All posts by Vaughan Webber

Institute of Civil Engineers Webinar : ‘Tipping the Tipping Points’

by Julian Jones

Climate change amplification by a range of criteria (temperatures, precipitation, decline in snow pack, etc) is becoming extreme. IPCC projections are proving (for the moment) inadequate; what factors might be missing and how can these resolve climate extremes ?

Within the water sector the ‘hard’ engineering approach is already being complemented by ‘soft’ engineering or Nature Based Solutions (NBS) to enable resilience to Climate Extremes.

But how much further can NBS be taken to resolve climate crisis challenges, while also restoring the water industry’s integrity and reducing costs?

In this one hour webinar, Julian Jones of Water21 reviews some of the strengths and failures of NBS within the historical context of their UK introduction. He will talk about the novel challenges posed by the complex topography and hydrology of the Stroud Valleys in the Cotswolds in relation to NBS.

Julian’s half century of close observance of land use change and postgraduate student analysis introduces startling insights into amplification of climate change.

One hour webinar : https://www.ice.org.uk/events/past-events-and-recordings/recorded-lectures/water21-tipping-points

.pdf for further links : https://bit.ly/3yqdpbu

Complementary .pdf, ‘Enabling Climate Justice’, for Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network : https://bit.ly/3C4lwwL

Controlling fossil fuels: Who will join the dots?

by Hugh Richards

20 October 2023

I have been a supporter of the Carbon Balance Initiative since its inception. It promotes the concepts of “durable net zero” and “geological net zero”, the latter being a key component of the former. Durable net zero means not over-relying on “nature-based solutions” (or natural CO2 uptake by oceans and the biosphere) in the long term, but insisting that whatever extraction of fossil carbon remains by mid-century must be balanced by equivalent geological storage of CO2 – i.e. geological net zero.

Storage of CO2 for geological timescales could be achieved in various ways, but it seems the only technique that is ready to be scaled up in this coming critical decade is carbon capture and storage (CCS) applied to industrial point sources such as power stations, chemical plants or cement works. However, CCS is a “non-improving technology” in terms of cost. So said former US Vice-President Al Gore in his coruscating TED Countdown talk in August, in which he lambasted fossil fuel companies for claiming the prospect of scaling up CCS as somehow giving licence for further unconstrained extraction.

That narrative can be challenged by insisting on a re-framing of the rationale for CCS. Among the many negative adjectives applied to CCS is “uneconomic”. That is a profit-driven perspective coming from the users of fossil fuels, because almost all legislation and policy on climate is framed in terms of reducing (net) emissions, rather than reducing extraction of fossil carbon. Here Al Gore can help, with his description of burning fossil fuels as treating the atmosphere as an “open sewer”. Others have made the comparison with water services companies in countries like the UK; it is as if they were able to sell water to consumers but be under no obligation to treat the resulting sewage (except perhaps the effluents from their own buildings). The point about the concept of Carbon Takeback Obligation advocated by Carbon Balance is that it is an obligation – a government-imposed condition on a licence to extract (or import) fossil fuels, not a voluntary cost to be borne, whether by the emitter or the extractor (or by government).

But even if Carbon Takeback Obligations were imposed by governments globally, there is no guarantee that the cumulative net carbon emissions before geological net zero is reached would stay within a carbon budget compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is mainly because the scale of CCS that could physically be deployed in the coming decade or so would be too small to do much towards the drastic reductions in carbon emissions needed in that time; something else is needed to commensurately reduce fossil carbon extraction.

Many in the climate policy arena seem to be pinning their hopes on destruction of demand for fossil fuels, pointing to the faster than expected exponential growth in renewable energy. But there is no guarantee that this growth will in fact displace fossil fuel use, and it seems implausible that such displacement could amount to anything like 50% by 2030, the most commonly stated near-term goal.

In an interview for the “Outrage+Optimism” podcast in September, Al Gore suggested that unless the UNFCCC COP process can be reformed to take away the de facto veto that petro-states (especially Saudi Arabia) have on any negotiated text, “the world needs to have a serious conversation about whether to build a new process”. He describes the climate crisis as “80% a fossil fuel crisis”, which begs the question whether the new process he thinks may be needed should focus on fossil carbon and do so by addressing supply (extraction) rather than demand (emissions).

