief that “it is fundamental for the UK to meet its 2050 decarbonisation targets and will deliver secure, reliable and affordable electricity for generations to come.”

The SMRC report envisages an approximate doubling of the UK’s 9.5 GW existing nuclear capacity by 2030, then another doubling by 2050 to around 40GW. That implies that come 2050, SMRs would be delivering some 30GW – the output of 100 300MW units scattered around the UK.

There are just two problems with the rosy scenario. First, the techno-optimism that oozes from every page is a fantasy. Nuclear power stations have got bigger to achieve economies of scale: it’s much cheaper to build a single 1.2GW unit than four 300MW units, or a dozen 100MW units.

As an illustration of the principle, take a look at the wind power industry. One of the main reasons why offshore wind has come down so much in cost is the move to ever-larger wind turbines. A single new 8MW turbine may now be bigger than an entire wind farm of 20 years ago.

This story goes all the way back to the 1950s …

But first we must realise – there is nothing new about SMRs! They have been powering submarines and aircraft carriers ever since the since USS Nautilus was launched in 1955, over 60 years ago. And the world’s first purely civilian nuclear plant, at Shippingport in the USA, a 60MW SMR, went live in 1957. While civilian reactors got bigger, many hundreds of SMRs have been built and deployed for naval use.

Now if there really are huge cost savings to be achieved from the mass production of SMRs, how come they have not already been achieved? What is that that generations of super-smart nuclear engineers have missed? Industry claims of less complex financing and ‘process engineering’ may ring a little hollow, but – for the sake of argument – let’s accept that all the claimed cost reductions can be achieved. On the SMRC’s projections,

“The levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) generated by a FOAK [first of a kind] UK SMR power station is forecast under £75 per MWh and this reduces to a forecast £65 per MWh by station number five. In the medium term the target is even lower at £60 per MWh.”

This is a good bit cheaper than the inflation-proof £92.50 / MWh (in 2013 money) the government has promised to pay for Hinkley C’s power for 35 years following the plant’s opening. But it’s a lot higher than current wholesale power prices of around £42 / MWh.

The ever shrinking cost of renewable energy

Last month the price of offshore wind power reached a new low of £57.50 per MWh in an auction for contracts, guaranteed for just 15 years. Onshore wind is even cheaper: contracts awarded in Germany in May reached another new low of €42.80 / MWh (£38.24) – less than current UK wholesale power prices. And Germany’s latest solar auction, a few days ago, delivered bids as low as €42.90 per MWh. Both these technologies appear viable with no subsidy at all.

The cost of solar PV panels continues its precipitous decline. Recent figures show the cost of panels in the Netherlands declining at 11% per year, or 50% every five years. The trend may continue for a long time to come.

Extrapolate these declining renewable cost trends to 2030, and we can expect solar power to cost around £10 per MWh, with wind at £20-30 per MWh. By 2050, wind power costs will surely have halved again, with solar around £1 per MWh. So what will be the use of nuclear power at £60-75 per MWh?

Of course there will be costs in integrating large volumes of variable, non-despatchable power supply into the grid. It will mean using ‘dynamic demand’ or ‘smart grid’ technologies, energy storage in giant batteries and hydropower stations, large scale power-to-gas and power-to-liquid-fuel conversion (in turn displacing fossil fuels from transport) … and the base cost of power will be astonishingly low by current standards, not just in the UK but all over the world.

So Lord Hutton’s hyperbolic claims are wholly erroneous. Nuclear power will be utterly irrelevant in meeting decarbonisation targets. There is no £400 billion export market. Who would want SMRs in 2050, when their power will be 50-100 times more expensive than solar?

The ‘nuclear deterrent’

We now know (thanks to Andy Stirling and Philip Johnstone of Sussex University) that the government wants to use civilian nuclear programme to generate expertise, technology, for military use, especially reactors for Trident nuclear submarines. What better way than to pour billions of pounds into SMRs under the pretence that the technology is for civilian use?

Actually Lord Hutton himself gave the game away when he wrote: “A UK SMR programme would support all 10 ‘pillars’ of the Government’s Industrial Strategy and assist in sustaining the skills required for the Royal Navy’s submarine programme.”

More recently, on 10th October, defence procurement minister Harriet Baldwin MP replied to a question by Caroline Lucas MP that, “[i]n all discussions it is fully understood that civil and defence sectors must work together to make sure resource is prioritised appropriately for the protection and prosperity of the United Kingdom.”

But there are signs that BEIS Secretary Greg Clarke may be getting tired of subsidising the UK’s nuclear missiles. In 2015 former Chancellor George Osborne announced a £250 million SMR competition for the most promising ideas. The outcomewas to be published last autumn. it wasn’t. By May 2017, the nuclear industry and its backers in the House of Lords were panicking. Then the SMRCs report ‘UK SMR: A National Endeavour‘ was issued this 20th September in a desperate attempt to ginger up the process. It has failed – so far.

