Welcome to 2009 – which promises to be a pivotal year in the debate on oil, energy and climate.
We have already seen the problems of reliance on foreign oil and gas supplies, with Russia having its yearly spat with Ukraine over payment for gas, and tensions in the Middle East pushing up the price of oil.
We have already seen the first big political announcement of the year on energy and climate. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced a radical plan for 100,000 new jobs, some of which will be used to try and tackle climate change.
Although the plans have come in for immediate criticism, Brown announced investments in projects such as electric cars and wind and wave power, in a move that he claimed would be bigger than Barack Obama’s planned multi-billion-dollar “Green New Deal”, relative to the size of Britain’s economy. Brown also argued that the plans would not be shelved because of the looming recession.
Rather than “pushing the environment into a lower order of priority, the environment is part of the solution,” he said. Many people are waiting with baited breath for the inauguration of Barak Obama to see what he does on climate.
Some have not waited for him to take office before telling him what to do. One of the world’s top climate scientists, Jim Hansen, has written to Barack Obama, warning of the “profound disconnect” between public policy on climate change and the magnitude of the problem. Hansen attacks the current approach of setting targets through “cap and trade” schemes as being “ineffectual and not commensurate with the climate threat. It could waste another decade, locking in disastrous consequences for our planet and humanity”.
But Hansen’s three-pronged attack on tackling climate change is flawed too. On the one hand he calls for a phasing out of coal-fired power stations, which he calls “factories of death” that do not incorporate carbon capture. Secondly, he proposes a “carbon tax and 100% dividend”.
This is a mechanism for putting a price on carbon without raising money for government finances. But also controversially – and deeply flawed in my opinion – he urges a renewed research effort into so-called fourth generation nuclear plants, which can use nuclear waste as fuel.
Even what Hansen is advocating may not be enough. Just over half – 54 per cent – of the 80 international specialists in climate science who took part in a survey by the Independent earlier this year, argued that the situation is now so dire that we need a backup plan that involves the artificial manipulation of the global climate to counter the climate change. This “geoengineering” approach – including schemes such as fertilising the oceans with iron to stimulate algal blooms – is highly controversial, and is likely to be hotly debated.
Over the next few weeks, there will be much speculation and reaction to what Obama will do on climate and energy policy and on the Oil Change blog we hope to give you a critical analysis of events as they happen.
So stay tuned. It could be quite a year…