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FF-NPT) initiative , which seeks a global treaty to phase out all extraction of fossil fuels, continues to gain support. However, like the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, it seems in danger of remaining a symbolic initiative, akin to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, rather than a (moderately) effective one akin to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (with its well-resourced monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency). Proponents of a FF-NPT have so far been resistant to the idea of incorporating a goal of geological net zero, and something like CTBO to get there, even though that might make such a treaty more acceptable to countries with fossil fuel reserves.

Despite incoming COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al Jaber’s July Letter to Parties saying that “Phasing down demand for, and supply of, all fossil fuels is inevitable and essential” and “We must take a holistic approach that brings together both the supply and the demand side in an integrated manner”, there do not seem to be signs of a breakthrough in that direction. But surely COP28 will bring the question of supply-side control of fossil fuels into focus as never before, and perhaps Al Gore and others will join the dots and help create the political space for a treaty for controlling fossil fuel extraction and delivering geological net zero to emerge.

(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

‘Momentum vs Perfection’ in the climate movement

by Hugh Richards

28 March 2023

If you haven’t already discovered the Outrage and Optimism podcast series hosted by Christiana Figueres and her colleagues who enabled the Paris Agreement, why not give it a try?
Even if the series as a whole doesn’t seem to be for you, I can’t recommend highly enough their recent two-part ‘mini-series’ that explores the tensions and complementarity between the virtues of ‘momentum’ (practical progress) and ‘perfection’ (pushing for the ideal) within the global climate movement. Co-hosts Tom Rivett-Carnac and Fiona McRaith interview a very diverse range of climate leaders ranging from Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook to the CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Peter Bakker.
For me, perhaps the most compelling illustration of the complementarity of these two necessary virtues is given by the successive interviews in Part 2 with two people whose journeys (over more than a decade) have gone in seemingly opposite directions. Justin Forsyth started out in radical activism, moved into high level political work and then chose to focus on what he calls the ‘moveable middle’ of broad public opinion by co-founding the ‘Count Us In’ initiative. By contrast, Farhana Yamin was for many years a high-flying environmental lawyer and policy specialist, for a time operating within the UN climate process, who had a sort of breakdown over the ineffectiveness of that process, then chose to participate in Extinction Rebellion non-violent direct actions.
My take-away messages were to feel and express gratitude for everyone who is engaged with the climate issue, including those whose approaches differ greatly from mine, to have the humility to accept that it’s impossible to predict which approaches (including my own) will prove to be the most effective, and nevertheless try to follow Helen Pankhurst’s advice to ‘find your purpose and have fun’. May laughing with each other prevail over shouting at each other in the years ahead.


(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

The world needs an international fossil carbon control agency (and other thoughts)

by Hugh Richards

14 October 2022

I recently had the privilege of participating in the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FF-NPT) initiative’s first international symposium, held in person at the University of Westminster on 29-30 September. The perspective I was invited to bring is summarised in the abstract I submitted to the symposium, which is appended to this blog-post (as Addendum 1). It develops some suggestions I made in a letter to The Guardian shortly after the FF-NPT concept was first proposed in October 2018. I hope to make symposium participants aware of this blog-post, and it may be of interest to other readers.

At the symposium I provided a handout with a set of points outlining the functions that a treaty-sponsored international fossil carbon (control) agency (IFCA) might have. As these points were not included in the pre-symposium documentation, and the symposium was held under conditions of full transparency, I am setting them out here, along with some additional explanatory notes on the context in which some functions of an IFCA could apply (see Addendum 2 below).

The need for some form of IFCA (analogous to the International Atomic Energy Agency) was recognised in the paper in Climate Policy by Peter Newell and Andrew Simms that led to the FF-NPT initiative, but it was not a topic much discussed at the symposium.

I have also appended below a table (Addendum 3) that compares some published ideas for a supply-side fossil carbon control treaty. I prepared this at the suggestion of Patrick Portolano for an event in Paris that he helped to organise on 28 September, and I also included it in my handout for the FF-NPT symposium.

[Update 31 October. A full recording of the Paris event is now available online.  Although the event was mostly in French, the session I contributed to (on “Responsabilizing Fossil Fuel Producers”, focusing on “Geological Net Zero”) was in English and chaired by Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University.  It starts 1 hour 21 minutes (1:21) into the recording, and features presentations by Myles Allen (from 1:22), Patrick Portolano (from 1:28), Margriet Kuijper (from 1:36) and Hugh Richards (from 1:46), followed by a discussion and Q&A (from 1:56) and a concluding “concrete proposal” (2:15).  On behalf of the hosting organisation (ACP Energies) Patrick Portolano has since prepared a document “Six Recommendations for COP27” (in French and English versions) arising from the event’s “concrete proposals”.]

