Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Laughing Gas Emissions Red Herring

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg MP is well known for his enthusiasm for the unabated burning of fossil fuels, for the reduction of environmental regulation and for his climate skepticism. So it is nice to see him belatedly expressing concern for an environmental health issue – None of us can afford to ignore dangers of diesel, Somerset Guardian (16/2/2017). However, rather than actually addressing the substantive issue (the health impacts of burning fossil fuels) he uses his article as a stick to beat the EU with and he constructs a red-herring fallacy to trivialise the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on climate change.

Mr Rees-Mogg quotes the shocking statistic that air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK “primarily caused by nitrous oxides that are produced by diesel engines”. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is of course laughing gas (dephlogisticated nitrous air to Mr Rees-Mogg), rather than nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is produced by diesel engines and gas boilers and which causes harmful air pollution.

The policy of promoting diesel over petrol engines was a well intentioned but bad policy based on bad information and lobbying by the car manufacturers. Mr Rees-Mogg blames an “EU green agenda” rather than the criminal actions of the car industry or the lack of regulatory enforcement by national governments, including the UK. The EU is threatening to fine the UK for being in breach of its NO2 limits since 2010, not the other way around.

The motivation behind the switch from petrol to diesel was to reduce CO2 emissions from petrol engines in order to mitigate global climate change – on the basis that companies such as VW were not knowingly cheating the system, which they were.

Mr Rees-Mogg says “The policy was determined because of fears about carbon dioxide emissions and an agreement made across the European Union to reduce them. Petrol creates more carbon dioxide than diesel engines but carbon dioxide does not lead to serious health complaints, indeed it is perfectly safe as a background atmospheric gas for people to breath”.

In these two sentences Mr Rees-Mogg has constructed a logical fallacy that says – because carbon dioxide is not toxic it is therefore harmless, so we shouldn’t be concerned about it and producing more is not an issue. This meme, which is often used by the fossil fuel lobby to misinform, detracts from the real issue which is that emissions from burning fossil fuels, including both diesel and petrol, is a very serious problem that both kills people through air pollution and which is dangerously disrupting the Earth’s climate.

Mr Rees-Mogg has clearly not read the report from the Royal College of Physicians on air pollution (the source of the 40,000 figure) which highlights the co-benefits of mitigating climate change and reducing air pollution.

Given that fossil fuel combustion is a major source of both greenhouse gases and local air pollutants, if action is taken to address climate change there could be major improvements in outdoor air quality as a result of decarbonisation of power and transport systems, and improved efficiency of energy use. Indeed, the economic benefits of improved health resulting from reduced exposure to fine particles and other local and regional air pollutants as a consequence of climate policies have been estimated to be sufficient, on their own (ie without reference to climate benefits), to justify a range of climate actions being adopted”.

Neither air pollution nor climate change are laughing matters and their solutions lie in both strong environmental regulation and leaving fossil fuels in the ground – two things Mr Rees-Mogg is not the slightest bit interested in.

Rees-Mogg’s red herring…

Yet more climate change denial from UKIP South West MEP Julia Reid

Julia Reid, MEP for the South West, has stood up in the European Parliament yet again to (yet again) repeat a standard set of climate myths that were debunked years ago, saying:

We in UKIP deny climate change alarmism supported by green lobbies, often financed by the Commission, …“&c, &c, &c.

When she says “green lobbies” what she means is mainstream climate science which is uncontentious.

We have already covered these tired and debunked myths from Dr Reid before:

South West MEP Julia Reid repeats climate myths (again)

We have also commented on the spooky correlation between climate change denial and Euro-scepticism:

Flat Earth Politics

It is quite extraordinary that one of Britain’s political parties has a stated policy of climate change denial when the world’s science academies, governments and the United Nations consider it to be the most serious issue of our times.

It is also extraordinary that our MP Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to share these unscientific myths that make up the UKIP energy & climate policy, see Climate change alarmism cause our high energy prices and Carbon Emissions and Climate Change

On cheap energy Mr Rees-Mogg has said “Hydraulic fracturing may be part of the solution but carbon emission targets will not be” but his figures on renewables are all muddled up and based on bad journalism rather than credible sources.

