Thursday 25 April 2024

Net Zero contradictions: SNP/Green fallout is symptomatic

As argued here several times, governments are deeply ill-advised to set "legally binding targets" for Net Zero policies.  Well, LBTs for almost anything actually; because somebody litigious will be displeased when a target is missed.  How much time and energy can any government afford to spend defending such legal actions?  Yet that's what is happening increasingly across those parts of the world  - UK, EU, USA etc - where governments can be challenged in these ways by anyone with the wonga / sympathetic lawyers etc to muster a challenge (& make the challenge without getting a 'Visit' to dissuade them from their actions).  Since some of these targets are essentially out of reach, it's child's play to demonstrate the government is "not doing enough" (although there's a trap down that road for the litigant, we'll come on to later).    

One or both of two reactions are inevitable.  (i) Governments will take away the means for challenges to be mounted: (ii) they will row back from legally binding targets.  Whatever the attractions of the former to ministers not much concerned for good governance, without doubt the latter is the correct approach, in logic and in law. 

And in Scotland, on specifically the Net Zero issue we've just seen the SNP / Green coalition's first minister Humza Yousaf do exactly that.  It rather seems he did it without consulting the Greens - not much point, really - and now they are parting company, Yousaf unilaterally jumping the SNP out of the Coalition before they were pushed.  Similar things have happened in Germany on a somewhat less dramatic scale - no outright coalition ruptures yet - and doubtless in other places I haven't noticed.  

'Net Zero 2050' as a legally binding target has an odd history.  Many governments had vague 'ambitions' in that direction but as regards outright LBT it took a flailing, failing Theresa May to be the first in, with her hastily-conceived, un-deliberated bid for legacy-glory back in 2019.  It took everyone by surprise, not least Parliament, which shamefully spent next to no time on the legislation; but also a bewildered Climate Change Committee which had to gulp several times before endorsing it as even feasible**.  It then took on the nature of a global vogue.

I suppose it's obvious to even legacy-hungry PMs that legislating for a legally-binding 'end to climate change by 2050' would be preposterous.  But they really ought to take that thought seriously, and take the lesson on board.  For the same reason plus additional issues of pure logic, picking a second-order proxy like 'locally-produced CO2 emissions' for your LBT is almost as ridiculous (by its own lights, that is) without switching it to 'CO2 emitted as a consequence of local consumption'.  

But at least 2050 is a (fairly) long time into the future, to the point where a government defending a legal action can at least argue "how can you be sure we're not going to meet the LBT?"  Thus far, HMG has failed at this game by not convincing the courts it's doing very much at all.  But here's the danger for the litigious greens: the more a government appears to be doing (and right now, that's quite a lot, what with lengthy strategies - on paper - for new nukes, hydrogen, CCS, HPs, EVs etc etc, plus quite a bit of dosh) the more the greens need to 'prove' the run-rate isn't enough.  And in doing that, there's a risk they'll prove that the required run-rate is in fact substantially more than 36 per over, and can't be achieved by anybody.

But that's to get caught up in the fiction, because as suggested above, governments are not going to prolong their own agonies for much longer.  Really crass targets like the SNP/Green's annual increments adding up to an eventual 2050 end-game are just too easy to identify as impossible - so they have to be pulled.  

That case is just the most dramatic we've seen so far, and with the most immediate political consequences.  But will the SNP thereby lose votes, eh?  That isn't quite so obvious.  The Tories have softened a fair few lower-visibility targets already themselves, taking the 'ULEZ' gamble it'll help them a bit at the polls.  The soundness of that judgement may take a bit of calibrating if the GE is as much of a meltdown as many believe.  But Starmer never rushes in with a promise to 'reverse the reversal' in these matters, does he?

As with several things, let's check back at year-end to see how the land lies after all those 2024 GEs.  My guess is that across Europe and the USA, a slew of targets will have been softened.  That's partly for the avoidance of litigation, as above; partly for electoral calculations; and partly something I spotted the big oil companies concluding a while back.  "We've now had several years' experience to analyse; we've done the numbers, and checked them twice; they just don't add up."  



