The Department of Energy Security | Brussels Blog

The Department of Energy Security

posted by on 22nd Jul 2011

It is my belief that Government recognises the danger of climate change but won’t do much that would hurt “UK  interests” – the UK will try keep to the letter of international agreements but not confront difficult problems.  I believe they ignore good science that points to a more catastrophic view of climate (see Committee on Climate Change discounts important science) and downplay the climate impact of  UK activities (e.g. see Can DEFRA be trusted with the climate?, Greenwash on insulation and Buried by Defra).

But they are interested in energy security. Somone I recognise as a top political advisor – who knows the truth behind the spin – once said to me that it’s too late to do anything about climate change, we must have lots of  nuclear power for energy security and a big navy to repel borders. That policy seems to fit many of the facts. Perhaps DECC should be renamed the Department of Energy Security.

It may be that it’s-too-late-just-try-and-look-after-ourselves is a policy to be debated but I’d like to be in on the debate. I know many others that would as well. Now for some small print…

Background to the open letter below.

I have spoken to Chris Huhne twice this year. Once walking up Whithall with him when he seemed responsive to my comments,which suggested that DECC was underplaying the dangers of climate change by choosing scientists that give the most comforting view of climate science. He asked me to send a note to his Parlimentary office as well as the Department – the department would give an official reply but he wanted to know too.  I did.  No replies so I asked my MP to follow up the note. Sadly, he sent it to Greg Barker, the Minister for Climate Change, who passed it onto the usual channels.

My MP received a reply saying that Greg Barker believes that “no useful purpose will be served by continuing to debate this matter with Mr Beacon”.  Not unexpected but a pity because Chris Huhne had promised me a reply and later promised the same again.

My latest letter is reproduced below. This contains comments from a leading climate scientist and should comply with the request from Chris’s department that  “suggest that any further issues you have on feedbacks  should be taken up with the relevant scientists”.

Note for Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State, DECC

A message from Dr Kevin Schaefer of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre and a comment on the Committee on Climate Change

Dear Secretary of State

Thank you for speaking to me again yesterday about the message from Dr Schaefer, of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

Firstly, I have had no reply to the note I sent after meeting you in Whitehall on 23rd March. You suggested that I send it to your department so that I might get an official reply and also send a copy to your Parliamentary office so you could be sure to see a copy. Did you see it? I will append a copy with this note.

This note is on a similar topic but concerns the Committee on Climate Change and its understanding of the science of climate change. You referred to their fourth carbon budget in your speech yesterday. The Committee has recently delivered its fourth carbon budget and I am concerned that it relies on inadequate and out of date science.

The review of climate science commissioned by the Committee in preparation for the fourth carbon budget was AVOID consortium (2010): An updated review of developements in climate science research since IPCC AR4. The report acknowledges that there are feedbacks within the climate system that may amplify climate change, specifically:

  • methane emissions from wetlands
  • substantial methane release from ocean hydrates.
  • permafrost thawing releasing large amounts of additional carbon

The Committee on Climate Change acknowledges these feedbacks but still does not assign probabilities to them. This is ignoring them. Because they ignore the effects of these important feedbacks, their proposals for limiting “the likelihood of a 4°C increase to very low levels” are seriously flawed.

I have been in correspondence with Dr Kevin Schaefer. He has recently published work on the permafrost thawing. Dr Schaefer says this:

My estimates of carbon release from thawing permafrost are sound and the best available today. The measure of “soundness” is the 35% uncertainty, which is driven by uncertainty in the projected warming rate given a certain amount of fossil fuel emissions. As John Mitchell stated, four years ago the model teams decided not to include the permafrost carbon feedback in their IPCC AR5 projections due to the lack of data. We are making great progress, but the current round of simulations to support the IPCC AR5 do not include the permafrost carbon feedback. Nevertheless, we know enough now to recommend solid action.
If I were given the opportunity to talk to Chris Huhne, I would say:

  • 1. We must reduce total, global fossil fuel emissions.
  • 2. None of the IPCC AR5 projections include the permafrost carbon feedback.
  • 3. We must allocate 15% of total allowed global emissions to account for the permafrost carbon feedback.
  • 4. The Department of Energy and Climate Change should definitely look into the permafrost carbon feedback because it implies a 15% greater reduction in fossil fuel consumption.

Some other details of our correspondence can be seen in Committee on Climate Change discounts important science.

