Helm Talks: Podcasts

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PODCAST 1: Carbon pricing and carbon taxes - an essential part of a net zero strategy
12th October 2020

To meet the net zero target by 2050 a carbon price is a necessary (but not sufficient) part of the decarbonising policy architecture. Its time is coming: after the transition ends with the EU, from 1st January 2021, the UK will have its own carbon pricing mechanisms.

This podcast explains why a carbon tax is better than shadowing the EU ETS or inventing a new UK ETS. It tackles the carbon border adjustment issues, and knocks down each of the objections raised by the various interests. It explains how a single carbon price across energy, transport and agriculture would maximise the role of markets and bring carbon offsetting into the mix. Starting by amalgamating all the various carbon prices that already litter the policy landscape, the podcast goes on to set out how a carbon tax can be pragmatically implemented.

To listen to the podcast, go to:


Also available on YouTube.

PODCAST 2: Nature-based solutions to climate change
27th October 2020

The big focus in the net zero debates so far has been on emissions – in particular emissions from coal- and gas-fired power stations, and from vehicles, aviation and shipping. That really matters, but it is only half the story: the carbon in the atmosphere is the balance of emissions and the sequestration of carbon by nature - by trees, grasses, vegetation, salt marches and the oceans. By burning down the rainforests and stripping the carbon out from the soils, we've been messing up the ability of nature to do its job.

This second in my series of podcasts sets out the scale of the damage we've been doing to nature's toolkit, and describes what we need to do to move on from destroying nature's capacity to help solve climate change, to getting it back on track, with the multiple other benefits that will come too. 

It is about carbon offsets, carbon markets, and baseline carbon assessments. It is about an environmental policy for for the net zero agenda, which is now taking centre stage.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleSpotify and YouTube.

PODCAST 3:  COP 26 and global climate agreements - will they work?
10th November 2020

In November 2021, world leaders will gather in Glasgow to try once again to crack climate change. It is a formidable task: none of the previous agreements, including Paris in 2016, has made any difference to the march upwards of the carbon concentration in the atmosphere - 2 parts per million every year since 1990. After the 30 wasted years I describe in my book, Net Zero, why would anyone expect a breakthrough?

At the heart of the COP 26 negotiations lies the geopolitics between the US and China. Add in the EU and most emissions are captured. There is lots of excitement about Biden replacing Trump, and Xi Jingping’s commitment to becoming “carbon neutral” by 2060. Yet the fundamentals of the US–Chinese relationship have not changed: it is about trade and military power. It is about Taiwan, the Uighurs, and the South China Sea.

COP26 offers another opportunity to focus world leaders’ attention on climate change, but the real action needs to be bottom-up and depends on the unilateral measures nations take. Where the global and the national join up is about trade: about carbon trade and carbon imports. If climate and trade do get joined up at Glasgow, that would really make a difference.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on Apple, GoogleSpotify and YouTube.

PODCAST 4:  Net zero, green recovery and green industrial revolution plans - what's in a number?
24th November 2020

In the UK and the EU, grand Ten Point and Green Recovery Plans are all the rage. In the UK, everything adds up to 10; in the EU it was 20, with its "20/20/20 Climate and Energy Package". They tend to be popular, especially if every technology and lobby gets a prize. There are some advances: this time in the UK, “nature” makes an entry at no. 9 in the latest equivalent of the pop charts. The interesting bits are about what is left out. 

In the Ten Point Plan, networks are ignored and carbon taxes are notable by their absence. It's all about production, and the aim is to present “good news”. The politically inconvenient facts that, by not paying for the pollution we are causing, we're all living beyond our environmental means, and that it is ultimately us, as consumers, for whom all this carbon is produced, are ignored. The Plan is all about what happens here. The global problem of the global increase in carbon concentration in the atmosphere – which keeps going up even during the pandemic –and the import of all that stuff made, for example, in China does not figure in the great Plan. 

Cracking climate change is all about the much more painful politics of making polluters pay; funding and financing the core infrastructures; and pushing hard on R&D.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube

PODCAST 5:  How much is it going to cost to meet the net zero target?
15th December 2020

The Climate Change Committee, in its 6th Carbon Budget, tells us that the answer is not very much, if anything, once fuel savings are taken into account. Is this really true? Could the conversion of our entire economy – energy, transport, heating and agriculture – be switched from a carbon-intensive one to zero within just 30 years at little or no cost?

If it is true then we can look forward to the phase-out of subsidies to renewables, a withering of the need for state intervention except for infrastructure and R&D, a falling tax burden and lower consumer bills. Miracles might happen, but it sounds too good to be true and it is.

More likely is the opposite: more and more public expenditure and the need for tax rises, and higher energy, transport, food and heating bills. It is a price worth paying if we are to switch from our carbon-intensive lifestyles and stop living beyond our environmental and climate means. Pretending otherwise – convincing voters and consumers that they can have their cake and eat it – is a dangerous game. 

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on Apple, Google and Spotify  and YouTube.

Podcast 6: Net zero policy in 2,000 pages
19th January 2021

At the end of 2020 the government and the Climate Change Committee produced a blitz of documents. We had the Ten Point Plan, the National Infrastructure Strategy, the Energy White Paper and the Treasury’s interim report on its Net Zero Review. Thousands of pages. But what do they tell us? Are they good answers to the challenge of our unilateral net zero target? Is the strategy coherent and cost-effective, and is the money being provided to support it? 

The Energy White Paper, the precursor to a new Energy Bill, starts off with levelling-up and jobs. All the documents have at their core the claim that this huge transformation of the economy (and especially the main emissions in heating, transport and agriculture) is going to be achieved at little or no cost. Bills are not going to go up. Is it really true that we can no longer cause further increases in the carbon concentration in the atmosphere – unilaterally – without any pain? Can we go from living beyond our environmental and carbon means without a net cost, or not more than 1% of GDP at worst? Or do we need a rethink, a focus on carbon consumption and a new realism about what we need to do? 

