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    UCL-Energy Director’s thoughts on UCL-Energy/French Embassy/UKERC Event

    By Robert Lowe, on 27 October 2015

    On Tuesday 2IMG_52910 October 2015, UCL Energy Institute, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, UKERC and the French Embassy hosted ‘Global Energy, Global Climate’. This was the first in a series of three events organised jointly by UCL Energy Institute and the French Embassy (under the auspices of the long-established relationship between the French Embassy’s Science and Technology Department and UCL’s Grand Challenges programme), to be held termly through the 2015-16 academic year.

    For an evening event on Energy and Climate Change, in the middle of Global Climate Change Week and in the run-up to COP21, it would have been hard to think of a better line-up of speakers – Jean-Charles Hourcade (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CNRS), Jim Watson (UKERC Research Director, Paul Ekins (Director of UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources), Jim Skea (ex-UKERC Research Director and IPCC WGIII co-chair) and our discussant, Jill Duggan (Doosan Babcock).

    Jean-Charles gave a fascinating summary, peppered with memorable epithets, of the attempts that have been made since 1988 to craft an international agreement that would limit global CO2 emissions (and yes, there are other GHGs, but CO2 accounts for roughly 2/3 of man-made climate forcing). Those who rail against the glacial rate of progress over almost 30 years, would do well to reflect on the real complexities of the negotiations.

    Paul Ekins, Jim Skea, and Jim Watson then set out some of the key findings and arguments from the latest UKERC book, Global Energy: Issues, Potentials, Policy Implications. Paul reflected on choices and policy IMG_5301challenges, Jim Skea on on-going developments in global energy markets, among them the very high rate of growth of renewables, and Jim Watson on the complexities of the innovation process – the importance of learning-by-doing, the long time scales to deploy new technologies at scale, and the low probability of university-based researchers finding a silver bullet that will solve the problems of energy and climate change.

    Jill Duggan gave a masterful summing up, reflecting on how, despite disappointments, there are signs of progress – among other things, she stated that it would now be inconceivable to propose the construction of a new, unabated coal-fired power station in the UK. It is less than ten years since E.ON proposed the construction of two new coal-fired units, at Kingsnorth. Perhaps her most memorable point was that credibility is one of the most important resources that governments have to drive through what may prove to be the most difficult infrastructural, social and political transition of the last two centuries.

    photo 1The panel discussion was memorable both for the level of agreement, and one notable disagreement – on the feasibility of carbon taxation. All participants agreed on the desirability of carbon pricing, but Jim Skea, Jim Watson and Jill Duggan thought that carbon taxation was very unlikely to be the best way to achieve it. Jean-Charles described how, in the 1990s, key EU governments worked to frustrate attempts to introduce EU-wide carbon taxation. No UK government would have the credibility to make it stick, and in the absence of long-term certainty, it would be largely ignored by industry. There are spectacular outliers – Denmark and Sweden – which have maintained very high levels of energy and carbon taxation, in the case of Denmark since the late 1970s. But those of us, like Paul Ekins and myself, who have argued for twenty years for carbon taxation, would do well to understand the political problems elsewhere.

    My own conclusions after having chaired this event? The fossil fuel age will prove much harder to get out of than to get into – those who are yet to be persuaded of this would do well to read the reports of the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project undertaken by UCL-Energy and IDDRI (another Anglo-French collaboration), and perhaps McGlade & Ekins paper, The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C.

    Thomas Kuhn’s description of the nature of the scientific crises that precede scientific revolutions (paradigm shifts) seems to me to be a useful metaphor for the challenge of climate change and our attempts to solve it – and here I paraphrase: the accumulation of widely disparate problems that initially attract a series of incremental responses; the generation of a host of new ideas, many of which ultimately fail to be taken up, but some of which point the way to a new paradigm; a growing sense of disorientation and crisis as it becomes clear that ways of tackling the underlying problems that have been successful historically, no longer appear to work; and finally, resolution, as the new paradigm with all of its technical, social, economic, and political dimensions is articulated and entrenched.

    Presentation slides from this event 

    Can country-led decarbonisation efforts help achieve a 2⁰C pathway? Henri Waisman’s message is inspiring and positive

    By Cara P Jenkinson, on 19 October 2015

    19 – 25 October marks the inaugural Global Climate Change Week (#GCCW). GCCW is a new initiative designed to encourage academics in all disciplines and countries to engage with their students and communities on climate change action and solutions. UCL IEDE, UCL-Energy, UCL ISR and UCL ISH academics and students will be holding events and blogging through the week to share thoughts and ideas for the future.


