Friday, 27 September 2013

Power freeze and land grab promised by Labour leader

[This article appears in the September issue of sustainable building]
Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, announced two controversial policies in his keynote address to his party’s Annual Conference in Brighton on 24 September, calling for power and gas price freeze for 20 months to December 2017 should Labour win the next election, and a threat to sequester land that property developers have land-banked to push up prices rather than build new houses.
Both policies came in for immediate sever attacks from the energy and construction sectors.

Labour shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint, also announced that Labour would create a new Energy Security Board to get to grips with power pricing - repeated Labour’s decision to scrap Ofgem – and  attacked the failure of the Green Deal for only signing up 12 households so far since February on its £16 million budget. Shadow communities secretaries, Hilary Benn, also promised a Labour government would  help councils to build more affordable homes by reforming the Housing Revenue Account, and promised Labour would build more towns and Garden Cities
Miliband blamed the coalition government for what he judged to be its failure to reform the power price market. He said: “We need successful energy companies, in Britain. We need them to invest for the future. But you need to get a fair deal and frankly, there will never be public consent for that investment unless you do get a fair deal. And the system is broken and we are going to fix it. If we win the election 2015 the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will not rise. It will benefit millions of families and millions of businesses.”
He conceded it would not be popular with energy companies “because it will cost them more but they have been overcharging people for too long because of a market that doesn’t work.” He argued that “It’s time to reset the market. So we will pass legislation in our first year in office to do that, and have a regulator that will genuinely be on the customers’ side but also enable the investment we need.”
Mr Miliband subsequently wrote to the Big Six to explain his intention, and warning action would be taken against them if they declined to comply. It's time we fixed it and they can either choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I hope they choose to be part of the solution."

He also insisted that “to make Britain better we have got to win a race to the top, not a race to the bottom, and stressed “A race to the top which means that other countries will buy our goods the companies will come and invest here and that will create the wealth and jobs we need for the future but we are not going to be able to do it easily. It is going to be tough.”

From his promotional tour in China, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "Fixing prices in this way risks blackouts, jeopardises jobs and puts investment in clean, green technology in doubt; and energy minister Michael Fallon countered that what he characterised as the “ill-thought out and irresponsible” measures would make it harder to raise the £110bn of capital required in the next 10 years to modernise energy infrastructure.


Angela Knight, head of Energy UK, the industry lobby group. “We need an energy policy that can attract investors from around the world to build the new power stations we need, but if you can’t have certainty on your return, you’re going to think twice about investing.”

British Gas owner Centrica issued a strong statement: “If prices were to be controlled against a background of rising costs it would simply not be economically viable for Centrica, or indeed any other energy supplier, to continue to operate. But such scare tactics lack credibility, as Centica’s  only business  is energy.

Peter Atherton, a utilities analyst at Liberum Capital, and a strong critic of coalition strategy on energy investment, added “The last thing the industry needs is another round of huge institutional changes. The ink won’t be dry on the energy bill and they’ll be scrapping the market.”

“Capping their profits will make it harder for them to invest in nuclear and clean energy.That in turn will make it harder for Britain to meet its targets for reducing carbon emissions and sourcing more of its energy from renewables,” commented Craig Lowrey of energy consultancy The Utilities Exchange.

Some critics, such as energy Secretary Ed Davey in his statement, pointed to what happened in California 13 years ago, when the California Independent Systems Operator imposed a price cap on power utilities selling electricity to Californian customers. Power blackout resulted due to utilities exporting to neighbouring states where no price cap existed. Eventually, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stepped in and, over the objection of state officials, removed price caps altogether in California as a way to reestablish sales to Californians. The State also suffered a serious drought affecting the operation of some generating plants, so the California experience is significantly different to the UK.**

Other utility groups joined in the vociferous criticism, except EDF Energy, which operates under a regulated market in France, and is thus used to such price controls.

But the executive director of consumer watchdog Which?,  Richard Lloyd,  welcomed the plans, observing "Ed Miliband's promise to fix the broken energy market and freeze prices will give hope to the millions worrying about how they can afford to heat their homes. We now look forward to seeing the detail of how this will work."

Undaunted, Mr Miliband stressed that “The environment is a passion of mine”…. Adding “But it is not just about environmental care. It is also about the jobs we create in the future. You see some people say, including George Osborne, that we can’t afford to have environmental at a time like this. He is dead wrong. We can’t afford not to have an environmental commitment at a time like this. That is why Labour will have a world leading commitment in government to take all of the carbon out of our energy by 2030. A route map to one million new green jobs in our country.”

