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Archive for the ‘Climate change’ Category

Monday
Jul 29,2013

Two issues today highlight the way this Conservative-led LibDem-supported Coalition Government operates.

Fees of up to £1200 to bring an employment tribunal case are being introduced today.  This is allegedly intended to prevent so-called vexatious claims from being brought.  The reality is that for the first time since employment tribunals were introduced in the 1960s there will be charges imposed to deter those who have been badly treated or exploited by their employers.  The fees discriminate against the weak and the low paid.

Less important, but symptomatic of the way this Government pays lip-service to engagement and consultation are a series of consultation exercises launched in the last few days with closing dates for response at the end of August or in the first week of September.  Good practice would be that consultations should be open for up to three months – five weeks over the peak holiday period is designed to stifle responses.  The consultations cover such matters as pensions fro retained firefighters, the housing transfer manual, and various notices under the Gas and Electricity Acts (and yes, I don’t know what these are about, but they are no doubt complicated and take time to understand their implications).

I am not surprised by the Tories, but I hope the LibDems are ashamed of themselves.

Monday
Jan 28,2013

There were a series of exchanges during Question Time in the House of Lords this afternoon on the Arctic and the implications of the melting of the ice cap.  The implications are substantial – and not just because of the impact on global sea levels.  There is the potential opening up of a new sea route: the North West Passage sought by explorers so assiduously for centuries.  There is the potentially easier access to mineral deposits and the possibility of oil drilling as the ice recedes.  The ocean (and this brings with it the rights to exploitation of natural resources) itself falls within the territorial waters of a handful of countries – principally Canada, Russia and Greenland.

So what is the strategy being followed to protect UK interests (indeed have those interests even been defined)?

Alas, the answer is not to be found in today’s Hansard:

Lord Giddens

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the 2012 Arctic Report Card of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States showing record-low sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean during the past year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma):My Lords, the Government have noted the contents of the NOAA report with concern. The observed reductions of Arctic sea ice extent and thickness and the consequent regional environmental and societal impacts re-emphasise the urgent need for strong international action to tackle climate change. The UK has a leading role in the international negotiations and is working through the European Union, the G8 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to reach further global agreement to reduce emissions. Domestically, we are also taking action through the Green Deal and through the Energy Bill.

Lord Giddens:I thank the Minister for that Answer. The self-same report says, in heavy scientific jargon, that the extreme melting of the Arctic is a kick up the pants to the world. In terms of doing more to combat climate change, I take it that the Minister will agree with that assessment. Are the Government prepared to work bilaterally with the Americans on the possible implications for changing weather patterns in the north Atlantic, since such changes look quite likely? These changes will have radical implications for our own weather and are perhaps already beginning. Are the Government working, or planning to work, with the Americans on these issues?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important issue—we must be mindful of the different weather patterns that we are witnessing currently. We work through the UNFCCC process, and at the recent conference of the parties in Doha all countries restated their commitment to negotiate a global deal by 2015 on a single comprehensive and legally binding climate agreement to come into effect from 2020. The noble Lord also mentioned our relationship with the US. He is aware that the United Kingdom has bilateral relationships with many countries, particularly in the north Atlantic. Our relationship with the United States is crucial and we will be having ongoing discussions with it and with other partner countries.

Lord Trimble:My Lords, in the context of the United States, would the Minister consider that the US has greatly reduced its carbon emissions in the past year by reducing its dependence on coal plants through the development of shale gas?

Baroness Verma:Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord is right that the United States has reduced its carbon emissions and increased its production of shale gas. However, this country takes the view that we need to ensure that our energy supplies are a mix of renewables and traditional fossil-fuel based. Therefore, although we are looking at shale gas, it will be part of a mix of energy rather than our having a dependency on it.

Lord May of Oxford:My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cost of the actions that we should be energetically taking against climate change—the need for which is underlined by the faster than previously expected melting of Arctic ice—is significantly smaller than the discounted present value of the much more difficult actions that we will be faced with in future if we do not act? I declare an interest as a member of the Committee on Climate Change.

