All posts by Stephen Stretton

What Will It Take to Make New Nuclear Happen?

Electricity price risk is not the whole story

It is not clear whether there will be new nuclear build in the UK without some form of government support. Although nuclear power station can provide electricity to society at a reasonable cost 24/7, it is not a generation type suited to varying the amount electricity produced. So nuclear can be a risky investment if the price of electricity is very volatile and falls below the level need to make interest payments.

Prof David Newbery has recently written an article “Be Creative, Reduce the risk of nuclear investment”

In it, he suggests that the risk of a volatile electricity price, faced by new investors in nuclear can be mitigated by generators selling bonds which pay according to the electricity price.

On Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with a city financier, about the idea. His thoughts were that the financial risks associated with new nuclear are more fundamental than just the risk of a volatile electricity price.

The main problem with financing nuclear are the long-term liabilities and the fundamental absence of trust in the nuclear industry.

Continue reading What Will It Take to Make New Nuclear Happen?

Corporations for Climate Stability

On Wednesday, I went to a meeting organized by ‘resurgence’ magazine entitled “Corporations for Climate Stability”. On the panel were:

· Jonathan Porritt – director, Forum for the Future, Commission for Sustainable Development (Sophisticated, Realistic and historical view of the world; emphasized the internalization of pollution costs)

· Alan Knight – Corporate Social Responsibility – has worked for 9 months at Virgin group. He emphasized the importance of scaling up good ideas.

· Tessa Tennant UK Social Investment Forum;- Spoke about socially responsible investment forum several trillion. What will be the big names in the future

· Nick Robins Hendersons International Investors: spoke about financial innovation

· Tony Jupiter (Chair), Executive Director of Friends of The Earth: Companies are Powerful Actors; How companies can make a difference; Education& Long termism.

Overall it was an interesting meeting; I was impressed by Porritt’s erudition and preparation: less so the other speakers, although there were good moments. I asked the speakers about using carbon taxes to offset other taxes and received a positive comment – this had been done in British Columbia. As soon as I had made my comment about carbon taxes, Jupiter, and Porritt made a number of points against nuclear. Nobody made any countervailing comments. So it was interesting meeting but I still felt the discussion was not covering the complete story.

Continue reading Corporations for Climate Stability

Sir David King on Climate Change

On Friday, I saw Sir David King talk about his new book on climate change: ‘The Hot Topic‘. He came across as you’d expect: warm, authoritative, knowledgeable – the antithesis of ignorance.

One way to measure the advances made in the twentieth century is to look at the life expectancy, which has gone up from around 45 at the start of the 20th century to around 80 at the end. Women’s fertility has dropped as well – In the last 10 years the fecundity has gone down in Latin America from 5.5 to 2. But the population growth is still a given. at over 9 billion by the middle of the century.

It is this population growth that is causing our problems. The challenges of the 21st century: food, water, energy, security, disease etc. are strongly linked together – and climate change is a common factor.

One of the key policy tools for solving the problem is *forward looking regulation*. For example, telling car manufacturers that cars must be of a certain standard. Johnson Matthey – a local company – in fact even now makes very efficient catalytic converters. The air comes out cleaner than it goes in!!

After all this regulation of local pollutants you are simply left with CO2 is a colourless, odourless gas. Safe of course. But of course it has serious effects.

Look at the relation between CO2 and temperature. We know the temperature was at the Palaeocene-Eocene maximum about 8-10 warmer than it is now.

This has huge impacts, not least on biodiversity. The mountain gorillas of central Africa need 40 or so plants to survive, and lives in a specialised bamboo forest. The gorillas move with the – isotherms up the mountain but eventually they reach the top of the mountain and there is nowhere to run to. We’re not capable of recreating their natural habitat.

One difficulty is negotiating with so many countries that are in different current and historical states. e.g. US & Canada pollute twice as fast as Europe.

However we must involve the developing world too – as a graph of projected future BAU emissions shows. To reduce carbon emissions to safe levels, emissions need to peak at about 9GtC in next 10 years for 450ppmCO2only and about 12GtC per an in next 20 years for 550ppmCO2only. This is a huge task. But we’d better start now!

In short then, climate change is ‘The Hot Topic‘!

Benn announces ’stronger’ climate change bill

Benn announces ‘stronger’ climate change bill,,2201343,00.html
Rosalind Ryan, Elizabeth Stewart and agencies
Monday October 29, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

The government today announced a “stronger, more effective and more
transparent” climate change bill, following a period of public
consultation and scrutiny.

The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, said in a speech at Kew
Gardens that the amended bill was a “ground-breaking blueprint” to
help lower Britain’s carbon emissions and would strengthen the
country’s position in response to climate change.

