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« The division of spoils | Main | Notes from a conference »

Notes from a conference, part II

More from Cameron Rose, who is attending a business and climate conference in Brussels.

The Big Fat Carbon Price (see the end of yesterday's post) was the subject for the first discussion, surprise, surprise. Tony Hayward was the man to watch. He is chairman of Glencore, a mining company, and CEO of an Anglo-Turkish company called Genel Energy. He was once BP CEO. Here are the key points I noted:

  • 'Fossil fuels provide 82% of world energy but in 30 years the IEA expects it to be a percentage in the early 70s.' (Not much reduction there, then)
  • 'The emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been a mess and we are now left with a dysfunctional energy market.' (Not afraid to speak plainly.)
  • 'If the objective is to change behaviour it must be at the point of use. We need to eliminate subsidies.'
  • 'The abatement of a tonne of CO2 from a coal power stations should be treated the same way as for other, new technologies.'
  • 'China and India must complete their industrialisation.'

And things livened up when Kerry Adler, CEO of Skypower (solar) entered the debate. Kerry is in favour of decarbonisation. Fast. But he said this:

  • 'I am not sure what carbon tax means and most people don't know what carbon prices mean. We are setting ourselves up for failure if we don't make it clear what we are trying to do. We have to keep it simple and governments have to have the people behind them.' (I liked that. I'll come to that later.) 
  • 'We understand, for example, 'pollution tax'. We need to focus on something simple. Let's take the tax money, put it in the World Bank and give it to people to make a difference.' (That roused a bit of a applause)
  • 'Any tax which is not enforceable is useless' (This was becoming the closest thing to a dispute on the panel.)

Everyone here is hugely in favour of a price on carbon, mainly Fat. And Fast. I asked a question about the need for public consent for a carbon tax, which led to considerable debate about democracy.

I must spare your the next session on building energy capacity. Suffice it to say I was astonished at the repeated linking of any and every climate phenomenon to human-caused climate change by almost all on the panel. It seems no one had heard what AR5 and the 2011 SREX report says about attribution and extreme weather.


But on to Nick Stern. He was pitched against the Saudi Minister of Petroleum Ali al Naimi. Lord Stern was smooth, persuasive and strategic. But he did dominate and everything he said is contingent of some assumptions that are dubious to say the least. Every word from the 80-year-old Saudi Minister was parsed carefully - perhaps in respect and trepidation as to what he might announce. He accepted the basic case for human caused climate influence the need to decarbonise, but he was not going to be bulldozed into unrealistic commitments and suggested it needed to be something which would realistically happen around 2040-50 (by which time many of us, including the man himself, will be long gone). And he was at pains to point out the benefits the world had received from fossil fuels. But he talked of his country's massive investment in solar.

A hallowed concept in the green investment industry is the 'stranded assets' concept - referring to the post COP21 period when holders of investments in, or owners of, fossil fuel resources, find regulation squeezes their value leaving their assets stranded. I posed the question that if COP21 was unsuccessful the stranded assets might be those who bet the bank on renewables. It was given polite consideration but in reality no one could countenance it as a likely concept.

One person I spoke to runs a wave energy company in the US He readily admitted that wave energy would never be competitive and that there was a recent history of such companies failing - he knew a fair amount about the failure of Pelamis in Edinburgh. But he was hoping it will come good in the future - apparently relying on a new paper (he's going to send it to me) by a UK academic predicting an increase in temperature between 6 and 10 degrees. I confirmed he meant by 2100. Yes he sure did!

And then there was the Director of Advocacy of a global charity who wanted to know whether I was going to disinvest from fossil fuels. 'Because it is now inevitable we will reach 4 degrees by 2100.'

At least the representatives from a Chinese news agency were a little more sceptical.

There is no space or time here to report on Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. . . and half a dozen other ministers from assorted states (apparently I missed President Francois Hollande yesterday). US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared by video link.

And as a reminder to self here is a list of the most repeated phrases:

  • 'Time is running out'
  • '2 degrees'
  • 'First time we have brought all these people (from business and government) together.'
  • 'We must succeed at COP21' 
  • 'Even if we don't get a full agreement in Paris we have momentum'
  • 'Two degrees'.
  • 'For the first time senior business leaders 'get it''
  • 'Two degrees' . . .

Nonetheless this was an impressive gathering of business leaders and politicians. Almost every one of them took as their starting point that time is running out and the situation was urgent, caveated in some cases (eg Saudi Petroleum Minister and Tony Hayward) by a recognition that the transition to no carbon would take a good few decades.

