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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

11.12.2015
The COP21 climate conference is not yet over, but is in its final throes. Technically, a deal should be done by the end of Friday, but it is now known that talks will carry on into the weekend (a fairly normal occurrence). This time around, world leaders made their appearance at the start rather than the end of the jamboree. Since they will not have to suffer the embarrassment of announcing a weak deal – failure is unthinkable, so a deal there will surely be – this takes a little of the pressure off negotiators. But only a little. This summit, after all, has been promoted as another make...
04.12.2015
With the COP21 negotiations in full swing in Paris, climate change is once more in the news. But it is no longer front-page news, whereas it regularly made headlines in the lead up to the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009. Admittedly, Europe has other things on its collective mind at the moment, in the aftermath of terror attacks and with the continued influx of refugees and economic migrants, but there have been clear signs of a waning in public interest in climate change for some time. It is difficult to keep a topic on the front page over a long period. Issues come and go, and...
27.11.2015
In his Autumn Statementthis week (a budget in all but name), George Osborne gave UK government support to increased R&D on new energy sources: “The government will prioritise energy security, whilst making reforms to meet our climate goals at lower cost. The government is doubling spend on energy innovation, to boost energy security and bring down the costs of decarbonisation.” The prioritisation of energy security is entirely consistent with Amber Rudd’s recent speech, which is a reassuring sign of joined-up government. The reference to decarbonisation is necessary for a government...
20.11.2015
To no-one’s great surprise, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, this week announced that the UK’s coal plants to be phased out within 10 years. That this was the government’s intention was never in doubt; coal had to go if the country was to meet its independently-set carbon budgets and agreed emissions reduction targets. However, the balance of what Ms Rudd said was really the more interesting facet of her speech. In particular, she made it clear that meeting climate change targets would not be at the expense of energy security: “No government should ever take a risk on...
13.11.2015
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’, which knowledge...
06.11.2015
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 warned investors of...
23.10.2015
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...
16.10.2015
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 neither side will listen...
09.10.2015
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...
02.10.2015
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...

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