Letters: Climate change energy review

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At first reading, the Committee on Climate Change's Renewable Energy Review appears complimentary to the engineering community. It identifies the key barriers to rebuilding our energy supply infrastructure as finance and planning, not whether the technology will work or whether industry has the capacity to deliver, install and maintain the equipment in sufficient quantities.

However, a more thorough reading suggests that the committee has glossed over these vital questions. Experts at the Institution of Engineering and Technology have identified that the report lacks rigorous analysis of many technical issues that are essential to meeting renewable energy targets.

The 4th Carbon Budget said that 60 per cent of new cars should be electric by 2030, a figure far higher than industry's most optimistic projections. The document also planned for gas boilers to be replaced by heat pumps in 25 per cent of houses over the same period. These represent huge engineering programmes.

At the same time, we need to rebuild our electricity generation and transmission infrastructure. In the next 20 years, the coal-fired power stations, that provided more than half our electricity last winter, will be closed. All but one of the existing nuclear stations will expire. The CCC's plans say that, by 2030, renewable energy should supply 45 per cent of our needs, compared with 3 per cent today. This represents a massive engineering challenge.

We have not operated large fleets of offshore wind turbines for long enough to understand what maintenance regimes are needed in the inhospitable marine environment; our experience of wave energy is restricted to a few prototypes, not the thousands of installations that will be needed; carbon capture has, so far, been limited to a few megawatt prototypes, not the tens of gigawatts that will be required.

And this "system of systems" will need to be controlled by a smart grid that is an order of magnitude more sophisticated than the smart meters currently being introduced. The scale and costs of these systems will be of an kind never previously seen in peacetime.

One cannot fault the CCC's objectives; however one can question whether a committee that is setting the objectives for the largest engineering revolution since the 1850s should be more upfront about the huge challenges it is creating. It is telling that, in the recent report, the word "ambition" is used 154 times and "engineering" only twice. There are no references to "skills", which will be one of the main barriers to widespread adoption of renewable energy.

Professor Roger Kemp

Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2

Johann Hari's piece on 14 May was powerful, but is a green-energy for the UK practical?

I would dearly like it to be. But the sun does not shine at night (and often not during the day either, especially in winter). No one wants to shut down a factory (or even turn off the TV) if the wind does not happen to be blowing.

That leaves the sea: there is plenty of it surrounding these islands, but I have yet to hear of a proven technology for extracting large amounts of electric power from it.

Just how could the UK achieve the levels of green energy implied by the target, without unrealistic assumptions about reduction in energy use?

Christopher McDouall


Paramedics did the right thing

In an opinion piece (5 May) on the aftermath of the terrorist bombings in London on 7 July 2005 Andreas Whittam Smith suggests that an excess of caution impeded the performance of emergency services. The article makes reference to paramedics needing to "assess the situation" and implies that this should not have been prioritised over treatment of the first casualties encountered. Mr Whittam Smith assumed that this was some form of health and safety practice, whereas it was in conformity with internationally agreed principles of emergency casualty management.

In any situation where there are multiple casualties with varying severity of injury the most important initial priority is triage. Triage means to sort the casualties. In such an incident, between 10 and 25 per cent will have life-threatening injuries but, with prompt effective treatment, they have a good chance of surviving. The remaining casualties either have injuries which render their chance of survival minimal, even with the best treatment, or can wait for treatment because their injuries are not imminently life-threatening. Hard-won experience has shown that lack of effective triage leads to more avoidable deaths.

The Royal Army Medical Corps in its journal, has published a manual of Battlefield Advanced Trauma Life Support. The section on triage states, unambiguously: "You must triage all casualties before treatment. DON'T PAUSE TO TREAT or you will have failed in your task." Far from being a response to a modern risk-averse culture, this is exactly what I was taught in the 1970s when I trained as a combat medic with the RAMC.

It is very telling that, of the casualties cited, none survived, with or without treatment. Mr Whittam Smith and the writer of the headline on his article owe an apology to the paramedics.

Ken Campbell


Europe's great refugee 'crisis'

On the surface the "Arab Spring" is welcomed in Europe as the democratic awakening of a people. But beneath the rhetoric lurk serious concerns about instability in Europe's neighbourhood. It has brought an end to lucrative arms deals with dictators and disrupted the oil trade. But this doesn't excite the people of Europe as much as the threat from illegal immigrants. So this is what Europe's stagnant right have seized upon.