Far better to listen to our national Science Academy on the important subject of Climate Change:

and follow up with their evidence and causes resources.

NB Science has know about this for well over 100 years.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Muddled View on Carbon Emissions & Renewables

Concerned constituents have written to their MP Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg about Hinkley Point nuclear power station and the need to decarbonise our power sector in a cost effective and timely manner maximising the use of non-nuclear renewables.  Regarding renewables Mr Rees-Mogg responded:

I also understand that some people would like the Government to spend more money on renewable energy instead of nuclear power. It is important to remember that the United Kingdom produces approximately only 2% of the world’s carbon emissions. It is, therefore, more important that the UK Government ensures that the most vulnerable people in society are protected rather than producing renewable energy that, even though it may be greener, is nonetheless unreliable and would raise energy bills for everyone. Households are already estimated to be paying £60 per year which may rise to £226 by 2020 owing to subsidies for renewables. I have included an article explaining this potential rise for you reference“.

Giving this Telegraph article as evidence.

It sounds reasonable but what lies beneath this logic and evidence?

Emissions

It is true that the UK only produces about 2% of the world’s annual carbon emissions but it is our cumulative emissions that define our climate change impact.  As the UK was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution we have a head start on the rest of the world and we come 7th  in the world’s cumulative emissions ranking after the USA, China, Russia, Brazil, India and Germany.  On a per capita basis the UK has historically produced more CO2 emission than any other country in the world.  That is quite an achievement.  This places a heavy moral responsibility on the UK to take a lead in reducing our national and per-capita emissions considering that we have already hogged such a dis-proportionate slice of the world’s safe carbon budget.  See National contributions to observed global warming

Morals

Fulfilling this moral responsibility (to both the rest of the world and to future generations) to reduce emissions is not mutually exclusive with fulfilling our moral responsibility to help those in our society in fuel poverty.  Presenting it as an either/or choice is a false dichotomy.  Those in fuel poverty can be helped with energy efficiency measures or by putting the costs of developing renewable energy onto general taxation rather than on bills, so that those who can pay do pay.  This does not preclude also dealing with climate change. Similarly, dealing with climate change using renewables doesn’t mean living in caves – another of Mr Rees-Mogg’s false dichotomies.

Subsidies

What of Mr Rees-Mogg’s assertion that renewable subsidies on household bills “may rise to £226 by 2020”?  In a nutshell Mr Rees-Mogg has cherry-picked a confused and incorrect journalistic article (from a paper he writes for) rather than referring to the transparent analysis of the government’s statutory advisors.  He also ignores the vastly larger subsidies that are given to the fossil fuel industry

So, Mr Rees-Mogg i) misrepresents the UK’s contribution to global warming, ii) makes a false moral argument about fuel poverty based on i, and iii) uses a set of incorrect statistics to exaggerate renewable subsidies whilst ignoring fossil fuel subsidies and readily available credible estimates from authoritative sources.

Chapter & Verse

Mr Rees-Mogg quotes from an article by the Telegraph’s deputy political editor Stephen Swinford (19/3/2015) who says “Green levies on energy bills will treble by 2020 because of renewable targets, official figures suggest”, attributing the figures to the Office of Budget Responsibility, although Mr Swinford gives no source for the figures which seem impossible to verify, including by climate sceptic bloggers.  Mr Swinford adds “Separate figures published last year show that the policies account for 5 per cent of energy bills at present – equivalent to £68 a year – to 15 per cent of an annual energy bill by 2020, equivalent to £226”, quoting the Telegraph’s energy editor Emily Gosden (6/11/2014) in Green levies on energy bills to double by 2020, official estimates show.

However, Mr Swinton isn’t quoting Ms Gosden he is miss-quoting her and has taken the estimated 2030 subsidy and moved it to 2020 creating not a doubling but a trebling of the subsidy by 2020.  As presented in Ms Gosden’s article the correct figure for 2020 is £141, not £226.

