Category Archives: Policy/Economy

Archive: The Case for an International Court for the Environment

This article was kindly submitted by Stephen Hockman QC in Nov 2011.



The Case for an International Court for the Environment

Lack of an appropriate institution

“It is a trite observation that environmental problems, although they closely affect municipal laws, are essentially international; and that the main structure of control can therefore be no other than that of international law”.
(Sir Robert Jennings QC, former President of the International Court of Justice, 1995)

Environmental problems extend across international boundaries, but there are no effective international institutions to deal with them properly. The result: the problems worsen and attempts by countries to solve them fail due to the lack of an institutional framework within which to build the necessary international consensus and trust.

The present corpus of international environmental obligations – in conventions and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) – is fractured and often overlapping. There is little or no opportunity for the development of consistent decision making or interpretation of those obligations. Uncertainty results, to the detriment of all interested parties – States, businesses, communities, NGOs and individuals.

There are proposals for a “World Environment Organisation” (a “WEO” – equivalent in scope to the WTO). Such a body would need a court or tribunal to resolve disputes and issue clarifications of obligations – along the lines of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement process.

Existing dispute resolution mechanisms in the international environmental field restrict access to justice, in most cases to States (as with the ICJ) or where at least one party is a State (as with the Permanent Court of Arbitration) or very limited categories of non-State actors. This leaves significant constituencies without access to those services – an anomalous position in an interconnected world where States are often not the key actors in cross-border interactions.

There is no suitable forum presently able to apply scientific and legal expertise to international environmental disputes or problems. The much respected ICJ has been criticised in this regard (missing “a golden opportunity”) by its own judges in a dissenting opinion in Argentina v Uruguay – Pulp Mills (20 April 2010).

An International Court for the Environment (ICE)

We want to create an ICE that would help to solve these problems. It would:

  • Serve as the default forum for resolution of disputes concerning international environmental law; pronounce on issues of environmental significance impartially and with the benefit of independently-verified science; and clarify existing international environmental law by issuing advisory opinions and declarations of incompatibility.
  • Encourage the consensual and progressive development of international environmental law.
  • Provide a neutral, transparent and principled dispute resolution forum which could help to build trust and to work against the pervasive environmental problem “the tragedy of the commons”: for example, in the ongoing UN climate change negotiations and in fishing.
  • Seek to adjudicate expertly on the science as well as the law, using: judges with experience in both science and law; advisors on a judicial panel; and/or independent experts available for questions/cross-examination.
  • Initially be established as a voluntary dispute resolution forum, open to any body wishing to benefit from the expertise and impartial adjudication offered, and proving its worth by example.
  • Serve as the chamber for all MEAs which reference Art 33(1) of the UN Charter, facilitating communication, problem solving and the interchange of ideas and expertise and avoiding the compartmentalisation of the present system.
  • Provide support to a WEO. ICE would be a natural partner to such an organization to provide dispute resolution services as seen in the WTO and to assist in harmonising international responses to environmental issues.
  • Offer access to justice to State and non-State actors alike, meeting a need in the global economy where national borders are increasingly irrelevant. It would have a constitution designed to reflect the need for the protection of both present and future generations and would be fully committed to implementing Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and the Aarhus Convention, requiring access to justice for all concerned citizens.
  • Apply a de minimis or other threshold or sufficient seriousness test to prevent vexatious or meritless claims.
  • Apply all those relevant legal rules and principles, whether international or municipal, which it deems appropriate and proper having regard to the character of the dispute before it.
  • Likely be located away from the “usual” seats of international courts (The Hague, Geneva, New York etc) to reflect:
    • The problems with which it will deal (often in developing countries)
    • The problematic link between economic growth and environmental degradation (principally a developing country issue)
    • The fact that many of the users of the court will not be in the rich West.

ICE Coalition at present

The ICE Coalition is calling for the establishment of an ICE. Its work to date includes:

  • Incorporated as a not for profit company limited by guarantee in UK.
  • Obtained tax-exempt status in California under IRC s.501(c)(3).
  • Engagement with UK Government, in particular: DECC, DEFRA, FCO.
  • Through its partnership with the Stakeholder Forum ICE is now participating in the preparations for the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 2012 including involvement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Engagement with the UN Secretariat in New York.
  • Engagement and involvement with UNEP itself and in particular its International Environmental Governance workstream (including, most recently, at the 26th Session of the Governing Council, Nairobi, February 2011).
  • Involvement with the UNFCCC process, including presenting at the COP-MOP in Copenhagen 2009.
  • Established links with Governments of Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya, UK, Finland, Mauritius and with the EU
  • Obtained support of international law firms: Clifford Chance, DLA Piper.

