Boris, Bubbles and Other Green News
So quite a lot has been going on in recent weeks and in case you’ve missed any of the big green stories, I thought I’d recap the most interesting and significant ones. In this update I’ll cover London Mayor Boris Johnson’s revival of an age old plan to build a hub airport in the Thames Estuary, a potential bubble forming in the stock markets relating to carbon emissions, Sir David Attenborough on population growth and a few other things.
Boris Goes Bananas For New Airport
In an attempt to bring the UK’s airport capacity up to what many believe it needs to be to aid our economy, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has championed a scheme which could see an artificial island being built in the Thames Estuary to house a massive 4 runways where planes could fly in over the North Sea rather than over populated areas.
The daily mail published some graphics to show us what this hub airport might look like but green groups hit out at the plans straight away claiming they would be a disaster for the environment. And, in a significant split between coalition parties, Nick Clegg is apparently opposed to the plan which could make it more difficult for any decision to be passed in Parliament.
GreenSteve says: From what I understand, this airport is primarily a hub airport with many passengers using it only to get connecting flights to other destinations. If this is the case then the only benefit I see to the UK economy is jobs that it will create but this is still only a drop in the ocean of what is needed and the environmental costs to the wildlife in the area could outweigh the creation of jobs. We should be looking at ways to reduce air travel as much as possible both here and worldwide, not encouraging and enabling it to expand ever faster.
Tougher Emission Targets Without Breaking The Bank
A report has indicated that raising the emission cut targets in the EU from 20% to 30% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels would actually save money in the medium and long term.
The change in targets, supported by energy secretary Chris Huhne, would cost around 0.5% of GDP across Europe but this is far less than previously thought and does not include benefits that might arise from rising prices for oil and gas. Nor does it take into account the potential benefits that would come from a booming green economy.
There is still much resistance to such a move in the UK from business groups and some Tory party members but the Government’s official stance is one of support.
GreenSteve says: This is great news as it makes the likelihood of stricter targets much higher and those of us who are long-sighted enough can see the advantages down the road of moving to a less carbon dependent economy.
Carbon Bubble Poses Significant Risk To UK Markets
The current exposure of UK markets to carbon heavy companies and investments is putting the economy at risk of a carbon bubble as government policy changes and potentially devalues the assets on many of these companies’ balance sheets.
In a letter to the governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King, a group of business leaders and green campaigners warned that unless the “systematic” risk of over-valuation of carbon intensive industries was addressed, the UK faced a new potential downturn.
The letter, signed by 20 of the leading green voices in the UK, urged Mr King to act in his new role as chair of the Financial Policy Committee to look at how the balance in the UK economy might result in an over-reliance on high carbon companies whose assets could be worth far less than currently estimated as we make the transition to a low carbon economy over the next 20 years.
Investors might be neglecting to look at how environmentally sustainable a company is in the face of changes to policy and consumer attitudes.
As David Nussbaum, WWF-UK’s chief executive put it:
“It’s clear that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels currently listed as assets on the world’s financial markets without seriously impacting the value of other listed assets – which would affect the future pensions on which we’ll all depend. Taking the high carbon risks seriously should also assist us in the transition towards low carbon investments like renewables.”
GreenSteve says: This is a threat that I have never even considered before but looking at what the letter says, it makes a lot of sense. With things like the emission targets mentioned above, it might not be possible for oil and gas companies to continue making such obscene profits and if this is the case then their share prices will fall. Given the size of these industries and the exposure of many UK pension funds and private investors, any sustained downward movement in prices will spell more misery for many.
Attenborough Speaks Volumes
At an event in London recently, Sir David Attenborough called on businesses to protect the environment from an ever increasing population. With more than 7 billion people estimated to be alive today and with that figure likely to pass 9 billion by 2050, he believes that it is largely in the hands of businesses to protect some of our most precious and vital tracts of land.
In his speech he commented that:
“Without the natural world, mankind is doomed. We are dependent on the natural world for the very air we breathe and every particle of food we eat. Many people, including me, would say we are dependent on it for our very sanity.
“We can accommodate that by looking after the natural world and making sure mankind doesn’t spread willy nilly over every square yard of the globe.”
He also said that the UK has effectively used up all it’s land and must now concentrate on making better use of what we have including redeveloping brown field sites.
GreenSteve says: I’m a huge admirer of Sir David Attenborough and his warning is stark but fair. We cannot let mankind spread across every scrap of available land and to do so would be an incredibly serious mistake for us and the natural world. We must do more to preserve what we still have left and while population growth is going to push us to our very limits, we should not feel that all the land of the world is available to us; after all we are not the only species living on this planet.
In Other News…
“We don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy” Barack Obama said last night in his State of the Union address as he laid down his plans for growth in green energy and other clean innovations.
Despite much criticism, the President is sticking to his guns by incentivising even more investment into cleaner energy upgrades for businesses and declaring that America can compete with China and the rest of the world when it comes to production of renewables.
China now produces more than 11% of its energy from renewable sources according to the country’s premier Wen Jiabao.
He also argued that China is now the fastest growing renewable energy market while also highlighting the efficiency savings made in some of the country’s industries – a 13% drop in the energy use per tonne of steel produced being one of them.
China is still primarily powered by coal and while Mr Jiabao refused to commit too much on any reduction in the use of coal, he did reiterate a plan to decrease energy intensity by 17% by 2015.
And finally, E.ON has revealed its plans to expand the use of combined heat and power plants (CHP) while exposing one of London’s hidden power plants in the Barbican area. Indeed this plant actually generates heat for the Barbican buildings along with several others in the vicinity.
CHP is considered to be a cleaner way of generating heat and energy and E.ON are looking to invest further into what they call “district heating” as they see great potential in it.
What’s your take on Boris Island? How is the UK going to cope with an increasing population without using more land? I’d love to hear your comments so use the box below to leave one.
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