Mr Swinton ploughs on regardless and quotes from a report by the Centre for Policy Studies (18th March 2015) saying “Scrapping the UK’s green energy targets in favour of gas-fired power plants would save consumers £214 a year by 2020, the report suggests – despite ministers’ insistence that the total impact of the policies will be only £141 per household by then”.  So having replaced the government’s 2020 estimate with the 2030 estimate, as reported by his energy editor colleague, he then mistakenly uses another report referring to 2020 to erroneously justify the mistake he has made whilst also mentioning the correct figure for 2020 of £141.

This is seriously shoddy journalism on the part of the Telegraph, but it gets worse.

What is this Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) report, what does it say and who wrote it?  The report’s main message is that “ditching the renewables target and returning the sector to the market would save households around £214 a year, assuming gas replaces renewable power” and that “This option would depend on securing a permanent opt-out from the EU renewable directive”.  The report concludes, “ditching renewables and encouraging shale fracking is better economics and more effective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions”.   These conclusions are based in part on work by Professor Gordon Hughes for the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) and emails to the CPS report author.  Professor Hughes has produced reports on wind power for both REF and Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).  Both REF and GWPF are climate sceptic and anti-renewable energy, although this may not be immediately obvious to the casual viewer of their web sites.  The GWPF has been a relentless promoter of hydraulic fracturing. The director of REF is GWPF’s energy editor and has recently joined the GWPF’s, so called, Academic Advisory Council.  Professor Hughes’ work on wind for these organisations has been robustly debunked by the late by Prof David MacKay of Cambridge University, by Imperial College and by the UK Energy Research Centre.  CarbonBrief also comment.

In her Telegraph article reporting on the CPS report Emily Gosden said the DECC points out (but Swinton ignores) that “The figures in this report don’t add up and ignore the urgent need to cut our carbon emissions.” DECC unusually published a rebuttal of the CPS report saying “The report today by the Centre for Policy Studies ignores the reality of the energy market. It wrongly suggests that we can ditch renewables for gas, with no explanation of where we would source that from. It also appears to suggest that we should row back on the tremendous gains we have made in the fight on climate change. Given the dire consequences of global warming this is not an option”.

The CPS report was written by Rupert Darwall who is a prominent climate sceptic and who has published with the most prominent climate sceptics some of whom have been outed as being paid by the fossil fuel industry.

What do the various renewable subsidies actually mean for household energy bills?  CarbonBrief provided a clear explanation of what these figures mean (7th November 2015).

cb_graphic

CarbonBrief.org graphic of the same data, showing how bills are predicted to be lower with renewable policies than without – including support for households in fuel poverty and network costs

As we move forward these estimates will change and Mr Rees-Mogg would probably do better to read the government’s statutory advisor’s report Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget  (October 2015) with analysis by Imperial College.  This shows that the likely cost to consumers of renewables in 2020 is £105, not £226 nor £214 or even the £129 in the above graphic.  And for that we get to meet our climate change commitments and deal with renewable intermittency issues and support households in fuel poverty.

Why does Mr Rees-Mogg choose to use unreliable information sources rather than the robust and transparent analysis of the Committee on Climate Change?

Sir Humphrey’s Role in Somerset Fracking Obfuscation

It has recently been reported in the local press that the Chew Valley, Bath and Mendip will remain free from fracking for Shale Gas. This is based on an announcement by Ben Howlett MP (Bath) following a meeting that he and James Heappey MP (Wells) had with the responsible Secretary of State the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom. Ms Leadsom wrote to Mr Howlett saying that “Bath and the surrounding areas are not located in the British Geological Survey’s ‘shale prospective area’.

NB – Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn’t seem to have been invited to Ms Leadsom’s tearoom surgery.

Ms Leadsom’s letter to Mr Howlett is reproduced on his web site and is reproduced below in blue italic.

Mr Howlett commented “As the Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said in her response to me I regret that this situation has been unclear both to me and my constituents and am relieved and reassured by her response“.

However, Ms Leadsom seems to have persuaded Sir Humphrey Appleby GCBKBEMVOMA (Oxon), (a “master of obfuscation”) to draft the letter for her as it is simultaneously both truthful and utterly disingenuous. Let’s see what Sir Humphrey had to say and whether what was unclear is now clear and whether we can also feel “relieved and reassured”.