An Advisory Council has been established and includes the following supporters: Jarvis Cocker, Fabio Feldman, Professor Richard Fortey, Lord Giddens, Isabel Hilton, Teresa Hitchcock, Nigel Howarth, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Sir David King, Caroline Lucas MP, Sir Jonathon Porritt, Professor John Schellnhuber, Professor Peter Spencer, Sir Crispin Tickell.

Summary Recommendations

  • Explicit inclusion of an ICE in treaties emerging from UNFCCC and UNEP processes and inclusion in any Rio 2012 text.
  • Recognition of the need for an ICE by national governments, business, NGOs, media (EU has already explicitly recognised the need).
  • High-level support in government, science, diplomacy, UN, legal profession and judiciary. Simultaneous building of popular support, principally online.
  • Offers of support from any person, organisation or country willing to host an ICE in its initial form.

Law in a changing climate

On Monday 21st November, we were delighted to welcome our panels of speakers from the legal profession, who spoke about the challenges and opportunities climate change presents, how lawyers are addressing these issues, and personal reflections on their own careers and advice for those wishing to enter environmental law.

• Stephen Hockman QC, Head of Chambers at Six Pump Court and Director of the International Court for the Environment Coalition
• Gita Parihar, Head of Legal at Friends of the Earth
• Michael Hutchinson, Partner and Head of the Environment Group at Mayer Brown

The extent of the climate change problem that the world now faces was presented in stark terms. It was described as ‘multifaceted’ and an issue requiring a complete overhaul of the economic system and the society in which we live, in a quickly vanishing time scale. All three speakers stressed the importance of not just viewing climate change as a scientific problem, but as Stephen termed a ‘politico-legal problem’ – an issue of justice, rights and the distribution of resources. And it is these dimensions of climate change that are most unsuited to our current institutions and decision-making framework – one that is short-termist and engrossed in economic performance.

Examples of this conflict between long-term and immediate impacts were given by Gita. Friends of the Earth are currently carrying out a judicial review challenge on the Government’s decisions to scrap solar subsidies before the consultation period has ended. Not only is this potentially unlawful, it is also denying communities the right to have access to renewable technologies. Gita is also currently working on the upcoming climate change negotiations that are taking place in Durban this year, and once again, economic concerns seem to be taking priority over environmental justice and climate change action. Hopes for a legally binding treaty to replace the greatly criticised Kyoto protocol are diminishing by the day.

However, Michael was keen to point out that a lot of work is currently being done under such existing frameworks, which is having a positive impact. For instance, international law firms, such as Mayer Brown, are responsible for helping to implement the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and Clean Development Mechanism, by determining the ownership of carbon credits. A lot of work is also being done on the UK’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) in helping firms meet energy efficiency performance targets, and also in encouraging investment (particularly from Asian markets) in renewable technologies in order to meet the targets set by the Renewable Energy Directive. These pieces of litigation, along with the Climate Change Act 2008, are unlikely to succeed unless enforceable legal requirements are introduced.

The current inadequacy of institutions to meet the challenge of climate change was addressed by our speakers, who proposed a variety of future changes. Stephen is currently working on developing an International Court for the Environment, which would consist of a body of jurists and scientists who could pass judgment on the way in which we are failing to achieve climate justice and change public opinion. Whilst Gita spoke about how the world can incorporate principles of sustainable development and intergenerational justice by introducing an Ombudsman for Future Generations, just like Hungary.

In terms of a career in environmental law, each of our speakers described the variety and interest they enjoy in their day to day work and how much it has grown and will continue to grow in the coming years. Michael predicted that by 2020, an elite group of international firms will dominate the legal profession, one which will be tending more and more towards Asia, and catering for more niche issues, including climate change. Stephen spoke about the need to develop jurisprudence in this area, to impart clarity in an otherwise uncertain world. Such a dynamic and competitive area requires graduates to have an openness to the multifaceted nature of environmental issues, a willingness to embrace new innovations, and to possess optimism and resilience.

