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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

The UK Met Office this week issued a press release highlighting the news that the global average temperature this year is set to be a full degree higher than the pre-industrial norm (Warming set to breach 1C threshold, according to the BBC report). As we near the start of the Paris climate change summit, we can expect to see more stories like this. The only surprising thing is that the press release got relatively little coverage in the mainstream media. The implication of the report is, of course, that we are now halfway to the nominal 2° threshold of ‘dangerous warming...
The run-up to the annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (or climate change summit, as it is more commonly known) sees plenty of reports, news stories and stunts designed to focus attention on the issue. The Paris event, due to start at the end of this month, is no exception. The latest story to hit the headlines is that the New York state attorney general has issued a subpoena to ExxonMobil – the world’s largest oil company – for emails and other documents issued over the last four decades to see whether the company adequately...
In Alice through the Looking Glass, the White Queen famously said that she could believe six impossible things before breakfast. It often seems as though some people are following her example. Many things may be eminently desirable, but wishing for them is not the same as achieving them. Believing that a particular wrong or injustice can be completely eliminated often does no good. In too many cases, the best can be the enemy of the good. Poverty, for example, is one of the great scourges of the world, but creating a well-financed, high profile campaign such as Make Poverty Historyhas not...
Between now and mid-December, when the Paris climate change summit ends, global warming, sea level rise, extreme weather events, emissions controls and even ocean ‘acidification’ are all likely to figure regularly in the media. Studies will be released, commitments made and links – some extremely tenuous – will be made between continued use of fossil fuels and a range of negative impacts. Similarly, sceptical voice will be raised (though probably not at the BBC) in attempts to question the validity of many of these stories. Not that it will really matter, since...
This week, a well-respected academic has come in for criticism for writing an article at the behest of a large multinational company (Harvard professor failed to disclose connection). The main problem was that the company was Monsanto, regularly vilified by activists for what they consider to be a range of sins, including farmer exploitation and attempted dominance of the agricultural supply chain. The academic is Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project and Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard. Unsurprisingly, this has...
The scandal engulfing the Volkswagen group - and very probably other major car manufacturers - is a serious one, but essentially about ethics and customer trust. To deliberately falsify the outcome of emissions tests is fraudulent and will have long-running consequences but it is not necessarily, as some commentators have suggested, the beginning of the end for diesel as a mainstream fuel. Diesel engines have long been the motive power of choice for buses, commercial vehicles and (non-electric) trains. By compressing a mixture of air and low-volatility oil to a high degree, diesel...
Greenpeace has published the latest in a bi-annual series of studies focussed on energy, written jointly with the Global Wind Energy Council and SolarPowerEurope. This year’s Energy [r]evolutionis a particularly important one because of the impending Paris climate summit, on which so many hopes are riding. The big message this time around is that it is possible to deliver a global energy system which is 100% renewable by 2050 (see Is a 100 per cent renewables-powered world really possible?). The study is certainly well produced and weighty – coming in at 364 pages – but...

A nuclear future

18.09.2015
Last week, I argued that the proposed Hinkley Point C reactor, to be built by EDF with Chinese partnership, did not represent good value for money for the UK taxpayer. This week, it’s appropriate to look at some of the reasons why nuclear fission remains a key technology for the future, and why one bad deal shouldn’t be allowed to put that future in jeopardy. In fact, as others have pointed out to me, even the Hinkley project may not be so bad when taken in context. There are other projects also in the pipeline in the UK. Nugen is a joint venture between Toshiba and ENGIE (...
The need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is seen by some as both vital and obvious. Others see no pressing urgency in the light of uncertainty about the relative contribution of various uncontrollable factors to changing climate patterns. This divergence of views provides plenty of scope for argument between those who want to phase out fossil fuels at any price and those who believe the chosen route of renewable energy is currently simply not up to the task. There is, however, a path which all shades of opinion should be able to agree on; a route to low-carbon electricity with built-in...

Countdown to Paris

04.09.2015
As the summer break comes to an end, many minds will be firmly focussed on the next climate change summit – the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – taking place in Paris from November 30. That’s just under three months away. On December 11, the conference will come to an end with the celebration of a binding international deal to slash emissions. At least, that’s the theory. The fact that this is the 21st year of talks says something of itself. Bringing enough industrialised countries together to put the...

Current Issues


Future costs of UK energy supply

The Scientific Alliance recently published part 1 of an examination of National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios, dealing with security of supply. We are now pleased to publish part 2 - cost of supply. The authors - Dr Capell Aris and Colin Gibson - conclude that building more gas and nuclear stations would be considerably less expensive than any of the NG scenarios, as well as offering better energy security.

What's New

14 October 2016: Read the new report by Dr Capell Aris, published jointly with the Adam Smith Institute - Solar power in Britain: the Impossible Dream