As I dined beside the Seine with a dozen or so ESG experts, I wonder how they will feel in ten years' time should their panic prove to be based on shonky assumptions about the science. 

That's it over and we now wait for a tsunami of press releases leading to COP21 in December. Here is the one from this conference. No one asked me if I approved it.


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Reader Comments (23)

Thanks for the report.

This Stranded Assets idea always strikes me as strange.
It does assume that COP21 will make use of fossil fuels impossible. And you are right that lack of agreement makes Renewables uneconomic and thus the investment in them a Stranded Asset.

But there's a third scenario: COP21 bans the use of fossil fuels and they become as untaxed as narcotics.
After all, if fossil fuels provide a material benefit to a group (by being a cheaper input) then someone will keep buying them.

The War on Drugs hasn't stopped the Narcotics Trade.
ISIS are still able to sell their oil.
A ban is not enforceable.

COP21 is only about subsidising renewables. It is not about stopping fossil fuels being burnt.

May 22, 2015 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I once watched a video of artisan coalminers independently working, with pick ax, shovel, and burlap bag, thin coal seams in an abandoned mine somewhere in the Soviet Union. And I once read about the early use of coal in the UK, where seams met the sea, salt was made and the unbelievably bountiful herring catch thus preserved. Old, forgotten, far off things, and battles long ago.

May 22, 2015 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

So neither academia nor business has much grasp of reality. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst then.

May 22, 2015 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

" I wonder how they will feel in ten years' time should their panic prove to be based on shonky assumptions about the science." There panic is based on the fraudulent 'atmospheric greenhouse effect', but no-one will tell them and they wouldn't listed or understand anyway.

May 22, 2015 at 10:20 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

There is a collective irrationality in our self selected leaders in politics, the media and business. Bagehot, the Economist columnist, in a recent article wrote about his/her experience at this year's DAVOS event, where the columnist raised a point that research showed that a less diverse workforces were actually more productive than diverse ones. As this went against the collective mind set of our leaders, who all, irrationally it would seem, think that all things which increase diversity is good. The poor columnist was naturally shunned and made to feel socially uncomfortable for raising the point.

The same problems seem to apply to the climate change issue. The real problems facing the west stem from the complete irrationality of our business and political leaders. None of whom, or very few of whom, seem to show any sign of rationality. They are cowed to follow the herd and are not leaders in any sense that I understand.

May 22, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterAbc

"'China and India must complete their industrialisation.'"

And Africa? Will they be permitted to START their industrialisation?


Thought not...

May 22, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Does anyone know what change to global warming was achieved by COP's 1-20?

Something must have happened about 20 years ago, as there has been no global warming since. All the COP's since have been a waste of time and money.

COP delegates obviously enjoy having parties and reunions, otherwise there is no point.

May 22, 2015 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Tony Hayward, the man who said "I wanted my life back" after the BP gulf oil spill. The man who couldn't be bothered by meddlesome reporters while attending a yacht race on the Isle of Wight and subsequently resigned as CEO of BP. Now there's a true leader.

May 22, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterRedbone

They talk about energy in 30 years time and don't mention the probability/possibilty of FUSION power ?'s implications are huge ..huge

May 22, 2015 at 11:59 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

'Two degrees....'

Shame its not about 'Three Degrees' - then all the COP21 delegates could sing to each other:

'When Will I See You Again....'

(My wife worries about the way my mind works...)

May 22, 2015 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1


They talk about energy in 30 years time and don't mention the probability/possibilty of FUSION power ?'s implications are huge ..huge

I agree that fusion would be a good thing and the implications are huge, but they've also been talking about "fusion in about 30 years" since I was a kid, over 40 years ago. Whether it's a revolutionary, beneficial breakthrough or the end of the world, it always seems to be about 20-30 years in the future. But then, that also seems to be the length of a good career.

May 22, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

sherlock1: Got a big smile at that one, my mind must work the same way. And yes, your wife should be worried.... ;)

May 22, 2015 at 2:13 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

China and India occasionally get a mention but the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria etc have another billion people waiting for their first SUV, air conditioner and chilled swimming pool. They are not going to live like peasants forever just to satisfy a few smug commies who happen to have grabbed the reigns in the EU and UN for a while.