During the FF-NPT symposium, it was evident that many participants were very sceptical about the potential for what can variously be referred to as geological carbon sequestration, carbon capture and storage and geological carbon disposal (see my previous blog-post, which formed the basis of my contributory note to the symposium).  Some participants made reference to a recently published report on carbon capture by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which has a broadly negative view of the effectiveness of and potential for such technologies.  However, I have since found a brief rebuttal of the report’s conclusions by Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh.  As a scientist, I tend to favour the perspective of an expert scientist over that of an “investment analyst, fund manager and professional investor” (as the IEEFA report’s lead author Bruce Robertson is described), but others may have different biases.

I appreciate that the subject matter of this blog-post may seem a bit niche and/or far-fetched to many readers. However, the concept of a fossil fuel control treaty (until recently itself a niche idea) seems to be gathering some momentum, particularly with the recent endorsement of the World Health Organisation.  Four years ago, when the treaty idea first emerged, I could not have imagined being involved in something like the recent symposium, or co-authoring (with Patrick Portolano) a paper on “Geological Net Zero” that has now had over 400 reads on ResearchGate. 

None of these opportunities that have come my way would have arisen without the GlosCAN website being there as a platform for my writing. I encourage anyone who wants to promote a sane but so far little-known idea about how to tackle the climate emergency to write a blog-post about it. You never know who may pick it up.


Addendum 1: My abstract for the FF-NPT symposium, London, 29-30 September 2022:

Abstract title: “Peaceful use” of fossil fuels: a “grand bargain” for the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty?  

  • Goals and Principles:

The nuclear NPT sought peaceful use of nuclear technology. “Peaceful use” of fossil fuels (FF) should mean a rapid transition to geological net zero (GNZ): for every amount of fossil carbon extracted, the extracting or importing entity funds an equivalent amount of geological-timescale carbon storage/sequestration (GCS; including but not limited to “CCS”).

  • Institutional procedures and modalities:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) administers international nuclear safeguards, including oversight of nuclear materials accounting. An international fossil carbon (control) agency (IFCA) should be charged with fossil carbon safeguards, including global carbon budget oversight.

  • Supporting just transitions:

The nuclear NPT enabled equal access to peaceful nuclear technology, regardless of states’ existing nuclear development status.  The FF treaty should provide a formula for fair allocation of the remaining global fossil carbon budget among all states, e.g. by allocation as tradable units in proportion to populations, regardless of existing FF production, reserves or resources.

  • Compliance, implementation and incentives for cooperation:

The IFCA’s safeguards role should include oversight and verification of states’ FF extraction licensing regimes and (especially) robust verification of GCS. States’ imposition of FF producer and importer responsibilities (e.g. carbon takeback obligation; CTBO) could be an attractive tool for achieving GNZ for both non-FF and FF states, giving the latter greater control of their transitions than merely responding to declining FF demand or pursuing bad faith free-riding.

[Note: The sub-headings reflect the guidelines to abstract authors on symposium themes.]


Addendum 2: Some ideas for potential functions of an international fossil carbon agency (IFCA)

  1. To hold the authoritative publicly accessible register of fossil fuel reserves and resources
  2. To maintain and keep under review the authoritative global fossil carbon extraction budget
  3. To maintain the authoritative global fossil carbon accounting system, including both debits (extractions) and credits (geological carbon sequestration: GCS)
  4. To oversee, audit and inspect countries’ systems for the issuing and surrender of permits/licences for extraction of fossil carbon, denominated in carbon extraction units (CEUs)
  5. To issue certificates for implemented GCS, denominated in carbon sequestration/storage units (CSUs)
  6. To administer global trade in CEUs and CSUs
  7. To set standards for GCS, including scrutiny and accreditation of valid innovative GCS techniques
  8. To audit and inspect GCS schemes, including installation of tamper-proof monitoring equipment
  9. To be able to freeze CEUs and CSUs held by entities failing to comply with treaty commitments
  10. To report any persistent non-compliances with treaty commitments to the UN
  11. To oversee implementation of any more stringent treaty-mandated sanctions

[Note: the need for some such functions would depend on treaty design – e.g. whether carbon takeback obligation is adopted.]

