The pursuit of shale gas is another example of the Coalition's betrayal of the environment

Total emissions have fallen in the UK, but not for the right reason

Share
Related Topics

The decision by George Osborne to offer substantial tax breaks to fracking companies has not only infuriated environmentalists. It has caused despair amongst business leaders in the renewable and energy conservation sectors. Whilst fossil fuel companies seem to be the recipients of unending largesse, the government has been decidedly lukewarm towards the green economy and investment has fallen sharply over the past 2 years.

In defense of shale gas, the government claims that it is more fuel-efficient than burning coal, and can therefore be used as a transitional fuel on the way to a low carbon economy. However this argument is highly suspect, firstly because shale gas will last for at least 30 years once the infrastructure is in place, and second because shale gas (methane) is a potent greenhouse gas, twenty times more powerful than CO2 over a 100 year time frame.

Whilst  burning gas releases less CO2 per unit of energy than coal, this benefit is negated by releases of methane during the fracking process. Calculations published by Professor Tom Wigley in the journal  Climatic Change in 2011 show that unless fugitive emissions  of methane are kept below 2 per cent, then shale gas is no better than coal from a global warming perspective. In the US fugitive emissions have been running at around 7 per cent, and the fossil fuel industry has been strenuously resisting methane control legislation proposed by the EPA. This explains why shale gas in the US is cheap, but also means that America’s new energy mix is making climate change worse not better.

Debates about the importance of climate change usually generate more heat than light but there are 4 key facts that put the problem in perspective: First there is no reputable scientific journal that disputes the reality of climate change, nor of man’s contribution to it. Second there is no national scientific academy that diverges from this scientific consensus. Third virtually every government accepts that temperature rises need to be limited to 2 degrees centigrade in order to avoid irreversible climate change. Fourth levels of CO2 in the atmosphere must not exceed 450 parts per million (ppm) in order to stay below the 2 degree barrier.

Currently levels are 400 ppm and are rising by 2-3 ppm per annum: so we cannot afford 30 years of shale gas as a transitional fuel.

Another way of looking at this paradigm is that we can only safely generate another 565 Gigatonnes(Gt) of CO2 and stay within the 2 degree threshold. The Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated that the proven reserves of coal gas and oil globally  amount to 2795 Gt, so unless we come up with an effective method of carbon capture, then 80 per cent of proven reserves need to stay below ground. This means writing off 27 trillion dollars in fossil fuel assets, and this simple calculation encapsulates the entire climate change problem.

Ten countries own 72 per cent of proven fossil fuel reserves worldwide, and these are also the countries that have proven most obstructive whenever the UN tries to impose national limits on emissions of CO2. Thus the US signed the Kyoto Protocol but George Bush refused to ratify it. In 2012 Canada withdrew from the Protocol in order to avoid an 8 billion dollar fine. Russia finally ratified in 2005 but has continued to argue against stricter limits, and Australia did not ratify until 2007. Other major players such as China and India are classified as developing countries and are not therefore bound by the Protocol at all ; nor do they wish to be. In effect CO2 emissions worldwide are largely uncontrolled by any international treaty, and as a result annual emissions of CO2 have increased by over 50 per cent compared with 1990, the baseline year for Kyoto.

In the UK emissions have reportedly fallen by 15 per cent, but this is not due to any effort by the Government on behalf of renewables or energy conservation; merely that the UK has exported most of its manufacturing base abroad to places like China. When this is taken into account, CO2 emissions in the UK have actually increased by 20 per cent since 1990.

It is extraordinary that the Coalition has not paid a higher price politically for its neglect of the environment and the Green economy. On smoking and alcohol pricing, the government’s determination to ignore the scientific data on behalf of big business is going to cost them dear: but exactly the same tactics have been used by lobbyists to steer the Treasury down the shale gas route. We have 5 times more fossil fuels in proven reserves than we can safely use, so why on earth is Shell drilling in the Arctic, why are oil companies seeking to develop unconventional sources such as shale gas,  and tar sands, and why are politicians subsidizing them in these lunatic ventures? One can only wonder at the scientific advice being offered to ministers, or perhaps their inability to understand it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower