Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Net Zero Watch: Tempers fray as Tories fail to unite for COP26 climate talks


In this newsletter:

1) Tempers fray as Tories fail to unite for COP26 climate talks
The Sunday Times, 24 October 2021

2) Net Zero Britain: A third of UK companies may force staff to work at home to cut their energy bills
Daily Mail, 25 October 2021

3) India wants compensation for climate damages caused by rich nations
Bloomberg, 23 October 2021

4) Yoweri K. Museveni: Solar and wind force poverty on Africa
The Wall Street Journal, 25 October 2021

5) Net Zero target relies on rise in windy days
The Sunday Telegraph, 24 October 2021
6) Charles Moore: The public is waking up to the costs of the West’s unilateral eco-disarmament
The Daily Telegraph, 23 October 2021

7) Sobering perspective on ‘net zero by 2050’ from Vaclav Smil
The Australian, 25 October 2021 

8) Dan Hodges: Save the planet, Boris Johnson... by axeing a farcical summit for the world's worst hypocrites
Mail on Sunday, 24 October 2021

Full details:

1) Tempers fray as Tories fail to unite for COP26 climate talks
The Sunday Times, 24 October 2021

With just over a week to go before Boris Johnson hosts the largest ever gathering of world leaders in Britain, tensions are rising and tempers fraying in Downing Street.

The prime minister is said to be “irritated” by Alok Sharma, the man he appointed to chair the Cop26 conference in Glasgow — and the feeling appears to be mutual.

Those around Johnson suggest that the “bookish” Sharma doesn’t grasp the politics of the meeting and how it could backfire domestically. Those around Sharma are frustrated at No 10 for hyping expectations around what the two weeks of negotiations will achieve.

Some officials complain that the prime minister’s absence last week for an autumn break in Spain was unhelpful at a stage when his input was needed to put pressure on other world leaders to be ambitious. Johnson found time away from his painting easel to speak to the Indian and the Saudi leaders. But this was the bare minimum, they said.

“We really needed him there that week,” one source said. “It just put things back and made it harder.”

Allies of the prime minister suggest that Sharma has failed to foster a team spirit around the conference and allowed differences to fester. An insider said: “He has this manner of ‘if only people would listen to me it would all be fine’. This has irritated Johnson.”

A supporter of Sharma, however, accused Downing Street of mismanaging expectations of what the conference can realistically achieve.
“Right from the minute we won the bidding, people misunderstood what it could actually bring and what could be achieved,” the source said. “This is not a new Paris. Alok would rather that nuance hadn’t been lost. But then again what’s the PM supposed to do? Talk down the climate change conference?”

The source added: “No 10 have had some mad ideas like the mascot and Coldplay — there is disagreement on how to promote this thing. But that isn’t personal tension between the PM and Alok.”

Downing Street insisted that Johnson had full confidence in Sharma and they were both committed to getting a successful outcome.

What unites Johnson and Sharma is a fear of the consequences if the meeting is seen to be unsuccessful.
Johnson has suggested that his ambition for Glasgow is for world leaders to present detailed carbon reduction plans that would limit global warming to within 2C above pre-industrial levels and keep alive the hope of 1.5C. Yet with the pledges made by world leaders so far that is a very distant aspiration.

“The PM is worried,” a government figure said. “It’s just not there at the moment. We’ve got the right strategy but no one knows if we can pull it off.”

The biggest fear is that the conference falls over two big hurdles. The first is that developed countries are not able to present credible numbers to show how they are going to provide $100 billion a year to the developing world to decarbonise their economies.

The second fear is that the absence of President Xi means that China, the world’s largest emitter, does not intend to come to Cop26 with a detailed offer.

This could lead to other countries — and economic competitors — such as India scaling back their ambitions, leaving 2C completely unobtainable.

As a senior government figure said: “Without China and India we don’t even get close to where we need to be.” But the insider added that even if they did come through, people should realise that Glasgow was still not going to limit emissions to 1.5C.

“We are not going to hit 1.5 degrees on November 15,” the source said. “If we don’t explain that we are going to get criticised for failing. This is a process. Paris was about ambition and Glasgow is about real world commitments. That is much harder.”

Part of the reason for the government’s decision to publish its more than 300 page net-zero strategy this week was to send a clear signal to other countries that it was possible to reduce carbon emissions within the timescale envisaged — without damaging the economy.