Could a sudden fit of common sense, logical thinking and sound economics have come across senior UK ministers? Probably not. The Telegraph reports today that BEIS is to publish the competitions ‘results’ in a study this week, announcing Rolls Royce and its SMRC partners as the winners. “We are currently considering next steps for the SMR programme and we will communicate these in due course”, a BEIS spokesman said.

This Author

Oliver Tickell is contributing editor at Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and a former editor of The Ecologist.


UN shipping climate talks ‘captured by industry lobbyists’

The shipping industry has “captured” UN talks on a climate target for the sector, using its clout to delay and weaken emissions curbs.

That is the conclusion of a report by business lobbying watchdog Influence Map about the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The study was released to coincide with a meeting of an IMO working group on greenhouse gases on Monday.

Based on analysis of delegate lists, meeting submissions and outcomes, it finds business interests exert an uncommon degree of influence over decisions. This, campaigners warn, jeopardises the international climate goals adopted in Paris.

Representatives from business

“The research proves almost conclusively that the shipping industry has been lobbying aggressively in the UN against climate change regulations,” Ben Youriev, an author of the report, told Climate Home“They have completely captured policymaking bodies at the IMO.”

Perhaps the most striking discovery is the extent to which business interests infiltrate national delegations. Researchers found 31 out of 100 member states at the last IMO environmental committee meeting brought representatives from business.

Cosco and Vale are regular advisers to China and Brazil respectively, with the opportunity to advance their agenda in multiple subcommittees.

“The IMO appears the only UN agency to allow such extensive corporate representation in the policy making process,” the report said.

Very active

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the IMO said: “Nominating people to its delegation is an internal domestic matter for each member state. The IMO Secretariat is not involved in those decisions.”

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Five national delegations were led by commercial flag registries, not government officials. As Climate Home has previously reported, the Marshall Islands former foreign minister Tony de Brum faced resistance from registry figures when he sought to claim his seat at the forum.

While the low-lying Pacific island state is known for advocating ambitious climate action, its ship registry – the second largest in the world – is based in Virginia, US and has little accountability to the country’s elected leaders.

Registry president Bill Gallagher said in an interview with Maritime Reporterin July: “We used to send a taxi over to IMO and now we send a bus. And that’s true. I mean, we really spend a lot of money as a flag state, sending the right people to IMO.

“Our regulatory guys say, ‘If you’re not in the working groups, you’re not impacting what happened’. Where you really make a difference is at the working groups. So we’re not only just sending a couple guys to sit in a chair; we actually are very active in the working groups.”

Emerging economies

On top of these discreet channels of influence, the industry is visibly represented through trade associations like the International Chamber of Shipping, which have official observer status. Representing 80% of the world’s merchant fleet, the ICS brought a bigger team to the last environmental committee meeting than 85% of national delegations.

As an example of its sway, Influence Map points to last October’s environment meeting, when 13 countries explicitly endorsed the ICS proposal. In the end, member states adopted a timetable for setting climate targets very similar to that suggested by industry, deferring implementation of greenhouse gas curbs to 2023 at the earliest.

Shipping Watch reports that industry voices are also expected to prevail at this week’s meeting, occupying a middle ground between ambitious European states and more conservative emerging economies.

ICS, along with Bimco, Intertanko and Intercargo, are proposing an “aspirational” target to cap the sector’s emissions at 2008 levels (the pre-financial crash peak) and halve its carbon intensity by 2050. They oppose absolute emissions cuts, on the basis this could constrain growth in world trade.

Climate advocates say that is not nearly enough to align with the Paris Agreement goal to hold global warming “well below 2C”.

Ambitious action 

Shipping has a carbon footprint roughly the size of Germany. Without intervention, the IMO’s own research predicts that to grow 50-250% by 2050.

The latest available data, published by the International Council on Clean Transportation last week, showed emissions increasing 2.4% between 2013 and 2015.

Fuel efficiency improved for many ship classes over the period, but the gains were outweighed by increased demand.

Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief and founder of Mission 2020, urged the sector to up its game. “The Paris Agreement committed the world to ambitious action on climate change, yet the shipping industry is not up to speed,” she said in a statement.

“It’s time to raise the anchor and seize the opportunity between now and 2020 to align with other industries and chart the course to well below 2C pathway”.

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Information transparency

Influence Map director Dylan Tanner told Climate Home he hoped the report would inspire progressive businesses and investors to intervene.

“We need the silent majority of companies to step up and address the difficult issues,” he said. “Investors hate the lack of transparency and they hate not having risks disclosed to them… that is a big target audience, for them to address this not just with ship owners but the shipping value chain as a whole.”

The report praised AP Moller-Maersk as one of the only shipping companies to have a transparent – and relatively ambitious – position on climate policy. Some Scandinavian shipowners associations also support stronger action.

