IPCC's climate change report shows why Cambo oil field must not be drilled, burning 'biomass' is a bad idea, and carbon capture is vital – Tommy Sheppard MP
This week saw the publication of a major report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It’s the most emphatic and unequivocal in a long line of similar expert reports. The world is in big trouble.
And you don’t need a science degree to understand why.
Human activity is releasing ever-greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This acts like insulation, holding in the sun’s warmth. The Earth’s surface heats up, just a bit, but enough to wreak havoc.
The polar ice is melting. Sea levels are rising. Warmer air means forests dry out, so fires easily get out of control. Warmer air also holds more water vapour so, when it cools, it turns to rain. Biblical, torrential, rain. Looking at the news, it seems the planet is burning and drowning all at the same time.
There’s a solution to this. We need to stop producing CO2. And we need to do it fast.
Even if every existing climate target were met, things would get worse before they get better. But worryingly, the world is not meeting these targets. That’s why the UN Secretary General called the IPCC’s report a “code red for humanity”. We need to wake up.
That means we need to be honest with each other. Here are three examples.
We know we cannot turn off gas supplies overnight. It will take time to replace heating boilers and switch to electric sources. We need a managed decline of our gas fields, but it must start now.
You cannot begin a decline by giving the go-ahead to a massive expansion in drilling and extraction. It makes no sense to license extraction at the massive new Cambo oil fields west of Shetland.
The industry says that, without it, there might be a short-term crisis in gas supply. They say that with a straight face, as if it were a problem. The truth is that rising gas prices will be one factor, along with renewable subsidies making alternatives cheaper, that will tip the market away from fossil fuels.
Secondly, we need to stop pretending that biomass – a fancy 21st-century, quasi-scientific term for the ancient technology of burning wood – has anything to do with reducing carbon. It creates CO2.
Maybe low-level domestic use in log burners, from local forests where the wood grows as quickly as it is harvested, would be sustainable. But, when we get to burning millions of tonnes of wood pellets from forests in the southern USA in massive power stations, it’s clearly not. Yet this is exactly what happens, with phenomenal taxpayer subsidy, at Drax in Yorkshire.
Thirdly, we need to get real about removing CO2. Here in our own city, the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation is doing great pioneering work on this. But as we scale up this technology, it must be deployed to get rid of existing CO2, not be used as a mitigator which allows the green light for new ways of burning fossil fuels.
In tackling this crisis – the greatest threat to human existence ever – countries need to work together. But here in Scotland, we need political power to make these changes. That’s what political independence offers – not the guarantee of success, but the ability to try.
Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East