Sir HumphThank you for attending my tearoom surgery recently. I hope you found our discussion about the shale reserves in Bath and the Mendip Hills helpful and thank you for raising this matter with me.

Not a good start. Why was the conversation about ‘shale reserves’ rather than the ‘coalbed methane resources’ that the gas companies have been searching for in this area for the past 20+ years?

These companies (include Pendle Petroleum in 1985, Union Texas Petroleum Inc in 1995, GeoMet Inc in 2000 and UK Methane in 2014) were all looking for CBM according to the licence applications and relinquishment reports filed in Sir Humph’s filing cabinet.  Considering that these companies all delivered their reports to Sir Humph’s Department saying they were looking for CBM it is odd he didn’t bother have a peek to find out and so save embarresment.

Also Shale Gas ‘reserves’ (what can be technical and economically extracted) certainly don’t exist because the economic value of any Shale Gas in the area have certainly not be calculated. The dextrous use of the word ‘reserve’ rather than ‘resource’ is a careful double blind to hide behind. So they were discussing something that hasn’t been calculated (reserves) for something that isn’t of primary interest in the area (Shale Gas).  Of course Sir Humph knows all about this because his Department has published a note on this very point in order to prevent, rather than create, confusion – Resources vs Reserves: What do estimates of shale gas mean?

And what about the tearoom cake reserves?

Sir HumphBath and the surrounding areas are not located in a ‘shale prospective area’ according to shale resource estimates by the British Geological Survey.

So what? The companies are not primarily looking for Shale Gas. Opps – there is the word ‘resource’ instead of ‘reserve’. This is because BGS has got a map of Shale Gas resources but it hasn’t got a map of Shale Gas reserves – because it hasn’t calculated any.

In addition, Bath (as a World Heritage sire) and the Mendip Hills (as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are afforded the highest level of protection within our planning system.

The highest level of protection is afforded to hydraulic fracturing for Shale Gas at the exclusion of CBM.  The definition of “associated hydraulic fracturing” and related protection in the Infrastructure Act 2015 is specific to shale and stuff “encased in shale”, which does not include coal – as confirmed in writing to us by Sir Hump’s very own Department.

Sir HumphIn addition, there are currently no active Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses (PEDLs) in the Bath area. In 2008 the Government issues PEDLs in Bath and North East Somerset, as part of the 13th round licences. In July 2014, three of the PEDL licences in this area were relinquished by the licence holders and another licence was extended for further year until July 2015 but has since been relinquished.

PEDL 227 covering the most prospective area for CBM was not available in the 14th Licensing Round because the previous licence hadn’t been relinquished in time. There is nothing stopping the Bath and Mendip area being licensed again in the 15th Licensing Round if anyone were interested – as it has been in the past. Sir Humph obviously hasn’t looked at the 2008 PEDL licence applications or the relinquishment reports otherwise he probably wouldn’t have even drawn attention to them considering what they contain – a plan to comprehensively extract the entire hydrocarbon resource in the area using a combination of fracking, mining and underground coal gasification.

Sir Humph:  “Even if there were shale gas reserves, the recent announcements on fracking would make obtaining permissions for drilling at the surface extremely unlikely.

Note the use of the word ‘reserves’ again – there aren’t any Shale Gas ‘reserves’ because they haven’t been calculated and nor have the ‘resources’ from which you would calculate the ‘reserves’.

What has been estimated by GeoMet Inc and others is the CBM ‘gas in place’ – i.e. the CBM ‘resource’ from which you might calculate a CBM reserve.

The recent announcement on fracking don’t apply to CBM anyway.

Sir Humph: “Thirteen blocks located to the west and east of Somerset are being considered as part of the 14th licensing round, subject to the Habitats Regulations Assessment consultation. A map of licences being considered in the 14th licensing round can be found here.