Explanatory notes on the first six of the above points:

  1. Work on a global register of fossil fuel emissions and reserves has already begun and is being taken forward by Carbon Tracker, with data support from Global Energy Monitor.
  2. The global fossil carbon net extraction budget is a contested quantity, but some forms of treaty (e.g. as advocated in a paper by Sir Bernard Jenkin MP) would need it to be defined. [I have sympathy with voices at the symposium that argued that it should really be referred to as a carbon debt rather than a carbon budget.]
  3. A global fossil carbon accounting system could be modelled on the nuclear materials accounting systems overseen by the IAEA.
  4. This proposed approach to licensing of future extraction of fossil fuels was proposed by a group of Norwegian economists in 2019 and taken up in Bernard Jenkin’s paper, which proposed the term “carbon extraction units” (CEUs, which would most likely be expressed in tonnes of CO2 generated by full combustion of the extracted fossil carbon).
  5. The idea of tradable certificates for geological carbon sequestration (in CSUs) has been proposed by various authors including a 2020 paper in Climate Policy by Paul Zakkour and colleagues.
  6. The idea of equivalence of tradable CEUs and CSUs was suggested in Bernard Jenkin’s paper.

I hope the remaining points (7 to 11) do not need further elaboration.


Addendum 3: Comparison of some published ideas for a supply-side FF control treaty


References mentioned in this blog-post without links being provided are cited (with links) in the paper I co-authored with Patrick Portolano earlier this year: “Geological Net Zero” (Geological Carbon Neutrality) – How could we get there? (researchgate.net)  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358248129


(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

‘Your Clothes’ – film with music

by Penny Squire

29 August 2022

I spent many happy years with my husband and daughters living on a smallholding. Life was very busy and energetic as we aimed to be self-sufficient. We didn’t grow cereals, but we achieved a lot and most meals were home produced. I sold boxes of vegetables to the local community.

A lot of my time was spent wearing wellies and gardening clothes. These were not elegant and lasted for years. My trousers had patches on the knees and then I patched these patches, giving very colourful results! They had character I thought!

To the other extreme, the trend recently has been for fast fashion where clothes are discarded after a short time.

My latest not-for profit film with music is called ‘Your Clothes’. It shows the awful pollution caused by the dyeing of material for making clothes. The film continues by showing that with imagination clothes can be given a longer useful life.

The music is again beautifully played by Distanza String Quartet, who were formed when playing remotely for The Philharmonic Orchestra during Covid.

Composer Penny Squire

Your clothes Live on 7th September 2022 https://pennysquire.com/

(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

Clean Up or Close Down – The Choice Fossil Fuel Companies Should Be Facing

by Hugh Richards
4 June 2022

In its 2022 report on mitigation of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) is going to be needed at vastly increased scale in coming decades if global warming is to be limited to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. So why are so few climate activists campaigning for governments and companies to increase their efforts on CCS? This question was recently put to me in an email from a CCS specialist, and here I will attempt to respond.

Some traits climate activists (including myself) can be prone to may help answer the question; I can name binarism, tribalism, short-termism, risk aversion, pessimism, idealism, scepticism, cynicism and ignorance. Let’s start with ignorance, including ignorance of what CCS actually is or could be.

Perhaps one of the problems for CCS is that it is not a visually iconic technology (like wind energy) that is easily understood in terms of what it does. Worse, it has a fuzzy definition, and has been applied to a wide range of “carbon sequestration” methods, from increasing forest cover to increasing oil production by pumping CO2 into the ground. Also, the “S” can stand for “storage” (even though there is no intention to retrieve the “stored” CO2) or “sequestration” (a far from self-explanatory word). For now, let’s call it “geological carbon disposal”, meaning taking unwanted carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere (or is already there) and putting it into a geologically stable form that we can be sure won’t end up back in the atmosphere for thousands of years at least. In the immediate future, geological carbon disposal will mostly be done by capturing CO2 from electricity generation and industrial processes that use fossil carbon, including chemicals, steel and cement manufacturing. The captured CO2 will then be compressed and injected into deep geological formations, such as depleted reservoirs that have previously held crude oil and/or natural gas for millions of years. In the longer term, the IPCC envisages that geological carbon disposal will have to be combined with biomass energy generation or direct air capture to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Already, warning lights may be going off in some readers’ minds; geological carbon disposal will be applied to large-scale industries that use fossil fuels, so it doesn’t sound very attractive. Here is one of the -isms in operation, namely binarism, in this case a widespread narrative that the only way to save the climate involves replacing fossil sources of energy with renewables (and, for some, nuclear). It’s a binary narrative: fossil energy bad, renewable energy good, with no middle ground. Binarism feeds tribalism. Like most people, I prefer to do things with people I feel comfortable with, or at least don’t want to fall out with, and trying to find middle ground between my tribe’s position and the enemy’s may lead to my loyalty to the cause being questioned.

