Carbon budgets: A straightforward answer from DECC | Brussels Blog

Carbon budgets: A straightforward answer from DECC

posted by on 30th Apr 2016

Below there is a reply about how the IPCC’s “remaining carbon budgets” should be modified: There are climate feedbacks missing from the CMIP5 models used in calculating the original budgets . Parliamentary POSTnote 454, “Risks from Climate Feedbacks” (Jan 2014) also acknowledges this. The reply is remarkably straightforward answer for a government department. Thanks to all concerned.

Update1: Carbon budgets without taking missing feedbacks into account: 4 years for 1.5°C.

Update2: Climate sensitivity increased by missing feedbacks.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, Whitehall

Dear Geoff,

You spoke to Pete Betts at the LSE, and subsequently via email, during which you raised several thoughtful points on the science of feedbacks, and their potential policy implications. With thanks to several of my colleagues, I’ve tried to answer your questions to Pete below.

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Green growth or degrowth ?

posted by on 28th Apr 2016

Green growth or degrowth ?

A note for the new All-Party Parliamentary Group
on the Limits to Growth

In the inaugural paper for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Limits to Growth is “A review of the limits to growth debate” by Tim Jackson and Robin Webster. They discuss many of the concerns of the original “Limits to Growth” from the Club of Rome.

Speakers at the inaugural meeting

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Thomas Piketty or Robin Hood?

posted by on 18th Apr 2016

A modern Robin Hood would be
more fundamental than Piketty

The future of inequality

In The future of inequality Thomas Piketty suggests that future growth will be no larger than 1.0% to 1.5% a year. He points out that the rate of return on capital has typically been 4% to 5% per year. This causes a very large concentration of wealth.

This stirs discontent and radically undermines our democratic values and institutions. The ideal solution to this would be a global progressive tax on individual net worth. Those who are trying to enter the game and start accumulating new wealth would pay little, and those who already have billions would pay a lot. This would foster mobility and keep inequality under control.

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The Sustainable Plotlands Association – a proposal

posted by on 13th Apr 2016

The aim of the association is to promote sustainable lifestyles
which also address Britain’s housing crisis.


1. There are few (if any) examples of lifestyles in Britain which are sustainable. For example at the new “sustainable” development at Derwenthorpe, York, the carbon footprints of the residents are several times that which is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. The Sustainable Plotlands Association will promote action research into achieving lifestyles that are sustainable.

2. Housing is much more expensive than the cost of building and the land it occupies. At agricultural prices a plot of land big enough for a house and garden costs £500. Once planning permission has been granted this can easily inflate to over £100,000. This increase is because planning permission is limited in supply. Additionally, many plots with planning permission remain in land banks, until they can be developed at a premium, when home buyers end up paying inflated prices. Windfall rewards go to land owners and developers holding land banks.

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Lionel Robbins didn’t understand science. Ravens do.

posted by on 12th Apr 2016

Lionel Robbins was wrong. Robin Hood was right.

Bridgman and Robbins: They failed on scientific method

Bridgman and Robbins- Failed in scientific method

In 1927 the physicist, Percy Williams Bridgman put forward his view of science that had a huge influence on the social sciences in the 1930s and 1940s. This was called “operationalism”. For many decades now no philosopher of science has taken operationalism seriously. Bridgman’s main point was that we do not know the meaning of a scientific concept unless we have a method for measuring it.

Bridgman was wrong as simple examples show e.g. in 1909 Robert A. Millikan and Harvey Fletcher estimated the charge on an electron from the movement of oil drops in electric fields. They did not observe electrons but no scientists regarded the idea of an electron as an unscientific concept even though electrons are not directly observable

However, Bridgman’s operationalism has had a lasting effect. In “The Tragedy of Operationalism” Mark H. Bickhard comments

Operationalism has continued to seduce psychology more than half a century after it was repudiated by philosophers of science, including the very Logical Positivists who had first taken it seriously.

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Getting Britain back to work (1982)

posted by on 18th Mar 2016

This is old article I had published in the Guardian back in 1982.
Later Professor Kim Swales and I did a report for
the European Commission with improved modelling.

(Now we that know the dangers of climate change, a carbon tax
is a better solution than VAT for the tax in this scheme.)

DURING the last period of mass unemployment in the 1930s, some economists, not ably Lord Kaldor considered the possibility of subsidising the labour of all workers to create jobs. His idea assumes that labour is I like other commodities in that if its costs can be reduced then the demand for it should increase.