Earlier, shadow chancellor Ed Balls told the Conference “....we need a radical transformation in our economy… And the question is whether we will seize this opportunity or squander it?” He added “We will legislate for a decarbonisation target for 2030 and unlock billions of pounds in new investment in renewables, nuclear and clean gas and coal technology….And we will give the Green Investment Bank the borrowing powers it needs to do its job.”

One policy Mr Miliband announced that could assist SMEs involved in the green business sector was his proposal for a switch in tax breaks from large businesses to SMEs. He said “If Labour wins power in 2015 we will use the money that this government would use to cut taxes for 80,000 large businesses to cut business rates for 1.5 million businesses across our country” He added “cutting small business rates when we come to office in 2015 and freezing them the next year benefitting businesses by at least £450 a year.”
Mr Miliband also suggested Labour could create 100,000 new apprenticeship places, some of which would be in the sustainability sector in construction and green technology.

Energy saving
Caroline Flint asserted that “ultimately, our best protection against volatile world energy prices is to save the energy that escapes through our windows, walls and rooftops, as she promised that “with a Labour Government the most radical, comprehensive reforms since energy privatization” would be implemented. She stressed under Labour there would be “no more price setting in secret,” with the energy companies being “forced to open their books… and do all their electricity trading on the open market, in a pool.”

She also pledged Labour “will break up the Big Six [energy companies],” and the power stations will be separated from the companies that bill customers.

Paul Massara, chief executive of RWE Npower noted that "It's very easy for politicians to come up with simple-sounding solutions to difficult problems….adding that in reality included in the causes of high household energy bills is the failure to  fix inefficient housing stock.

House building shortage
On the housing shortage, Mr Miliband said “If we carry on as we are, by 2020 there will be two million too few homes in Britain. That is the equivalent of two cities the size of Birmingham. We have got to do something about it and the next Labour government will.”
He warned “we’ll say to private developers, you can’t just sit on land and refuse to build. We will give them a very clear message - either use the land or lose the land…we’ll have a clear aim that by the end of the parliament Britain will be building 200,000 homes a year, more than at any time in a generation.”.
Hilary Benn said that “our housing system is broken,” arguing that the Coalition has cut the affordable housing budget cut by 60%, and pointed out that the IMF said to the Chancellor that Britain should be investing £10 billion in infrastructure – that would build 400,000 affordable homes. He proclaimed “No wonder housing completions are at their lowest peacetime level since the 1920’s.”
He also stressed that land is too expensive, and “too often developers hang on to it hoping for the price to rise. And communities feel powerless.” But he argued  communities should know where land is available, and  “that’s why we will ensure developers register the land they own or have options on. And where land is not brought forward for homes, communities should be able to do something about it.”
When communities have given planning permission, he stated, they should be able to say to developers “we’ve given you the go ahead so please get on and build the homes you said you would. And if you don’t then we’ll charge you and, if you still don’t, we’ll sell the land on to someone else who will.”
He also announced that the next Labour government will give communities a new ‘Right to Grow’, allowing them – if they want – to expand and ensuring that neighbouring areas work with them to do so.
Mr Benn did not make clear how many of the 200,000 new homes would be classed as ‘affordable’, or how sustainable they would be, but he did announce a new Rebuilding Britain Commission, headed by former BBC chairman Michael Lyons, charged with fleshing out the planned housing proposals.

Other reaction

Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy said "Instead of price freezes which will lead to unsustainable loss-making retail businesses, the Labour Party should put policy costs into general taxation, taking them off energy bills.

John Cridland, CBI director general, caustically commented "Businesses will view the proposals on tax and energy as a setback for Labour's pro-enterprise credentials.Rising energy bills are tough on families and businesses. But the proposed energy price freeze will deter much-needed investment and is at odds with Labour's pledge to decarbonise the economy and create a million green jobs.”

Financial Times specialist energy blogger, Nick Butler, commented “Some might suggest that a hard freeze will not only deter new investment, but also lead to some companies exiting the business with the net effect of reducing competition. Mr Miliband clearly believes there is profiteering but he has not published the evidence. The Labour leader should and there needs to be a full competition inquiry. It may well be that if there is profiteering a price freeze is not the only nor the best solution. The real reason behind price increases is the enforced shift of the energy mix in favour of expensive renewables.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Lib Dems back Davey's dash for fracking and nuclear