Mr Benn said: “We need to step up the fight against climate change and
we need to do it fast. The draft bill we set out earlier this year and
have now refined is a ground-breaking blueprint for moving the UK
towards ea low carbon economy.”

By taking a strong domestic stance on climate change, the environment
secretary said it would help Britain make its case for change

The suggested amendments go further than the draft bill on climate
change published in March. Key among these is the possible inclusion,
for the first time, of emissions from the aviation and shipping
industry in the UK’s targets, something for which environmental
campaigners have been clamouring.

The revised bill also raises the possibility of raising the emissions
reductions further. Environmental groups have called for an 80%
target, which they say needs to be set before the proposed five-year
carbon budgets are decided on, and annual targets to ensure
year-on-year cuts are being made.

The new proposed climate change committee will also be given more
teeth, with greater independence from the government and its own chief
executive. In future, the government will have to seek advice from the
committee before amending any emissions targets in the bill.

The bill will make the UK the first country to put reducing carbon
emissions into law. The bill, to be published next month, will put a
legal duty on the government to cut emissions by at least 60% by 2050.

As Mr Benn told the Guardian today in his first major interview on
global warming since taking over at the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs, he believes that improving home energy
efficiency is crucial to meeting targets for reducing carbon
emissions. He said the bill would lay plans for “one-stop-shops” for
homeowners to make their houses more environmentally friendly, by
offering advice on greener living, installation services and loans for
equipment such as solar panels.

While the planned legislation has been welcomed by environmental
groups, concerns have been raised that the targets do not go far
enough and the bill should include sectors such as aviation and
shipping to be fully effective.

The original draft of the bill left out industries including aviation,
and set a target of 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, which
campaigners claim is too low.

In his speech to the Labour party conference last month Gordon Brown
announced he would be asking the new climate change committee,
proposed under the bill, to review whether that target was strong

But environmental campaigners are sceptical that the government will
be able to meet a more robust long-term target when it is currently
failing to achieve its own short-term domestic target of a 20%
reduction in emissions.

MPs also called today for the creation of a new Whitehall body to
drive climate change policy. The environmental audit committee (EAC)
said the government’s current framework for dealing with climate
change was “confused” and did not promote effective action on reducing

The committee suggested there should be a new climate change
secretary, based in the cabinet, who would be in charge of the
government’s climate policy.

The MPs also recommended the creation of a new cross-departmental
climate change minister who could attend cabinet meetings.

The EAC’s chairman, Tim Yeo, said: “Th UK must be equipped to meet
both the challenge of a carbon constrained world and the likely
climate change impacts that will occur. It would be disastrous if bad
planning policy meant that today’s new developments become tomorrow’s
climate slums.”

The Day The Earth Nearly Died

Content-Disposition: inline

The Day The Earth Nearly Died – programme summary

250 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the land =
and oceans teemed with life. This was the Permian, a golden era of biodiver=
sity that was about to come to a crashing end. Within just a few thousand y=
ears, 95% of the lifeforms on the planet would be wiped out, in the biggest=
mass extinction Earth has ever known. What natural disaster could kill on =
such a massive scale? It is only in recent years that evidence has begun to=
emerge from rocks in Antarctica, Siberia and Greenland.=20

"At the end of the Permian you'd see virtually nothing alive&q=
Professor Peter Ward, University of Washington


The demise of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago (at the so-called K/T =
boundary), was as nothing compared to the Permian mass extinction. The K/T =
event killed off 60% of life on Earth; the Permian event 95%. Geological da=
ta to explain the destruction have been hard to find, simply because the ro=
cks are so old and therefore subject to all kinds of erosion processes. It =
seems plausible that some kind of catastrophic environmental change must ha=
ve made life untenable across vast swathes of the planet.=20

"A volcanic eruption ten thousand times larger than man has ever s=
Professor Vincent Courtillon, University of Paris

The world's biggest volcanoes

In the early 1990s, the hunt for evidence headed for a region of Siberia=
known as the Traps. Today it's a sub-Arctic wilderness but 250 million=
years ago, over 200,000km=B2 of it was a blazing torrent of lava. The Sibe=
rian Traps were experiencing a 'flood basalt eruption', the biggest=
volcanic effect on Earth. Instead of isolated volcanoes spewing out lava, =
the crust split and curtains of lava were released. And the Siberian flood =
eruption lasted for millions of years. Could volcanic activity over such a =
long time alter the climate enough to kill off 95% of life on Earth?=20