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 7: How green is the government really?
2nd February 2021

Boris Johnson, like David Cameron, has started out talking the green talk. Standards here in the UK, post the BREXIT transition, are going to be higher. Net zero is embraced wholeheartedly. But one month into the brave new world, how is it going? There are some straws in the wind: the decision to allow the use of neonics, and ensure that no flowers blossom for a considerable period afterwards; not following the EU in banning waste exports; opting for the very inferior UK Emissions Trading Scheme over a carbon tax. None of these speaks to higher standards. 

The intentions are no doubt genuine, as they were for David Cameron, and laced with good politics, trying to corral the green vote to the benefit of the Conservative Party. But walking the walk runs into a brick wall for the government: the PM is not prepared to make us consumers – and hence voters – pay for the necessary changes. Bills can’t be allowed to go up, and farmers must be protected from the consequences of their pollution. Walking the walk is proving a lot tougher - there are choices and costs of moving from living beyond our environmental means to living within them, and it is not right to borrow, spend and then dump on the next generation the costs of both the debt and the pollution.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 8: Net carbon gain - how to build better
8th February 2021

Once upon a time, developers applied for planning permission and they either got it or not. Now they have to deliver Net Biodiversity Gain, a very limited application of the polluter-pays principle. They should have to show Net Carbon Gain, compensating for the carbon emissions caused by building works and by the buildings. That way, there is some chance that building 300,000 houses a year could be compatible with net zero; right now they are not.

Consistent with the spirit of the Climate Change Act, all developments should first have to measure their full carbon consequences, and provide carbon compensation for three impacts: i) the losses incurred through the building projects themselves; ii) the ongoing loss of the soils and vegetation, which limits future sequestration; and iii) the ongoing carbon emissions from the new buildings. It is not just the bricks and the bulldozers, and not just the fact that, once built, few if any are really net zero homes, but also the damage done to the soils, which are not only carbon storers but also biodiversity reservoirs. Next time you pass a greenfield development called “The Meadows” you will know the lasting consequences, and this especially applies to housing on the Green Belt.

This podcast accompanies my paper, Net Carbon Gain, which sets out the issues in more detail.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 9: Bespoke carbon taxes - should beef and dairy be singled out?
16th February 2021

The government has been kite-flying proposals for beef and dairy carbon taxes - to signal to environmentalists that it is “on their side” and to see how big the lobbyists’ backlash will be. The Climate Change Committee says we should eat less meat, and hence what better way to do this than put a carbon tax on it? The National Farmers' Union (NFU) counters that any such tax must first be internationally recognised and not put its members at a competitive disadvantage against imports. Unilateral carbon production targets, and unilateral carbon prices can make climate change worse. Think of Brazilian beef raised on cleared Amazonian rainforest displacing UK upland pasture-fed beef. But it is also a council of despair: for it will be a long wait for an internationally recognised and applied beef and dairy tax. 

The positive answer is that bespoke taxes such as these need bespoke border adjustments. Beef and dairy taxes at home need to be applied at the same rates at the border too. This could be part of the serious business of decarbonising agriculture here. Agriculture is a mere 0.6% of GDP, but produces over 10% of the UK's emissions (especially if the carbon losses from soil and peat are properly measured). Agriculture is relatively the biggest carbon polluter and applying the polluter-pays principle through carbon taxes to the border and at home is a good place to start. 

This podcast accompanies my paper, Bespoke carbon taxes on food, which sets out the issues in more detail.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on Apple, Google, Spotify and YouTube.

Podcast 10: What is a carbon offset worth?
16th March 2021

Carbon offsets are all the rage. As companies declare their net zero targets, they are reaching for offsets to make the numbers add up. Landowners see carbon farming as a new revenue driver. The missing bit is any serious attempt to do the valuations properly, and to avoid greenwashing and all the reputational damage it could cause. 

The key steps to valuation are: establishing a natural capital baseline; specifying the counterfactuals as new policies on carbon and public goods unfold; projecting carbon prices; creating discount rate scenarios; calculating end-of-life scrappage values; and estimating the value of all the other natural capital impacts and other potential revenues from the offset investments. Done properly, carbon offsetting has the potential to bring the sequestration side of the carbon equation properly into play, which is every bit as important as the emissions when determining the carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. Done badly, it could be a silo-type policy disaster with lots of collateral damage, as the single-minded pursuit of timber production was to forestry over the last century.

This podcast accompanies my paper, Valuing carbon offsets, which covers the issues in more detail.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube. 

Podcast 11: Net zero - is economic growth possible?
29th March 2021

Is economic growth possible? Is it even desirable? Lots of environmentalists think we have to get off the growth conveyor belt, seeing it as a road to environmental ruin. They see limited natural resources coming up against unbridled consumption, and think it will all end badly.
They have a point: consumption is unsustainably high, and we are living beyond our environmental means. But two different questions are getting conflated here: whether more consumption is a good idea; and whether progressive growth is possible. Because of the costs of environmental damage, including biodiversity loss and carbon emissions, consumption is unsustainably high. We have to get back onto a sustainable consumption path. But once we are on that path, there is and will be progress in ideas and technology, and this is if anything speeding up.
Think of the generic technologies that made sequencing the coronavirus and then developing the vaccine possible. Think of the new materials that renewable energy needs. Think of the power of AI, ICT and big data to manage energy demand and supplies. Sustainable economic growth is possible, but only once the true environmental costs of our spending have been taken fully into account. We are living beyond our means but, once we have rebased, are capable of gradually becoming better off.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube. 






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