Should people offset their carbon footprints?

Carbon offsetting is something we read about a lot these days. It is a complex area and it can be difficult to work out the right way forward. With an increasing amount of people concerned about their environmental impact, buying carbon offsets is one way to go.

What is carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is a growing industry. Companies set up projects that either reduce emissions (by building renewable energy plants, for example), or absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (by planting or protecting forests). Legal considerations connected to the Kyoto Protocol mean that projects should always be in developing countries.
The list of carbon offset buyers is dominated by private companies, but public sector organisations and charities are cropping up more often. Individuals make up less than 2% of the total.

Why do people buy carbon offsets?
People buy carbon offsets to counteract parts of their carbon footprint that they can not avoid. The motivations for doing so are usually to take responsibility for emissions that are a necessary part of their lives.
Friends of the Earth calls carbon offsetting a ‘dangerous distraction’ because it can lead people into thinking that they don’t need to reduce their carbon footprint – it’s ok to pollute just so long as you pay a small amount to offset it.
More often than not, however, the people who want to offset are also the ones making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

Projects that reduce emissions in the developing world are usually well intended, but there are risks. In particular, there is a risk that a project would have gone ahead without the money provided by offsets—meaning that the offsets have no real impact.
A Friends of the Earth report into the industry reveals that offset projects do not deliver credible environmental benefits, stating “There are strong concerns over the environmental credibility of many of the credits and the contribution of the projects to sustainable development.”
Few organisations have the necessary time to do the required due diligence on projects, meaning that some organisations damage their reputation by inadvertently choosing the wrong project.

A new way of offsetting
Retiring credits from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is one way of overcoming these pitfalls.
This new method of carbon offsetting works by buying and cancelling (‘retiring’) ‘permits to pollute’ from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Industrial companies that would have bought the permits instead have to reduce their emissions. It is a simple, effective way to offset and it reduces emissions within Europe, where emissions per person are high.
Retirement is gaining support from all areas – even hard-line environmental commentators previous sceptical of offsetting. John Grant, author of The Green Marketing Manifesto, described Carbon Retirement, the first company to offer this service, as “the world’s first truly ethical offsetting scheme.”

Top tips
If you are thinking of buying carbon offsets, read our three point guide.

1. Be able to satisfy yourself that offsetting is not distracting from your efforts to reduce your emissions. You ought to try as hard as you can to choose the green option – and then offset what you cannot avoid.
2. Question whether the project really needs your financial support. If it can stand alone, you could probably spend your money better elsewhere. Or consider a non-project based approach such as Carbon Retirement, which forces emissions reductions from European heavy industry.
3. Look for suppliers that can explain which standard was used to verify the credits. There are many standards available but the most stringent are the Quality Assurance Scheme and WWF’s Gold Standard.

    Jane Burston is a director at Carbon Retirement

    Environmental Ambition

    Ask a young person what their vision for a green future is and no doubt they will talk about wind turbines, recycling and public transport. Then ask a young person what they envisage their role to be in that future, and unless they’re aspiring renewable technology engineers or waste managers, they will most likely draw a blank.

    And this is where things need to change. If we are to reduce our carbon emission enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, and if we are to achieve energy security and affordability, and if we are to use our natural resources more sustainably, our whole economy needs to be green. It will be the 21st century’s version of the Industrial Revolution, but this time we have even more at stake.

    Young people can’t feign ignorance at such messages, as they’ve been shouted about for long enough. My generation are certainly environmentally aware, and more often than not, are at least concerned about the issues, but so far we have failed to instil environmental ambition in them.

    “In the future, every job will be a green job, contributing to varying degrees to continuous improvement of resource efficiency” – European Union, 2010

    Sustainability is playing an increasingly important part in all business sectors, and is becoming the new business as usual. Sixty per cent of companies increased their sustainability spending in 2010, despite the downturn (Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage). The global low carbon market was worth more than £3.2 trillion in 2009/10 and is projected to reach £4 trillion by 2015 (Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy).

    However, businesses are currently being held back by a shortage of workers with the necessary skills and knowledge to further their low carbon ambitions. In the Leadership Skills for a Sustainable Economy report, 70% of respondents agreed that the gap in sustainability skills will become one of the most pressing challenges facing UK businesses in the next five years.