Thousands of Tunisians have risked their lives on small boats trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa. Those that made it were given a foil cape and a bottle of mineral water by the Italian authorities. Then they were left to languish in the open for nearly two weeks. Italy wanted help from her EU friends. But these friends did not help.

So Italy started shipping the Tunisians to the mainland and granting them temporary residence permits. In principle the migrants could now enjoy the benefits of freedom of movement across the Schengen area. France assumed that these migrants would now all head for Paris and promptly started checking trains crossing the border.

Sarkozy and Berlusconi engineered a little crisis and called the EU's freedom of movement into question. Is this really about a few thousand desperate Tunisian migrants? No, this is about undermining community spirit and clawing back national privileges. In the wake of Sarko's and Silvio's antics, the Commission has little power to rein in similar action from other member states. Ludicrously, Denmark has reinstated checks on its border with Germany and the bridge from Sweden.

Rather than fully supporting the Arab Spring as a united body, EU member states have used it as an excuse to pander to the xenophobic far right. When the going gets tough, there is a marked lack of community spirit.

Oscar Spooner


Claude Moraes is incorrect in saying that no European government has jumped at the chance to fulfil its refugees obligations (letter, 14 May). Despite its dire economic situation, the Irish government has offered to receive 400. This is equivalent to the UK accepting 5,000.

David Keating

Lismore, Co Waterford, Ireland

Too tough on the McCanns

I find that the letters regarding the Madeleine McCann case (14 May) lacking in understanding and sympathy for the huge trauma, stress and practical difficulties experienced by the families, particularly parents, of UK citizens murdered or missing abroad.

Bereaved parents in such tragic cases should be entitled to take any action, within legal limits, to find answers to what happened to their children when the statutory authorities of the country involved have failed. Concerning the expense of such investigations to the UK taxpayer, surely it is not beyond the resources or humanity of this country to offer modest practical help to the relatively few, often entirely innocent, victims of homicide abroad.

Inefficient and incomprehensible legal and investigative procedures, travel costs, repatriation of a body, legal representation are only some of the mass of problems likely to be faced at the same time as trying to cope with the huge emotional impact of the sudden loss of a child or loved-one.

Perhaps any future discussion could bear these facts in mind.



Biotech needs patent law

Dr Helen Wallace's views on the role of patents in biotech research (letter, 11 May) are out of step with the experience of scientists and businesses operating on the ground – where Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection forms a vital pillar of Britain's world-leading bioscience sector.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular rely on patents to protect their innovations. It costs, on average, £600m and takes between 10 and 15 years to bring a biopharmaceutical product to market. Risk-taking of this magnitude can be justified only by the limited protection provided by a patent. An SME is judged on the efficacy of its research, which in turn must be protected in order to attract the funding necessary to take it through the various clinical development stages and ultimately to the patient who has the unmet need.

With the right support the UK's bioscience sector can continue to flourish – the double dividend of which is growth for the UK's knowledge economy and improved medicines and treatments for patients.

Nigel Gaymond

Chief Executive, BioIndustry Association, London SW1

Democratic Lords reform

Mary Ann Sieghart, (16 May), commenting on reform of the House of Lords, puts the argument of not fixing upper chambers which do not appear to be at fault. That is logical, but so is the argument to make it democratic.

Members of the House of Lords have real power, over policies and legislation, but they are not accountable to the people who have to live by those laws. The House of Lords should be democratised in a way which allows for the retention of its key characteristics.

What is worrying is Sieghart's view that since it would be politically difficult and damaging to Clegg & Co. to join the sinking ship of reform, the Liberal Democrats, therefore, should not pursue reform at all. I would rather pursue what I thought was right, rather than keeping clear of the issue merely to stay elected. Perhaps that is why I voted for the Liberal Democrats, and not Labour.

Brett Leppard


Nailing down the dodgy dossier

Michael Laurie provides another nail in the coffin of dossier deceit ("Campbell 'misled' Chilcot over dossier", 13 May).

The initial media response, claiming the dossier had "sexed up" the original intelligence, was impossible to prove and distracted from the demonstrable but more banal deceit. The dossier was a sexed up version of itself.