Lib Dems back Davey's dash for fracking and nuclear 

This article first appeared on Sustainable Building e-bulletin, 20 Sept. published by Newzeye Ltd
Ed Davey.jpg
Ed Davey insisted in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrats' annual conference in Glasgow that his party's determination to press for a green agenda was keeping the coalition to its post-election promise three years ago to make the Government the greenest ever.
He strongly attacked his Cabinet colleague, Conservative environment secretary Owen Patterson, for his opposition to wind energy development, but he himself promoted fracking and nuclear power, winning support from the conference in a vote.
He told delegates: "I've been cautious on shale. Avoiding hyperbole. Weighing up the evidence. Insisting on firm regulation. I've been fracking responsible." Lib Dem conference delegates cringed. Several spoke out strongly against these twin policy positions in the set-piece conference debate.
The Lib Dems argue they are working for a "stronger, greener economy, creating thousands of green jobs," by investing in renewables, having helped set up the Green Investment Bank, and insulating homes for no up-front cost through the Green Deal.
But the Green Standard report* on the comparative  environmental performance of the main political parties issued by the Green Alliance - an umbrella for non-governmental environmental lobby groups - between the Green Party and Lib Dem conferences, says of the Lib Dems: "The Liberal Democrats have won some significant battles on climate change. But they need to develop a bolder and more holistic approach to environmental sustainability in government, particularly for the natural environment, if they wish to continue to claim to be a ‘green' party.
"The leadership must defend the fourth carbon budget and deliver an energy framework compatible with decarbonisation. The importance of the environment for ensuring economic renewal should be heard from all senior Liberal Democrat ministers... The party needs to realise its ambition for localism, and address the lack of resources and expert support available for the local councils and local enterprise partnerships that are trying to go green."
The Green Standard also criticises the Lib Dems for having not found a strong voice on the natural environment or demonstrated an impact from within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
At a fringe meeting on 16 September sponsored by the Nuclear Industry Association on Green Growth Powering Britain: How the low carbon transition can contribute to economic recovery in Britain?, Ed Davey said the old fashioned model of power generation was too focussed on the short term, without any planning on the future, and argued for a renewed emphasis on the supply chain to help attract the billions of pounds of investment needed to ensure growth in the UK.
He took credit for setting up the ‘green growth' group in the European Union for ambitious countries to share their approaches to transitioning to a low-carbon economy.  Reaching a high level political agreement by March or April 2014 was achievable, he claimed, and revealed he had already approached Ed Miliband to allow Labour assess his climate strategy, as Labour  could lead the next government post May 2015.
Deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, Maf Smith, said there was a lot of work happening on the Energy Bill to make sure low-carbon technology was given a level playing field against higher carbon technologies.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary at trades union Prospect, stressed that the union was not affiliated to any political party while welcoming the U-turn decision on nuclear power by the Lib Dems. Kirsty Alexander from the NIA thanked Davey for steering through the vote on nuclear power, and said how delighted the industry was. Davey in reply said the party should no longer apologise for supporting nuclear power in the face of climate change.  
The Lib Dem conference debates on green policies and economic development were based on two detailed reports -prepared by steering groups - on Green Growth and Green Jobs: Transition to a Zero Carbon Britain (Policy Paper 109) and A Stronger Economy in a Fairer Society: Enabling Every Person to Get on In Life.
The Green Growth paper includes sections on Reducing Energy Demand, Decarbonising Electricity, Heat, Decarbonising Transport, Tackling Emissions from Industry, Agriculture and Land Use, Putting Consumers at the Heart of the Zero Carbon Transition, and the International Climate Framework
The paper stresses that "the Liberal Democrat vision for a zero carbon Britain will deliver green growth and green jobs. We aim to improve energy efficiency and reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, by developing and commercialising new technologies in areas such as renewable energy, carbon capture and storage and low carbon modes of transport. Moreover, investment in low carbon and environmental technologies will improve the UK's energy security and resilience, reduce dependence on imports of fossil fuels and protect consumers and businesses from oil and gas price shocks."
The paper argues Lib Dems would improve energy efficiency in domestic buildings by:
o   Transforming the Green Deal into a comprehensive one-off programme to bring all homes up to the EnerPHit standard by 2050, focusing initially on households suffering from fuel poverty and homes in off-gas-grid areas.
o   Offering differential final stamp duty rates on home transactions.
o   Providing incentives to local authorities to reduce council tax rates for those who can demonstrate significant improvements in a home's EPC ratings.
Additionally, the policy would "target energy efficiency improvements in commercial, services and public sector buildings by, for example, stepping up measures to ensure compliance with energy standards in new non-residential buildings....[and] would encourage and empower domestic consumers to reduce energy use by pressing for improvements in the EU energy efficiency labelling scheme, promoting the smarter use of energy in households and taking further measures to help people to pay greater attention to the way they use energy.
On reduction in energy demand the paper argues "energy efficiency belongs at the heart of a zero-carbon economy....previous Conservative and Labour governments have neglected the role that energy demand reduction can play in managing our energy system. Yet measures that reduce demand can contribute in a more cost-effective way to meeting energy and climate goals than supply-side measures."
It also points out that Britain has some of the least energy efficient buildings in Europe, despite evidence showing that investing in energy efficiency can produce returns of up to 20% a year.
The Working Group on Transition to a Zero Carbon Britain includes Dr Duncan Black, former special advisor to Lib Dem energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, Fiona Hall MEP, Duncan Hames MP, Lord Teverson and Simon Wright MP
In the paper on a Stronger Economy, Lib Dem party leader Nick Clegg writes "We need a strong, sustainable, and balanced economy to create jobs and opportunities that last....
We have laid the foundations for green growth..." claiming "On fair taxes, the environment, education, civil liberties and in other areas, a Liberal Democrat majority government would have delivered so much more."
The paper stresses "We want to compete on the basis of high skills and of green technologies and products which cut pollution and make the best use of increasingly scarce natural resources...." adding " We have begun the process of refitting our economy for the low-carbon era. We have reformed the energy market.... and we are investing in renewable electricity and heat, making homes and businesses more energy-efficient - and thereby cutting their energy bills - and creating green jobs that are sustainable for the long term."
It adds that "Government must also set out its own investment strategy, to underpin a new, balanced and low-carbon economy. Energy supply will be crucial. A quarter of Britain's power stations will reach the end of their useful lives over the next decade. This is an opportunity to realise the enormous potential Britain enjoys for renewable energy, helping to achieve both security and independence of supply."
It also emphasises that "A framework should be developed to ensure environmental objectives are pursued consistently across government."
By playing a constructive role in the European Union we can ensure that change benefits Britain, the paper further  states,  in particular "we want to see the completion of the single market, for example in energy, to open more opportunities for UK businesses to export."
In a criticism of both their Coalition partners and Labour, the paper robustly notes that "The growth model which Labour pursued, urged on by the Conservatives, until the financial crash in 2008 was completely unsustainable. An economy dependent on risky financial schemes, a housing boom and an explosion of consumer debt was always vulnerable to collapse. And the economy wasn't environmentally sustainable, either.
"We must ensure that our prosperity is based on solid and sustainable foundations. We need more green growth, more growth in manufacturing and technology and less reliance on financial services, and more growth in high-skilled, high-pay employment. We need a planning system which supports growth while protecting and enhancing key social and environmental assets. Low-carbon and environmental investment offers the UK a chance to create new jobs and prosperity - a route out of recession and towards a modern and competitive economy. Green technology, infrastructure and service companies now account for almost 10 % of UK GDP and employ almost a million people... No sectors are as well placed to give the economy the boost it needs in the short term and the competitive strength it needs in the long term."
It also re-iterates: "We need to expand the Green Deal to insulate homes and cut energy bills - creating thousands of new jobs in the process, and helping to end fuel poverty."
The working group is chaired by former Treasury chief secretary and currently education minister, David Laws MP, and includes Nick Clegg, business minister Jo Swinson, other MPs including party chairman Tim Farron, Duncan Hames, Dr Julian Huppert, and Jenny Willott as well as Sharon Bowles MEP, Baroness Brinton and Lord Shipley. 