    Future business leaders, lawyers, engineers, bankers, accountants, advertisers and every other graduate needs to be informed, inspired and prepared for the Green Revolution. The University of Exeter Business School have recently launched the One Planet MBA, in partnership with WWF, and are training ‘planet-minded business leaders’. It would be a mistake to think such courses are solely for the green-hearted hippies. They are simply the smart ones, who are putting themselves ahead of the competition and discovering a professionally and personally rewarding future.

    The Green Paradox: Programme for an Illusion-Free Climate Policy

    Hans-Werner Sinn (2008), Das grüne Paradoxon: Plädoyer für eine issusionsfreie Klimapolitik (The Green Paradox: Programme for an Illusion-Free Climate Policy), Berlin: Econ

    Reviewed by Ray Galvin

    Cambridge University

    Most of the literature on climate change mitigation explores what can broadly be termed ‘demand-side’ solutions. These aim to reduce global demand for fossil fuels by improving energy efficiency, generating renewable energy, or changing consumerbehaviour. It is assumed that each tonne of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) saved through such means will follow through into a tonne less CO2e emitted worldwide, and that even if only a minority of countries reduce their CO2e emissions, or even if yours is the only country to do so, this will make a difference to climate change. Every little bit helps.

    Hans-Werner Sinn is one of a small number of academics who disagree. The only way to guarantee a reduction in CO2e emissions from fossil fuels, he argues, is to proactively keep them in the ground, or at least drastically reduce their extraction rate.Since by far the major portion of global CO2e emissions comes from the burning of fossil fuels, restricting their supply – the amount that can be extracted – should be the focus of our climate change mitigation endeavours.

    Sinn has strong credentials as one of Germany`s leading economists. Professor of economics at Munich`s LMU and President of the German Institue for Economic Research, his contributions have covered topics such as the theory of economic risk, business cycle theory, and the efficient allocation of economic resources. Though speaking from a broadly orthodox basis, he parts company with both mainstream and radical-green thinkers on the key question of what is useful and what is a hindrance to genuine climate change mitigation.

    The core of Sinn`s argument for supply-side climate change mitigation was presented in English, in heavily mathematical form, in International Tax and Public Finance1.A sketchy account may be found in his speech to the 8th Munich Economic Summit, Climate and Energy: Right Goals, Wrong Approach?2 But it is in this 470 page book, Das grüne Paradoxon (The Green Paradox) that the details of his argument are fleshed out and expressed in language that non-economists can easily follow.

    There are three main pillars to Sinn´s argument. The first concerns the psychology and business economics of ownership of fossil fuel resources; the second the business habits of fossil fuel consumers; and the third the realistic limitations of technical solutions to climate change mitigation.

    Firstly, he argues, owners of fossil fuel reserves generally want to maximise their long-term profits. Since their extraction costs are just a few percent of their selling price, they can drop the price so as to increase their sales to ecological ‘sinners’whenever a green-minded country reduces its demand by increasing its energy efficiency or its supply of renewable energy. Hence, demand reductions by greenminded OECD countries do not translate into one-to-one supply reductions. They are highly likely to be partially or even completely offset (depending on the elasticity of demand) by increased demand as the price falls.

    Further, this is exacerbated by the business psychology inherent in ownership of fossil fuel reserves. If owners foresee a future where more and more countries will gradually go green, and fear that at some future date (such as the oft-mentioned 2050) they will have no markets for their fuels, good business sense tells them to sell as much as they can as early as they can, to avoid being left with useless stocks in a few decades` time.This is exactly the reverse of what the climate needs, yet, Sinn argues, it is just what current polices are causing.

    The only solution, says Sinn, is to effectively ambush the owners of fossil fuel reserves with a sudden, enforceable pact among all countries to reduce their demand on a strictly, globally agreed trajectory. Only a certain amount of fossil fuel, based on the tonnage of CO2e it would produce, would be permitted to be extracted each year, and this would diminish, year by year, on a clearly defined path. Reserve owners would have no choice but to follow this path. An international controlling body – Sinn suggests the UN – would distribute permits to countries on an agreed basis, and their governments could auction them, or in some other way distribute them, to their consumers. Like the current EU carbon certificates, they would be internationally tradeable, but unlike the EU certificates they would cover all fossil fuel.

