if this is the scientific advice it gets
The government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport has been invited to give the government his thoughts on the latest IPCC report. My adviser on energy policy, Ben Pile, has given me the following commentary on Walport’s presentation, which I thought was worth sharing with you (with minor additions of my own).
Walport’s report makes the usual claims which have zero basis in fact to urge policy: “Climate change is already affecting the UK” (page 4). However, the interesting thing is the energy scenarios offered by Walport on PAGE 5.
“Three electricity sources are key to meeting the UK’s legislated emissions reduction targets: renewables, nuclear power, and clean fossil fuels”
Different proportions of these three sources are then shown across four scenarios, under each of which is shown the way energy will be produced/consumed in various sectors: electricity generation, buildings, transport and industry. Under each scenario energy use is reduced by between 31 and 54 per cent. Most notably, under three scenarios (the exception is nuclear) more than 48% of emissions are prevented by Carbon Capture and Storage — a technology which doesn’t exist. In one scenario, 100 percent of transport is powered by ‘ultra-low emissions vehicles’, yet the electric car as a form of mass transport remains a distant possibility at best.
There are two observations worth making here. First is the extent to which policy now seems to encompass the entire up and downstream. Whereas in the past the rôle of government might have been simply to make sure that the needs of the population (i.e. demand) were met, now policy increasingly attempts to determine the way in which energy is to be produced and consumed, how much and by whom.
Second, policy-makers and their advisers seem to imagine that innovation of new energy technology begins with policy. Rather than working from what is possible now, (i.e. technology-up) official thinking is dominated by fanciful ideas about CCS and 82GW of wind, and the entire UK population ditching petrol cars for EVs. The only thing more far-fetched than this science fiction is the idea that anyone will pay for it.
Walport’s briefing demonstrates that what’s really going on here is not ‘evidence-based policy-making’ informed by scientists, but fantasy policy making, enabled by scientific advisers. Both scientists and politicians are seeking an expanding role for themselves based on nothing more than bed-time stories and playground technologies. Hopefully, there is at least enough residual common sense left in the Cabinet for it to be understood that Walport’s scheme is unworkable, not least in terms of cost.