In their report of December 2010 the committee on Climate Change says

In our 2008 report ‘Building a low carbon economy – the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change’ we reviewed the scientific evidence on future climate risks. Based on that evidence we proposed a climate objective: to limit central estimates of global temperature increase by 2100 to as little above 2°C over pre-industrial levels as possible, and limit the likelihood of a 4°C increase to very low levels (e.g. less than 1%1). We assessed emissions pathways to meet this objective and concluded that global emissions of Kyoto greenhouse gases must peak by 2020, then decline rapidly so that they are halved by 2050, and continue to decline thereafter.

I do not see how this can be correct when important feedbacks are discounted and effectively given zero probability. I think David Mackay agrees. He has replied to me

I agree with you that it will be good, as soon as possible, to include in models the feedback possibilities that have hitherto effectively been given zero probability.

As I remember at our previous meeting you told me that such feedbacks were now in climate models. According to Dr Schaefer and correspondence I have had with John Mitchell, this does not seem to be the case. Did I misunderstand you?


Geoff Beacon
8th July 20111

P.S. What does your department think about recent work by Hansen and Sato? It seems scary to me. Here is the abstract of a version of a paper they are preparing:

Paleoclimate data help us assess climate sensitivity and potential human-made climate effects. We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods of the past million years was less than 1{\deg}C warmer than in the Holocene. Polar warmth in these interglacials and in the Pliocene does not imply that a substantial cushion remains between today’s climate and dangerous warming, but rather that Earth is poised to experience strong amplifying polar feedbacks in response to moderate global warming. Thus goals to limit human-made warming to 2{\deg}C are not sufficient – they are prescriptions for disaster. Ice sheet disintegration is nonlinear, spurred by amplifying feedbacks. We suggest that ice sheet mass loss, if warming continues unabated, will be characterized better by a doubling time for mass loss rate than by a linear trend. Satellite gravity data, though too brief to be conclusive, are consistent with a doubling time of 10 years or less, implying the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise this century. Observed accelerating ice sheet mass loss supports our conclusion that Earth’s temperature now exceeds the mean Holocene value. Rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is required for humanity to succeed in preserving a planet resembling the one on which civilization developed.

Geoff Beacon

22nd July 2011

However, we

have made our position on climate feedbacks quite clear in previous correspondence and suggest that any further issues you have on feedbacks should be taken up with the relevant scientists.


An earlier note addressed to Chris Huhne (28th March 2011):

Dear Chris

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me last Wednesday.

As I told you, I don’t think I have received satisfactory replies from your department since our encounter last July. I do not want to pursue the details of this or earlier correspondence – with no official or academic standing this is too time consuming. Instead I would like to point out the selective nature of the the experts chosen to advise government organisations.

Climate scientists can be roughly divided into to groups. The ‘CO2 hawks’ who believe that reduction of CO2 emissions reductions as the main tool for combating climate change. Another group believe that it is too late to rely heavily on this option and we must use ‘every tool in the box’ (ETIB) to avoid triggering feedback mechanisms that the CO2 hawks downplay.

It is interesting to note the influences of these groups on government organisations. The CCC and DECC are firmly in the CO2 hawk’s camp. NERC and possibly DEFRA have been influenced by the ETIB group. Below I offer short lists of climate scientists grouped into these categories.

It is clearly unsatisfactory to have these matters decided in such a covert manner. I urge you to find a means to open up the discussions. Such matters are of national and international importance. They should not be fought out through the channels seen in ‘Yes Minister’ or ‘In the thick of it’.

Again, thank you for talking to me.

Good luck. (You’ll need it!)

Warmest regards.


Geoff Beacon ( October 15, 2011 at 6:37 am )

We are stuck in a partnership with France (a nation geared towards clandestine activities against Greenpeace, first the French Secret Service, now Big Energy) because France provides us with ‘green’ ie Nuclear energy. When last I looked (’98) France was supplying the UK with c. 25% of our energy. It is no coincidence that exocet missiles came from France. Margaret Thatcher (RIP) was so keen to crush the miners that she was willing to buy energy from whichever source she could. Greenpeace (who are fimly OFF the agenda) became the targets of smears, dirty tricks, infiltration, and, in New Zealand, sabotage, in the name of The Entente Cordiale. BP started selling lead free petrol a few years ago. Lead is the LEAST harmful emission from the internal combustion engine. Try Benzene, a known carcinogen. Green funding from BP and Shell kicked in, and Blue Peter kiddies were invited to collect bottle-tops. Thus they spawned a monster. Green is the new secular religion. It trucks no debate, and Carbon (needed for Life) is now taxed. Plus ca change, c’est plus ca meme chose.

John F Goodfellow ( November 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm )

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