    Two important consequences would follow. Firstly, the price of fossil fuels would fall, as reserve owners competed with each other for sales in the diminishing market. Consumers, of course, would pay more overall, as they would have to compete among each other for the certificates. But governments would reap a windfall from the auctioning of the certificates, and this money could be distributed to offset hardship to low income people due to rising fuel prices. Secondly, fossil fuels would be locked up in the ground, to be extracted gradually over whatever time span was deemed safe for the climate. Owners of fuel reserves would have a lower income, but one that would last far longer into the future, than the current situation allows.

    The second strand of Sinn’s argument concerns the business habits of fossil fuel consumers, or at least those he calls the ‘sinners’ – the USA, China, and all other countries that have either not participated in the Kyoto process or were exempt from its restrictions. Because, currently, there are no restrictions in these countries as to how much fossil fuel one may buy or consume, the law of supply and demand operates freely here. If the international price falls due, say, to German or British successes in reducing their demand, the sinners can get cheaper fuel and so will buy more. Their increased demand puts upward pressure on the price, until an equilibrium is again reached. The net effect is that global fossil fuel usage is not reduced, or hardly reduced at all. Of course, there are many other factors influencing the day-today price of fossil fuels, but the most significant dynamic is ever-increasing demand as developing countries industrialise.

    It follows that under the current global regime, all the efforts being put into technological and regulatory solutions to fossil fuel demand in the developed countries are, in Sinn`s view, no use at all in combating climate change.

    The third strand of Sinn`s argument concerns these technological and regulatory measures. For example, in a cogently argued chapter (pp. 204-251) he takes issue with biofuels. Using well-sourced date he argues that these produce almost as much, if not as much, CO2e as they save. Further, they compete with food production for arable land and agricultural resources. For the first time in history, he points out, the price of basic foodstuffs is now directly coupled to the price of fossil fuel. It is not merely that food growing requires fossil fuel for tractors and fertiliser. It is that a particular set of agricultural resources (land, fertiliser, expertise) can now be used interchangeably for either food or fuel production. The world’s poor now have to compete with the rich countries’ petrol tanks for their daily bread. This will get worse if policymakers continue to pursue biofuels as a means to combat climate change.

    In a further section (pages 297-304) Sinn challenges the view that carbon capture and storage is a valid demand-side alternative. Assuming it works and can be madeeconomically viable, the obvious problem is disposing of the enormous volumes of liquefied CO2 it produces. For coal power this is 5 times as much volume as the fuel burnt; for oil 3 times as much. It cannot be stored near populated areas because if it leaks on a windless day it can asphyxiate everyone in low-lying areas. It must be held secure for hundreds of thousands of years because, unlike nuclear waste, it never decays. The idea that we can safely store the gargantuan volumes of CO2 our power stations will produce over the next few hundred years is, Sinn argues, simply fantastical.

    Sinn contrasts this with nuclear energy, where the most advanced reactors produce relatively small volumes of waste, which needs to be kept secure for tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands of years.

    In further chapters he takes issue with Germany’s penchant for renewable energy, particularly wind turbines and solar photovoltaics. In Germany the feed-in tarrif requires power companies to buy all this energy, and at high prices set by regulation.But wind power is so unreliable and out of synch with consumer demand that its real market value is tiny, and when the wind blows at the wrong time power companies often have to pay other countries to take it. Meanwhile, photovoltaics produce minuscule amounts of energy for the billions of euros of subsidy poured into them annually. A country that relied on these sources for its electricity would have a substandard system that could never support a modern industrial economy.

    The irony, as Sinn sees it, is that so much of today’s climate policy is doing nothing tosave the climate. It is severely misdirected. The only way to mitigate climate damage due to fossil fuel consumption is to act directly to keep the fossil fuels in the ground.

    What is especially important about this book is that, even if Sinn’s economic arguments turn out to be wrong, his basic idea still stands. The argument can be set out as a syllogism:

    1. The burning of fossil fuels is a sufficient condition to cause dangerous climate change;

    2. The extraction of fossil fuels is a necessary condition for them to be burnt;

    3. All fossil fuels that are extracted are subsequently burnt.

    4. Hence, the extraction of fossil fuels is also a sufficient condition for them to be burnt.

    5. THEREFORE: The extraction of fossil fuels is both a necessary and a sufficient condition to cause dangerous climate change.