Ah, right. Thirteen blocks in west and east Somerset are being considered as part of the 14th Licensing Round even though they are also not in the BGS shale gas prospective area either. Err, so they must be being licensed for something else other than shale gas, something like CBM and Shale (Oil) – as stated in Sir Hump’s list of licences.  So, not being in the BGS shale gas prospective zone is a good thing in Bath, but not in any way relevant in Weston, Frome or the Forest of Dean – based on the same criteria of not being in the BGS shale gas prospective zone (Ed. Has Sir Humph got that right, it sounds like nonsense?).

Sir Humph’s Department has actually licensed 1,200 square kilometres in the Forest of Dean (CBM), Wiltshire (CBM) and the Somerset coast (Shale but not Shale Gas) that is not in the BGS Shale Gas prospective area. So the talk about not being in the BGS shale gas prospective area and the careful use of the words ‘reserve’ and ‘resource’ is just a meaningless ruse that only Sir Humph could articulate to make everything sound OK?

Sir Humph also forgot to mention that the Habitats Regulations Assessment consultation had three possible outcomes all of which resulted in the licenses being issued, no matter how sensitive the area or the consultation response.

Sir Humph: “PEDLs do not give permission for specific operations, such as drilling. Rather, they grant exclusivity to licensees, in relation to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction (including for shale gas but also for other forms), within a defined area. Any licensee looking to explore for hydrocarbons would have to apply for planning permission and various permits in advance of any drilling.

Sir Humph is fixated on only articulating “Shale Gas” at the exclusion of the “other forms” such as CBM and even Underground Coal Gasification. Why would Sir Humph not want to say CBM or “Underground Coal Gasification”?

Sir Humph: “I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this matter with you and with James Heappey MP recently, and hope that this brings assurance that there are no known shale reserves in your area and currently no plans to explore for any.

Phew, so now we know that there are no shale ‘reserves’ in the area (the ones that haven’t been calculated, so how could there be any?). But what about the CBM ‘resources’ – the ones that have been calculated and the ones that UK Methane recently said in their relinquishment report (filed in Sir Humph’s office) were “probably prospective” and which any company can apply for an exploration licence for the next time around.

Sir Humph: “I regret that this situation has in the past been unclear to some of your constituents, and I hope you can take the necessary steps to alleviate their concerns.

Glad that Sir Humph has cleared up that confusing mess by providing a carefully worded explanation of what isn’t significant in this area. Pity he didn’t mention anything that was of primary interest even if it isn’t covered by recent reassuring legislation.

Bernard: “But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know“.

Sir Humph: “No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity“.

James Hansen’s view on UK’s dash for fracked gas

Dr James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, has just said of UK’s dash for fracked gas – “Well, that’s screwing your children and grandchildren. Because if you do that, then there’s no way to avoid the consequences [of] multi-metre sea-level rise But we can’t do that and that’s what the science says crystal clear. And yet politicians pretend not to hear it, or not to understand it” [hear it all here].  This is rather relevant to Somerset seeing as the whole coast from Clevedon to Minehead is both being licensed for fracking and much of it is close to or below the current high tide level, which is considerably higher in the Severn Estuary than other coastal areas around the UK thanks to its geography.

Legally protected wildlife habitat in the Estuary is already being squeezed between rising sea level and the hard sea defences that snake around the coast, with new habitat having to be created through managed retreat at the cost of tens of millions of pounds – Steart Marsh. The Department for Energy and Climate Change is also having to ensure that sea defences at Hinkley Point are bolstered to prevent them being undermined by the rising tide.

A grotesque tautology is now in play whereby the sea level is already rising and protected wildlife habitat is being lost, having to be replaced at great cost, at the same time the area is being licensed for fracking that will result in more cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, leading to more sea level rise and more habitat loss and expense – all within plain sight of a nuclear power station and the site of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. You really couldn’t make it up. Nor could you make up the job description of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change who (thanks to the Infrastructure Act) is now simultaneously responsible for both reducing carbon emissions and maximising the use of domestic fossil fuels without carbon capture and storage, i.e. maximising them.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for the Chew Valley and climate sceptic, has said that it is a choice between “cheap energy” and “living in the stone-age” – a false dichotomy that ignores environmental costs and fossil fuel subsidies. He says that we should only adapt to climate change (I thought he denied it? Ed.) rather than mitigate further change by reducing emissions, suggesting that we take a leaf out the the Dutch book by building the sea defences higher and higher – as the Dutch “have done for hundreds of years”.  He selectively forgets that historically the Dutch drained their land using windmills, an option not available in England as Mr Rees-Mogg has played his part in ending onshore wind – the least costly renewable energy. Another conundrum for the Secretary of State – how to deliver carbon reduction targets at least cost whilst at the same time closing down the least cost renewable option? – onshore wind.

