Quantifying the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on global warming, such as methane helps us to understand where we can best focus our efforts to combat climate change. Here I will be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the way we measure greenhouse gas impacts for the second most significant gas, methane – whose inexorable rise is shown left.
There are well over 100 different GHGs, each having a varying warming effects – that is to say they absorb infrared light to different extents and in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The lifetime of these gases in the atmosphere differs a lot: some like methane, CH4, are broken down by chemical processes in a relatively short time, around 12 years, and others like sulfur hexafluoride, SF6, are very long-lived, taking in the order of 3,200 years to be eliminated.
For carbon dioxide, CO2, there are a number of different ways that it is removed from the atmosphere, some relatively fast like dissolution in sea water over 30-80 years, and some very slow, such as weathering reactions with rocks over hundreds or thousands of years, so precisely pinning down its lifetime is still to be done. As a result CO2 is generally assumed to have a lifetime of at least a hundred years.
A further complication is that some of the breakdown products of these gases may be GHGs in their own right, for example, methane eventually breaks down into long-lifetime carbon dioxide (through a series of intermediate chemical processes primarily involving radical chemistry in the stratosphere) and water, with a very short lifetime, meaning that even after it has decayed, methane has a residual warming effect with variable persistence.
To simplify the process of calculating the combined effects of lots of different emissions, we have created a measure called the Global Warming Potential, GWP, for each of the greenhouse gases.(more…)
In the week where the IPCC has issued its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) which contains its starkest warning yet about the risks from climate change and the urgency for action, I find myself thinking back to recent job application I was unsuccessful at.
I should point out that I am not really looking for a full-time role at this point. However, the job in question was for Director of the Manchester Climate Change Agency which has intrigued me ever since it was advertised at the back end of last year.
With the re-advertisement of the role, I thought a lot about how one might facilitate a process of decarbonization at a city-wide level and I did some background research on the Agency. In particular, I very much agreed with the Agency’s partnership approach, rather than a top-down or command-and-control style. So I threw my hat into the ring for the job. I should point out that I did have also some very considerable misgivings, which I intended to raise in the interview process, if I ever got that far.(more…)
Amongst all the possible responses to climate change few topics are as hotly debated and controversial as offsetting. So it was with interest that I read the recently released “Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting”.
This is a brief (12-page) document produced by a number of collaborators from a range of disciplines and schools in the University of Oxford. Its objective is to redefine best practice for offsetting as we aim for net-zero emissions and beyond.
The question in my mind is will I recommend to my clients that they adopt these principles?
While I do have some practical concerns about these principles, as described below, I would strongly recommend my fellow climate change and sustainability practitioners look at these and contribute to the debate about what offsetting is and should achieve.(more…)
In this long format article I will explore why a knee-jerk response to the climate emergency can lead to well intentioned but counterproductive consequences. I have heard it said that we are living in a time where political reality is approximating scientific reality – at last policymakers are beginning to grasp what science has been saying for many years. This article explores another critical dimension, which I will call engineering reality, where I believe that much of the hard work and tough choices around climate change will be focused. The broader themes in this article are absolutely central to our success or failure and are offered not as a criticism of one specific response, but as a broader lesson to all those who can influence our responses to climate change.
The climate emergency is real and requires a rapid and effective response. Our success in delivering fast decarbonisation of our economy depends on myriad decisions taken in every sector based on our knowledge of the technologies, skills and finance available. These decisions are intricate and complex, not helped by a large number of uncertainties about the future, inconsistent data and conflicting visions of how to achieve Net Zero emissions.The climate emergency is real and requires a rapid and effective response. Our success in delivering fast decarbonisation of our economy depends on myriad decisions taken in every sector based on our knowledge of the technologies, skills and finance available. These decisions are intricate and complex, not helped by a large number of uncertainties about the future, inconsistent data and conflicting visions of how to achieve Net Zero emissions.
Those of us who have been in the business of sustainability for a long time crave a John F. Kennedy moment: “we will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. We fancy the notion of a mobilisation of all resources available to limit climate change, to adopt a state of war where combating climate change become the overwhelming priority in everything we do. We can’t wait to see the many barriers we have faced in the past come tumbling down.(more…)
I started my book on energy and resource efficiency (available free as a pdf) with a traditional saying:
“How do you eat an elephant? Why, one bite at a time, of course”.
In the section on availability barriers to resource efficiency, I argued that we can drive a successful efficiency programme by getting a lot of people to regularly dedicate a little time rather than by getting a few people to commit a lot of time. Clearly, we need to start with where people are at and it is often unrealistic to ask someone to make a large change in their behaviour from the outset. Indeed, asking for too much or holding back for “perfection” are the root causes of many programme failures I have observed with my own eyes. So starting small is a reasonable strategy.