Middle east diplomatic opportunity not to be missed

The piece below was sent to The Times:
Your diplomatic editor seems  to be surprisingly pessimistic at the prospects of  bold diplomatic initiatives succeeding in dealing with security threats in the Middle East ("If Israel is paranoid, it has every reason to be," Sept 19).

He  describes as "disturbing" Russian attempts to link the problem of Syrian chemical weapons possession with Israel admitting its own nuclear programme. I do not regard this as disturbing, but realistic.

In an enlightened op-ed essay in the New York Times  on  Sept.19, ( "Let’s Be Honest About Israel’s Nukes,"

two senior nonproliferation commentators ( one, an ex-Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner, the other a former Pentagon advisor) sensibly wrote:  

"If Washington wants negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East to work — or even just to avoid making America appear ridiculous — Mr. Obama should begin by being candid. He cannot expect the countries participating in a conference to take America seriously if the White House continues to pretend that we don’t know whether Israel has nuclear weapons, or for that matter whether Egypt and Israel have chemical or biological ones.And if Israel’s policy on the subject is so frozen that it is unable to come clean, Mr. Obama must let the United States government be honest about Israel's arsenal and act on those facts, for both America’s good and Israel’s."   

Israel might achieve the  national security it  understandably seeks in the region by divesting itself of its own nuclear weapons in multilateral regional negotiations. It turns out, the Israeli Government has actually already agreed to such talks.

At the completely overlooked Paris Summit of Mediterranean countries, held on 13 July 2008, under the co-presidency of the French Republic and the Arab Republic of Egypt - and in the presence of Israel - which was represented by its then Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, the issue of peace within the region were explored in depth, and the final declaration stated the participants were in favour of:

 "regional security by acting in favour of nuclear, chemical and biological non-proliferation through adherence to and compliance with a combination of international and regional nonproliferation regimes and arms control and disarmament agreements.."