So, as a politician does Mr Rees-Mogg pretend not to hear what science is saying about the climate (“the quasi religious Green movement” with its “environmentalist obsession”), or does he simply just not understand it? Perhaps he is listening too much to Christopher Booker’s climate myths  rather than spending any time engaging with science and people like James Hanson, who not only understands the science but who also advocates a market solution – another thing (surprisingly) Rees-Mogg doesn’t bother with unless massive fossil fuel subsidies are included. Ask a NASA scientist – or any of the 97% of climate scientists who have published and expressed a position on global warming.

How scientists know climate change is happening

As the Paris Climate Conference started up thousands turned out for the Bristol Climate March at the weekend including Frack Free Chew Valley whose banner arrived from the Chew Valley by peddle power. According to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shale gas can’t meet our long term energy carbon intensity target even with Carbon Capture and Storage – which George Osborne effectively cancelled last week.

To explore how scientists know that climate change is happened we here republish an informed article by Professor Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London.

In the interest of balance alternative views are available including this article in the Telegraph in which Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for the Chew Valley, argues that we should end the “environmentalist obsession” with the “quasi religious green movement” and (on the bases that fossil fuels have no external costs to society) burn more fossil fuels seeing as “Coal is plentiful and provides the least expensive electricity per megawatt, while fracking may provide a boon of shale gas“.

His evidence for dismissing science based climate concerns includes the fact that “The Romans expected the world to end in 634 BC owing to a prophecy involving twelve eagles” – but didn’t.


Explainer: how scientists know climate change is happening

Mark Maslin, UCL

The Paris climate conference will set nations against each other, and kick off huge arguments over economic policies, green regulations and even personal lifestyle choices. But one thing isn’t up for debate: the evidence for climate change is unequivocal.

We still control the future, however, as the magnitude of shifting weather patterns and the frequency of extreme climate events depends on how much more greenhouse gas we emit. We aren’t facing the end of the world as envisaged by many environmentalists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but if we do nothing to mitigate climate change then billions of people will suffer.

Causes of climate change

Greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit some of the heat radiation given off by the Earth’s surface and warm the lower atmosphere. The most important greenhouse gas is water vapour, followed by carbon dioxide and methane, and without their warming presence in the atmosphere the Earth’s average surface temperature would be approximately -20°C. While many of these gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, humans are responsible for increasing their concentration through burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other land use changes. Records of air bubbles in ancient Antarctic ice show us that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are now at their highest concentrations for more than 800,000 years.

The black vertical line on right isn’t the end of the graph – it’s 200 years of rapid CO2 increases.
Scripps Institution, CC BY-SA

Evidence for climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents six main lines of evidence for climate change.

  1. We have tracked the unprecedented recent increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
  2. We know from laboratory and atmospheric measurements that such greenhouse gases do indeed absorb heat when they are present in the atmosphere.
  3. We have tracked significant increase in global temperatures of at least 0.85°C and a sea level rise of 20cm over the past century.
  4. We have analysed the effects of natural events such as sunspots and volcanic eruptions on the climate, and though these are essential to understand the pattern of temperature changes over the past 150 years, they cannot explain the overall warming trend.
  5. We have observed significant changes in the Earth’s climate system including reduced snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere, retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, retreating glaciers on all continents, and shrinking of the area covered by permafrost and the increasing depth of its active layer. All of which are consistent with a warming global climate.
  6. We continually track global weather and have seen significant shifts in weather patterns and an increase in extreme events all around the world. Patterns of precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) have changed, with parts of North and South America, Europe and northern and central Asia becoming wetter, while the Sahel region of central Africa, southern Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia have become drier. Intense rainfall has become more frequent, along with major flooding. We’re also seeing more heat waves. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) between 1880 and the beginning of 2014, the 19 warmest years on record have all occurred within the past 20 years; and 2015 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded.