Is that true, though? Some argue that if all that we request in terms of change is a minor action, then this will result in – surprise, surprise – a small result! Folks like Donella Meadows, Bob Doppelt and many others have reasoned eloquently that no less than a fundamental change to our underlying systems will deliver the scale of change needed to address the magnitude of the problems we face. Similarly, Cambridge Professor David MacKay, in his fantastic book Sustainable Energy — without the hot air asserts: (more…)
As part of the update of my book, and in preparation for a two-day energy management training course I am delivering shortly, I revisited the 2050 pathways model for decarbonisation of the UK economy by 80% by 2050.
I took the plunge and completed my own 2050 scenario, achieving an 81% reduction, summarised in the actions illustrated above. My model is heavily focused on the demand-side, as you can see from the red colours in the upper section of the screenshot above. This brings home the fact that no matter how many wind-farms we put up, unless we change our heating and transport to electricity, the supply-side changes will have little effect.
One particular quandary I had was how much land to dedicate to biomass. When I reached 78% emissions reductions, one of the few remaining ways to reach the 80% target was to increase the land use for biomass from 5% to 10%, or start to import biomass, neither of which I wanted to do. In the end, I achieved the target by turning down the average temperature in homes beyond what I really think is feasible. These kinds of decisions bring home the complexity of the energy system and the fact that no single technology can achieve the goal.
SustainSuccess participated in the government consultation on on the future of streamlined energy and carbon reporting (SECR). The government’s response was published on 18th July. This is our summary:
The new reporting regime follows the abolition of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) at the end of the second phase (31st March 2019 – although Annual Reports will still need to be submitted and allowances paid, so the administrative requirements will continue for a few months).
The £700m income that the CRC provided to the government will be replaced through significant increases in the Climate Change Levy (CCL), which are set to rise from 0.583 p/kWh to 0.847 p/kWh for Electricity and 0.203 p/kWh to 0.399 p/kWh for Natural Gas supplies (45% and 67% respectively, note that CCL other fuels such as LPG will also increase, see this link).
It was a honour for Niall Enright at SustainSuccess to contribute to an important UNEP workshop in Paris in May.
The workshop involved participants from Gabon, Mali, Senegal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Honduras, Guatemala and The Dominican Republic. The delegates had come together for an introduction and tutorial about a tool to help their countries forecast future emissions of F-Gasses. Here we all are, in the courtyard of the UNEP offices in Paris.
The background is that these F-gasses have a very high global warming potential, and so an international agreement has been reached to phase them out. This agreement is an extension to the Montreal Protocol which is seen as a remarkably successful example of what can be achieved in global environmental collaboration. The deal on the F-Gases is also named after the city where it was agreed, is it the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
The complexity of disentangling the UK from European institutions has been put in sharp relief by the intricate manoeuvring taking place around the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Politicians have been at pains to talk up the simplicity of any transition and the ease with which existing EU environmental legislation will be translated to the UK statutes through a “Great Repeal Bill”. In practice the process is proving to be much more complex. (more…)
Survey after survey** of energy management professionals show that a lack of resources is the most commonly cited cause for rejecting investments in energy and resource efficiency projects.
At the same time, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2012 reported that for their “Efficient World Scenario” that “Additional investment of US$11.8 trillion in more efficient end-use technologies is needed, but is more than offset by a US$17.5 trillion reduction in fuel expenditures and US$5.9 trillion lower supply-side investment.”
Clearly, a key to success in achieving a more efficient world is down to our ability, as efficiency practitioners, to obtain funding.
The excuse given by decision-makers that “we don’t have the money” is rarely true. If we are honest with ourselves, this response is often due to our own inability as practitioners to create a sufficiently compelling business case – one that addresses the many non-financial barriers that exist. My 840-page book on energy and resource efficiency is largely dedicated to sharing my own experience of these barriers and how they may be overcome:
- By properly quantifying the value that efficiency generates (e.g. dealing with hidden and missing costs, and valuing co-benefits)
- By understanding structural barriers (such as split incentives, irreversibility and term issues)
- By addressing psychological barriers (sunk costs fallacies, loss aversion, certainty bias etc.)
But let’s, for a moment, assume that there really is an availability barrier – i.e. no money. What then? Well, my book also describes 12 methods, in addition to conventional outright purchase, which can fund efficiency projects. Click the link below for a poster setting out the financial flows, pros and cons of these methods.
For a practical, comprehensive exploration of these challenges, please do download the free PDF of the book available on my website, which also describes each funding technique shown in the poster in detail. The book is full of real-world case studies and useful techniques that can help efficiency practitioners in any organisation, small or large.
In time decision-makers will gain appreciation of the great skills and value that our profession brings to organisations and communities. Indeed it us – efficiency practitioners – who are the key to solving the major challenge of our age: “how to do more with less”. Please do share this link with others to spread the word and share the knowledge.
** see for example: Prindle, William, and Andre de Fontaine. A Survey of Corporate Energy Efficiency Strategies, ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry 5, 13 (2009) or Institute for Building Efficiency. 2013 Energy Efficiency Indicators (2013)