22 April 2010

Ed Miliband Disputes My Figures

Last night the would-be energy ministers from the three UK political parties participated in a debate organized by The Guardian. During the debate a question was asked about the feasibility of meeting the short-term targets in the UK Climate Change Act. The question was posed as follows (you can hear excerpts from the debate here, the question is posed just after 14:30):
Academic research has shown that for the UK to meet the emissions reductions targets implied by the 2008 Climate Change Act would require an effort the equivalent of 30 new nuclear power plants by 2015, just to get part way to the target. Clearly this is not going to happen.
Ed Miliband, the Labor secretary of state for energy and climate change (in the center of the above photo), responded first by saying that he disputes my figures. My figures can easily be checked because they have been published in the peer-reviewed literature:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2009. The British Climate Change Act: A Critical Evaluation and Proposed Alternative Approach, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 2.
Just because they are published doesn't make them right, but it does not mean that they should be cavalierly dismissed either. I am certain that they are correct. Anyone with a line to Miliband is asked to request from him the details of his objection to these figures, and should a reply ever be forthcoming, I'll post it up here.

In fact, thanks to the Guardian, you can easily confirm that they are correct as well. The Guardian has put online a nifty carbon calculator for the UK, which allows one to play around with assumptions to try to reach the short term target. A reduction of 15% from today is equivalent to the 2020 target of a 34% reduction from 1990.

Using the calculator, you can get to the 2020 target by eliminating all 20 coal-fired power plants and an additional 30 natural gas power plants. To balance energy supply and demand these would have to be replaced by carbon-free generation. So, when I say that the level of effort is equivalent to 30 1GW nuclear power plants to get only part way to the short-term target, you can easily see that number is correct using the online calculator (how very cool). Spreading that level of effort around many sectors of the economy does not make the magnitude of the task any smaller, and arguably makes it more complex.

On this issue, Ed Miliband is simply wrong. His opponents in the debate, however, did not seem any better on the substance. Whoever inherits or retains the job of energy minister is eventually going to have to deal with the failure of the Climate Change Act. Denying the figures will only work for so long.


  1. UK politicians live in la-la-land.

    There is a plausible scenario, however, in which the CO2 emission targets are met. Some UK power stations are reaching the end of their technical life-time, while others will have to switched off because they do not meet air quality regulations. Planning regulations are such that it is hard to build anything new. Widespread blackouts are a real possibility for 2020, while interconnection with France, Netherlands, Norway and Ireland may be the only acceptable solution.

  2. Any proposal to build 30 nuclear power stations dotted around England would be political suicide.

    It would cause a revolt in Middle England and cause internal ruptures of vital organs amongst the eco-numpties.

    So the policy of three main political protagonists is to do nothing but say a lot, as you can read by the Guardian debate.

    It seems platitudes will power the UK over the next 50 years.

  3. I wouldn't worry about Milliped junior as he is going to be toast in the 6th May election.

  4. Ed Milliband is a nutter. It is election time so many of us are hoping and praying that it wont be long before we dont have to listen to this kind of nonsense.


  5. This is what political consensus does - government and 'opposition' speak with one voice, thus failing to provide alternatives to their collective erroneous position. Vote 'none of the above.'

  6. I assume Miliband is deliberately lying because the figures are (probably) for international consumption. They show Britain assuming global leadership on decarbonisation. He isn't going to admit to that under any circumstances.

    What happens in 2015 is five years away !! Miliband will have moved on. Just like Al Gore won't live to see 8 foot sea rises.

    You have found similar issues with other nations if I remember.

    This is the British nuclear reality

    A huge expansion of nuclear power was signalled by the Government today as it named 10 sites where new power stations could be built.

    The first is set to be operational by 2018 and, by 2025, nuclear electricity generation could amount to around 40% of new energy provision.

    Nine of the new sites are in England, including three in Cumbria, with the 10th in Anglesey, North Wales.


  7. Since when were politicians inhibited by the facts? There is of course also www.withouthotair.com written by a Brit as opposed to a Yank which they probably not read. It essentially says the same thing.

  8. 2, "It seems platitudes will power the UK over the next 50 years."

    Same with the USA, it seems! When oh when will the public hold politicians responsible for their lies?

  9. Roger, how does this episode inform your hypotheses and prescriptions in the Honest Broker?

  10. To be fair Miliband was thrown this in a debate. If the question was put another way along the lines of 'the effort to decarbonise the UK (and in fact European) economies is unprecedented - so is it achievable?' it would have flushed out more interesting answers. That seems to me to be a question more in keeping with your paper.

    On the substance of your article, the European economies have a get-out-(nearly) free card through carbon trading. So if they fail on domestic decarbonisation, they can simply buy decarbonisation elsewhere. This is also, of course, problematic, but
    remains part of the policy architecture for Miliband.