What the future holds

The continued burning of fossil fuels will inevitably lead to further climate warming. The complexity of the climate system is such that the extent of this warming is difficult to predict, particularly as the largest unknown is how much greenhouse gas we keep emitting.

The IPCC has developed a range of emissions scenarios or Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to examine the possible range of future climate change. Using scenarios ranging from business-as-usual to strong longer-term managed decline in emissions, the climate model projections suggest the global mean surface temperature could rise by between 2.8°C and 5.4°C by the end of the 21st century. Even if all the current country pledges submitted to the Paris conference are achieved we would still only just be at the bottom end of this range.

Global average surface temperature change.
IPCC, Author provided

The sea level is projected to rise by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100, threatening coastal cities, low-lying deltas and small island nations. Snow cover and sea ice are projected to continue to reduce, and some models suggest that the Arctic could be ice-free in late summer by the latter part of the 21st century. Heat waves, droughts, extreme rain and flash flood risks are projected to increase, threatening ecosystems and human settlements, health and security. One major worry is that increased heat and humidity could make physical work outside impossible.

Global mean sea level rise
IPCC, Author provided

Changes in precipitation are also expected to vary from place to place. In the high-latitude regions (central and northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America) the year-round average precipitation is projected to increase, while in most sub-tropical land regions it is projected to decrease by as much as 20%, increasing the risk of drought.

In many other parts of the world, species and ecosystems may experience climatic conditions at the limits of their optimal or tolerable ranges or beyond. Human land use conversion for food, fuel, fibre and fodder, combined with targeted hunting and harvesting, has resulted in species extinctions some 100 to 1000 times higher than background rates. Climate change will only speed things up.

We don’t have much time left

This is the challenge our world leaders face. To keep global temperature rise below the agreed 2°C, global carbon emission must peak in the next decade and from 2070 onward must be negative: we must start sucking out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite 30 years of climate change negotiations there has been no deviation in greenhouse gas emissions from the business-as-usual pathway, so many feel keeping global warming to less than 2°C will prove impossible. Previous failures, most notably at Copenhagen in 2009, set back meaningful global cuts in emissions by at least a decade. Paris, however, offers a glimmer of hope.


This is an updated version of an article first published in November 2014.The Conversation

Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mark Maslin is a Professor at University College London, a Royal Society Industrial Fellow, Executive Director of Rezatec Ltd, Director of The London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and a member of Cheltenham Science Festival Advisory Committee. He has received funding in the past from the Natural Environment Research Council, the Royal Society, DIFD, FCO, Innovate UK, Carbon Trust, UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, Leverhulme Trust, WWF, RICS, British Council, and CAFOD.

Do legal safeguards relating to fracking for Shale Gas apply to Coalbed Methane in Somerset?

Safeguard: A measure taken to protect someone or something or to prevent something undesirable

The Infrastructure Act 2015 contains a list of twelve onshore hydraulic fracturing safeguards.

The list of safeguards is quite long (see below) and includes a condition that “prohibits associated hydraulic fracturing from taking place in land at a depth of less than 1000 metres”, a condition prohibiting “associated hydraulic fracturing” from taking place in groundwater protection source areas and other protected areas such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty  and a condition ensuring that methane in ground water will be monitored for 12 months prior to commencing “associated hydraulic fracturing”.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has confirmed to FFCV that the definition of “associated hydraulic fracturing” in the Petroleum Act 1998 and the Infrastructure Act 2015 DOES NOT APPLY to Coalbed Methane (CBM).  It follows therefore than none of the legal safeguards in the Act apply to CBM either.

The government’s definition of associated hydraulic fracturing “means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale” and does not include coal where coalbed methane is found.  On this issue DECC have said “To confirm, this definition does not apply to CBM“.  CBM is the primary unconventional gas of interest in the Bristol-Somerset coalfield.

