The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) makes it clear on their website that they view the key priorities of their department as follows
- Tackling Climate Change
- Reducing Emissions
- Meeting Energy Demand
I would have placed these priorities in exactly the reverse order since cheap reliable energy is the key to prosperity while climate change is of little direct importance for the UK economy. Meanwhile DECC is spending eye watering amounts of money “tackling climate change” as sumarised in their “Cost Benefit analysis” from 2008 (see fig 1).
Fig 1: CLIMATE CHANGE ACT 2008 IMPACT ASSESSMENT
Spending this sort of money one would expect large long term benefits. The assumption seems to be that through example the UK will convince the world to abandon growth and cut carbon emissions to avoid planetary disaster. As I see it there are two basic problems with this noble position.
- For the UK itself there has been no discernable change in climate since 1940 and it is unlikely that significant change will occur by 2050 either. The evidence for this comes from the HADCRUT3 averaged temperature anomaly data for all UK stations from 1940-2011. The result is shown in Figure 2. There has been essentially no change.
Figure 2: UK average temperature anomaly 1940-2011. The blue curve and the red points show the annual variation. The dashed curve shows the monthly variations.
- In 2006 China increased CO2 emissions over 2005 levels by 545.2 Mt, while in the same year total UK emissions were just 535.8Mt. The 2008 climate change act aims to cut UK emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050 at a costs of hundreds of billions of pounds. It will have no effect on UK temperatures and globally its effect is also insignificant. The UK’s contribution over 40 years will be to offset just 1 year of increases in China’s CO2 emissions.
If on the other hand the aim is to curb UK dependence on fossil fuel imports, then it would be far better to invest just a fraction of this money into nuclear fusion. Only high power densities can replace fossil fuels, and the only non-carbon alternatives are nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Renewables like wind and solar will always have far too low power densities to be of any significance.