Vincent Courtillon used a much smaller flood basalt eruption, in Iceland=
in 1783, as the basis for some calculations. Writing in the 18th century, =
Benjamin Franklin (then American Ambassador in Paris) described 1784 as a y=
ear without a summer. Ash from the eruption blacked out the sky and crops f=
ailed across Europe. Courtillon extrapolated the climatic impact of the Sib=
erian Trap eruption from the records of the Icelandic event. He deduced tha=
t a 'nuclear winter' lasting decades would be followed by rapid glo=
bal warming due to the increased level of greenhouse gases in the post-erup=
tion atmosphere.=20

"It's the equivalent of a billion atomic bombs going off at th=
e same place"
Dr Michael Rampino, New York University

Vincent believes the disruption of cooling followed by warming could cau=
se the Permian extinction but other geologists disagree. Peter Ward returne=
d to the Siberian Trap data to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide – and =
global warming – that could result. His worst case scenario is a temperatur=
e rise of 5=B0C, enough to kill off many species but not the 95% wipeout th=
at ended the Permian.=20

If the Siberian eruptions were not deadly enough, what other effects mig=
ht be at work? To try to answer that, Michael Rampino set out to establish =
an even more fundamental piece of data: how long did the extinction take? H=
e studied rock sedimentation rates in the Alps and concluded that the Permi=
an killer had stalked the planet for just 8,000-10,000 years, far less than=
had been thought. His mind turned to ways of causing such catastrophic des=
truction in – on geological timescales – the blink of an eye. He wanted to =
explore the possibility of a meteorite strike.=20

The hunt for meteor evidence

Meteor strikes that wipe out life may sound like sci-fi but it's gen=
erally accepted that an impact sparked the K/T extinction and the end of th=
e dinosaurs. That meteorite was 10km wide and left a crater in what is now =
the Gulf of Mexico. The dust raised by such an impact could make global tem=
peratures plummet overnight. How big would any Permian meteorite have to be=
? Rampino suggests one just 50% bigger could cause sufficient environmental=
change. There is one huge flaw in this argument: where is the crater?=20

"The original crater is completely drowned by lava"

Adrian Jones, University College London

Adrian Jones models the effects of impact on the Earth's geological =
crust. He has a hunch that meteorite crater hunters are looking for the wro=
ng thing. After an impact, the crust rebounds to form a large shallow crate=
r. If the meteorite if truly massive though, an extra process occurs. The c=
ombined heat of the impact and rebound is enough to melt the crust. Lava fl=
oods through and the crater disappears beneath new crust. If he's right=
, the Permian meteorite crater can't be found because it doesn't ex=

"When a meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs it left ample evidence i=
n its wake"
Greg Rettaleck, University of Oregon

All of which serves to help proponents of the meteorite impact theory. I=
ts detractors, though, point out that meteors leave several trails in their=
wake – fragments of minerals that have come from space. Greg Rettaleck mou=
nted an expedition in the mid-1990s looking at Permian rock beds in the Ant=
arctic. Some of the quartz grains looked like they had been fractured by a =
very energetic process – a meteorite?=20

Although this was evidence for a strike of some sort, there were unanswe=
red questions as well. The K/T meteorite left a trail of iridium – characte=
ristic of space materials – around the world. Yet there is no evidence the =
Permian strike did the same.=20

"No need to guess any more… the whole extinction from beginning =
to end"
Paul Wignall, University of Leeds

Paul Wignall is a British geologist who doubts a meteorite caused the ma=
ss extinction 250 million years ago. In the late 1990s he had a hunch of a =
way to prove his beliefs, a good idea of where to look for new evidence: Gr=
eenland. Permian rocks are hard to find because they are usually just thin =
layers, yet his trip yielded rock beds metres thick. This was more than jus=
t new evidence; it was the best he could have hoped to find.=20

Carbon copious

The Greenland rock told a very different story to that Michael Rampino h=
ad found in the Alps. Instead of a rapid event of under 10,000 years, the e=
xtinction beds Wignall examined lasted 80,000 years and showed three distin=
ctive phases in the plant and animal fossils they contained. The extinction=
appeared to kill land and marine life selectively at different times. Such=
a long process contradicted the catastrophic meteorite theory but Wignall =
couldn't explain what=20
had come close to killing all life on Earth. His best clue was the c=
arbon isotope balance in the rock, which showed an increase in carbon-12 ov=
er time. The standard explanation – rotting vegetation – could not have cau=
sed such a marked effect. Wignall was curious what this could mean.=20

An answer came from geologist Gerry Dickens, who knew just how to get la=
rge amounts of carbon-12 rapidly, thanks to his work with offshore drilling=
companies in the USA. He had spent time helping them try to tap reserves o=
f frozen methane hydrate from the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico. He knew met=
hane hydrate is found around many of the world's coasts. Dickens wonder=
ed how large a rise in sea temperature was necessary to cause the solid che=
mical to gasify and ascend to the atmosphere. Experiments suggested a rise =
of 5=B0C would be sufficient. And he was amazed to see how much gas came fr=
om pieces of solid methane hydrate that were placed in water.=20