    In other words, we will only arrest climate change if we keep fossil fuels in the ground, or at least control their rate of extraction to suit what the climate can manage.Regardless of what we think of the effect, on global fossil fuel demand, of OECD countries reducing their own demand, arresting climate change is guaranteed if we act directly and successfully to keep fossil fuels in the ground. It would seem sensible, then, to direct all our policy efforts toward this goal. This is the challenge Sinn leaves us with.

    Back to basics

    Back to basics (pdf), by Stephen Stretton and Daniel O’Neil.

    In the clamour of contention and controversy surrounding the climate change debate, sometimes it makes sense to return to first principles. I was reminded of this sharply during a conversation with a professor of solar energy technology, when he stated bluntly that speculation on solutions is worthless unless we have come up with a concise definition of the problem we are trying to solve. I hope in this initial column to humbly attempt to lay out the problem we face with the hope of looking at possible solutions, and the debates surrounding them, in later columns.

    Biofuels Discussion – The views of the Cambridge parliamentary candidates

    I have recently been in touch with some of the Cambridge parliamentary candidates to ask their views on biofuels. The Green Party policy on biofuels is very clear and robust and amongst other things “calls for an immediate moratorium on agrofuels from largescale monocultures” (point C6 at The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative parties do not have a written policy on biofuels and it seems important that this pressing issue is brought to their attention and their views are made available to voters. I have written to the candidates from these parties and the Green party to ask their views.

    A recent post to this site gives a thorough analysis of the problems with biofuels.

    I became concerned about the views on biofuels of Tony Juniper, the Cambridge Green party candidate, when I heard him speak in a radio interview at in which, when challenged on the EU biofuel targets, was rather ambivalent and said that he thinks
    that “biofuels is a part of the equation”. This prompted me to write to him to ask for confirmation that he is in full agreement with the views stated in the Green Party policy, and was disappointed to discover that this is not the case. He gave the following response:

    “I am very familar with these issues, not least through my many years working as the Vice Chair of Friends of the Earth International. With this in mind the Green Party policy on this subject accords very closely with my own views. I might have one or two questions, however, for example in relation to sugar cane, that I believe can actually be quite good in achieving a useful carbon reduction, if done right. Of course this needs to include in relation to land use and food growing and also labour issues. Finally, I think we should say more about what fuel sources might work in the future in meeting the massive human need for energy that is not going to go away. A look at so called second and third generation biofuels would be illuminating in setting out what technologies we think might be acceptable, as well as those that we are sceptical about.”

    Sugar cane plantations have had a devastating effect on Brazil’s Cerrado and it seems to me that Tony Juniper’s belief that sugar cane can be a good option does not actually “accord very closely” with the Green Party Policy which specifically includes sugar cane as part of the problem. (point CC252 I have asked him for the information on which he bases his view that sugar cane “can be quite good”.

    The second area in which his view differs with Green Party policy is to do with second and third generation biofuels (CC254). The following articles give a convincing presentation of the problems with these:

    The view supported by several of the NGOs mentioned below is that there is no such thing as ‘sustainable’ industrial biofuels. All will destroy natural habitats either directly or indirectly by displacing farmers from agricultural land. All involve the use of agrochemicals with toxic by products, heavy water use and soil erosion. In the light of this, I would like to hear exactly what kind of large-scale biofuel could possibly be “quite good”; the caveat used (“in relation to land use and food growing and also labour issues”) clearly needs to be fully explained.

    It is worrying that biofuel proponents have been so successful that there are now government policy incentives in place whereby burning biofuel in power stations attracts twice the subsidies compared to on-land wind power generation. George Monbiot makes this point here.

    With over a billion people in the world going hungry, it seems to me morally indefensible to use land to grow crops to power our vehicles rather than to feed hungry people.

    When contacting the other parties, since they do not have a policy on biofuels, I quoted the Green Party Policy and asked whether they are in agreement with this. I have received the following response from Julian Huppert the Liberal Democrat candidate.

    “I think there are real concerns about trying to develop wide-scale biofuels for exactly the reasons described. We would firstly ensure that the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) only permits sustainable biofuels as required by the EU 2009 Directive on the Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and includes a calculation taking into account the effects of indirect land use change, and secondly aim to ensure that energy is supplied by more renewable and less damaging alternatives.”

    I have raised the following points with him (based on information from the NGOs mentioned below).