Baroness Verma:The noble Lord is of course right that we need to take action. I am pleased to say that this Government are taking action and working very hard with all partner countries to ensure that this global issue is tackled with a global response.

Viscount Hanworth:My Lords—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally):My Lords, there is time for both sides. Perhaps we can hear first from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth.

Viscount Hanworth:My Lords, an example of extreme folly is the manner in which we are allowing petroleum companies to pursue the exploration of oil and gas in the Arctic as the reduction of ice cover renders this more practical. Can the Minister tell us what steps, if any, the Government are taking to restrain such activities?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, the fact of the matter is that we will need supplies of oil for the near future. Although we work very hard with our partner countries to ensure that everything is done in an environmentally safe way and with consideration to the environment and locations, we cannot dictate to the Arctic states or to the Arctic Council how they progress with their drilling. However, we know that they take the issue very seriously and are very environmentally effective when it comes to the security and safety of how they drill.

Baroness Parminter:What global greenhouse-gas emissions stabilisation levels do the Government believe will be necessary to protect Arctic summer sea ice for the remainder of this century? In asking this question I also congratulate the Government on the launch today of the Green Deal, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from British homes.

Baroness Verma:My Lords, I thank my noble friend for mentioning the Green Deal, which will of course help very much in how we respond individually to a very serious issue. Greenhouse gases are the key cause of climate warming. We have invested heavily in research to ensure that, working with Defra, we have many ways of responding to the climate change which is happening around us and to ensure that other countries are working with us in that response.

Lord Harris of Haringey:In the past 60 years more than half of the ice in the Arctic has disappeared. That opens up the prospect of the north-west passage—which we all remember from our history books in childhood—becoming a reality. This has enormous strategic implications not only in the movement of goods but in extra exploration for both oil and other minerals. How do the Government see the United Kingdom’s strategic interests, and are they pursuing those through their associate membership of the Arctic Council?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise that issue. Although we are not a member of the Arctic Council or an Arctic state, we have been invited in as observers and we are able to have a very constructive dialogue with those Arctic states and with other observer states as well.

Baroness Worthington:My Lords, the Arctic is experiencing rapid change due to the impact of man-made global warming. In recognition of the unique and fragile nature of this region, Greenpeace is calling for the establishment of a global Arctic sanctuary. The Environmental Audit Committee also recommended that a sanctuary be established in its report, Protecting the Arctic. Can the Minister please inform the House what actions the Government are taking to secure a marine protected area in the Arctic and what assessment they have made of the risks, both economic and environmental, of allowing oil extraction in the area?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, as I think I have said in answer to a number of the questions put to me today, we have to work very closely with the Arctic states and the Arctic Council. However, I recognise the noble Baroness’s point about the depletion of marine life. If she will allow me, I will make sure that she receives a much fuller answer, given that this is quite a serious issue that needs to be tackled.”

Monday
Nov 12,2012

There was a fairly surreal discussion in the House of Lords this afternoon following the Government statement on the resignation of the Director General of the BBC.  This reflects the wider political and media preoccupation with the inner workings of the BBC and not the very serious allegations of child abuse that lay beneath the two questionable editorial decisions by those in charge of the BBC Newsnight programme.

The depths were plumbed by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, former Leader of UKIP, who seemed to think that the central issue was that “a large majority” of the members of the BBC Trust are “climate change enthusiasts” and that “the BBC remains blindly Europhile …. as exemplified by its chairman, who has a large EU pension which he could lose if he went against what the European Commission regards as the interests of the European communities.”

It took a Bishop to reinject some sanity into the discussion:

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds:

My Lords, I am very grateful that in the initial Statement the Minister said that we must continue to recognise the needs of those who have been abused. He spoke of the BBC facing a series of crises. Those who were abused face a far more serious series of crises. Will he stress again that the primary concern at this point needs to be the protection of children and young people? Will he also stress the continuing desire of us all to encourage those who have suffered abuse to come forward so we can change the culture of how we deal with such issues?