"The south of England would turn into the Sahara Desert"=
Michael Benton, University of Bristol

When Paul Wignall learned of Dickens' findings, he used his carbon-1=
2 data to estimate how much methane hydrate would have to be released to af=
fect the isotope balance. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gase=
s and he deduced that unlocking frozen methane hydrate would have caused a =
temperature rise of 4-5=B0C over time. Not enough to kill off 95% of life o=
n Earth but he realised this was a compounded effect. A rise of about 5=B0C=
must already have occurred to prompt the frozen methane to melt. The combi=
ned temperature rise of 10=B0C is generally accepted as a figure able to ca=
use truly mass extinction.=20

So it seems likely there were two Permian killers. The Siberian T=
raps did erupt, contributing first to a nuclear winter cooling effect (caus=
ed by dust) and and then to global warming (due to greenhouse gases). Over =
40,000 years, some land animals gradually died out while life in the seas l=
ived relatively calmly on, as the water temperature gently rose. Then the s=
eas gave up their frozen methane. In just 5,000 years, there was massive lo=
ss of species from the world's oceans. In a third and final phase of th=
e extinction, the Permian killer returned to stalk the land for another 35,=
000 years. By the end of that process, 95% of the Earth's species were =

Gordon Brown asks Committee on Climate Change to Investigate Carbon Reduction Target

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown asks the committee on climate change to investigate the UK’s long term target.


Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new politics is to show how we as a community can join together to safeguard the environment, to turn the silent, rising tide of global warming.

And I am proud that Britain will now become the first country in the world to write into law binding limits on carbon emissions. But I am not satisfied: so I am asking the new independent climate change committee to report on whether the 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050, which is already bigger than most other countries, should be even stronger still.

And by investing in energy efficiency, renewables, carbon capture, clean fuels and new environmental technologies, I want Britain to lead in carbon-free vehicles, carbon-free homes and carbon-free industry. And I want the new green technologies of the future to be the source of British jobs in British businesses.

And I commit to work tirelessly for a new post-Kyoto UN climate change agreement with – yes – to help the poorest, binding targets for all the richest countries.

And let me say: we in Britain cannot be good stewards of the environment unless we are good internationalists and that means being good Europeans too.


China’s new appetite for milk forces price rise in Germany

China’s new appetite for milk forces price rise in Germany

=B7 Cost of dairy products expected to rise by 50%
=B7 EU rules stop farmers increasing production

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Thursday August 2, 2007
The Guardian

Demand for milk in China is soaring thanks to president’s ‘dream’ of
half a litre a day for all, especially children

They have been blamed for putting up the price of everything from
bicycles to garden fences.
Now the Chinese have been dubbed “milk snatchers” by German consumers
for buying so much milk that prices of dairy products in Germany are
expected to soar by 50%.
The Germans are being made to feel the effect of China’s new-found
taste for milk, sparked by a remark by China’s president Wen Jiabao:
“I have a dream – a dream to be able to provide all Chinese,
especially our children, with half a litre of milk a day.”
The result has been a huge increase in milk consumption in China and
demand is growing at a rate of around 25% a year.
Because China has no tradition of dairy farming, there is a shortage
of home-produced milk. A third of all the milk produced worldwide is
now being transported to China, much of it from the EU and a
significant amount from Germany, which produces 27bn litres a year.

EU dairy farmers would like to increase production to cope with a
current shortfall, but are prevented from doing so by EU milk quotas,
imposed in 1984 and in force until 2015. Instead German dairy farmers
have taken the obvious step of putting up their prices, which they
have long claimed were artificially low. Blaming the Chinese has
helped to deflect criticism from the farmers.
A litre of milk in Germany, currently around 64 cents (40p), is due to
go up by 50% in the next few weeks. Other products, such as butter,
quark and yoghurt, are expected to rise accordingly. Across Europe the
prices of dairy products are rising for the same reasons, but not so
dramatically as in Germany, where cheap groceries are seen as a basic
Thanks to the lobbying power of Germany’s huge number of discount
supermarkets, groceries cost around 63% less than in Iceland and 15%
less than in Britain.
Now outraged consumer groups and politicians have called for the
government to raise unemployment benefit to cover the rise.
Yesterday supermarkets across the country reported that shoppers were
panic buying dairy products in an attempt to beat the price increase.
The only effective way to increase global milk yields without breaking
the milk quotas, according to experts, is to encourage the breeding of
cows outside the EU. German dairy farmers have duly been selling
their best high-performance milk cows to Chinese farmers, who are
receiving government subsidies if they switch to dairy farming.