** which they only did making a bunch of caveats so sweeping, they might as well have said: sorry, it can't be done.


dustybloke said...

Sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend just how stupid some politicians are. This leads to many conspiracy theories because ordinary folk can’t believe anyone can be that stupid and that there simply MUST be a plan.

No, they really are just morons…

Matt said...

Ordinary folks need to stop voting for stupid politicians. Problem is the electorate aren't too bright either and will fall for being bribed with their own money by slick charlatans!

jim said...

'Politicians are stupid'. Really? I thought they were usually of average or slightly above average intelligence. The problem is they are locked into a system that demands they believe (or say they believe) six impossible things before breakfast and must possess a rat-like cunning in order to survive.

Like the rest of us they want to keep their salaries and keep the mortgage paid. How many times have I heard whispered 'we know it won't work, but keep taking the money'.

A few moment's thought makes clear NET Zero is not achievable at least at any politically acceptable cost. But the opposite side of that coin is 'we're all going to die'. Not a great election message. So what's to do?

Nothing is what. Nature will solve the problem for us. Either nothing much will happen, we will all shuffle round a bit on the planet's surface. Or the old Malthusian cures will come into play. Or we may find fusion power is not so difficult (expensive) after all. Or a good number of us will never be born. Sit back and relax, the problem is self solving but may hurt for a while.

What we don't want is some loon planning a population reduction programme.

Jan said...

Well said Jim.

The plans are bunkum as for a start it must be an impossibility to measure UK emissions with any degree of accuracy.

Theresa May only went for putting the 50% figure into a law in order to appease her WEF masters. In terms of worldwide emissions the UK is in any case a minnow contributor.

dearieme said...

"We've now had several years' experience to analyse; we've done the numbers, and checked them twice; they just don't add up."

These companies are packed to the rafters with people who understand thermodynamics. It is impossible to believe that it needs "several years' experience" to be able confidently to shout "Balls!". A cursory scan tells you the same lesson immediately.

Anonymous said...

In a world where Chinese coal emissions alone are over 25% of world CO2, and our total emissions <1% the whole thing seems moot.

But wait! Here's Gareth Redmond King to tell me why I'm wrong!

"I live in Crystal Palace with my husband and two cats" - nowt with that, but I do like my doomsayers to be a bit more invested in the future. Skin in the game, so to speak.

Apparently China's bad because we're paying them to make stuff for us! I never realised!

But this got me.

"we were the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. That’s far from water under the bridge – all those carbon emissions are still up there in the atmosphere, and form part of the climate crisis we face today"

My biology teachers were lying to me! They told me there was a thing called photosynthesis!

I do wish these climate bods would hire some science grads.

According to MIT

"Today, plants absorb between a quarter and a third of human-caused emissions per year."

Let's say 30%. That means that if we dumped X tons of Co2 in 1800, by 1801 there'd only be .7x left, by 1811 .02x, by 1901 2.26x x 10 to the -16, by now 2x x 10 to -35. Pretty small number even if x is 10 to power 8 or 9.

Owt wrong with these calcs?

jim said...

The world is full of answers that are clear, simple and wrong.

Now what exactly did Nick mean by '"We've now had several years' experience to analyse; we've done the numbers, and checked them twice; they just don't add up." I take it to mean the migration to Net Zero does not add up rather than global warming will not happen.

Now suppose in say 2060 bad things look like coming down the pike, things that cannot be ignored. What is the plan, will governments worldwide phone their oil companies and coal miners and say -' cut production by 20% - now'.

In a sane world such a command should not come as a surprise, some preliminary discussions, planning and benchmarks having been outlined already. Indeed they were preceded by agreed cuts of 5% or so in 2040 and 2050 with concomitant adjustments of economic incentives.

Sooner or later some such action will probably be needed, better if sane people have thought about it beforehand. The oil companies are not daft, I am sure such thoughts have crossed their minds, not sure about the coal miners though.