    Henri Waisman’s message was inspiring and positive at the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project (DDPP) seminar on 6th October, chaired by the UCL Energy Institute’s Professor Neil Strachan. Dr Waisman, who is Director of the DDPP at French think-tank IDDRI, described how research groups in 16 countries, together responsible for 74% of total emissions, have set out concrete, technically feasible pathways to deep reductions in carbon emissions.

    First Dr Weissman set out the scale of the challenge – to meet the 2 degrees target agreed in Copenhagen in 2009, we need to reduce carbon emitted per unit of GDP by 90%, and emissions must peak by 2020. It is clear that this requires profound changes, not just marginal adjustments.

    The pathways are country-specific, taking into account current infrastructure, natural resources and socio-economic development. Whilst all of the pathways assume that energy demand reduction and decarbonisation of energy supply are equally important, each country puts forward a different approach. So Germany for example will not include nuclear or carbon capture and storage (CCS) in its energy supply whereas India, in contrast, where coal will still be an important part of the energy mix even by 2050, will rely on CCS.

    As well as technical feasibility, the Deep Decarbonisation project also looks at the question of costs.  Here the answer is somewhat reassuring – although some additional investment is needed, mostly it is a story of re-allocation of resources, away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, electrification and new technologies.

    Whilst the project sets out concrete pathways to achieve ambitious goals, most countries recognise that the real challenge is in implementation. For developing countries there is the issue of who pays – how much will developed countries contribute to the investments needed for renewable energy and associated infrastructure? For developed countries there are big challenges in energy demand reduction – for example how do you incentivise homeowners and landlords to further increase home energy efficiency? One of the challenges common to all countries is that significant costs must be incurred now for benefits achieved over a much longer time period.  A good example of this is investment in the commercial rollout of CCS – a technology that many countries are depending on in order to carry on using fossil fuels.  And yet another challenge is to ensure that countries do not lock themselves into technologies that deliver carbon reductions in the short term, but are poor alternatives to renewables in the longer term.

    Henri Waisman’s clear message is that to successfully address these challenges, there has to be genuine commitment by governments to meet the 2 degrees target.  In that way the private sector will have the confidence to invest. There needs to be consistent policy – one of the difficulties in many countries, most notably in the UK in recent months, has been policy reversals, which have undermined investor confidence.   International co-operation is also essential, one of the real benefits of the project is that it clearly identifies areas where international co-operation will make a difference.

    Uppermost in the minds of most of the audience was of course the Paris COP21 climate talks.  In contrast to previous international negotiations the COP21 talks start with national contributions (INDCs) representing each country’s ‘offer’ on carbon reduction.  Clearly the DDPs, drawn up by researchers independent of government, have a useful role in assessing how ambitious the INDCs are.   Dr Waisman also drew our attention to the need for COP21 targets to be dynamic, and how the DDPs will inform how further decarbonisation can take place, identifying the challenges up front.

    Following Henri Waisman’s presentation there were interesting interventions by Professor Yacob Mulugetta, Professor of Energy and Development Policy at UCL and Fergus Green, a climate and policy researcher at LSE.    Professor Mulugetta emphasised the importance of Africa – its emissions are growing sharply as further development and urbanisation takes place, and it would be useful to include more African countries in the DDP project.  He also made an excellent point about the interconnections between different countries pathways – China’s carbon emissions depend strongly on the consumption of Europe and the US.

    Fergus Green gave two reasons to be optimistic, and one to be a bit less positive.  On the plus side, Chinese emissions are expected to peak earlier than previously thought, possibly by 2025 and they will be introducing a national emissions trading system in 2017 (see China Carbon Forum report).   Secondly Fergus Green said that humankind had consistently underestimated the speed of technological development, and there’s no reason to believe this isn’t the case with energy technology as well.  But he echoed Dr Waisman’s points around the challenges – particularly the political will to invest upfront.

    This was the first UCL seminar I attended – and it was a very thought-provoking discussion.

    Franco-British bilateral conference on Climate Change Adaptation, Resilience & Risks

    By Sofie Pelsmakers, on 17 July 2015

    by Anna Mavrogianni & Sofie Pelsmakers

    On June 2nd, UCL and the French Embassy in London held talks and workshops for invited ‘millenials’ and UCL postgraduate students discussing future climate change adaptation to focus on how both countries and their capital cities are going to adapt to climate change challenges and how to increase resilience to climate change risks (you can watch here). This was followed by a public debate, hosted by the BBC’s environment correspondent Roger Harrabin. I had to miss the latter as I was attending the RIBA Role Models Project launch as written about here