Since then, there has been little interest in such large scale subsidy policies. This may be because “back-of-the-envelope” estimates show that the cost of such schemes is enormous. These estimates however may n0t be as conclusive as they at first seem. A model of Britain’s economy can be described which, although only approximation shows that large scale labour subsidies can be an important ingredient in a policy to significantly reduce unemployment.

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Three failed eco-towns

posted by on 2nd Mar 2016

Three developments that were aimed at sustainability

They are not even close

Carbon emissions and aspiring to be rich

Source: Oxfam

In their media briefing Extreme carbon inequality, Oxfam show the richest 10% of the world’s population produce half of Earth’s CO2 emissions and

The average emissions of someone in the poorest 10% of the global population is 60 times less than that of someone in the richest 10%

Naturally, the poor aspire to be rich but, as things stand,  aspiring to be rich means aspiring to a high carbon lifestyle.

Required: high quality, low carbon lifestyles

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Building a Greener Future (2007)

posted by on 7th Feb 2016

This was a response to the Building a Greener Future consultation
from the Department of Communities and Local Government

To the Building a Greener Future consultation

There are three particular aspects concerned with “Building a Greener Future” on which I wish to comment:

1. Construction vs. Operational CO2
2. Brownfield development and urban density
3. Planning wealth and lifestyles of inhabitants

I append evidence I made to the Treasury Select Committee which discusses some related issues.

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Taxation, planning and the environment (2007)

posted by on 7th Feb 2016

This was evidence to the Treasury Committee, January 2007
Climate change and the Stern review:
the implications for HM Treasury policy on tax and the environment.


The UK generates a small percentage of the world’s CO2. The best role for the UK is to show the rest of the world that pleasant environmentally friendly lifestyles are possible. Economic mechanisms such as earmarked taxes are necessary but it will be necessary to go beyond purely economic disciplines.
Large budgets for education and promotion are necessary to gain public acceptance. So are large environmental lifestyle projects such as model settlements. The finance can be found within the planning system. It should be recognised that the planning system creates very large amounts of wealth, which can be traded on an international scale. It is possible that existing development corporation legislation can be used to this effect.

1. Environmental leadership means drastic changes in lifestyles

The UK generates a small percentage of the world’s CO2e, although, per capita, its citizens produce much more than the world average. The useful role that the UK can play is one of leadership to show the rest of the world that pleasant yet sustainable lifestyles are possible. Sustainable lifestyles might require a cut in the generation of CO2e of a factor of three or more. Technological advances may help but personal rationing of CO2e will be needed. If the personal allowance is to be set at the level currently thought to be necessary to achieve world sustainability significant changes in lifestyle will be inevitable. The Fishergate Environmental Panel is currently engaged in an assessment of a reasonable figure for a daily ration of the individual production of CO2e. The panel has accepted, for the time being, that 10 kg of CO2e per day (3.65 tonnes CO2e per year) is a target that fits with current thinking on climate change.

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A new use for development corporations (2003)

posted by on 7th Feb 2016

This was a response to the interim to the report
“Barker Review of Land Use Planning” (2003)


1. Property price inflation.

The rise in the value of property has reached 40% of GDP in some recent years.

2. Wealth redistribution.

Changes in tax and benefits since 1997 have made the poorest families better off by about £30 per week. Over the same period the wealthy have seen their property assets increase by hundreds of pounds per week. Wealth distribution is from the poor to the rich and from the young to the old.

3. Total planning permission.

The term “planning permission” is usually used in the context of new build. But most existing buildings have permission to remain at their location. If they do not have this permission, the planning authority can demand that they be removed.

Increases in property values have for many years been driven by a shortage of this totality of planning permission. It is not an increase in the value of the bricks and mortar that has made my house three times more valuable in the past five years. It is the increase in the value of the right I have to keep my house in its present location.

4. New planning permission.

Granting planning permission often increases the value of land by a factor of 1000. Agricultural land near York is valued at £5,000 per hectare. With planning permission for residential development this can rise to between £5m to £10m per hectare. Planning authorities, therefore, are responsible for the creation of huge amounts of wealth. The principal beneficiaries are landowners.

5. Green belts and the environment.

Traditionally Green Belts were seen to stop urban sprawl and were the “green lungs” of the city. This gave a public health emphasis relating them to policies such as slum clearance. The policy is seen as the major instrument for protecting the environment against environmental damage due to overdevelopment. They are believed to “protect the countryside”.

6. Reservations to green belt policy.

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