    1. The RTFO, and soon the European Directive (RED) are licensing all biofuels with false sustainability standards, and this applies to all large scale biofuels, even those made from Brazilian sugar cane. This is exactly what the problem is about and the Green Party policy gives examples of biofuels (including even rapeseed oil from Europe) which have a knock on impact on deforestation elsewhere in the world.,

    2. The calculation to compensate for indirect land use change (ILUC) is completely inadequate. It allows just a few percent compensation as part of a “risk adder” when ILUC causes additional emissions of thousands of percent.

    3. Both the RTFO and the RED make no inclusions for their wider ecological footprint including biodiversity losses and the attendant acceleration of climate feedbacks as ecosystems are systematically wiped out.

    4. Both directives allow biofuels from countries where human rights abuses and land grabs are commonplace…i.e. even the safeguard against human rights abuses in both directorates is absent or entirely inadequate.

    5. Currently it is illegal for the UK to have different “sustainability standards” from the EU: we need a new Government who has the courage to challenge this.

    6. Also under EU rules, it is illegal to “discriminate” against particular biofuels for example because people have been evicted or even killed to produce them; (there are no adequate safeguards – even minimal additional safeguards are illegal)

    7. Under EU rules, it is also illegal to “discriminate” against biofuels which can be shown to cause people to go hungry.

    8. Although a final decision is still pending, the European Commission has proposed to class oil palm plantations as forests! So if natural forests are cut down for oil palm plantations, this is not classed as deforestation! Hence palm oil can still be classed as “sustainable”!!

    9. Ironically there is actually no requirement on the UK to keep the RTFO in place and no renewable energy target for transport applies BEFORE 2020. This means that the UK or any other EU member government who is concerned about the problems outlined above can simply withdraw. By 2020 the EU legislation may well have been changed in view of new and ongoing evidence about biofuel impacts as well as fast increasing public opposition so not meeting the 2020 10% targets would not be an issue.

    10. There is also currently no requirement to support biofuels in the heat and power sector. The Renewable Heat Incentive associated with this will go through Parliament later in the year.

    11. You may be interested to know that a number of Lib Dem councillors and Green Party members in Bristol and Portland are fighting hard against the biofuel power stations proposed by W4B, using some of the arguments cited here.

    I should mention that I’m not an expert in this field and have gained this information from discussions and reports from the following organisations: Biofuelwatch, Action Aid, Friends of the Earth, Global Forest Coalition, and World Rainforest Movement

    I am calling on concerned individuals to contribute their views to this discussion. I will post here all further responses that I receive from the candidates.

    Evidence for Climate Change and Related Policy Issues

    Science Issues

    Why do we think that the observed increased concentrations of CO2 and Methane will warm the earth?
    1) Basic physics
    2) Water vapour feedbacks from recent measurement of radiative outflow from satellites & Models integrating these observations
    3) Observations of the climate warming up already (see below for detailed refs)
    4) Observations CO2 of the ice ages (showing evidence for positive feedback as well as a very close link between temperature and CO2 and Methane)

    Concentrations of CO2
    Concentrations of CO2 went between 180 (ice age) and 280ppm (warm period between ice age). They are now at 388ppm: higher than the last few million years; the sun is also getting stronger over the very long term.

    Science of Greenhouse Effect

  1. Basic Physics: see this BBC site
  2. Undergraduate level Physics: see Archer
  3. Greenhouse gases increase the flow of energy into the Earth. It has been estimated that a concentration of CO2 of 550 parts per million (before industrialization the level was 275 parts per million) would leave to 3.7 Watts extra heat imput per square metre of the Earth’s surface area.

    Water vapour
    The Stefan Boltzmann law would shows that the heat radiated from the earth’s surface increases by about 3.2 Watts per square metre per degree Celsius rise in temperature. Therefore, the Earth’s temperature would need to rise by about 1.2 degrees Celsius to balance out this rise in temperature.

    However, we know that warmer air has a higher absolute level of humidity (in otherwords it contains more water vapour). Water vapour is also a greenhouse gas, and so this traps heat too.

    We can estimate that water gives a positive feedack of -1.6 Watts per square metre per degree Celsius rise in temperature.

    This should be compared to ‘StefanBoltzmann’ extra heat flow of 3.2W/m2K, giving net effect of 1.6W/m2K

    When we include this effect (but assume no other feedbacks), that means that the earth would have to rise in temperature by 2.3 Celsius (not 1.2 Celsius) before the outflow of heat balanced the extra inflow.