May 22, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

The paywalled FT went to the same conference:

"Coal and gas power dying out in Europe, says energy chief"

"Everybody has stopped investing in gas and coal in Europe" he said "now we invest in renewables in Europe but we are carrying on building big power stations in Brazil, Chile, Peru, the Middle East and Asia".

FT said that the conference sometimes sounded more like a gathering of environmental activists than corporate chiefs.

Trebles all round.

May 22, 2015 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

"Coal and gas power dying out in Europe, says energy chief"

Well for starters has he not heard that having banned nuclear power the Germans are now building coal fired stations.

How can an energy chief be so ignorant. Worrying, very worrying.

May 22, 2015 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpen

Forget 2 degrees, it's 1.5 now,


Meeting the lower target of 1.5C favoured by some developing countries is virtually impossible, the UKMO says,


Back to 1985

The Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases, created in 1985, was an advisory body for the review of studies into the greenhouse effect. The group was created by the International Council of Scientific Unions, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Meteorological Organization to follow up on the recommendations of the International conference of the assessment of the role of carbon dioxide and of other greenhouse gases in climate variations and associated impacts, held at Villach, Austria, in October 1985.

The group held its last meeting in 1990. It was the forerunner to the IPCC. In 1990 the AGGG came up with a figure that they said was the maximum the planet could tolerate. The ideas were summarized in the document, “Responding to Climate Change: Tools For Policy Development,” published by the Stockholm Environment Institute.

They produced targets to "set limits" to rates and total amounts of temperature rise and sea level rise, in order to “protect both ecosystems as well as human systems.” The familiar IPCC phrase came from them: “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

They claimed that a global temperature increase “beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” A temperature increase of 2ºC was viewed as “an upper limit beyond which the risks of grave damage to ecosystems, and of non-linear responses, are expected to increase rapidly.”

May 22, 2015 at 4:57 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

I worked for a company that got caught up in the idea of environmentalism and safety. It spent so much time and money on recycling and green PR that it forgot to take care of business. So we went on conferences and training and racked up a great many hours listening to stuff that could have been melted down into an A4 of useful stuff. And the company went bust. Sure, it wasn't all the green fluff that caused it, it was the basic cost of energy but I always wondered if the directors had spent more time negotiating cheaper energy and less time at green conferences, they might have kept the business in the UK, instead of giving it to China.

May 22, 2015 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

TinyCO2, but I bet local Greens recorded it as a success

May 22, 2015 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

@ Cameron

Thanks. I hope someone (else) paid your hotel bills, registration fees and bought you a nice big fat airline seat? If you speak up - as you did - then you are well worth it.

I was sorely tempted to attend the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington DC on 11th & 12th June. Less than $100 for Old Farts registration. Great!

Plus $4000 - $5000 busines class return from LHR.

Yeah, well ... maybe next time.

May 22, 2015 at 10:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerryM

Brownedoff: that quote from the FT - 'Coal and gas power dying out in Europe, says energy chief'.

These reports suggest otherwise: LINK, LINK, LINK and LINK

May 23, 2015 at 7:45 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

It is hard to believe that all these conferences only happen and governments only sign up every year because of one Mann.
The original Kyoto agreement, although ratified by delegates, was not ratified by governments until Mann got his Hockey stick paper published.
When you then examine the extent to which Mann's paper has since been divested of all credibility, rejected by the IPCC and been given a rest home in that great trash can in the sky, you really do choke on your cornflakes :(

May 23, 2015 at 11:59 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Yep, Hayward always talked sense although the green fascists took him down. He was right about pollution in the Mexican gulf and the greens were Wrong... WRONG..... WRONG

May 23, 2015 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

I think the situation is well established by Prof. Lindzen in his "Global Warming – Sensibilities and Science" Slide 3 "David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, discussing Republican Party reformers, claims that “they tend to take global warming seriously, not only on its merits, but in the belief that conservatives cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated classes and the entire East and West Coasts.” and slide 23 summes it up good "
In a normal field, these results would pretty much wrap things up, but global warming/climate change has developed so much momentum that it has a life of its own – quite removed from science. One can reasonably expect that opportunism of the weak will lead to efforts to alter the data (though the results presented here have survived several alterations of the data already). Perhaps most important, these results will of necessity ‘offend the sensibilities of the of the educated classes and the entire East and West Coasts,’ and who would want to do that." They have been "educated" by policy based science and admitting that will makethem feel stupid?

May 24, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterSanta Baby

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