Report on the Radical Emissions Reduction Conference, London, 10-11 Dec 2013.
I attended this conference which was essentially an academic event. Although organised by Prof Kevin Anderson
of the Tyndall Centre it was not a climate science conference. It took the science and the threat of climate
change as given and asked what we could do about it. The speakers included economists, sociologists,
anthropologists, NGO experts, a French philosopher and an Irish fireman! The agenda and abstracts can be found
Tyndall has promised to
post records and slides on its website starting about December 16th. [They did - click
The political radicalism of the conference surprised me. The keynote speaker was Naomi Klein and Caroline Lucas
was on the
speech on the first day
Naomi said, roughly, "I thought I might stir you up by
calling for revolution, but that's already happened six times!". Many speakers - there were 35 in total -
stressed the need for major change in politics and behaviour and discussed the political and ideological
But there was good news too.
The unexpected star of the second day was
a fireman from Dublin. Six years ago he started a process
of general improvement and emissions reduction at his fire station. The key points included:
In six years he has done 300 actions and created 20 start-ups. He has extended his approach first to the rest
of the Dublin Fire Service and then to the whole Council. Inspiring stuff!
- Start-up funding from firemen
- Reinvestment of savings in further projects
- Construction of gardens with lots of wildlife
- Involvement of retired firemen in gardening and maintenance.
Prof Terry Barker
told us that his economic modelling showed that radical emissions reductions were
economically and technically viable.
told us that stopping climate change will have many societal benefits, especially for
set out the energy supply scenario in Zero Carbon Britain. This relies heavily on wind
and uses hydrogen and biomass (sic) at times when there is not enough wind.
Prof Fred Steward
told us of £1B worth of emissions reduction projects across Europe running below national
level. These, he told me, were mostly projects with other principal objectives, eg public transport improvement,
but which would in fact reduce emissions.
told us that using LED lights would significantly reduce peak electricity demand. Lighting,
she said, is about 22% of peak demand (which occurs about 5 pm on December 18th by the way).
told us that the technologies already exist to make major emissions savings from existing
homes. He is applying them to 13 properties this year. The process need pump-priming however, and the government
has undermined the schemes that might have provided it.
- There are examples of radical emissions reductions.
mentioned Cuba and Utah.
told us that by removing the more inefficient cars from the market we could reduce car emissions
by 40% by 2022.
showed us that even the most energy efficient mode of transport - shipping - could make
major emissions reductions by steaming slower, adding sails and supporting a more local pattern of trade.
Though we've known about the threat of climate change for over twenty years nothing effective has been done.
The 80% reduction by 2050 target may not be enough.
thinks it should be 97%. Either requires
annual reductions in the range 7.5 to 10%.
Almost everyone is in denial about both the scale and pace of the changes needed. Several speakers gave lists
of reasons for the inaction and denial but here's my list:
discussed DECC's Pathways model. He noted that the target, keeping below two degrees increase,
could not be altered. The modelling of the supply-side is good though there is some room for improvement. But
the demand-side model is ridiculously committed to growth. For instance, the lowest level of flying that can be
chosen for 2050 is an 85% increase! Government cannot accept even the possibility that we may have to do less of
- Vested interests in fossil fuel and growth oppose effective action. The worst are fuel producers, both
corporate and national, energy supply companies, automobile and aerospace firms. But they also include
manufacturers, retailers, media and governments who benefit from growth, ie almost all of them. These interests
fund denialists and have infiltrated government.
- The dominance of neoliberal ideology. Since 1979 this has become more and more influential and has conquered
the parties of the Left as well as the right. Neoliberals believe in the magic of the market and that government
intervention must make things worse.
criticised North American environmental organisations for using
neoliberal arguments and proposing neoliberal remedies, thus strengthening their enemies. It is neoliberalism
that has inspired the WTO - an emergent world government by corporations. Even at this conference, several
speakers proposed solutions, such as tradeable quotas, that rely on new markets, yet
told the conference that carbon markets had failed.
- The fact that personal inaction is rational. Personal discipline will have little effect unless it's part of
a global response but will interfere with things people enjoy such as shopping and foreign holidays.
- The near absence of convincing role models for low-carbon living requiring acts of imagination too difficult
for most of us.
urged us to challenge vested interests and neoliberal ideology.
urged us to use people that MPs respect when trying to persuade them.
Everyone agreed that vigorous early action would be needed and that this would not happen without strong public
Philosopher Nicole de Bouvrie
declared that she "did not believe in physical reality". Who let her in I do not
know! A fellow philosopher spoke afterwards "to prevent philosophy coming into disrepute".
Quotes to remember:
"Of the 1 m Hurricane Sandy storm surge 20 cm was due to global warming". Corrine Le Quere.
"We are [energy] addicts ... [and] shale gas is our methadone". Kevin Anderson.
"Global recession is the only thing shown to reduce global emissions - and that only briefly". John Barrett.
"Roosevelt showed that government CAN tame finance". Andrew Simms.
"We must shred the neoliberal ideology". Naomi Klein
"Our ideas are popular but not powerful". Naomi Klein.
"In primitive societies people see the rich as thieves. We see things differently. The peasants are right!".
"A science-based response to the climate threat is our best lever to achieve economic justice". Naomi Klein.
"On average men and women have similar carbon footprints but men's is dominated by recreational travel and
women's by energy-using domestic work". Angela Druckman.