Sandbags are not just a useful defence against flooding: I’ve found out in my first few days here as the newest member of the sandbag team, that they are also used in hot air ballooning to control ‘hot air’ – the term that is also used to describe spare emissions permits that have been granted without being needed. I’ve come across a lot of this kind of hot air in my short time here already.
One source is the industrial sector in the UK. The data sandbag is analysing at the moment shows that they have thousands of spare permits to pollute. For heavy industry, back in 2005, the government decided to let them carry on as normal giving them enough permits to cover business as usual, with no need for them to take action to cut carbon. Since then the economy has taken a nose dive and now simply doing nothing may deliver many of them a profit as they can sell the permits they no longer need to other companies looking to pollute. Now that they have been given a legal right to receive these permits the only way round this is to get them to voluntarily cancel their permits. So in the coming month I’m going to be investigating how we can empower civil society and ordinary citizens to put pressure on these companies to do just that. It’s not going to be easy but there’s the potential to get rid of some hot air and see real cuts in carbon dioxide and as a result!
The other source of hot air I’ve encountered comes from the carbon market experts in the financial services industry giving evidence yesterday at the Environmental Audit Select Committee in parliament. . The good news is that these experts gave strong backing to the emissions trading scheme, provided evidence of how it was working and called for a big increase in scale of effort to create real investment in carbon reductions. The hot air crept in when it came to discussing the current price and whether more needed to be done to reduce ‘volatility’ – there was, they said, no need to worry, since lots of measures existed to avoid price spikes and low prices were good because they meant more could be done next time around. The assumption was that the caps had been set according to science and therefore low prices just meant we were getting to our goal more easily. This is of course not true, the caps were set politically and there is no evidence at all that we are making the scale of reductions necessary to put us on a safe path.
The discussion also raised a question in my mind – wouldn’t a guaranteed rising price of carbon be a much better marker of success than low or stable prices? Of course stability is better than a price crash, but only a steadily rising value for emissions permits can push companies to take radical action to cut their carbon dioxide. Voluntary cancellation of permits could help to push the price of carbon up, a double win for the environment. But by far the strongest way of driving the value of carbon and thus driving action to reduce climate change, will be a stronger overall cap which is what we hope Copenhagen, and the subsequent policy debate in Europe, will deliver.
I’m hoping that in the coming months at Sandbag we can create some strong cold fronts, (aka great campaigns), that will really cut through the hot air.