Another problem for geological carbon disposal is that even its advocates admit that it can’t be scaled up rapidly enough in the short term to have a meaningful effect on global net CO2 emissions in the rest of this decade, when a reduction by about half is needed to hold global warming below 1.5°C without “overshoot”. Consideration of that drastic cut leads to some difficult questions:

  • Is 1.5°C a safe level of global warming? Some would say no, it is too high. The logic of that stance is either that the world has already passed the point of no return from runaway climate change, or that CO2 removal from the atmosphere at almost unimaginable scale will be needed – which would involve geological carbon disposal as well as “nature-based solutions”.
  • Is there really any possibility of the world achieving a drastic reduction in emissions in the next few years? If not, then again, massive CO2 removal from the atmosphere will be needed to deal with the overshoot and bring the warming back down below 1.5°C later this century (assuming that such reversal is possible).
  • Is there a level of global warming above 1.5°C that must not be passed if runaway climate change is to be avoided? Is that what the Paris Agreement’s phrase “well below 2°C” means? Is 2°C itself a safe level for avoiding runaway climate change?

In response to these questions, there is a spectrum of scientific opinion on the overall quantity of future net emissions of CO2 that can still happen without triggering runaway climate change (i.e. the global carbon budget). These estimates range from effectively zero (assuming key tipping points have been or will be passed below 1.5°C) to about 1350 gigatonnes from the start of 2020 (based on 50% probability of staying at 2°C). That is a huge difference, but even 1350 gigatonnes would be exhausted by around 2050 at current emissions rates. Risk-adverse and/or pessimistic climate activists tend to emphasise the “effectively zero” position, while many commentators tend to emphasise the 500 gigatonnes figure associated with 50% probability of 1.5°C. Whatever is the case (and we can never have much certainty), the world needs to ensure that CO2 emissions start falling rapidly within the next few years and that geological carbon disposal becomes available, both to accelerate the fall in net emissions from unavoidable fossil carbon use and (quite likely) to start removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The notion of unavoidable fossil carbon use can sit uncomfortably with idealistic climate activists, perhaps because it can sound like cover for business as usual. But if we are to take the UN Sustainable Development Goals seriously and acknowledge the global trend towards urbanisation, there will still be industrial processes for which alternative low-carbon energy and material sources (including limestone for cement) will not be available at a relevant scale any time soon. Geological carbon disposal is the only credible way of decarbonising such industries. These and other hard-to-replace demands for fossil carbon need to be borne in mind when considering the required future scale of geological carbon disposal. The notion that extraction and use of fossil carbon can be ended completely within the next three decades or so is not feasible.

Another problem for geological carbon disposal is that many climate activists have a deeply sceptical or even cynical view of it. They may believe that geological carbon disposal is unproven at scale, or that it has been found in trials to be too inefficient and/or expensive, or to be prone to leakage, or that it is something the fossil fuel industry likes to talk about without any intention of doing it at scale. There is some truth in some of that, but the fact that it does not yet exist at scale is down to governments failing to create regulatory requirements and incentives, not lack of confidence in the technology. The charge that it is prone to leakage is often overstated. These are facts of which I myself was not confident until relatively recently.

I am one of a small but growing number of people who think that attempts by individual governments to reduce demand for fossil carbon will not be enough, and that there is a need for some form of treaty to control the extraction of fossil carbon globally, and that it should create a body that oversees, verifies and accounts for geological carbon disposal as well as extraction. In this I am accused by some of naïve idealism, but I am not as idealistic as the larger number who advocate a fossil fuel control treaty that has no role for geological carbon disposal and that seeks to achieve “just transition” objectives in addition to the primary goal of minimising future extraction.

In the absence of such a treaty, individual governments could and should take control of their shares of the fossil carbon problem by issuing extraction companies that they license with a choice of “clean up or close down”*. For many, this suggestion prompts the question, “How can fossil fuel companies clean up their products?”. The answer could be for governments to impose on them a “carbon takeback obligation”. This would require the companies to fund geological carbon disposal at a scale that increases year on year until the annual amount of fossil carbon extracted is balanced by an equal amount of geological carbon disposal – thereby achieving what some are calling “geological net zero”. Governments would also impose carbon takeback obligations on companies importing fossil fuels, who would either have to fund the geological carbon disposal directly or source their imports from countries that are imposing equivalent obligations. Some governments might make the latter option a matter of policy. A virtuous circle should then develop in which carbon takeback obligations become the global norm for extraction of and trade in fossil fuels, and non-adopters would find themselves penalised by economic as well as political pressures.