    So CO2 drives temperature, that increases humidity, and that leads to the water vapour feedback, which can be observed. See this article.

    All the evidence is put together with computer models, but we don’t really need computer models to estimate these issues, we can work it out ourselves from science and observations

    Evidence of warming

    Specific Fingerprints

    Observed Impacts

    Very many different observations around the world e.g. temperature measurements, rate of glacier melt, species shifts, Artic sea ice, sea surface temperatures, coral reef bleaching, heat waves:

    Most of these show some evidence of climate change. People will I’m sure, come to their own conclusions.


    There are some arguments about climate change by self-styled ‘sceptics’. Here is an explanation of the more complex issues.

    Policy Issues

    Uncertainty & Risk?
    Of course, there is always discussion and debate, but the fact that there are big risks shouldn’t blind us to doing something to secure ourselves against those risks.

    We know that the earth responds to a lag to our behaviours. We already have seen serious effects to climate change (see ‘evidence of warming’ elsewhere in this reply) and the rate of increase of greenhouse gas concentrations is itself accelerating (think of putting the foot down when you see a road traffic accident). Don’t you think it might be good to be a little bit safe rather than sorry?

    Kyoto Ineffective??
    We need a much stronger treaty that doesn’t only include global targets, but also coordinated taxes.

    It has been estimated that the investment required to decarbonize the UK is around £600bn (which would spent mostly on UK resources). The UK consumes 1.7million barrels of oil per day or 620 million barrels per year, with a value (at $80/bbl) of $50billion (£30billion).
    We use 91.1 billion cubic metres of gas per year present, worth £11billion (at 35p per therm or 13p/cu m). So we spend more than £40bn per year on fossil fuels; replacing this with renewable and nuclear infrastructure could get a return on our investment of 15 years. Not bad.

    Good, strong, climate policies could increase investment in real infrastructure, providing jobs, and making us less dependent on foreign oil!

    Global Climate Policy: An Agenda For Effective Action

    Climate Policy A New Agenda (pdf), by Stephen Stretton


     “Rules must be binding; Violations must be punished; Words must mean something.”

    (US President Barack Obama)

    The negotiations currently taking place at Copenhagen at the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aim at the fundamental objective of the UNFCCC, namely to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at non-dangerous levels. It is argued that the existing institutional tools at our disposal – international treaties and in particular the Kyoto protocol – are insufficient to achieve this goal. Furthermore, the framework put in place at Kyoto suffers multiple and fundamental flaws which fatally undermine its effectiveness; any new treaty must have a structure which mostly evades these flaws if it is to be effective. Treaties, legal structures, and other institutions more commensurate with the scale of the climate change challenge are suggested to inform discussions around the structure of any future climate agreement. An agenda for effective global action is outlined here:

    1. Strong global institutions – e.g. a world environmental agency – including an agreed framework (such as coordinated carbon taxes) for collective policy, to replace national commitments.

    2. A framework action plan to eliminate carbon emissions sector-by-sector, region-by-region, over the next two to three decades. In particular a plan to develop, transfer and deploy the safe, responsible, and very large-scale use of enhanced energy efficiency, renewable-electric, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage energy technologies; and to encourage responsible land use and agriculture, including the sustainable use of water1.

    3. A significant ($100-$200/tCO2e), sectorally complete, substantially geographically complete, agreed, and guaranteed minimum carbon price, levied upstream at the national level (including embodied carbon from any regions not otherwise carbon-constrained), with revenues used at national discretion. It is possible that a carbon tax may have net economic benefits at the national level if used to replace taxes with higher ‘deadweight’ costs. The removal of fossil fuel subsidies has already been agreed as part of the Kyoto protocol, but has not been fully implemented.

    4. A plan to protect forests and other natural carbon stores.

    5. A plan to keep high carbon fuels in the ground (following Hansen et al. 2008).

    6. An enabling framework for enforceable state-corporation climate contracts (e.g. guaranteeing the carbon price for investors) (Ismer & Neuhoff 2006).

    7. An enabling framework for the use of trade sanctions to enforce state-state climate commitments, such as border tax adjustments (Ismer & Neuhoff 2007).

    8. Unimpeachable monitoring and verification of all commitments.