Johannah Christensen of Global Maritime Forum, a Copenhagen-based body promoting collaboration on disruptive trends for the industry, said: “A low-carbon future is achievable if private and public stakeholders work together and must necessarily be based on facts and improved information transparency.”

Investors in the shipping sector may be failing in their fiduciary duties if they ignore “such damning evidence” of lobbying to obstruct climate action, said Alice Garton of environmental law firm Client Earth.

“These findings reveal an industry so resistant to climate progress that it has negotiated a sector-wide free pass on emissions. But no business is exempt from the effects of climate change and it’s time for these firms to be held to account.”

This Author

Megan Darby is deputy editor at Climate Home, where this article first appeared. She previously wrote about UK energy and water industries for leading sector publication Utility Week. She holds a Mathematics degree from Newcastle University. She tweets at @climatemegan.


Indian ecostay described as a ‘pocket of heaven’ plans to open education centre

The Saraya echo stay in Goa’s Bardez region in South India has grown widely in reputation since it opened its doors in December 2014.

Described by many as a “pocket of heaven”, it is a place where tourists and locals are able to escape the nearby busy beaches, either to stay overnight or just to grab something to eat.

Today’s generation

But now, Punjab-born owner, Deeksha Thind, is planning how best to inspire and involve more people in eco-living. This includes opening a new education centre.

“I think the future is education,” begins Deeksha, who is an architect by trade. “I find a lot of young people in today’s generation are all on sabbaticals because they don’t know what they want but they definitely know what they don’t want.

“So when I was thinking about what to do with the rest of the land, I thought I needed to look beyond the ecostay here.”

Deeksha’s idea for the land, which nears 2-acres in size, centres around an educational space, where people who are looking to change their careers, could stay whilst they are deciding what career they want to move in to.

This might include taking part in a free open university course whilst they are staying at Saraya – something which would be particularly beneficial for students who are unable to pay for pricey accommodation or additional studies.

Built from scratch

“People who can afford to pay [to lodge] would pay and those who couldn’t would volunteer and we would have a centre where people could live in a sustainable way, whilst contributing to the space,” she says.

The site would sit opposite the existing Saraya ecostay, which was also a creation of Deeksha’s.

“Nature and sustainability have been a part of my inner-self for some time but I didn’t realise they were there until I started building Saraya. And when I started building it, it just sort of flowed out of me very naturally.”

It wasn’t long before people started to get involved in the project, resulting in a place which marries together art, food and eco-living.

Built from scratch, Saraya’s ecostay is made from natural materials, with mud huts and treehouses forming the two different types of accommodation available on the site.

Creating treehouses

With help from YouTube videos and local knowledge, Deeksha and her team built the mud huts with recycled and natural materials.

“The idea was that we’d use glass bottles to honeycomb the walls to make them much stronger and reinforce them,” Deeksha says, explaining how the mud huts were formed.

“This then formed part of a recycling project, where glass bottles could be reused. I also loved the way the light shone through the bottles, adding to the design of the huts.”

Volunteers from the community helped with some of the building, including local homeschooled children, who were able to learn about the build process whilst joining in.

And rather than cutting down the existing trees on the land to make space for more huts, Deeksha decided to work around them by creating treehouses.

Vegetarian food

“Initially, we used the trees to do the building but later I disconnected them from the build, whilst letting them remain in the structure,” she says.

As a result, the material costs were the smallest expense on the project, which meant the money saved could be used to pay higher rates to underprivileged Indian builders employed on the scheme.

As Deeksha says, “The workers on this project come from different parts of India, where there might be droughts or floods so they can’t sustain themselves on their own land.

“So they have gone looking for work in other parts of India where they can use their skills and send money back to their family members who are left behind.”

Saraya also has an art gallery and a café, the latter of which serves fresh vegetarian food on a daily basis.

Inspiring a community

They grow as much of their own food as they can in the farm surrounding the ecostay, although seasonal monsoons have so far restricted the team from serving up ‘farm-to-table’ food only. However, the team is looking at how it can realistically harvest crops throughout the year.

Deeksha is also researching a variety of other sustainable measures to introduce into Saraya, including wind and hydropower as potential renewable energy sources to use on the site.

The importance of community and family is a clear driver for Deeksha, who explains how her four children have also played a key role in building Saraya. “We’re growing this venture with the entire family, who all have the same philosophy of living.”

It is that philosophy of living that is going a long way to inspiring others to turn to an eco-lifestyle.

As Deeksha says, “People get so inspired when they visit Saraya and they see that you can do something like this: live sustainably and carry out a zero-waste lifestyle. So we are inspiring a community here.”

This Author

Robyn Wilson is a freelance journalist currently writing and travelling across Asia. She is a former news editor at Construction News. She blogs at Weird Fishes and tweets at @RobynFWilson.