 The final document goes on to say:

"The parties shall pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems. Furthermore the parties will consider practical steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as excessive accumulation of conventional arms; refrain from developing military capacity beyond their legitimate defence requirements, at the same time reaffirming their resolve to achieve the same degree of security and mutual confidence with the lowest possible levels of troops and weaponry and adherence to CCW (the convention on certain conventional weapons) promote conditions likely to develop good-neighbourly relations among themselves and support processes aimed at stability, security"  

The Israeli  Prime Minister signed the declaration. Following the recent breakthrough on Syrian chemical weapons disarmament, this should  now be built upon by President Obama with his encouraging  earlier diplomatic initiative launched in Jerusalem. All efforts should be made to bring Iran to this huge peacemaking opportunity.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Nuclear subsidies won't be permitted‏

The Daily Telegraph has declined to publish this comment.
In his article on the new infrastructure report prepared by Sir John Armitt, the former Olympics construction boss, Alistair Osborne quotes Sir John as saying “Even if fracking is a great success, it’s a long way out. You are still going to need nuclear.” (Olympics model ‘can end nuclear plant delay’ D. Tel. business, 6 Sept.).
Sir John did a great job in delivering the Olympics- which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed –but he neither an expert on energy policy or nuclear.
On this nuclear claim, his judgment is flawed. I think fracking’s potential is over-estimated, not least because its proponents ignore the radon risk in the gas piped into the nation’s kitchens, and the radioactively contaminated waste created by the drilling.
But nuclear can never be a gap-filler, because of its cost. One issue avoided by its supporters is the construction financial guarantees – up to £10 billion - offered to the  potential plant  builders such as the French state-owned Electricity de France (EDF) will be subject to scrutiny by the Competition Directorate  of the European Commission under State Aids rules.
Proposed fixing high future prices for nuclear-generated electricity through the so-called contracts-for-difference and ‘strike prices’ are similarly obvious taxpayer –funded or  bill-payer subsidies, and will fail the State Aids test.
 Sir John overlooks this in his enthusiasm for such taxpayer support for  private sector nuclear.
Word from Brussels is there is no chance of this being agreed, as it is so manifestly a selective subsidy for one technology over its competitors, such as renewables and gas. So either French Socialist President Hollande agrees to using French taxpayers money  to underwrite the £7bn  per reactor construction risk, or new reactors won’t be built.