MP for North East Somerset, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, voted for the Infrastructure Act and has said in letters to concerned constituents:

J R-M: “The Government has proposed to allow developers to access the ground up to 5000 feet below private land without the risk of breaching trespassing laws

This is an obtuse way of saying that fracking will not occur in the top 5000 feet depth from the surface (although this is not actually correct as the Act says 1000m which is 3280 feet).  According to DECC this does not apply to CBM in Somerset. The Government’s Planning Portal states that CBM extraction “is likely to be achievable between 200 and 1500 metres”. There would appear to be no legal safeguard prohibiting fracturing of coal for CBM at depths as shallow as 200m either outside or inside the Mendip Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

J R-M: “The Government made a number of alterations to the Bill such as declaring an outright ban on fracking in National Parks and, of particular relevance to North East Somerset, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

According to DECC this does not apply to CBM in Somerset. This is because the protection is contingent on the definition of associated hydraulic fracturing not the definition of protected areas such as AONBs.

J R-M: “The length of time during which companies must monitor the environment at a fracking site before work commences has also increased from a voluntary three-month period to a mandatory twelve month period

According to DECC the condition to monitor methane in groundwater for 12 months before fracturing does not apply to CBM in Somerset. This is because the protection is contingent on the definition of associated hydraulic fracturing which doesn’t apply to CBM.

J R-M: “There is a provision for compensation payments to affected communities”

According to DECC this won’t apply to CBM as the Act only applies to shale gas. Any payment would therefore be voluntary under the industry’s code.

J R-M: “I voted for the Bill as I am confident that the risks are tolerable

In relation to coalbed methane in Somerset Mr Rees-Mogg does not appear to know what law and safeguards apply or do not apply, so how can he assess the risks of coalbed methane production in his constituency?

According to the Somerset Guardian Mr Rees-Mogg has urged local residents to ignore ‘scare stories and scaremongering‘ around fracking and has ‘dismissed the concerns voiced by opponents‘. He has also said that “lack of information about the locations, size and scale of exploration works was in part to blame for the anxiety” whereas the location, size and scale of exploration work is well known because the American Coalbed Methane industry has described it in some detail – see the GeoMet report – and is the cause of much anxiety!

Resources

Feeling anxious?

Fracking safeguards that don’t apply to Coalbed Methane in the Bristol-Somerset coalfield?

The Infrastructure Act 2015 and changes to the Petroleum Act 1998 have a number of onshore hydraulic fracturing “safeguards” which only apply to Shale Gas, including:

(a) a condition which prohibits associated hydraulic fracturing from taking place in land at a depth of less than 1000 metres;

In addition to this are a set of conditions, including:

  1. The environmental impact of the development which includes the relevant well has been taken into account by the local planning authority
  2. Appropriate arrangements have been made for the independent inspection of the integrity of the relevant well
  3. The level of methane in groundwater has, or will have, been monitored in the period of 12 months before the associated hydraulic fracturing begins
  4. Appropriate arrangements have been made for the monitoring of emissions of methane into the air
  5. The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within protected groundwater source areas
  6. The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within other protected areas
  7. In considering an application for the relevant planning permission, the local planning authority has (where material) taken into account the cumulative effects of— (a) that application, and (b) other applications relating to exploitation of onshore petroleum obtainable by hydraulic fracturing
  8. The substances used, or expected to be used, in associated hydraulic fracturing— (a) are approved, or (b) are subject to approval, by the relevant environmental regulator
  9. In considering an application for the relevant planning permission, the local planning authority has considered whether to impose a restoration condition in relation to that development
  10. The relevant undertaker has been consulted before grant of the relevant planning permission
  11. The public was given notice of the application for the relevant planning permission

Plus two further conditions:

(a) that appropriate arrangements have been made for the publication of the results of the monitoring referred to in condition 4 in the table [above];

(b) that a scheme is in place to provide financial or other benefit for the local area.

What is “associated hydraulic fracturing”?

The Acts define “associated hydraulic fracturing as:

Associated hydraulic fracturing” means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which —

(a) is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and

(b) involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

(i) more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or

(ii) more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.

NB DECC have confirmed that this definition DOES NOT APPLY to Coalbed Methane.