But the private reaction of Johnson’s ministerial colleagues to the plan is indicative of some of the difficulties that will play out across the world in years to come. Despite its far-reaching nature the plan was only briefly mentioned at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which was held at the science museum, where Johnson was addressing world business leaders. Those present said there was almost no discussion of its merits or risks despite clear reservations of some of those present — not least Rishi Sunak, the chancellor.

“There wasn’t any dissension but there wasn’t really any discussion either,” a cabinet source said. “But that’s more and more the way with cabinet meetings these days.”

Several of Johnson’s colleagues are nervous about the direction in which he is taking the party while others, more privately, sense an opportunity to position themselves with Tory MPs as a little more sceptical about his agenda.
Among those said to be “less than green” are Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, her predecessor Dominic Raab and Sunak. “Rishi doesn’t give a damn about it,” a Johnson loyalist said. “He doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of this debate in the Tory party.”
The Treasury made Sunak’s view clear by publishing its analysis of the government’s net-zero plans alongside the central document. Sources on both sides confirmed that the published document, which said it was impossible to put a cost on the transition, had been heavily “scrubbed” to remove economic projections, suggesting that the economic hit could be substantial. Nevertheless, the document made clear that the Treasury was far from convinced that the plan could be paid for without new taxes. Sunak is far from the only cabinet minister to have reservations.

“Heat pumps are a complete distraction,” one minister said. “I’m not sure they work. I’m not sure they’ll ever work. Hydrogen could be a game changer — but that is not a given.”
The minister said the party would not stand for higher taxes to support the transition to a greener economy. “Nobody is going to win an election telling people they are going to be cold and poor. There is no constituency for hair shirt greenery. If hydrogen doesn’t work and there isn’t a technology that does then there is going to have to be a rethink. Most members of the cabinet . . . don’t think a Conservative government is going to lower people’s standard of living.”

Such reservations irritate supporters of Sharma who say other cabinet ministers have been unsupportive of Cop26. One said: “How many of them did you hear talking about climate change in their conference speeches? We asked them to get involved. But I don’t see anything coming out the other end.”

Those close to Johnson insist that he is committed to the net-zero agenda and will force his more sceptical colleagues, including Sunak, behind him.

One ally said: “The boss has made a big punt on this stuff. The science is clear and so is he. He is determined to see it through.”
2) Net Zero Britain: A third of UK companies may force staff to work at home to cut their energy bills
Daily Mail, 25 October 2021

One in three bosses warn they could shut offices over winter to avoid soaring costs

Nearly a third of small businesses are considering plans to force their staff to work from home over winter, to pass on the cost of soaring energy prices.

Research from Smart Energy GB, a smart meter company, found that 30 per cent of companies in Britain have considered temporarily closing workplaces if they can.

Energy bills are set to soar amid a huge increase in the price of buying gas on the global market, a squeeze which has put many energy suppliers out of business.

Now 62 per cent of small businesses are worried about rising energy costs and whether it will affect their ability to operate over winter.

'Small businesses are the beating heart of the British economy but it is clear concerns about energy use are affecting how many of them will continue to operate this winter,' said Iagan MacNeil, Smart Energy GB's head of policy.

Companies are now planning to tighten their belts, as more than nine in ten say they are trying to become more energy efficient.

And 57 per cent of employees say they are doing their bit to try to save money for their employer by reducing their energy use.

However the survey also found that 60 per cent charge their phones at work to avoid doing it at home, while 29 per cent shower at work.

Full story
3) India wants compensation for climate damages caused by rich nations
Bloomberg, 23 October 2021

Environment ministry sets out main talking points ahead of COP26 summit
India is seeking payment for the losses caused by climate disasters, its environment ministry said while laying out the country’s positions on critical issues that will be negotiated at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in the coming weeks.  
“Our ask is this: there should be a compensation for expenses incurred, and it should be borne by developed nations,” Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, the ministry’s senior-most civil servant, said on Friday. He added that India stands with other low-income and developing countries on the matter. 

Leaders and diplomats from across the globe are set to gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the annual COP summit, which is seen as a make-or-break meeting to stave off the worsening effects of climate change. Compensation for climate disasters is expected to be a major sticking point at the talks, and the subject is something that India has already raised with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, according to Gupta. Rich countries have added the majority of greenhouse gases causing the planet to warm above pre-industrial levels. 