G20 Summit agrees on cooperation on sustainability

G20 Summit agrees on cooperation on sustainability*

by Dr David Lowry
While the latest G20 leaders' summit in St Petersburg last week primarily concentrated on Syria and tax reform, some important, but little noticed, conclusions were released on sustainability issues.
The G20 agreed that its member states would "continue in cooperation with international organisations sharing national experiences and case studies regarding sustainable development, clean energy, and energy efficiency as well as development, deployment and broader application of related technologies."
Co-chair the ‘Civil 20' Environmental Sustainability and Energy Working Group, Vladimir Chuprov said on 4 September: "Our recommendations are based on the idea that the entire planet and human race are facing a challenge caused by global climate change. The overwhelming majority of scientists attribute it to the current economic and energy models, which we need to move away from."
The group's recommendations involve infrastructure projects including the green energy industry, the green economy, ending subsidies for fossil fuel, as well as ecological protection with the formation of a network of protected basins in the world's oceans. "We hope the G20 Leaders' Summit in St. Petersburg and subsequent summits will speed up our movement to the point where we won't be ashamed to hand over our planet to our grandchildren," Chuprov said.
The St Petersburg Summit, held over 5-6 September 2013, said in its conclusions: "We share a common interest in developing cleaner, more efficient and reliable energy supplies, as well as more transparent physical and financial commodity markets. We commit to enhance energy cooperation, to make energy market data more accurate and available and to take steps to support the development of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies to enhance the efficiency of markets and shift towards a more sustainable energy future. We underscore our commitment to work together to address climate change and environment protection, which is a global problem that requires a global solution."
Sustainable Energy Policy
The conclusions said that the G20 nations "welcome the Report on energy-related issues including on G20 work to facilitate better functioning of physical and financial commodity markets," adding they also "welcome efforts aimed at promoting sustainable development, energy efficiency, inclusive green growth and clean energy technologies and energy security for the long term prosperity and well-being of current and future generations in our countries."
The G20 noted the new World Bank report Toward a Sustainable Energy Future for All - which aims to promote access to reliable and affordable energy in developing countries - and recognised the importance of the sustainable and responsible production and use of modern bioenergy and the role played by the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP).
The conclusions also reaffirmed the G20 commitment to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
Infrastructure importance
Sizable investment, including from private sources, will be needed in the G20 and other economies in energy infrastructure in the years ahead to support global growth and development, the conclusions note, stressing "It is our common interest to assess existing obstacles and identify opportunities to facilitate more investment into more smart and low-carbon energy infrastructure, particularly in clean and sustainable electricity infrastructure."
Russian President Vladimir Putin told a news conference following the G20 Summit on 6 September that a number of important principles in the energy sphere. Were covered, pointing out: "First, it is necessary to ensure the transparency and predictability of the energy and raw materials markets. Second, it is essential to encourage the green growth and support the world community's efforts to prevent climate change. Third, it is important to support the exchange of best practices in energy regulation."
Prime minister David Cameron in his report to Parliament of the G20 summit, on 9 September told the Labour chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley, who asked on the G20 Summit why was there no mention of the three E -: environment, clean energy and energy efficiency - that: "Those issues are addressed in the summit communiqué, which points to some progress on important areas such as climate change. Also, the high-level panel that I chaired has at its heart the idea of sustainable development being the way that we increase the world's resources."
Outline of G20 energy agenda
The Mexican G20 Presidency highlighted the importance of inclusive green growth, sustainable development and energy efficiency as further critical elements of the policy equation. According to estimates of the International Energy Agency, "improvements in energy efficiency alone could result in reductions in greenhouse gases of as much as 60% by 2030, and "enhanced energy efficiency could also increase productivity and competitiveness of economies while minimizing their environmental impact at the same time."
To use time more efficiently and to promote an understanding of the cohesive character of the proceedings, Russia announced it "will seek to run all the energy-related discussions within a single working group on energy sustainability," hereafter referred to as the Energy Sustainability Working Group (ESWG). The ESWG will be structured into the four work-streams, three of which are outlined below. The fourth is on ensuring global protection of the marine environment.
1. Making energy and commodity markets more transparent and, potentially, more predictable
2. Promoting energy efficiency, sustainable development and inclusive green growth
Rational use of available energy resources is another clear policy imperative. The Los Cabos Summit made an explicit commitment to seek further ways and means to incorporate sustainable development and inclusive green growth into the structural policies and energy agenda of G20 countries.
The Russian Presidency aims to ensure continuity, addressing the commitment through a number of discussions in this and the following work-stream.
Russia suggests a comprehensive approach to inclusive green growth, including the topics of clean energy and energy efficiency, while placing more emphasis on potential policy options, with respect for each country's specific circumstances and their own rationale for clean energy and sustainability (be it driven by economic, climate change or energy security reasons). It is "our strong belief that clean, green and sustainable development policies can win public support for their environmental benefits, and also generate economic and social benefits and promote development and growth"
3. Sound regulation for energy infrastructure
In the coming years many trillions of dollars will be needed to upgrade and upscale our energy infrastructure. The Russian Presidency believes that it would be beneficial to share good regulatory practices and non-regulatory options, which can promote sustainable development and attract financing to the energy infrastructure.
Potential deliverables:
■   Expert perspective on energy regulation as a means to stimulate infrastructure investments and integrate green growth and sustainable development priorities into structural policies.
■   Resource of available policy options and management practices in the field of energy efficiency and climate-friendly energies being implemented or proposed in G20 countries.
■   Findings of a number of expert workshops and seminars on selected energy agenda issues as a means of analytical support to the discussions of the working group, linked where appropriate to the face-to-face working group meetings.
G20 Energy Sustainability documentation
In 2013 the G20 energy agenda is being discussed in the format of the Energy Sustainability Working Group (ESWG) that integrates a number of earlier G20's energy related activities, including the Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency working group's activities and Global Marine Environment Protection (GMEP) initiative. The group engages experts from all the G20 members, as well as representatives of a number of relevant international organizations, such as the International Energy Forum (IEF) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), as well as the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD.
Meanwhile, SB has obtained a draft of a European Commission Paper of the Commission Services containing draft Guidelines on environmental and energy aid for 2014-2020, which contains the following proposals:
"Under certain conditions in case of eco-innovation which can address a double market failure linked to the higher risks of innovation, coupled with the environmental aspect of the project. It is only in cases where aid is granted in a genuinely Operating aid for energy saving shall be granted only if the following conditions are met:
(a) The aid is limited to compensating for net extra production costs resulting from the investment, taking account of benefits resulting from energy saving. In determining the amount of operating aid, any investment aid granted to the undertaking in question in respect of the new plant must be deducted from production costs.
(b) The aid is subject to a limited duration of five years."