Carbon takeback obligation is not a magic bullet; it will not of itself cause fossil carbon extraction to decrease as soon and as fast as necessary. Hence the need for an extraction control treaty, which could also accelerate roll-out of carbon takeback obligations by governments.

Both carbon takeback obligations and a treaty to control fossil carbon extraction are surely objectives that anyone who is concerned about climate change should support (in addition, of course, to the other means of limiting net greenhouse gas emissions that the IPCC envisages).

* I have noticed this phrase being used by some advocates of carbon takeback obligation.

Further reading:

IPPC 2022 Mitigation of Climate Change report (Summary for Policymakers): https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg3/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_SummaryForPolicymakers.pdf

US Clean Air Task Force article: M. Bright & T. Lockwood, What does the latest IPCC report say about carbon capture? 20 April 2022. https://www.catf.us/2022/04/what-does-latest-ipcc-report-say-about-carbon-capture/.

A generic case for a supply-side fossil fuel treaty: G.B. Asheim & others, The case for a supply-side climate treaty, Science Magazine, 26 July 2019 p 325-327. https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.aax5011.

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative: https://fossilfueltreaty.org/.

Ideas on a fossil fuel control treaty involving a role for geological carbon sequestration:
Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, A fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty: learning from other forms of international cooperation in the battle against climate change. In Conservative Environment Network “North Sea Transition” essay collection (August 2021). https://www.cen.uk.com/north-sea-transition.

Proposals for nationally-imposed carbon take-back obligations on producers and importers of fossil fuels: www.carbontakeback.org.

IPPC estimates of carbon budgets: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policymakers. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf

Article on climate tipping points and the possibility that there may be almost no carbon budget left. T.M. Lenton & others, Climate tipping points – Too risky to bet against. Nature, 27 November 2019 (corrected 9 April 2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0.

Article on why fears of leakage from geological carbon disposal sites are overstated: S. Flude & J. Alcade, Carbon capture and storage has stalled needlessly – three reasons why fears of CO₂ leakage are overblown. The Conversation, 4 March 2020. https://theconversation.com/carbon-capture-and-storage-has-stalled-needlessly-three-reasons-why-fears-of-co-leakage-are-overblown-130747

Geological study that showed leakage from a natural CO2 reservoir has been slower than needed for effective geological carbon disposal: J.M. Miocic & others, 420,000 year assessment of fault leakage rates shows geological carbon storage is secure. Nature Scientific Reports Volume 9, Article number: 769, January 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36974-0

Two geoscientists’ plea for bringing the concepts of a treaty and carbon take-back obligations together: Hugh Richards & Patrick Portolano, “Geological net zero” (Geological Carbon Neutrality) – How could we get there? 25 March 2022. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358248129_Geological_Net_Zero_Geological_Carbon_Neutrality- How_could_we_get_there

(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

Some developments since the April blog-post on “A ‘polluter pays’ treaty to control global fossil carbon extraction – a big idea for COP26 to get talking about now”

by Hugh Richards, Chair of GlosCAN

From the September GlosCAN Newsletter

On 6th August, the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) published an essay collection entitled “North Sea Transition”, in which 11 authors (including a Ministerial Foreword by Anne-Marie Trevelyan and two essays by Gloucestershire MPs) give their perspectives on the future of the UK’s fossil fuel industries (excluding coal), broadly framed as a transition from today’s oil and gas extraction industries to various low carbon energy sources including offshore wind and “blue hydrogen”.

Most of the essay authors explore aspects of the transition that reflect their own interests in terms of policy and/or their particular constituencies. Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie’s contribution is entitled “Skilling up: why levelling up and the North Sea Transition needs a net zero workforce”, reflecting her interest in further education and training. Gloucester MP Richard Graham has written about “Global Britain and the North Sea: embracing new trading opportunities”, reflecting his position as Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the ASEAN Economic Community, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, while also referring to his role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Marine Energy. Others have written about financing the transition, preserving the Union (of Scotland with the rest of the UK), “levelling up”, the future of industries in Aberdeenshire and Teesside, and opposition to onshore fracking in newly Conservative-voting areas of Northern England.