Nick Drew said...

What I take the oil co's to have satisfied themselves on is, as jim puts it, the migration to Net Zero does not add up [1]

for them, the salient implication is: oil & gas will (most probably[2]) be needed in large quantities for much longer than had earlier been intimated

the reason, dearieme, they took a few years watching what was happening, is that they needed to be sure (for example) that a rapid revival of the global nuclear industry wasn't going to sweep the board; or a massive surge in, errr, CCS / BECCS / EVs / HPs / whatever. Because many of these 'NZ 2050' utterances came complete with pathways etc, that purported to add up

a couple of years staring at infeasible run-rates (and indeed trying their hands at the great 'sustainability' game themselves) and they've concluded, nope, it just don't add up - we're good for a few decades yet
[1] They've never been in doubt about global warming. We were all selling nat gas against coal in the 1980s on the specific basis that it emitted only half the CO2, which was inevitably going to become a target for regulatory action. Our power-gen customers weren't in any doubt either, whatever vested interests they had in coal, nuke etc

[2] I say 'most probably' because 2050 is still a long way off, and there's the outside chance of a fusion or something even more revolutionary happening along

dearieme said...

"the reason, dearieme, they took a few years watching what was happening, is that ..."

Another explanation mighty be that the senior executives in mighty corporations are often unimpressive intellectually.

Sobers said...

Things like Net Zero are the logical end point of the modern political concept of 'If I say it is so, it is so'. Facts and logic be damned.

See also trans persons, mass immigration is good for the country/economy, Islam is a religion of peace, 'my truth' etc etc. At some point they all hit the buffers of reality.

Matt said...

Which points to politicians being unimpressive intellectually.
I know the counter is that they are smart but beholden to outside forces (Klaus Schwab) but never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

Jeremy Poynton said...

Shame we can't post image son Blogger. I have a lovely graph of CO2 emissions, for some years before and after Miliband Minor's Climate Change Act of 2008

Straight upwards line, with NO change whatsoever after 2008.

And NetZero will be the same. Remember, China are building 2 x coal powered stations a WEEK. NetZero will accomplish nothing the than crashing the economy and further impoverishing an already impoverished nation.

Politicians stupid? Doesn't even start to describe how retarded they are.

Diogenes said...

So if net zero is off the cards since fossil fuels are on a long-tail decline, HMG can continue to levy the oil companies and continue to levy green taxes on the public at the same time.

Brilliant way of extending their grasp of our wealth.

GE anyone? Is Monday too soon?

Anonymous said...

Will it be easier for a Labour government to soften and walk back on past commitements than it would a Conservative government?

IF the Tories do it, then it's just the evial Tories being evil and not caring about our childrens future. But I imgaine Starmer wout get somewhat of a pass by the liberal elite. It will be messaged as him being pragmatic and, whilst he's commited to the cause, the tories left him with no money to do the right thing.

But I imagine in the meantime we'll sign up the following LBT instead:

Have zero work place misogyny by 2030

All boardrooms must be diverese and representative of the population by 2028

jim said...

Chap from Stellantis was moaning about government policy on EVs versus ICE cars. Slapping a fine on car makers who do not flog enough EVs even though sales are a bit slow. Will the car makers fight back?

Then look at the market east of suez, they seem more amenable to EVs - with possibly less aggravation re charging points and less whining about coal power stations. Moving to the US, they seem a bit uptight about Chinese stuff in EVs - or anything Chinese and not so amenable to EVs.

As I see it, places with nice roads and suitable distances and suitable population might be OK with EVs. Places where the roads are a bit rough - Tamil Nadu and Wiltshire not so OK. Then places with a disobedient population and long distances not so OK.

Problem for car makers is will the EV market plateau for the next 5 years. Will the ICE makers invest in new production lines and wil governments swallow their Net Zero schtick. Running a market with a 80/20 technology model does not seem all that sustainable.