This article first appeared in Sustainable Building e-bulletin, 12 Sept. 2013

Monday, 16 September 2013

Make the Syria Plan Regional

Make the Syria Plan Regional

Moscow Times, 15 September 2013 | Issue 5213


On Sept. 9, international dialogue about Syrian chemical weapons took a dizzying turn. Seizing upon a remark by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Russian government proposed that these weapons be placed under international control. The Syrian government immediately accepted this proposal and has now begun the process of acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC.

In response, U.S. President Barack Obama suspended his call for airstrikes on Syria. The governments of Russia, the U.S. and other countries are trying to reach an agreement whereby Syria's chemical weapons can be identified, secured and eventually destroyed.

The framework for destroying chemical weapons in Syria could pave the way for better control of these weapons across the entire Middle East.

The problems to be addressed in a workable agreement are daunting. One contentious subject is the establishment of mechanisms to ensure compliance by the Syrian government. Related concerns include the coherence of command authority within that government and the extent of its control of chemical weapons. Other problems include the mechanics of identifying and securing chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war. Compounding the challenge is the potential for false-flag operations.

Nestling within this daunting challenge is one great opportunity: progress on the control of weapons of mass destruction across the Middle East and globally. Notably, establishing global control of Syria's chemical weapons could improve the climate for confirmation of Iran's non-nuclear status and for progress toward the goal of a Middle East free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The ingredients required to pursue these opportunities would enhance the workability of any Syria-focused chemical weapons agreement hammered out by Russia, the U.S. and other countries now involved. There would be two major ingredients. First, additional countries would be engaged with the problem. Iran is an especially important case, but other countries, including Israel and Egypt, could play important roles. Second, the objectives of diplomacy would be broadened to encompass global principles, exemplified in this instance by the CWC.

A first step could be to convene a special session of states party to the CWC. Any party could call for this step. The session's purpose would be to seek rapid accession to the CWC by holdout countries, with special attention to Syria. At present, Syria, South Sudan, North Korea, Egypt and Angola have not signed the CWC. Israel and Myanmar have signed but have not ratified it.

Accession to the CWC by Syria, Egypt and Israel would be symbolically and practically important. It would commit every Middle East country to the elimination of chemical weapons and, with appropriate concessions by Israel, could promote progress toward the goal of a nuclear-free region. Pursuit of these goals could provide a setting for productive engagement by Iran.

Iran is a firm ally of the Syrian government. Yet Iran's people have learned from bitter experience to abhor chemical weapons. Reflecting that sentiment, Iran made a statement to the April 2013 CWC review conference, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement countries and China, that expressed concern that chemical weapons may have been used in Syria in violation of international norms.

In a suitable diplomatic environment, Iran could be closely engaged in international control of Syria's chemical weapons. Iran and Russia, allies of the Syrian government, could each exert pressure that ensures its compliance. Iran could also provide intelligence that helps the international community to identify and secure Syria's chemical weapons.


Accession to the CWC by Syria and Egypt would require these countries to abandon their long-standing refusal to take this action until Israel dismantles its nuclear arsenal. Similarly, in assisting Syrian and Egyptian accession to the CWC, Iran would have to overcome its long-standing resentment of Israel's regional nuclear monopoly. Although a Middle East free of chemical weapons would be safer for all parties, this outcome would be a bitter pill for Syria, Egypt and Iran to swallow if Israel's nuclear status were unaltered.

Israel's elimination of its nuclear weapons is unlikely at present, but it could abandon its longstanding position of nuclear "opacity."  Another concession could be a moratorium on Israel's production of fissile material.

David Lowry is former director of the European Proliferation Information Centre in London. Gordon Thompson directs the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Nuclear risks are real

I sent this letter to the  Daily Mail a week ago. It seems certain they have chosen  not to publish it.


I was surprised you chose to highlight a minor accident at a wind turbine near Thurso on Scotland’s northern coast.(“Gone with the wind,” Mail, 5 September).
You point out wind turbines can fail. Of course they can. But when they do, the external impact is tiny. Unlike when a nuclear plant fails, as the horror tales coming from Japan this week of massive radioactive pollution of the land and water supplies around the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant  have horribly demonstrated, as highlighted by Paul Dainton in his letter (“Tell us the nuclear truth,” Letter, 4 September) .
Just along the Caithness coast from the damaged wind turbine is the Dounreay nuclear power research establishment, which has hosted nuclear activities for nearly 60 years. It has suffered many accidents, including a huge chemical explosion that blew dangerous quantities of radioactive waste into the atmosphere in 1977. Nearly 500 radioactive “hot” particles have also been discovered on the local beaches which have leaked from an uncontrolled disposal shaft over the past 30 odd years.
It is not only the general public who are at risk. The plant workers are too.  Just a few weeks ago, the local newspaper, the John O’Groat Journal, reported that the number of personal injuries at Dounreay increased significantly in the year following the takeover of the new management at the nuclear site.
That was the finding of a survey which was carried out by consultants One Point Three Ltd after concerns were raised about safety performance at the plant. The study found there was a “significant” rise in the number of “unusual occurrence reporting” (UNORs).
And this week news emerged that  Dounreay is shortly to embark on shipping so-called “exotic” radioactive waste 6000 miles to a disposal site in the Uniited States. Yet there  has been no formal public scrutiny of these dangerous  plans in Britain.
There are real dangers in providing secure energy for our country. But the media should concentrate on real risks from radioactivity from the nuclear programme, not trivial problems with wind turbines.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Make use of chemical conventions