    In practice, Europe's 20% commitment by 2020 is rather low effort because a lot of it was already done by the dash for gas in the 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet union. The pathway to 2050 is widely seen to be 'hard-but-possible' and desirable by European government strategists because Europe is increasingly dependent on imported fossil fuels and is also awake to climate risk.

    But have they the policies to overcome the fact that this is unprecedented? That is another issue. The reason your paper is flawed is that it only adresses the issue of the high level framework (the targets). It doesn't address the much more important policies underneath which are about mobilising cleantech, energy efficiency, grid etc. If you look at that level of policy, there are still some major missing pieces so your overall conclusion that the UK (and Europe) are not on course may well be correct.

  11. Mike MCHENRY says: "There is of course also www.withouthotair.com written by a Brit as opposed to a Yank which they probably not read."

    You may be interested to know that the Brit concerned, Prof David Mackay, is Chief Scientific Adviser in Miliband's Department of Energy and Climate Change.

  12. At some point surely the politicians have to notice that the money isn't there to cover all their grandiose promises. Or maybe they know that already and it's the public who need to realize it.

    Clegg is the only one to eschew the upgrading of Trident and remind us that nuclear power is a cost-hog that will be too late anyway. However I'd have liked to see him apply the same costs-too-much-and-does-no-good-anyway argument to climate issues too. The UK is responsible for 2% of emissions after all, and is rapidly approaching bankrupcy.

  13. -9-Mike

    It suggests to me that either Miliband did not understand the question or he has not been listening to his advisors -- as a later comment indicates, he certainly has people who understand on tap.

  14. Roger,
    Why are you surprised that a government official pushing radical AGW-based policies would ignore facts?

  15. Roger Is there a transcript of what was said?

  16. Roger I listened to what he said in answer to your question several times. He claims there is a plan sector by sector. Do you know where we can find that?

  17. -15, 16- MIKE

    No transcript that I've seen .. the report is presumably this one:


  18. Miliband is not wrong: it's just that his assumptions are giving him a different answer.

  19. MIKE MCHENRY asks if there is a sector-by-sector plan. The thing to look for on the DECC website is the 'low carbon transition plan' (http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/publications/lc_trans_plan/lc_trans_plan.aspx). The Tories have a quite impressive paper too - their key paper is here: http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/03/Conservatives_propose_radical_overhaul_of_Britains_energy_policy.aspx

    The Lib Dems policy is similar but with no nuclear and slightly better integrated across governments.

    The reason I think Roger's article is wrong is that he has not evaluated the policies at this lower level of granularity so is unable to conclude the Climate Act "will" fail. The Climate Act is targets not implementation policies.

    There was another comment on the 'cost'. The 'cost' is a tiny fraction of GDP - this is because what you lost on paying for more captal intense clean tech infrastructure, you gain from reduced use of fossil fuels. So decarbonisation is about a shift from operationl to capital intensity. If government policies are effectively targetd at reducing the WACC and fossil prices are even slightly higher than WEO forecasts (VERY likely) then there is no 'cost' at all.

    There is plentl of capital - global bond market was c$100tn i 2009 - decarbonisation only needs 1% of that. So all in allit comesdown to how far governments have the policy frameworks to convince the markets to invest in low carbon. That by the ay is the point of the Climate Act - it provides market certainty that low carbon transition will stick.

    But as I sy again, I'm not convinced most of Europe has got the policy detail right at the more granular level, so Europe may indeed miss targets.

  20. I perused the executive summary.Coal,gas and nuclear decline and is replaced by renew-ables and some ccs. There is also a significant decline in consumption. The auto strategy has some funny things like 3.9m eco-drivers by 2020. Pipe dream! http://hmccc.s3.amazonaws.com/docs/21667%20CCC%20Executive%20Summary%20AW%20v4.pdf

  21. -18-Matt P

    Thanks for these links.

    Are you disputing my conclusion that it requires a level of effort equivalent to the deployment of 30 nuclear power plants by 2015 (at the latest) for the UK to be on course to meet the 2018-2022 target? Or are you disputing my suggestion that this level of effort implies that the Act is doomed to fail?

    Seems to me that accepting the former (seems rather indisputable) implies the latter. These conclusions are independent of the level of detail that any implementation plan goes into or the size of the global bond market.

  22. Hello Roger - I am disputing your conclusion that the UK's decarbonisation is doomed to fail which I don't think is a conclusion you are able to draw from the evidence you have assessed. I don't know whether your final number is correct because I am not familiar with the type of method you are using. I think, however, it is simply not possible to draw your conclusion on the basis of a generalised assessment of a target. This is because of the status of a target in the policy cycle - a target is not set because BAU policy will achieve it, a target is set and then implementation policies are designed to meet it. You simply can't draw a conclusion that the target will fail unless you are assessing whether the implementation policies are adequate. That's why I think its possible your maths is correct, but your conclusions are just personal opinion.