But that didn’t stop Lord Stoddart of Swindon from trying to bring the debate back to the people selected as BBC Trustees and lobbying for his UKIP mate, Lord Pearson, to be appointed:

Does the noble Lord agree that the selection pool for the BBC Trust is very narrow? Would it not be as well that that pool should be widened so that a perhaps more critical attitude could be taken of the operations of the BBC? Perhaps one of the new candidates could be the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

This goaded me to get to my feet and ask:

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has rightly reminded the House that the people we should be most concerned about in all of this are those who were the victims of abuse. Can the Minister comment on whether the Government feel that the frenzy around the existential crisis of the BBC is not really a distraction from concerns that there was very real abuse in children’s homes in north Wales and elsewhere; that there was an individual who, because of his celebrity, was able to abuse children all over the country; and that we are in danger of being deflected, which of course plays into the hands of those who would rather cover up what happened and the names of those who were ultimately responsible?

By mentioning the dread words “cover up” I am no doubt at risk of being dubbed a conspiracy theorist but the fact remains that the present furore about the internal workings of the BBC does nothing to help those who were abused in North Wales or by Jimmy Saville, nor does it do anything to bring to justice those who were directly involved or complicit in that abuse.  And frankly that is what really matters.

 

Tuesday
Aug 28,2012

No doubt I will be told that I don’t understand the nuances of American politics, but I can’t help feeling that Tropical Storm Isaac’s disruption of the Republican Party Convention at Tampa in Florida is not the problem for Mitt Romney’s strategists that they are suggesting it is.

Conventional wisdom is it that a Presidential candidate – particularly one that is already securely nominated – gains a political boost from his Party’s Convention and the TV exposure that it brings.  In this case, the Republican Party was hoping to relaunch/repackage their Presidential candidate and demonstrate to/bamboozle an excited American electorate that  Mitt Romney was Presidential in timbre, had the vision thing, and was an-all-round nice decent guy (oh and that his Mormonism is OK really).

Now that some of the Convention has already had to be cancelled because of Tropical Storm Isaac this plan is in disarray.

However, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is also determined to use the Convention to write into the Party’s platform their particularly weird mix of ideology, including such gems as:

  • no exemptions on abortion being illegal for rape or incest, or where the mother’s life is at risk;
  • no legal recognition of same-sex couples including civil unions;
  • tough immigration laws, including a huge Berlin-style wall along the USA/Mexico border;
  • a return to the Gold standard and a ban on any tax increases, except for war and national emergencies; and
  • the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency and a big increase in the use of fossil fuels.

This, of course, would be on top of Mitt Romney’s own platform of massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and tax increases for other Americans (sounds familiar).

Maybe I am naive but wouldn’t TV exposure of all this stuff strengthen the Democrats?

So perhaps Tropical Storm Isaac is actually a boon to the Republican Party and will in fact boost the chances of the rest of the world having to come to terms with President Romney in a few months time.

Wednesday
Jul 11,2012

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just published a report criticising the Government for failing to take seriously the concerns that it expresses in its First Review of the Strategy.

In particular, the report points out that the Government has failed to respond adequately to the Committee’s concerns about the implications for the National Security Strategy of major shifts in US strategy, of the Eurozone crisis and the potential impact of Scottish independence.

The Joint Committee had urged the Government to press ahead with planning the next national Security Strategy, allowing sufficient time to involve academics and experts external to the Government in the process and to allow the next Comprehensive Spending Review and the Strategic Defence Review to be properly integrated in the process. The 2010 National Security Strategy was rushed and weaker as a result.

The Government has acknowledged that it is “important to start thinking about the work plan” for the next National Security Strategy “well in advance of 2015″.  However, there is no indication that any effort has been made to start drawing up plans to ensure that the next Strategy is a more candid and more explicit document that properly addresses difficult questions.

Even more disturbing is the absence from the Government of any indication that it intends to draw up the next Strategy in a way that achieves a broad national consensus on the foundations necessary to plan for our nation’s security in the longer -term.