Make use of chemical conventions
Japan Times, Sep 15, 2013
Regarding the Sept. 12 article “Obama gives Syria diplomatic option to avoid U.S. strike“: In a plan jointly developed just over a week ago with Dr. Gordon Thompson, who directs the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts (before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s door-opening comment in London on Sept. 9) we set out a bold strategy that would tie in the key Middle Eastern powers into a binding deal
In abridged form, we argue one, as yet untried, diplomatic option would be to work under the auspices of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to rapidly remove chemical weapons from Syria. Negotiation and implementation of this action would bring the Syrian government into close engagement with the world community, and would involve the presence of U.N. inspection teams.
The first step would be to urgently convene a special session of state parties to the CWC. Any party could call for this step. The Japanese government may be an especially appropriate candidate for this role, following the nation’s experience of the horrific use of sarin poison gas by the Aum sect on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
The session’s purpose would be to seek rapid accession to the CWC by states that are not yet parties, with special attention to Syria.
The major motive, however, would be pressure from the Syrian government’s allies. Russia is central; but another key actor would be Iran. While Iran is a firm ally of the Syrian government, Iran’s people have learned from bitter experience to abhor chemical weapons. Iran made a statement to the April 2013 CWC review conference, on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries and China, including the passage:
“The NAM CWC States Parties and China express their deep concern that chemical weapons may have been used in the Syrian Arab Republic. We underline that the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be reprehensible and completely contrary to the legal norms and standards of the international community.”
Translation of this sentiment into an adequate level of pressure on the Syrian government could involve a bargain directly affecting four countries — Iran, Syria, Egypt and Israel. Other key participants would include the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, U.K., Russia, France and China. The bargain would require each country to re-think entrenched positions and abandon some long-standing linkages among negotiating issues.
In return, Israel would make concessions about its nuclear arsenal.
Why might Israel participate in this bold venture? In fact, Israel’s government is already committed to negotiations of this type. At the generally overlooked 2008 Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, co-chaired by France and Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a joint declaration. One provision was a commitment to pursue a Middle East zone free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The bargain outlined here is a daunting target for negotiators. However, it offers a potential outcome that is substantially more attractive than the status quo.
david lowry
stoneleigh, england

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Nuclear F-word

I submitted this as a letter to the UK  Daily Telegraph, but they  have chosen not to  use it:
In his article on the new infrastructure report prepared by Sir John Armitt, the former Olympics construction boss, Alistair Osborne quotes Sir John as saying “Even if fracking is a great success, it’s a long way out. You are still going to need nuclear.” (Olympics model ‘can end nuclear plant delay’ D. Tel. business, 6 Sept.).

Sir John did a great job in delivering the Olympics- which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed –but he neither an expert on energy policy or nuclear.

On this nuclear claim, his judgment is flawed. I think fracking’s potential is over-estimated, not least because its proponents ignore the radon risk in the gas piped into the nation’s kitchens, and the radioactively contaminated waste created by the drilling.

But nuclear can never be a gap-filler, because of its cost. One issue avoided by its supporters is the construction financial guarantees – up to £10 billion - offered to the  potential plant  builders such as the French state-owned Electricity de France (EDF) will be subject to scrutiny by the Competition Directorate  of the European Commission under State Aids rules.

Proposed fixing high future prices for nuclear-generated electricity through the so-called contracts-for-difference and ‘strike prices’ are similarly obvious taxpayer –funded or  bill-payer subsidies, and will fail the State Aids test.

 Sir John overlooks this in his enthusiasm for such taxpayer support for  private sector nuclear.

Word from Brussels is there is no chance of this being agreed, as it is so manifestly a selective subsidy for one technology over its competitors, such as renewables and gas. So either French Socialist President Hollande agrees to using French taxpayers money  to underwrite the £7bn  per reactor construction risk, or new reactors won’t be built.

This week  sees the annual  symposium of the London- based World Nuclear Association in London. I wonder whether the F-word (Fukushima) and its massive costs will even be  mentioned?