    I'll give an example. Until Autumn 2009 the UK had plans to build 12 or so unabated coal plants ("capture ready"). The CCC concluded that the carbon price was likely to be an insufficient signal to guarantee CCS and meet the CCC conclusion that electricity should be decarbonised around 2030 and so the government needed to have a new policy on coal that would rule out unabated coal plants. Subsequently the UK has introduced a policy of no new coal plants without CCS from the outset and a pathway for CCS on 'old' coal plants (or closure) by the mid 2020s. So, in my terms, the granular policy was adjusted to facilitate meeting the Climate Act target.

    So the question is now, has the UK got the right policies for getting low/zero carbon electricity in place and on time? One commenter claims the lights will go out and while this claim is frequently made it is actually extremely unlikely - right now there are 40 odd GW of new capacity in the National Grid queue seeking rights to connect to the grid. Nevertheless, utilities may build too much CCGT and not enough RES.

    The low carbon transition plan is a reasonable stab at getting the clean tech - but would fall short in a number of areas. One example would be energy efficiency retrofit where the government (and opposition) proposals are inadequate. For reasons like that it may not succeed, but not because of the target.

    You are right that my comment on bond issue was a bit confusing - I was responding to someone else's comment that the 'money isn't there'. It is, but there is competition for capital and clean tech needs to be more attractive than other sectors to get it. But the point connected to your assessment of the Act is what is the Act for? Why have a legally binding target at all - it's not as if anyone can go to jail for failing! The answer is that the existance of the Act and its binding nature provides certainty to the markets that the UK is on a low carbon pathway, so there is something to invest against. Secondly it binds all parts of government into the effort - something that has been a great failing as we all know is that climate ministers may get the need for action, but finance ministers are not interested. Having an Act provides a stronger pressure on all government departments to align policies.

  23. Mike Mchenry said: 'pipe dream'.

    Well that's an opinion. There are other kinds of pipe dream too - fossil prices going down, fossil price spikes disappearing, huge fossil finds in stable regions of the world, no climate risks, fossil extraction having no negatitve social and environmetnal impact, economies booming by using high carbon technologies, energy inefficiency somehow benefitting economies etc etc

    Looking from any new UK minister's perspective - North Sea fossil supplies are in rapid decline, so the UK risks high dependency on imported fossil fuels. Inflation via fossil price volatility is a major economic risk and in 2008 (for example)caused inflation, increases in levels of fuel poverty, instability around investment risk and political destabilisation. The UK economy desperately needs to diversify beyond financial services and grab a share of the low carbon sector which is likely to be a major part of the global economy. The UK would also have some competitive advantage around certain technologies - particularly marine RES. The reduced expenditure on imported fossil also means more inward investment and better balance of payments. Add climate risk to this and the timetable becomes clearer which is why the arguments between the candidates are about who can do it better and quicker not whether it is a good idea. As I said before the 'costs' are at worst a fraction of a per cent of GDP and represent a shift from operational to capital expenditure - this can be moderated at a consumer level by good EE policy and at investor level by policy focusing on bringing down the WACC.

    So all in all there is a strategic case for the UK to strongly drive clean tech and efficiency. Putting it another way the energy and climate insecurity of BAU would be a strategic risk for the UK.

    All that said, I think the candidate parties are very bad at making the strategic case to the public.

  24. -23-Matt P

    Thanks ... I suggest having a look at my paper, and perhaps even running the sums yourself. It is not complicated and won't take you long.

    You write -- "You simply can't draw a conclusion that the target will fail unless you are assessing whether the implementation policies are adequate"

    Consider the following analogy: Let's say that I set a target of meeting you in London for breakfast tomorrow. You might comment that the only way that is going to happen at this late hour is if I charter a private jet. You might then conclude that the breakfast meeting is not going to happen. That would be a solid conclusion.

  25. Matt 23

    When I see silly things like 3.9m eco-drivers I know the plan is contrived.

  26. Roger - if you will allow me to be slightly facetious, consider back another analogy - it seems to me that you are making your guess on the basis of investigating the living room rather than the kitchen.

  27. -27-MattP

    Don't worry, it was the foundation I look at, and it can't support the house!

  28. Great article on GREEN ENERGY in the Washington Post today. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/23/AR2010042302220.html?wpisrc=nl_pmopinions

  29. How coincidental. Bryce just had his new book, Power Hungry, published. It's reviewed in today's Wall Street Journal.