The only contribution to go outside the essay collection’s focus on the UK and its offshore industries, and to consider global climate policy, is by Sir Bernard Jenkin, entitled “A fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty: learning from other forms of international cooperation in the battle against climate change”. In this he is following up on a brief statement of support for the idea of “a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty” (FF-NPT) in the March COP26 debate in parliament, noted in a GlosCAN blog-post in April. His essay does not explicitly support the specific FF-NPT campaign proposals that GlosCAN has recently endorsed (see June 2021 Newsletter), but it does support that campaign’s proposal for a global registry of fossil fuels.

From the October GlosCAN Newsletter

GlosCAN has been involved in the preparation of a proposal for COP26 “Geological Net Zero”: A proposal for a simple and globally effective international agreement on fossil carbon, as reported last month. Read the latest update and the full proposal.

Other updates (as of 1 November)

13 September: The FF-NPT campaign delivered a letter to the United Nations General Assembly demanding a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to manage a global phase out of coal, oil and gas, endorsed by over two thousand academics across disciplines and from 81 countries. The full letter and list of signatories is available at https://fossilfueltreaty.org/open-letter.

26 October: Proponents of a “Carbon Takeback Obligation” (CTBO – one of the initiatives mentioned in the GlosCAN blog-post in April mentioned above) have published a peer-reviewed paper suggesting “that effective regulatory supply-side measures such as the CTBO merit serious consideration given that they might be politically more acceptable than the demand-reduction measures favoured by most current climate policies”. There will be a COP26 presentation “Carbon Takeback: applying the principles of ‘producer responsibility’ to the fossil fuel industry on Tuesday 9th November 2021, 14:00-15:30 (Blue Zone, COP26) and online.

(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

Inspirations – a new film with music

by Penny Squire

On 22nd September 2021 I have a new film released called Inspirations. It’s a not-for-profit project comprising 1/4 hour of music with film with some ideas for leisure activities and skills to learn that have a low carbon footprint. The music is an original composition performed by Distanza Quartet (formed when recording remotely for the BBC Philharmonic during lockdown).

Since the easing of Covid restrictions flights to holiday destinations abroad have been widely advertised and encouraged, and people have flocked to enjoy their break in the sun. Airlines have wanted subsidies to cover their previous loss of trade. Car sales have rocketed and roads have filled with cars. Government have big plans for road improvements.Television reports carry on business as usual.

All of this is unbelievable.

We’re running out of time to protect life on this beautiful planet from runaway global over-heating. What an awful thing to have to say. It’s hard to think that a highly intelligent species can let this happen. Greed and consumerism have led us down this track.

We have to do all we can to turn this around while we still can. My way is to write music and use it to accompany film, the latest being called Inspirations. This film is to encourage people to think about how they spend their leisure time and what the environmental impact is. I hope you will watch and enjoy it. I also hope that how you help combat the climate crisis gives you as much satisfaction as making these films gives me.

This Beautiful Planet – film with music

by Penny Squire

I am a 78 year old grandmother from Stroud. I compose music. I use it to accompany film in not-for-profit projects about the climate and environmental crisis.

This Beautiful Planet is a ¼-hr film with music showing some of the rich diversity of animal life that shares this planet with us. It is positive and feel-good, but with a reminder that how we live our lives affects all life on this planet. The last movement shows clips from all the previous films.
The music is performed by Distanza Quartet (formed when playing remotely for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra during lockdown).

I’m very pleased to have been featured in an article by 350.org, a wonderful volunteer organisation that raises awareness about the climate crisis, the need for immediate action, and the ways individuals can work together. The article tells the story of how I used my musical compositions to raise awareness and encourage positive change.

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(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)

A ‘polluter pays’ treaty to control global fossil carbon extraction – a big idea for COP26 to get talking about now

[1 November – please see recent developments in an update to this post.]

by Hugh Richards

In a little reported development, MPs from at least four parties have now expressed support for some form of ‘non-proliferation treaty’ for ‘supply-side’ control of the global extraction of fossil fuels, to complement the ‘demand-side’ approach of the Paris Agreement.

In December 2018 Sir Ed Davey (Lib Dem, now party leader) spoke in favour of the idea at the parliamentary launch of the Rapid Transition Alliance (briefly, 3 mins 40 seconds in). On 10 March 2021, during the COP26 debate in parliament, those to speak in favour of it were Sir Bernard Jenkin (Conservative), Caroline Lucas (Green) and Matthew Pennycook (Labour).