    DSC08002Doctor Ian Scott and the UCL Grand Challenges team had managed to get several high-profile speakers around the table: ChrisRapley CBE, Professor of Climate Science at UCL who chaired the discussions and workshops; Hervé le Treut, Senior Researcher, French National Centre for Scientific Research, Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory; John (Lord) Krebs FRS, UK Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Subcommittee; Professor Nicolas Beriot, Secretary General, National Observatory of Climate Warming Effects, Ministry of Ecology, Paris; Claire Vetori, Environmental Advisor to Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100 team; Professor Tim Reeder from the UK Environment Agency; Célia Blauel, Deputy Mayor, City of Paris (Environment, Sustainable Development, Water, Climate Plan portfolio); Alex Nickson, Strategy Manager for Climate Change Adaptation and Water, Greater London Authority, Professor Mike Davies, Director of the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. Read the rest of this entry »

    The case for diversity in architecture

    By Sofie Pelsmakers, on 9 July 2015

    wordle 2by Sofie Pelsmakers and Stephen Ware

    On June 2nd, the Royal Institute of British architects (RIBA) launched its Role Models project. Stephen and I are two of its 12 ‘Role Models’ and all our stories highlight the increasing diversity within the architecture profession, hopefully inspiring those like us to join us in the profession. Diversity is after all a good thing: not only does it make sense for a profession to reflect the society it operates within (and designs for), furthermore research has shown that diversity is a good thing: organisational diversity “enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.” Read the rest of this entry »

    Building from the bottom-up: domestic action to drive global deep decarbonisation

    By Steve Pye, on 6 July 2015

    DDPP coverIf we are to deliver a decarbonised global energy system to ensure we sufficiently reduce the risk of dangerous climate change, it is strong action by countries that will be needed. While obvious, much of the analyses that emerges and is reported by the IPCC provides global solutions which are not necessarily grounded in the realities of specific country contexts. The question is what are the necessary actions that are needed to be undertaken by countries? Read the rest of this entry »

    How can the European Commission tackle the growing challenge of energy poverty across EU Member States?

    By Steve Pye, on 24 June 2015

    EU_lights2This piece is based on the recently published report by the INSIGHT_E consortium ‘Energy poverty and vulnerable consumers in the energy sector across the EU: analysis of policies and measures’. The full report can be found on the INSIGHT_E website, www.insightenergy.org Read the rest of this entry »

    ‘Shifting to a low carbon economy: a piece of cake? Jean-Marc Jancovici’s seminar is not to be missed

    By Frederic C Steimer, on 22 June 2015

    co2 and h2o emmissionsJean-Marc Jancovici, one of the most famous energy experts in France, will be giving a seminar on June 29th, on the historical importance of energy!  Industrial revolutions, post-war boom, recessions or crisis: do not miss the opportunity to learn about the central role of energy in the economies of our modern societies! Read the rest of this entry »

    The power of reducing energy consumption is in our hands

    By Catalina Spataru, on 19 June 2015

    Setting a thermostat to cool in the summer.

    Setting a thermostat to cool in the summer.

    According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, which represents 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. From this 32% of the world’s population represent Christians. The demographic study was based on an analysis of more than 2,500 census, surveys and population registers.

    Also, Pew Research Center has published results on % who believe there is solid evidence that Earth is getting warmer  Read the rest of this entry »

    Sunny thoughts from ECEEE’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiently

    By Paula Morgenstern, on 10 June 2015

    View - Conference Site

    View from the conference site

    The 12th ECEEE (European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy) Summer Study on Energy Efficiency took place from the 1-6th of June in the south of France. Three colleagues from UCL-Energy Institute were fortunate enough to be part of this week of presentations, discussions and workshops around energy efficiency. They left with smiles and many new ideas thanks to an event bringing together experts from many different sectors and backgrounds. Everyone’s shared ambition to make energy efficiency a reality (as reflected in the conference slogan “First Fuel Now”) made networking easy and differences in worldviews a conversation starter rather than an obstacle. Okay, maybe the generous supply of French wine the summer study is famous for also contributed here.

    Find out here which new thoughts Gesche Huebner, Mike Fell and Paula Morgenstern have brought back to London from ECEEE:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    The Queen’s Speech: what is next for onshore wind farm subsidies?

    By Andrew ZP Smith, on 8 June 2015

    Wind TurbinesFollowing on from a manifesto commitment to “halt the spread of onshore wind farms”, the incoming Conservative Government has proposed in the Queen’s Speech that new subsidies would not be available to future onshore windfarms. This despite overwhelming public support for onshore wind: the DECC attitude-tracking survey of April 2015 found that just 12% of the public opposed the use of onshore wind, while 64% supported it. Read the rest of this entry »