Failure to build such a consensus will be a wasted opportunity – without such a consensus any future Strategy will not have abroad enough basis of buy-in and consent and that in turn will weaken the Strategy and also National Security itself.

 

Sunday
Mar 18,2012

Nearly three years I posted about the threat of an electro-magnetic pulse that could permanently disable the electricity grid and most electrical systems.  I followed this up with some parliamentary questions and a further post this time last year that concluded:

“So the good news (heavy irony) is that the Government may have got round to working out what “the reasonable worst case scenario” might be.”

At the risk of coming over all I-told-you-so-ish, we now learn in today’s Observer that:

“Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.

A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.

The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office’s National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle – its solar max – raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles (such as neutrons).

More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that “high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology”.

The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of “serious damage to human welfare”.

It says: “Severe space weather can cause disruption to a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids.”

The register adds: “While storm impacts in the early- to mid-20th century appear relatively benign, dependency on technology vulnerable to space weather has pervaded most aspects of modern life, and therefore the disruptive consequences of a severe solar storm could be significant.”

The threat was placed on the register after a panel of experts, including two scientists from the Meteorological Office, produced a “reasonable worst case scenario” for ministers.”

 Only took a year, so lucky that last week’s solar flare passed off without problems.

 

Tuesday
Nov 8,2011

Ben Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Editor, is fed up with the tent protest at Parliament Square. 

And what is more, he is fed up with Mayor Boris Johnson’s failure to sort it out:

“Well, those of you who have long wondered about that ghost town of dirty tents lining two sides of the square might have a look at this video, which we filmed a few days ago. We used a thermal camera in the same way we did at the St Paul’s protest. If anything the result is even more damning. Turns out the ‘peace camp’ looks deserted because… it’s deserted. MPs might like to ask why the Met/Westminster Council/Boris Johnson don’t pop round and take these abandoned articles away. Either that or stop bullying us about left luggage and locked bicycles being destroyed. The Mayor should get down there this afternoon with a van and clear the lot himself.”

Strong words: “get down there this afternoon”.

Is even the Daily Telegraph beginning to realise that the Mayor needs to get a grip?

Running London is not about sound bites and photo ops – it is about doing things for London and Londoners.

Whether Londoners agree with the Daily Telegraph’s fixation about tented protests or not, they do agree that London needs a Mayor who takes the job seriously and really does care about the city.

Friday
Sep 16,2011

I am genuinely sorry to hear that Baroness Browning is standing down as Minister of State at the Home Office (particularly so as I understand this is on health grounds).  Despite the lengthy (even epic) exchanges that I and others had with her during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (now an Act), she always responded with good humour, even when she was having to defend something that was either indefensible or so poorly drafted as to be incomprehensible.  I think her approach will be missed in the Home Office.

Her retirement has triggered a mini-reshuffle in the House of Lords: Lord Henley is promoted to Minister of State rank and moves across from DEFRA to the Home Office; his place as DEFRA Parliamentary Under Secretary is taken by Lord Taylor of Holbeach; and his postion as a Junior Whip is taken by recent-appointee Baroness Stowell of Beeston.

Fairly straightforward you might think, but that doesn’t prevent the Number Ten website mangling the information and implying that all three have been thrust into Ministerial office and appointed as members of the Lords at the same time under the headline:

New appointments to the House of Lords made by the Queen

Can’t they afford proof-readers now?

An indication of differing approaches in the Home Office?

Lord Henley replaces Baroness Browning

Monday
Aug 8,2011

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Monday
Aug 1,2011

Jenny Jones AM, London “Green” Mayoral Candidate, is exploring the canal network (very green and worthy, not to say sanctimonious).

She reports by Twitter:

“Hmm @BritishWaterways Slough canal very weedy & shallow, needs urgent clearing. We are like the African Queen, but without leeches (I hope)”
 
But there are worrying signs that the hot weather is producing delusions of grandeur.
 
The royal “we” as in “We are like the African Queen …”
 
And does she really see herself as Katherine Hepburn?
 
Jenny Jones
 
 
Katherine Hepburn
 
And where is Humphrey Bogart?