The 2015 Paris climate agreement included language to address “loss and damage,” but it left questions about liability and redress unanswered. Discussions began as early as 2013 at a previous summit in Warsaw, but the technical details of how such money transfers occur still hasn’t been thrashed out.

The broad idea is that, based on historical contributions to global greenhouse gases, countries will provide compensation for the damages that pollution will one day cause. Countries that suffer climate impacts can then lay claim to money for repairs after a climate-fueled hurricane or flood. But not all disasters are caused by climate change, and scientists have only recently begun the hard work of being able to calculate how much a warmer planet contributed to an extreme weather event.

India is the world’s third-largest emitter on an annual basis today and among the top ten historical emitters, which means it too will have to contribute money into the pot. Even if India’s pay-in for damages were roughly 4%, the country would stand to get a larger pay-out for the losses it will incur, Gupta said. “If they want India to be a part, we may be willing,” he added.

The country is the only economy among the world’s 10 largest not to have set a goal to zero out its emissions. Even its neighbor China has one for 2060, slightly later than the 2050 target that the U.S., the U.K. and the EU are aiming for. Earlier this year, India considered setting a net-zero goal, but it has since backed out. Not all nations need to announce a net-zero target before Glasgow, according to environment minister Bhupender Yadav. 
“Climate finance hasn’t come in,” said Gupta. “For more ambitious climate goals, let there be more finance’’ first. 

This issue is set to be another talking point at the summit. Developed countries were supposed to provide $100 billion in climate finance to developing countries annually, starting in 2020. The money would be used for projects that reduce emissions and help countries adapt to warming. The latest figure stands at about $90 billion, and the hopes for the full commitment are dimming as the Glasgow conference approaches. 

As with past COP meetings, India’s delegation also plans to bring up the point of fairness. The country’s annual per capita emissions stand at about two tons of carbon dioxide, compared to more than 16 tons for the U.S. and less than half of the global per capita average. 

The recent energy crunch — marked by soaring natural gas prices — has also given India ammunition to continue using coal, the only fossil fuel which it has in abundance. That’s going to be a problem for the U.K.,  the host country, with COP26 President Alok Sharma having said that the Glasgow talks could “consign coal to history.”

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has confirmed that he will join the COP26 summit along with 120 other heads of state. The conference runs from Oct. 31-Nov. 12. 
4) Yoweri K. Museveni: Solar and wind force poverty on Africa
The Wall Street Journal, 25 October 2021
Africa can’t sacrifice its future prosperity for Western climate goals. The continent should balance its energy mix, not rush straight toward renewables—even though that will likely frustrate some of those gathering at next week’s global climate conference in Glasgow.
My continent’s energy choices will dictate much of the climate’s future. Conservative estimates project that Africa’s population of 1.3 billion will double by 2050. Africans’ energy consumption will likely surpass that of the European Union around the same time.

Knowing this, many developed nations are pushing an accelerated transition to renewables on Africa. The Western aid-industrial complex, composed of nongovernmental organizations and state development agencies, has poured money into wind and solar projects across the continent. This earns them praise in the U.S. and Europe but leaves many Africans with unreliable and expensive electricity that depends on diesel generators or batteries on overcast or still days. Generators and the mining of lithium for batteries are both highly polluting.
This stands to forestall Africa’s attempts to rise out of poverty, which require reliable energy. African manufacturing will struggle to attract investment and therefore to create jobs without consistent energy sources. Agriculture will suffer if the continent can’t use natural gas to create synthetic fertilizer or to power efficient freight transportation.

A better solution is for Africa to move slowly toward a variety of reliable green energy sources. Wildlife-friendly minihydro technologies should be a part of the continent’s energy mix. They allow for 24-hour-a-day energy production and can be installed along minor rivers without the need for backup energy. Coal-fired power stations can be converted to burning biomass, and carbon capture can help in the meantime. Nuclear power is also already being put to good use in South Africa, while Algeria, Ghana and Nigeria operate research reactors with the intent of building full-scale nuclear facilities.

All this will take time, meaning Africa will have to use fossil fuels as it makes the transition. Natural gas is a greener option that will help the continent reduce emissions even as it grows, as developed nations have done themselves.

Saying any of this meets with backlash from developed nations. Instead of reliable renewables or greener fossil fuels, aid money and development investments go to pushing solar and wind, with all their accompanying drawbacks. And many Western nations have put a blanket ban on public funding for a range of fossil-fuel projects abroad, making it difficult for Africa to make the transition to cleaner nonrenewables.

