Policy meltdown

Posted by John Sauven — 19 October 2007 at 8:52am - Comments

This claim to Antarctic land epitomises the government's lack of a coherent approach to tackling climate change.

In April, the British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, took climate change to the UN security council for the first time. Of major concern of the government, she said, were the expected "major changes to the world's physical landmass during this century," that would result from unabated climate change. It is a bitter irony, therefore, that it should now be that same British Foreign Office that is trying to profit from the melting ice of Antarctica and exploit precisely the changes to the world's landmasses that Beckett warned us about.

There is already more than enough oil and gas available to us to destabilise the climate. That's why the most reprehensible part of this latest "sea-grab" is that our government, while claiming to be a world leader on climate change, is seeking to increase its supply of the very fuels that brought about this crisis. Worse still, by seeking to destructively exploit reserves in one of the most pristine ecosystems on the earth, they are threatening to decrease the value of Antarctica as a place for conducting scientific research into global warming and are placing an already seriously fragile ecology under yet more pressure. There are more maps of the moon than there are of the deep southern ocean wildernesses. Prospecting for oil and gas in these regions could exterminate species we don't even know exist yet. That's why Greenpeace is calling for marine reserves to protect vulnerable marine wildlife including the new species that are constantly being discovered by deep-sea fishermen.

If global emissions are to peak and be in decline by 2015 - as the scientists warn is necessary - this dash to Antarctica is totally irresponsible. But it should come as no surprise given that it's being instigated by a prime minister who is also currently considering approving the first new coal-fired power stations in 30 years and who is giving the green light to expand airports like Heathrow. Going after new fossil fuels at this stage epitomises this government's lack of a coherent approach to energy policy and tackling climate change.

The tragedy is that clean energy solutions exist and they could be implemented right away. For example, studies show that offshore wind could provide 20 per cent of our electricity needs by 2020. Equally, using decentralised power generation - so that energy is created much closer to where it's required - together with heat-capture technology, would massively improve efficiency and end the nonsensical situation whereby over two-thirds of energy created at power plants is lost - either as heat up chimneys or through transportation. Wasted heat from centralised power plants accounts for 20 per cent of all the UK's CO2 emissions and is so large that it would be enough to provide all the heating and hot water needs of the entire UK. The Danes and the Dutch already use local energy generators called combined heat and power (CHP) stations, which can be 95 per cent efficient - more than double the efficiency of British centralised power stations. If we adopted an approach like theirs, we wouldn't have to use so much fuel and emissions would be cut. Isn't that just common sense? These simple measures are ready to go, are already used effectively by other European countries, and would massively reduce our dependency on oil and gas.

To instead defy the 1959 Antarctic treaty - of which Britain was a founding signatory - by claiming ownership of one of earth's last untouched ecosystems is hugely hypocritical, as well as dangerously short-sighted.

Executive director of Greenpeace UK.

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