Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Energy firms want government money for carbon capture research

The main electricity generating companies involved in the development of carbon capture technology have asked the government to give them £1 billion to help with project costs. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of capturing the CO2 emissions from large producers like power plants and then compressing and storing the CO2 in deep geological formations or in deep oceans. The technology to capture the CO2 exists, but the actual storage of the compressed CO2 is new and untested. This is the area energy companies want the government to invest in. Although this will eliminate around 90% of the CO2 from power stations, the process itself is energy intensive, costly, and will produce its own CO2 emissions. Whether CCS gives an overall reduction in CO2 emissions is still to be demonstrated.

BP has already abandoned its plans to build an experimental hydrogen plant using carbon capture in the North Sea due to government inaction. Other companies are threatening to do as BP has done and shelve their plans for CCS plants unless the government coughs up the money. Should the government, and by extension us the taxpayers, give money to private companies to carry out research that will benefit them and make them money? I suppose if the government doesn’t meet the costs of the project, the companies could always put their prices up to recover the costs anyway. Either way, we end up paying for the whole thing. It CCS actually helps the planet, then maybe it is just worth it.

USA looks to new technology to reduce climate change

I know the accepted view of the USA’s efforts to reduce climate change is poor to say the least. And yes, I know it is pretty easy to take swipes at President Bush and his environmental policies, after all, he has steered the USA away from any global climate control treaties over the last few years. On the surface, it does look like President Bush is putting the US economy before the planet. Maybe there is truth in these perceptions, but, to give credit where it is due, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is spending money on research into new technologies that promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes.

One such area of research is CO2 sequestration. Nine specially selected projects have received a total of $24 million to develop technologies that will allow CO2 to be captured and safely removed from coal-fired power stations’ emissions. This is a fascinating area of research, and once the technology is fully developed, should make it easier for the USA to reduce its CO2 emissions without having to drastically change or impair their economic performance.

In combination with changes to the way people use energy, this kind of technology, if it comes online soon enough, can make a real difference to the growing problem of climate change. The beauty of this kind of approach is that it can be exported to big emitters like India and China and allow them the economic growth they need to sustain their populations whilst minimising their impact on global warming. Hopefully with enough research into ways of reducing CO2 emissions from existing processes and research into new energy sources, we may just beat global warming.

UK MP’s consider legislation to force employers to pay a ‘living wage’

A group of MP’s is calling on the government to introduce legislation to force UK companies to pay their overseas staff a ‘living wage’ and give them employment rights and protection. The MP’s want UK firms to offer their staff around the world the same kind of rights UK workers are accustomed to. This follows a report by the Guardian that highlighted the working conditions at factories in Bangladesh that make products for Asda, Primark and Tesco. Some of the workers earn as little as 4p an hour and are forced to work up to 80 hours a week. The workers reported instances of abuse by supervisors and sackings for being off work when sick.

These kinds of practices are outlawed in the UK, yet UK companies allow their suppliers to use such exploitative practices that they border on slavery. The government and retailers point to the Ethical Trade Initiative, which is a voluntary code of practice with guidelines of 48 hour working weeks, maximum 12 hours overtime and a living wage, but this is clearly not working.

I know retailers are in competition, and at the lower end of the market, price is the main attraction for shoppers, but at what cost to the people that make the products?
We in the UK and the rest of the developed world can afford to pay a fair price for everything we buy. We do not really need to exploit the world’s poorest people so we can save a few pennies on a pair of jeans. At the higher end of the market, where clothes can be extortionately expensive, is it really necessary to exploit the workers? When a pair of jeans can cost over £100, is it right to pay the workers something like 10p an hour?

Like many of the government’s voluntary codes pf practice introduced to allow companies to self-regulate, they simply do not work. It should be pretty obvious to anyone that in a commercial organisation the primary motivator is making as much profit as possible. Workers’ rights, especially workers that are beyond UK law, are an irrelevance. Surely the only reason UK companies outsource work to third world countries is the low production costs involved, one factor of which is the low wages they pay the workers. The only way workers’ rights can be improved is through government action and legislation to ensure UK companies apply the same rules to workers abroad as they do in the UK. Ideally there need to be legal minimum standards for all workers that are applied across the world.

[Via The Guardian]

Public transport costs rise as motoring costs drop

The benefits of going green are not lost on businesses and governments. Green has political capital right now. Green sells and green gets votes. The UK government likes to talk up its green credentials, to be in effect the government that cares for the planet. There seem to be new sound-bites and new initiatives to tackle climate change coming out all the time.

This may play well in the papers and on the television news, but in reality are these just more empty words and token gestures? Looking at the government’s transport policy, it would appear to be just another smokescreen to keep the public placated. In the last 30 years, the cost of travelling by car has fallen by 10% while the cost of travelling by train and bus has risen by 50%. Not exactly the best way to get people out of their cars and onto public transport! In the last 10 years, motorists have driven up to 270 billion miles a year, which any way you look at it adds up to a massive amount of CO2 emissions.

Is there a simple solution? As our population grows and people become wealthier, more people will own and drive cars. To compound the problem, there is the perception that public transport is more dangerous, especially for women travelling on their own, and of course there is the stigma of not owning a car and having to get on a bus or train. This is a complex problem, and will involve a culture change among many people. The car has been promoted as a sign of independence and status, for some people it defines who they are. The government can help by improving public transport generally and by making it cheaper and safer. They can even risk the wrath of motorists and increase the cost of driving, but that I think will be step too far for any government that depends on voters to stay in power. In the end it will come down to individuals making choices that either help reduce climate change or increase climate change.

[Via The Independent]