In the coming decades my continent will have a strong influence on global warming. But it doesn’t now. Were sub-Saharan Africa (minus South Africa) to triple its electricity consumption overnight, powering the new usage entirely by gas, it would add only 0.6% to global carbon emissions.

Africans have a right to use reliable, cheap energy, and doing so doesn’t prevent the development of the continent’s renewables. Forcing Africa down one route will hinder our fight against poverty.

Mr. Museveni is president of Uganda.
5) Net Zero target relies on rise in windy days
The Sunday Telegraph, 24 October 2021
The disclosure prompts questions over the accuracy of the CCC's claims about the feasibility of meeting net zero by 2050

Modelling used to justify the "feasibility" of the net zero target assumed a dramatic fall in the number of days of calm weather, when many turbines stand still, according to new analysis.
Data obtained from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the official advisory body, following a legal battle, shows that a series of assumptions underpinning its advice to ministers included a projection that in 2050 there would be just seven days on which wind turbines would produce less than 10 per cent of their potential electricity output. So far this year, there have already been 65 such days, and in 2016 there were as many as 78.

On Saturday night the disclosure prompted questions over the accuracy of the CCC's claims in 2019 about the feasibility of meeting a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Ministers rely heavily on the CCC's advice and modelling, and last week its chief executive, Chris Stark heralded Boris Johnson's new Net Zero Strategy as "largely mirroring the CCC advice".

It comes as an analysis by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) think tank warns that the "quality of the CCC's advice is questionable", particularly in relation to the 2050 target adopted by Theresa May in 2019.

"[The CCC] advised that this target was feasible but refused to disclose the calculations on which its costs figures were based, and it became clear that the scale of the challenge of net zero was not well understood when the target was passed into law," states the report, which is published today. The IEA report also accuses the body of having expanded an initial remit as an independent advisory body delivering balanced advice, to becoming a "pressure group".

Mr Stark used a newspaper interview on Friday to say that the Government should be urging people to "understand what they can do" about climate change, including "flying less, eating less meat".

Craig Mackinlay, the leader of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Conservative MPs and a member of the public accounts committee, warned that if the committee had significantly overestimated the amount of power that turbines would generate, significantly more back-up power could be required from more reliable sources.
He said: "These predictions appear somewhat fanciful. The Climate Change Committee seem to be looking at the whole project through rose-tinted spectacles to try and minimalise the unpalatable costs of this whole enterprise."

Analysis of CCC data obtained following a legal battle by the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF), a climate sceptic think tank, found that the body's assumptions as part of modelling included that the UK would experience just one day in 2050 on which wind turbines would operate at less than five per cent of the industry's overall capacity. That compares with 20 days so far in 2021 - which has seen particularly low wind speeds - ten days in 2020, nine in 2019 and 21 in 2018.

The CCC's modelling, which drew on a study by Imperial College London, also included an assumption that, in 2050, there would be just seven days on which wind turbines produced less than 10 per cent of their overall capacity. That compares to 65 such days so far this year, 30 in 2020, 33 in 2019 and 56 in 2018, according to analysis by Net Zero Watch, a campaign of the GWPF.

A spokesman for the CCC declined to explain the disparity, saying: "Detailed assumptions on power generation were made in 2019 as part of an extensive body of modelling and analysis to inform our advice to government on net zero. We stand by these insights.

"This information, including the study undertaken by Imperial College London, is published in full on our website. We have no further comment to make."

The CCC has previously said that the UK's future energy supply should come from a "portfolio of technologies" including nuclear and hydrogen power, but insisted that the costs associated with the intermittent nature of wind "represent a small proportion of overall system costs."
Experts have also suggested that placing turbines in a wider variety of locations around the UK would increase the overall yield when the wind fails to blow in particular areas.

Victoria Hewson, a solicitor and the IEA's head of regulatory affairs, said: "The scale and impact of the areas covered by the advice of the Climate Change Committee is vast... Far from being treated as an irreproachable source of truth, the CCC should be challenged and scrutinised more than any other regulator or advisory body.”
6) Charles Moore: The public is waking up to the costs of the West’s unilateral eco-disarmament
The Daily Telegraph, 23 October 2021
Cop26 is a problem for Boris Johnson. It is unlikely to reach consensus, and voters at home are wary of the implications of ‘net zero’

As it happens, I shall be 65 on the day the Cop26 meeting opens in Glasgow next week. So I am old enough to remember during my adult life the genesis of the Cop (Conference of the Parties) process which sees itself as the way to save the planet. The occasion also makes me reflect on what causes the public to wake up to any issue.

Environmentalism is often seen as a Left-wing cause, but Margaret Thatcher was the first leading world statesman to address global warming. As our first scientist prime minister, she was excited by the theory, propounding it to the Royal Society in 1988. The following year, she argued that the problem could be dealt with only through a global UN framework, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The challenge, she said, was “as great as any disarmament treaty”. She made that comparison because disarmament is worse than useless unless all parties really do disarm.

The first Cop met in Berlin, six years later. The fact that there will very soon have been 26 of them suggests the task is not easy.

In one sense, the process has been brilliantly successful. No cause in the Western world has more excited the activist young, or been more passionately preached from pulpits, in schoolrooms and on television. Like medieval monarchs blessing the Crusades, our current heir to the throne, and his heir, exhort their future subjects to ever-greater sacrifices for the sake of the planet. “Net zero” is the name for the sacrificial ritual. No mainstream political party dares disagree.

Yet these Cops keep copping out. The same basic problem recurs. Nations which industrialised earlier are far readier to reduce carbon emissions than are developing nations, who fear being cheated of economic growth. Because the latter are growing so fast (China and India account for more than a third of all global carbon emissions), there will be no overall carbon reduction unless they “disarm”. They won’t.

Indeed, as these rising nations become richer and more assertive, Western persuasiveness weakens. Even Barack Obama failed to achieve consensus at Copenhagen’s Cop15 in 2009. Neither his former vice-president, Joe Biden, nor Boris Johnson, has as much chance in Glasgow next week as he had then. The environmental equivalent of global multilateral disarmament is not happening. The unilateral disarmament of the West is.

One person who never accepted the Thatcher remedy was her then chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson. Faced with a draft for her Royal Society speech proposing universal fuel levies and debt relief for developing countries in return for preserving their rainforests, he wrote, “These bizarre ideas are contrary to Government policy, and are political dynamite.” They were dropped from the speech, but never went away.

Twenty years on, the financial crash of 2008-9 gravely injured the West’s authority over how the world is run. Lawson’s short book on climate change, An Appeal to Reason, came out at that time. It tackled IPCC projections for 50 or 100 years hence. These could not have any degree of accuracy, he said: there were too many imponderables. Even on their own calculations, food production was set to rise and people to be several times better off than they were now. Why tighten our belts to help our richer successors?

Lawson also emphasised the clash of interests between the West and the rest. Shortly afterwards, Copenhagen exhibited this. The meeting produced vague promises of co-operation and “climate aid” to the developing world, but nothing legally enforceable. Carbon-based energy could not go away, said Lawson, because it was “far and away the cheapest source of energy … and is likely to remain so, not forever, but for the foreseeable future”.

These basic arguments have never been disproved. Even if global warming is a very serious problem, why attempt the economically and politically impossible? Why not consider methods of adaptation, rather than cry catastrophe? Lawson and others set up the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Several years later, I joined its board, sitting with people much more expert than I.

Over the years, the GWPF has produced work consistently pointing to alternatives – foreshadowing, in 2010, the shale gas revolution, for example – and to problems, such as the danger of depending on emergency gas supplies from Russia (in 2018). The latter is beautifully illustrated by Vladimir Putin’s threat that if we want him in Glasgow, we must accept his gas price “offer”. This week, a new GWPF pamphlet by Gwythian Prins sets out six fallacies of “green growth” and warns of the security implications of letting China manipulate our obsession with net zero while not truly decarbonising.

When the GWPF board has met, we have discussed the repressive hostility from policy elites. Those elites have expended enormous energy arguing that we were “climate-change deniers” (a deliberately libellous term, echoing the Holocaust), none on considering what we were saying.

Since the problems of the Cop process were so obvious, we puzzled, why did our leaders not admit them? But perhaps the answer was not so hard to see. It is a natural human instinct to side with a virtuous intention; and so long as it remains abstract, its virtue will not be proved wrong. Who would not favour a cleaner, greener planet?

Rather than honestly confronting the growing practical difficulties, our leaders preferred to frighten the public with the idea of “emergency”. No emergency has been proved: if you want an example of a true emergency, think of Covid in March last year. A climate emergency, on the other hand, is a speculation.

On climate policy, we sceptics concluded, minds would change only because of cost. If people were forced to pay substantially more for the essentials of life, they would start asking why.

This is now happening, because the emergency’s artificial timetable is making change much more disruptive, expensive and frightening than it need be. People are worried about electric vehicle batteries and charging points, losing wood-burning stoves, being made to pay meat taxes or get rid of gas-fired boilers. In the case of heat pumps, customers face an unprecedented situation of being forced to pay more (through tax, if subsidised) for a technology which is slower and more cumbersome than the one it replaces. Only in recent months have the media in general latched on to what the GWPF and other sceptics have been saying for more than a decade.

As I write at home, I can hear men replacing our old gas boilers with new gas boilers. I am determined to install something that actually works before the law forbids it. In the name of a distant, uncertain benefit for mankind in general, we are about to take direct hits on our pockets, our convenience and our country’s prosperity. How can I feel warm towards a government which will make me colder and poorer?

Higher energy prices close in, and the public are trapped. A letter from our gas supplier this week announces a rise of 9 pence per litre (over 15 per cent) – but I still need a fuel I can trust. Our Government’s failure to recognise how much we need fossil fuels until such time as carbon-neutral, affordable, 24-hour alternative technologies can successfully operate, is driving up demand for those wicked old carbon-producers, and therefore their price.

The government is also trapped politically and diplomatically, seeking to show off, in Glasgow, a virtue that does not impress large parts of the global or, increasingly, the domestic audience. Our rising enemies in the world, if they attend Cop26 at all, will be laughing at us.

7) Ticky Fullerton: Sobering perspective on ‘Net Zero by 2050’ from Vaclav Smil
The Australian, 25 October 2021
Since the first UN climate meeting in 1992, the world has only achieved a drop from 87 to 83 per cent fossil fuels. In absolute terms, the amount of fossil fuel has increased.

Dr Vaclav Smil, global thought leader and the go-to guy for Bill Gates on the future of energy and resources, delivered an incendiary start to the Credit Suisse Asia-Pacific ESG conference last week.

Asked for his thoughts on how to transition energy in the middle of an energy crisis, he said this was the wrong question.

Sure, Glasgow can have its group hug at COP26 but Smil says targets and forecasts are of no use when the world is fundamentally, overwhelmingly a fossil fuel civilisation.

“Next time when you take a chicken breast, that’s one cup of diesel fuel behind it. A small steak, depending on the cut, is nine to 10 cups of diesel fuel, unless it’s an Australian grass fed steak. Most beef is finished in feed yards,” he says. Tractors, combines, trucks and ships mean transport costs more than the food itself.

The emeritus professor from Manitoba University in Canada reads around 70 books a year, outside his brief, and has so far written 45 of his own. All of his are reportedly read assiduously by Gates, who apparently waits on them like a new episode of Succession.

Smil pitched a barrage of problems to a slightly stunned investment audience.

The world gets 83 per cent of its energy from fossils. For the Middle East that number is 99 per cent, Australia 91 per cent, China 87 per cent, the US 83 per cent. Germany spent 20 years turning itself green but it is still 78 per cent fossil fuels.

Since the first global climate meeting in 1992, the world has only achieved a drop from 87 to 83 per cent fossil fuels.

In absolute terms, the amount of fossil fuel has increased.

“Now I am told in the next 30 years by 2050, we are going to go from 83 per cent to zero. That strains one’s imagination. We are burning more than 10 billion tonnes of fossil fuels and we are dependent, in every facet of existence.”

Smil starts with eating: nitrogen fertiliser, where the main input is gas. Without it, he says we could feed only half the world. There is no ready replacement for ammonia synthesis at scale.

Then to heating, which for the northern hemisphere in particular is a human right. The threat of a winter of discontent in Europe and Britain comes just ahead of Glasgow. And lastly there’s the world’s dependence on the four pillars of civilisation: steel, ammonia, cement and plastics, all of which use fossil fuels.

Smil has no argument about global warming, something he says was acknowledged in 1860. Nor has he an issue with transition, where he sees gas playing a central role. It is the pace of the transition, pushed by organisations like the International Energy Agency, that he believes to be cuckoo.

“We are in the very early stages of transition from fossil fuels to something else,” he says. “It took us 100 years to go from wood to 50 per cent coal, 100 years to go from zero oil to about 40 per cent oil. It has taken us so far about 70 years to go from zero gas to about 25 per cent gas.

“These transitions are always unfolding, always at their own sweet pace. This could be accelerated, but within reason. You can’t say ‘by 2030 or by 2035’ – it doesn’t work that way.”

The reason is that with fossil fuels action needs to be taken at the same time on every front.

Yet the West can barely solve one problem at a time.
The pace of transition is where Smil and Gates part company. Innovation is the DNA of the Microsoft founder, who believes new technology like hydrogen is the answer.

“Bill is an American,” says Smil. “Americans are optimists. They think that they can invent their way out of some problems.”

He points to the Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough.
“Putting it together was no problem but making it into billions was a problem. We have overcome that, but now 10 to 20 per cent don’t want to take the vaccines, marching through the streets and saying ‘my body, my choice’. Technical solutions don’t solve everything.”

Smil remains sceptical of progress in technology. Take the efforts being made to replace diesel container ships that underpin world supply chains.

“The Norwegians put into operation the first electric container ship just this year with 120 containers. It goes about 30 nautical miles. The biggest container ships in the world carry 24,000 containers, can go easily 13,000 nautical miles.”

And 20 years since talk began on electric cars, he says, the world has 7 million, with 1.2 billion internal combustion engines still on the road. The 2050 “net zero” target also involves massive amounts of carbon being captured underground, a challenge of scale that looks bleak.

Until all five big emitters pitch in to cut emissions – China, the US, the EU, Russia and India – Smil predicts any change will be small, perhaps a fall from 36 billion tonnes of emissions a year to 32 billion. “Neither China, India or Russia is rushing to sign on any dotted line.”

Asked what the world will look like in 2050 if it does not meet the 2050 target, Smil says simply: that depends. Perhaps France’s Macron will have convinced the EU to accept nuclear.

“We are not powerless, we are always changing – just not at the pace people would imagine it should be now. We have raised expectations too much,” Smil says.

“We’ve got into this habit that anyone can forecast. No, anything beyond about six weeks, it’s not even guessing. A fairytale. Thirty years ago in 1991, there was still the USSR, and China was a minor economy. China’s economy has multiplied 14 times.

“Would someone in 1991 have forecast there would be no USSR by now and China would expand and that global warming would be the No.1 international issue? It certainly wasn’t in 1991.”

The climate crisis at that time was acid rain. And the world did solve it, and moved on.
8) Dan Hodges: Save the planet, Boris Johnson... by axeing a farcical summit for the world's worst hypocrites
Mail on Sunday, 24 October 2021
The Cabinet Minister was laughing.They decided that everyone who attends COP26 had to be driven around by an electric car. But so many people are coming they've realised they haven't enough charging points. So they've been scrambling to find diesel generators to help boost the capacity.'

A second Cabinet Minister was struggling to find the funny side.

'I'm sick of it. Every time I do a speech, they try to slide some more COP nonsense into it.

Something about telling people to do less washing-up, or eat less meat. It's ridiculous.'

A third Cabinet Minister was simply resigned: 'COP's turning into a circus. No 10 are trying to get a grip but it's spiralling out of control.

They're saying to foreign governments, 'Can you keep the size of your delegations to a minimum?' And they'll be told, 'OK, we'll keep it down to 1,500 people.' '

The UN Climate Change Conference, which opens in Glasgow on Sunday, is supposed to be the event that saves the planet.

But ask anyone in government and they'll tell you the truth.

It's a farce. It's degenerating into chaos. And to many, the best thing for the environment would be if Boris Johnson, right, just bit the bullet and scrapped it.

The whole purpose of COP26 was meant to promote global environmental sustainability.

Instead, it is being turned into a catwalk for the green showboating of the global elite.

Or, in the case of Japan, showplaneing. Last week it emerged that a specially configured Boeing 777 had been flown 6,000 miles (without passengers) solely to see whether the pilots would prefer to use Prestwick or Edinburgh airports when the official Japanese delegation arrives.

It's also been announced that when the runway of choice has been chosen, special measures will be put in place to ensure arriving dignitaries can be whisked speedily to their destinations.

Unfortunately, COP26 has become so bloated that nearby roads will become gridlocked, so leaders will be ferried to their hotels along the Clyde Expressway, which has been turned into a VIP lane.

I understand the COP26 PR team, conscious of the questionable 'optics' developing around this orgy of pro-environmentalism, had hoped for some events to show global leaders utilising public transport.

But the opportunities are shrinking.

The Unite union, with a commendable eye to the main chance, has announced that more than 1,300 bus workers will use the conference to go on strike over pay.

If you think all this unfolding chaos is shaping up to be bad news for the planet, then spare a thought for the real victims: COP26's corporate sponsors.

Veteran tree-huggers NatWest, Microsoft and Jaguar are among companies which have reportedly written to the Government condemning 'mismanagement' by the 'very inexperienced civil servants' organising the event.

But, painful though it is to see the opportunity for some greenwashed product-placement disappearing in a cloud of jet and motorcade fumes, what were those sponsors expecting?

Who in their right mind would hold a such a vital summit in the midst of a deadly pandemic?

As one Minister told me: 'People think COP is going to last three weeks. But it's been going on for over a year. And we've been trying to deal with something else quite big during that period.'

Covid's shadow over COP26 was always going to be too long and dark. Vladimir Putin, who has been forced to announce a workplace shutdown across Russia to try to get on top of a surge in cases, isn't attending.

Neither, it appears, will President Xi of China.

Last week, China's economic recovery was thrown into reverse as the economic Covid aftershocks continue to reverberate.

And Joe Biden has had to tear up his original COP26 strategy as he struggles to manage America's surge in virus cases and force his own 'Build Back Better' budget through the Senate.

Meanwhile, there are disturbing signs here that Boris is about to fall heavily between two Covid and COP26 stools.

Rishi Sunak is tearing his hair out trying to work out how to align the Prime Minister's multi-billion-pound net-zero commitment with his need to tackle the £2.2 trillion Covid debt mountain.

At the same time, Ministers are expressing concern that as Boris's notoriously fickle attention has drifted towards Glasgow, there has been insufficient focus at No 10 on the vaccine booster rollout.

The argument within government is that the climate crisis cannot wait. Having been put back once by Covid, COP26 had to go ahead to refocus attention on another, potentially even more apocalyptic, global emergency.

But the opposite is going to happen. Rather than emphasise their stewardship of the environment, world leaders are again going to reveal just how detached they are.

Pressing ahead with COP26 while the globe is still struggling to contain Covid is the equivalent of forcing someone back into a burning building to carry on removing the asbestos.

Yes, the threat from global warming represents a real and present danger. But this morning, Covid and its economic impact are a more imperative one.

In order to tackle environmental challenges, people are going to be asked to make significant sacrifices.

And that will involve politicians – and the burgeoning green lobby and their sponsors – taking public opinion with them.

But instead of showing families that they have a plan for saving their planet, our leaders again seem intent on giving the impression they reside on an entirely different one.

COP26 is about to replace Davos as the event that most gratuitously frames the arrogance, hypocrisy and entitlement of the global ruling class.

Their gigantic jets will descend upon Prestwick.

And they will alight and tell us how we each need to reduce our global environmental footprint.

Their motorcades will speed along their exclusive expressway.

And they will get out, then inform us we have to do our bit by walking our kids to school. They will assemble for their plush banquet.

And after dessert and coffee, they'll retire to put the finishing touches to speeches that lecture us about eating sustainably.

Worst of all, they think no one will notice their green doublespeak.

That this grotesque 'do as I say, not as I do' grandstanding will pass everyone by amid a kaleidoscope of polar bears, Greta Thunberg and homilies about our grandchildren.

Which might actually be the optimum outcome.

The best that the organisers of COP26 can hope for now is that as many people as possible ignore them.

That those concerned about where the next booster jab is coming from, or how they will cope with soaring fuel prices, will blink and miss this UN imitation of The Fyre Festival.

Because if they don't, those same people aren't going to be happy.

As I've written before, a dangerous disconnect is opening up.

Between those who believe that everyone has bought into their liberal, environmental consensus and those who want a recognition that we live in a complex world of competing priorities, not all of which revolve around the level of carbon emissions in 2050.

Anyone doubting this should have a word with the Insulate Britain protester who recently ended up tied by irate motorists to a railing with his own banner.

It's very late in the day. But the best way of saving COP26 – and the planet – is to cancel it.

The London-based Net Zero Watch is a campaign group set up to highlight and discuss the serious implications of expensive and poorly considered climate change policies. The Net Zero Watch newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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