The generic concept of a ‘supply-side’ treaty on fossil carbon extraction was explored by a group of Norwegian academics in an article in Science Magazine in 2019 1 , while at the same time a UK-originated set of proposals for a “fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty” (FF-NPT) was published in the journal Climate Policy 2. The FF-NPT proposals have now become the focus of an international campaign to gather support from civil society , with a focus on cities and other local authorities, and was recently highlighted in an article in The Guardian. Already signed up are City of Barcelona, City of Vancouver, Canada, Amber Valley Borough Council, UK and Lewes Town Council, UK, while Cities of New York and Los Angeles “are currently considering motions to endorse”.

Meanwhile, another supply-side approach known as ‘Carbon Takeback Obligation’ (CTBO) has been launched, developing the ‘SAFE-carbon’ concept developed by the leading Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen and colleagues back in 2009. This proposes a country-by-country approach to imposing ‘extended producer responsibility’ on domestic producers and importers of fossil fuels. A case study for the Netherlands has been developed with funding from the Dutch government and various companies including the Norwegian energy company Equinor (formerly Statoil).

The advocates of CTBO propose it as “the ideal ‘big idea’ for the UK to lead with at COP26”. It could potentially be a mechanism within a globally effective supply-side treaty, which might include elements of the FF-NPT proposals.

On Wednesday 21 April (13:45), CTBO will be the subject of a Radio 4 programme in the series “39 Ways to Save the Planet”, entitled “Polluter Pays”, subsequently available as a podcast on BBC Sounds.

The supply-side approach to getting the global extraction of fossil carbon under control has been called “the road less taken” in a recent paper co-authored by Myles Allen 3. Starting to talk about it within climate campaigning circles and in dialogue with political representatives would make it less likely that it will be “the road never explored”, and hence “the road not taken”.

There is a very short window of opportunity to get such ideas debated and into the discourse before COP26. With cross-party support to point to in the UK, now is the time to start engaging with political representatives, for example by advocating that local authorities should follow the lead of Amber Valley and Lewes in endorsing the FF-NPT proposals.

In my opinion, the FF-NPT proposals are not without problems, as I have written in the post-script to a previous blog. However, if there is widespread support among GlosCAN Supporters, it would only help raise the profile of the supply-side approach if GlosCAN were to join Mary Robinson, 350.org and a multitude of activist organisations in adding its endorsement. So, if you want to see that happen, please let Vaughan the Secretary know at info@gloscan.org.

If this seems all a bit dry and policy wonk-ish, try watching Myles Allen’s TED Talk on the homepage of Carbon Takeback. You don’t have to agree with everything he says to get the point that we need to be talking about how to control how much fossil carbon comes out of the ground, rather than just hoping that falling demand will do the trick for us.

There is clearly a diversity of attitudes to fossil fuel corporations among proponents of supply-side approaches, with the authors of the Guardian article promoting the FF-NPT proposals attacking the industry, while Myles Allen’s recent co-authors of the paper mentioned above include Shell’s David Hone. Where I think they do agree is that massive afforestation projects offered as a path to “net zero” by fossil carbon extraction industries are no substitute for secure geo-sequestration of CO2 (i.e. injecting it into deep geological formations where it will remain forever, as far as the future of humanity is concerned). As a geologist, I think the “like-for-like” principle should apply to fossil carbon: the end-game for fossil carbon industries needs to be global net zero transfer of fossil carbon from the geosphere to the atmosphere, without involving the biosphere.

If globally-effective geo-sequestration turns out to be unfeasible for reasons of practicality or cost, an effective supply-side treaty would mean that less fossil carbon can be extracted than the relevant corporations and countries currently hope. Meanwhile, afforestation should be pursued in ways that promote biodiversity and not be focused purely on near-term carbon uptake.

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Notes:

(Links to the articles are also in the text above.)

1. G. B. Asheim, T. Fæhn, K. Nyborg, M. Greaker, C. Hagem, B. Harstad, M. O. Hoel, D. Lund, K. E. Rosendahl, The case for a supply-side climate treaty, Science 26 Jul 2019 : 325-327

2. Peter Newell & Andrew Simms (2020) Towards a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, Climate Policy, 20:8, 1043-1054, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2019.1636759

3. Paul D. Zakkour, Wolfgang Heidug, Andrew Howard, R. Stuart Haszeldine, Myles R. Allen & David Hone (2021) Progressive supply-side policy under the Paris Agreement to enhance geological carbon storage, Climate Policy, 21:1, 63-77, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2020.1803039

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(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)