An alternative speech on energy (and a quick Hello Goodbye)

Posted by bex — 6 February 2008 at 3:04pm - Comments

Conference organiser and climate campaigner meet

Climate campaigner talks to the coal conference organiser

Update: Now with video.

Well, it's all been going on at our barricade of the government / coal industry shindig. This morning, an interested - and vaguely familiar looking - passer-by stopped to have a chinwag with with the volunteers chained to the barricades. After a 10 minute chat about climate change, coal, and climate change's impacts on disease migration, the passer-by wished everyone luck and wandered off.

It was only after he'd left that the blockaders realised they'd been talking to Sir Paul McCartney, who happens to live around the corner. Ho hum.

Meanwhile, inside Lord's, the conference got underway, despite the kerfuffles going on at the perimeter. When energy minister Malcolm Wicks stood up to speak, we had somebody ready and waiting to deliver an alternative speech. And when that volunteer was ushered out by security, we had more volunteers hidden away in the audience, ready to step in.

Update: Below you can see a video of the speech (sorry for the poor quality, but it was shot on a hidden phone camera).

And as we didn't make it all the way through, I've posted the full transcript for your perusal as well:

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I'm sorry to interrupt the minister before he gets into his stride, but I'm from an organisation that has a particular interest in this issue.

That organisation is Greenpeace.

I'm here today today to deliver the speech that we believe he should be giving.

And I think that the UK coal forum would benefit from hearing what he should be saying.

Ladies and gentlemen, coal has to be a fuel of the past.

Burning coal is the single most carbon intensive method of generating energy known to man.

For too long, my government has supported your industry in spite of advice from the best climate scientists in the world.

For too long, my government has told the British people that coal can be clean, despite today's reality on the ground.

But today, we need to face up to reality.

(At this point, the volunteer reading the speech had to face up to the reality of two security guards coming to escort her out of the building, but all was well, and another volunteer in the audience was ready to stand up and take her place.)

We need to face up to the fact that climate change is humanity's greatest challenge, and it's time that we stopped being part of the problem.

It's time we became part of the solution.

Kingsnorth. Tilbury. Blyth, Ferrybridge.

If these plants are built then in years to come our children will write down the names of these small British towns in their history books.

In a climate changed world, people will ask why we let this happen.

They will want to know how, when we knew the risks, we continued to burn coal in conventional power stations in the early part of the twenty first century.

They will wonder at the way in which a handful of people ignored the science to squeeze the last few pounds of coal before the game was up.

Let's be clear. We need a secure supply of energy to safeguard Britain's future.

We must use cutting edge technology that minimises waste and operates as efficiently as possible.

And for all these reasons, coal is not the answer.

Large scale, centralised power stations are inflexible, wasteful and polluting. In the future they will come to be seen as the dinosaurs of our age.

In their place, a decentralised system needs to flourish. In other parts of Europe smaller, combined heat and power plants are already reaching over 90 per cent efficiency.

Combining these plants with renewable technologies has allowed countries like Sweden to slash their carbon emissions at a stroke.

But I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking: 'Clean coal'.

You're thinking: 'Carbon capture ready'.

You're thinking: 'Store it under the North Sea'.

But it doesn't exist, does it?

Until proven otherwise:

  • CCS is a blank space in a field, a void which we hope to fill in the future.
  • CCS is a way of persuading the public that a new generation of conventional coal fired power stations is acceptable.
  • CCS is a clever three letter acronym that currently means very little.

With this in mind, I want to tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, the power company Eon wrote to my government in a state of panic. You can ask them about this in the break.

CCS, they told us, is obviously not ready. It's years away, they insisted. They can't possibly develop it in time.

But they want to press ahead anyway. They want to build a new plant at Kingsnorth that will emit eight million tonnes of CO2 each year, every year until this knight-in-shining armour technology rides to the rescue.

They want to build a coal fired power station that will emit more carbon dioxide than thirty developing countries put together. Let me just repeat that. Every year, Kingsnorth will emit as much climate changing gas as thirty entire countries.

Eon generously promised to make the plant 'carbon capture ready', but my government was too timid even to insist on this meaningless phrase.

They told the British public that they want to use 'clean coal', 'green coal', and 'futuristic technologies' at some point in the future, when they become viable.

But Eon failed to understand something important. They failed to understand that their words mean nothing to the farmer in Malawi, the doctor in Bangladesh, or the family in Tewkesbury.

They failed to understand that those on the frontline of climate change will not thank them for pretty terms and clever phrases.

Approving Kingsnorth is turning to the rest of the world and saying: "The UK has surrendered on climate change. Best of luck for the future."

But there is a solution.

British energy policy is at a crossroads. Publicly, we maintain the fiction that only a diverse energy mix will keep the lights on, that only the full range of technologies can tackle climate change.

But privately, we understand the truth. we know that developing new coal will divert investment, skills and political capital away from renewable energy sources.

secretly, we admit that it's in all of our interests to maintain the status quo. We know that stranded assets cost money to replace, and that change takes time.

But change we must.

Climate change is upon us. According to the latest science, we have fewer than a hundred months to bring global emissions under control before they must come down drastically.

The costs of inaction will cripple the economies of the next generation, deny millions of people access to clean water, food and dignity. Conflicts will escalate, at a huge cost to human life.

We need to start a revolution to avoid this. We need to see a transformation of our system to produce massive amounts of clean, renewable energy.

Britain has the best renewable energy resources in Europe. We have many of the finest engineers in the world. We have the tools and the expertise to meet our energy demands many times over. All we lack is the right policies and regulation to make this happen.

The next few years will determine our legacy. Our generation has a choice unique in the history of mankind - either we resist, struggle and fight the action that climate change demands, or we embrace this historic challenge without fear.

Coal has no place in a zero carbon world, and I believe that - in truth - this is a fact that everyone in this room understands.

Thank you very much.

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