A careful analysis, comparing the main text of the dossier with the focal points (summaries, conclusions, foreword, and titles), shows that crucial phrases were changed by the final editors. For example, "chemical and biological weapons" became "weapons of mass destruction". The British government and CIA were clear that these terms are not interchangeable.

Consistency is a formal principle of drafting government documents. Will those culpable ever be held to account for misconduct in public office or breach of the Civil Service Code? We will see. Written evidence about dossier's inconsistencies is with the Iraq Inquiry.

Dr Chris Williams

University of Birmingham

Cameron's empty smile

Your leading article suggests David Cameron could have cynical reasons for wanting to keep the Coalition together (9 May). But beyond invoking the Divine Right of Old Etonians, what choice does he have?

Despite the Lib Dem collapse, Mr Cameron's party could barely improve on its election performance in May 2007. Why didn't the Tories do better? Where exactly is their majority – present or future? Why is no one asking? If Mr Cameron smiles smugly, do we all just accept that he's winning?

Mr Cameron is certainly a cynical operator. He will continue to behave as if he has a mandate. And vested interests in the media will continue to reinforce that image. You, on the other hand, should be calling his bluff.

David Woods


Always look on the glum side

Ian Burrell's insightful review of Birmingham and its self-deprecating inhabitants (9 May) did not mention one of their prime characteristics: the ability to see the black cloud over every silver lining.

Folklore has two Longbridge production line workers leaving "The Austin" in its heyday, and one finding an unopened pay-packet dropped at the gateway. "That's lucky," said his friend. "Call it lucky?" the finder exclaimed. "Look how much bleedin' tax has been stopped!"

Richard Charnley

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

French squirrels

Not only sparrows are thriving in Paris (letter, 11 May). The biggest red squirrels I have ever seen were in the grounds of Versailles, proving that, in spite of what the red brigade claims, they can thrive alongside the grey, so unjustly persecuted because their ancestors were newcomers to this country.

Jane Jakeman


Invalid contract

Guy Keleny's knowledge of English is exemplary, but his Italian is less impressive (Errors and Omissions, 7 May). The root meaning of condottiere isn't "contractor": it means leader of a detachment of soldiery, from the verb condurre, to lead.

Max Gauna


Perspectives on on 20th-century tyrannies

Killer could die a free man

Whilst John Demjanjuk's guilty verdict is welcome ("Justice after 66 years: Nazi guard is convicted for slaughter of Jews", 13 May) , his release pending appeal will distress many Holocaust survivors, who feel that justice could only be served if he spent his final years in prison.

Now it seems that he may die a free man as well as an old man – a fact which will haunt those whose relatives, of whatever age, were murdered in Sobibor. If Demjanjuk were to serve his full sentence, it would represent just one day in prison for every 15 people he helped to murder. Sadly, he may never serve even this derisory term of incarceration.

There is no reason why this case should represent the end of successful Nazi war crime trials and there is compelling evidence that numerous evil individuals remain at liberty in Europe, despite having committed appalling crimes during the Holocaust. It is absurd and offensive that we should fail to strive for justice on behalf of the Holocaust's victims because of legal complexities and reluctance to try ageing suspects.

We must remain relentless in pursuit of justice – and dogged in our fight against the poisonous ideas that perpetuated the Holocaust.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

Chairman, the Holocaust Educational Trust, London WC1

Don't forget Stalin either

Graham Lacey is quite right to highlight the importance of teaching how the German Nazis' rise to power was a fine example of how a minority can exploit, subvert and destroy a democratic system (letter, 10 May).

But it is equally important to teach school pupils how the USSR came into being, effectively by a coup d'état led by similar totalitarians, 16 years before their German counterparts; that it lasted six times as long as Hitler's state; that it was Hitler's supportive ally, militarily and economically, from September 1939 to June 1941; that it caused a rough equivalence of death, misery and terror; that many of its features are still reflected in today's ex-Soviet states, unlike Germany; that no remorse, let alone reparations are forthcoming from these states, again unlike Germany; and that these states are not exactly playing a responsible part in containing the ambitions of the lesser but (in some cases) nuclear-armed thugs who threaten our world.

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife