Helm Talks: Podcasts

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The sound of Russian gunfire and the alarm has gone off on energy security. The retreat from the net zero strategies is all too apparent: keeping coal-fired power stations running, increasing the coal burn, drilling for more oil and gas and even considering opening a new coal mine, cutting fuel duties and subsidising household energy, and supporting large energy users. The simple illusion that building lots of renewables can be pursued without taking seriously the security of supply consequences has left the UK exposed to the biggest impacts of the gas price shocks, even though it imports only around 4% of its gas from Russia. Decarbonisation with intermittent, low-density, disaggregated wind requires a lot of back-up, which will mostly be gas in the next decade or so. 
Asleep at the wheel, having neglected security of supply, ministers now face the consequences of no gas storage and short-term spot wholesale markets. Ignoring the facts that 80% of global energy comes from fossil fuels, that the destruction of the natural environment to soak up carbon has left the Amazon as a net emitter, and that the stock of carbon in the atmosphere has continued to go up year on year by 2 parts per million since 1990, including last year with the lockdowns, means that the claim that net zero on a territorial basis will unilaterally stop the UK causing climate change is sadly misguided. The current energy crisis – what I call the "first net zero energy price crisis" – should sound a very loud alarm bell. It is time to face up to what unilateralism means: paying the costs of our carbon consumption, and applying that pollution carbon price to imports as well as agriculture, heating, power, transport and industry at home.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleSpotifyGoogle and YouTube.

Podcast 28: Windfall taxes are a mark of energy policy failures
6th June 2022

Faced with sharply rising household energy bills, there is great political consensus that this is a good time to bash the companies with a windfall tax. Prices have gone up, companies are benefiting from the troubles in Ukraine, and governments are in the business of redistribution. There are two questions: first, what exactly is a windfall; and second, why have windfalls emerged? Windfalls arise all the time in competitive markets; they happen when prices, but not costs, go up. The converse happens too: prices fall, whilst costs go up. It's swings and roundabouts, and investors take their chances. 

In the North Sea, prices can only be excessive if the offshore taxation regime is flawed – and the answer is to put that tax regime right. Onshore in the electricity market, prices are excessive if the wholesale market does not reflect the costs. It doesn’t: the wholesale price of electricity is roughly equal to the spot price of gas, whereas the costs of more than half the electricity generated have nothing to do with the gas price. The lessons from this sorry episode are: fix North Sea taxation, and reform the electricity market to meet the challenges and cost structures of the net zero targets and security of supply. 

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleSpotifyGoogle and YouTube.

Podcast 27: How to pay for energy
4th May 2022

How do we pay not just for the immediate costs of energy, but for the full transition to net zero? Right now the UK economy is around 80% dependent on fossil fuels, just as it was back in 1970 - and much the same as the rest of the world. We have 28 years to get this down to a residual, all of which needs to be sequestrated. We have the 2050 net zero target and the 2035 target for net zero for electricity - just 13 years away. This is a transition on a scale last seen in converting a peacetime economy into a wartime economy ready for the Second World War. 

We are all in this together as citizens and we have to find a way to pay for this that enables all citizens to participate fully in society and the economy. This means that we need a social tariff, to provide the basic social primary good of energy. It breaks the link between price and costs, and brings the better-off customers and the Treasury into this picture. None of the current short-term fixes is going to address the costly long haul to net zero. Sticky plasters like loans and Council Tax rebates assume that our current energy price crisis is temporary. It is not. Lots and lots of intermittent wind will increase costs, which we should pay – as citizens and not just consumers. 

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

This podcast accompanies my paper, How to pay for energy, which covers the issues in more detail.

Podcast 26: Paying too much for your energy
30th March 2022

From April, the average household will be paying around £2,000 a year for their energy. By October it may be closer to £3,000. Many will struggle to pay. This price does not reflect the true energy costs, which are lower. Consumers are paying too much. Whilst the price of gas has gone up, this is only one part of energy costs. Energy costs from nuclear and from renewables have not increased. The costs of the network distributors are too high. The costs of supply failures are being added to the bills. Then there are all the costs from past renewables subsidies and a host of policy costs.

Five years ago I carried out the Cost of Energy Review, setting out why we are all paying too much and what should be done about it. Five years later, failing to implement its main recommendations has made the situation much worse. It does not have to be like this, but it will take a rethink of energy policy and some rapid changes.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 25: Sustainable farming and net zero – a long way to go
23rd February 2022

What would sustainable agriculture look like? It would be zero carbon consumption or better, deliver food sustainably whilst preserving and enhancing natural capital (including the soils and the peat), offset carbon emissions elsewhere, and pass the assets on to the next generation in good shape. What we have now is no carbon price, no carbon border adjustments, and no overall plan for land use, including carbon sequestration.
Agriculture is the largest carbon emitter relative to size in the economy. We have a bottom-up, case-by-case approach, with ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes) in England and a voluntary carbon offsetting market that looks like the Wild West. There is a chasm between what is going on and net zero. The scope for improvement is correspondingly vast and the time is short – just 28 years to net zero. Creating a green and prosperous agriculture requires a step change, with credible offsetting, credible public goods funding, and polluters being made to pay. All perfectly achievable and economically efficient, but not if we continue with the current timid approaches.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 24: Don't bank on energy prices falling any time soon
10th February 2022

The reasons why energy prices have shot up are well known: the Russians and extra demand in the Far East when it comes to gas, exacerbated in the UK by the lack of storage, the scale of the intermittent renewables, and the fast-track exit from coal. The UK government assumes that this is all very temporary, that gas prices will fall back by the autumn, and that the temporary storm can be weathered by, in particular, a £200 loan to customers, which will be easier to repay as the energy bills fall back again. 

Don't bank on it: the energy bills are not just the consequence of rising gas prices, and higher gas prices may not be all that temporary. But, even if they are, there are other reasons why energy bills may keep going up. There are the legacy costs of past renewables subsidies, there are more subsidies to come, there are the system costs of integrating a huge further increase in offshore wind, and then there are nuclear and other low-carbon technologies to come. Dealing with climate change is a must, and it is not going to be cheap. Better to tell the truth, so that we all know what is in store in this radical transition, than delude people that the £200 is going to be easy to pay back. Get ready for permanently higher costs to come.
To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on Apple, GoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 23: The first net zero energy crisis
7th January 2022

Energy price crises are usually triggered by external events. But the UK has been hit particularly hard by the global gas price increases, and for mainly home-grown reasons. This is the first net zero energy prices crisis and, unless action is taken, there will be many more to come. There are two main reasons: the energy system is not designed to handle the intermittency of the renewables; and the legacy costs from past subsidies on renewables confront consumers with rising prices when costs are falling. They both need to be urgently addressed, because the 2035 target to completely decarbonise the electricity system is a mere 13 years away. 

The key steps were set out in the Cost of Energy Review in 2017: socialise the legacy costs, split out the system operators so that they can oversee the pathway to the net zero targets, move away from wholesale markets to Equivalent Firm Power so that those who cause  intermittency have to pay for it, and make the polluters (ultimately you and me who buy the power) pay the costs through proper carbon energy pricing. Short-term sticky plasters, such as abolishing VAT, will make matters worse, and abolishing the price cap (or even shortening the period) will encourage a return to some of the appalling behaviour in the supply market before the cap was introduced and avoid the obvious necessity to regulate the market properly. Better to get on with the fundamental reform as set out in the Cost of Energy Review and tell the public the truth: that net zero is going to cost, and, without reform, it is going to cost a lot. And if politicians are not prepared to say this, then admit that all the hype at Glasgow from the UK side was just that - hype.
To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube
This podcast accompanies my paper, The first net zero energy crisis – someone has to pay, which covers the issues in more detail.

Podcast 22: Are the wheels falling off the electricity model?
8th December 2021

30 years after privatisation, the electricity model looks to be in deep trouble. In addition to the collapse of 25 suppliers, and the knock-on increases in bills that customers will have to pay for what has, in some cases, been very poor management, and, in regulation, serious failures to scrutinise the businesses, several thousand people have been cut off from the distribution networks for over a week. That a storm could find the local distributors with so little resilience raises all sorts of questions about their behaviour since they agreed at the last price review that they had sufficient funding to meet their licence obligations (they did not appeal). This begs all sorts of questions about what they have and have not spent, and more generally about the highly geared financial structures that private equity has put in place. 

None of this bodes well for the complete decarbonising of the electricity industry by 2035 - in just over 13 years from now. It's time to get serious about the reforms in the 2017 Cost of Energy Review.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:


Also available on Apple, Google, Spotify and YouTube

This podcast accompanies my paper, Luck is not an energy policy – the cost of energy, the price cap and what to do about it, which covers the issues in more detail.

Podcast 21: COP26 – progress or just more blah, blah, blah?
27th October 2021

Is COP26 the “real deal”, marking the point when we “turned the corner” on climate change, or is it what Greta Thunberg calls “blah, blah, blah”? To succeed, COP26 would need to slow down and stop the increase in carbon in the atmosphere – something all the previous COPs have failed to do. For the last 30 wasted years, that concentration has gone up by roughly 2 parts per million per year, including last year, despite the great coronavirus lockdowns. 

COP26 is all about territorial carbon production emissions; it does nothing about carbon consumption, the real carbon footprints. That’s why deindustrialising, service-based economies like the UK look good, and yet still cause climate change by importing emissions and then not counting them. The world cannot wait for China (representing nearly 30% of global emissions) to peak in a decade’s time and then take another 30 years to reach “carbon neutrality”. To avoid 3˚C warming, and unilaterally stop causing climate change, the targets should be on carbon consumption, include imports, cover agriculture as well as heating and transport. We would also need to have a much bigger fiscal transfer to the developing countries. Simply setting net zero territorial targets, and mostly for 2050, is not enough, and risks the world moving on after December to other things, as it did after Copenhagen, Durban and Paris.


Also available on Apple, Google, Spotify and YouTube

This podcast accompanies my paper, COP26 – progress or just more blah, blah, blah?, which covers the issues in more detail.

Podcast 20: The gas and electricity price crisis – fundamental causes and big consequences
4th October 2021

The gas crisis is very predictable and has caught the government and the regulators asleep at the wheel. Virtually no storage, suppliers without proper contractual cover, and a flawed model of competition have left the UK exposed to the intermittency of wind without proper back-up and with customers picking up the bill. Russia, low wind output, old-fashioned twentieth century wholesale market pricing, and inadequate scrutiny of the suppliers are the immediate causes. But the fundamental problem is the short-termism of the market.

Just like Northern Rock, the shift from a longer-term contractual basis to a real-time spot market means volatility, not stability. The price cap is a longer-term contract (or at least six months) and should have forced a consequential response by the companies to go long too.

Just like Northern Rock, limited liability allows the companies to escape, leaving customers to pick up the tab. The Cost of Energy Review in 2017 proposed a reshaping of energy markets to firm capacity, and the Equivalent Firm Power (EFP) auctions. As with the other recommendations in that review, the government ignored this, and it is now reaping the consequences. The ostrich approach will not save the government: the market is flawed, not simply going through a bit of turbulence. 

Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

This podcast accompanies my paper, Gas and electricity crisis – causes and consequences, which covers the issues in more detail.
Podcast 19: Do electricity prices really need to go up?
6th September 2021

Why are electricity prices going up? Why is the price cap being reported raised by Ofgem? Do prices really have to go up, or should they be coming down? 

The answer given by Ofgem and the industry is that the price of gas is going up. That’s true. But gas is only one part of the generation of our electricity. In fact, our electricity is increasingly coming from renewables, with some contribution from nuclear. And the renewables costs are going down. We should all be benefiting from these lower costs. But because it is the marginal cost of the gas at the peaks that drives the wholesale price, and hence our bills, we don't see the benefits of the falling costs of other forms of generation. Since we will need some gas for a couple more decades at least, we face the prospect of it setting the peak price for a long time to come. 

The right way to sort this out is to move to a capacity-based approach, and pay for the costs of the different technologies – their costs plus a reasonable return. We should have a strategic gas reserve, pay for that insurance, and for the gas – the actual gas used – when it is used. Put this together and we should see prices coming down, and sharply over the next decade. Decarbonising electricity, and ever-lower-cost renewables, should mean lower bills. It is urgent: even if many people might be willing to pay these ever-higher bills, many won’t be able to pay. Time to address the cost of energy properly, and implement the reforms set out in my 2017 "Cost of Energy Review".

Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube

Podcast 18: Net zero and greenwashing electricity
20th August 2021

It's about time the government and the regulators took a good hard look at so-called green and renewables-only electricity contracts. Consumers – you and I – might want to do the right thing, and buy only low-carbon electricity so we reduce our carbon footprint. But none of us – unless we really are off grid and use no diesel or gas back-ups – actually consumes only renewable energy. Why? Because what comes through the wires is a mix of gas-, nuclear- and coal-generated electricity and wind- and solar-generated electricity. There are no specific separate green-only transmission and distribution wires. 

"Green" contracts are, at best, from suppliers who buy their electricity to put into the system only from renewable electricity generators. At worst, they are just a bundle of financial contracts. So you are paying a premium to renewables generators – an extra subsidy. Nevertheless, you might think you're making a difference by doing this. But does even more subsidy make a difference to how much renewable electricity is on the system. Not really, because the government decides how much renewables there will be and how much all of us will pay for it. If you really want to pay more to help get to net zero, there are much better, and greener, things you could spend your money on.

Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 17: The EU leads on climate change – again
29th July 2021

The new EU climate change package sets the pace for others to try to match in the run-up to COP26. It has a central architecture, built around carbon pricing. The two key components are the widening of the scope of the EUETS to bring in other sectors, and the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). After a shaky start to carbon pricing, the EU has now made it the central game in town, gradually bringing in transport, including aviation and shipping, and signalling to other sectors that they, too, will feel the forces of its carbon price in due course. 
The CBAM is a radical step forward to make this internal carbon price common to both domestic production and imports. In the process, it deals with the competitiveness issues, gives carbon consumption the central role, and creates the scope for a globalisation of carbon pricing through a coalition of the willing. Importers can either pay the CBAM price to the European Commission, or they can introduce a comparable price in their own countries and pay their own governments.

There is one more reason for optimism: the revenues from the CBAM are hypothecated to the recovery budget, and will be key own-revenues to the Commission. As always in environmental policy, it is wise to follow the money.

Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 16: COP26 – time to get real about fossil fuels
13th July 2021

With just 29 years to go to the 2050 target date, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has done a great service in making a stab at the scale of the changes needed to tackle climate change. Assuming an 8% fall in global energy demand, and 2 billion more people, it projects a fall in the use of fossil fuels, from 80% of world energy to just 20%, including the almost complete eradication of coal,  a reduction of around 75% for oil, and 55% for gas. Putting aside the fantasy that we can accommodate 2 billion more people, and all the economic growth that our leaders assume, and actually reduce energy consumption, the facts are that oil demand is going up, gas demand is going up, and coal is continuing to provide a great deal of the energy mix in South East Asia and elsewhere, with China building more new coal power stations than the US and the EU are closing. Whilst campaigners get their teeth stuck into the independent Western oil and gas companies, the big numbers are all about Russia, Saudi Arabia and China. None of these is doing anything remotely required for global net zero in the next 29 years. It is these facts on the ground that COP26 needs to get real about, rather than simply trot out the usual stuff about the great targets world leaders are signing up to, and all the cake-ism beloved of the British PM.


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 15: Net zero – keeping our homes warm without frying the planet
21st June 2021

We are not short of ambitious carbon targets. We have a 78% reduction target for 2035 – just 14 years away – and 100% by 2050. So far, the focus has been on low-carbon electricity generation and electric cars. Heating has been the missing and much harder part – huge amounts of energy, very seasonal and mostly gas.
There are options: heat pumps, some hydrogen, municipal heating schemes and so on. What is missing is any serious plan as to how to make the massive transfer from gas (and oil) to something else, a plan for dealing with the winter peak demands, a plan for energy efficiency, and a plan for urban energy and heating systems. In fact, even new-build houses are not net zero and gas boilers are still the technology of choice in new homes.
It’s time for politicians not only to talk the talk, but to start walking the walk. It’s time to stop the waffle, stop telling people this is not going to cost much, and to drop the cake-ism. Heating is the really tough bit – expensive, hard to implement, and requiring a whole new infrastructure to back it up on those bleak winter, low-wind and low-solar days when the system will already be under enormous stress.


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 14:  Trade – is free trade fair?
28th May 2021

Post BREXIT, the first trade deal has been deliberately designed to put grit in the wheels of trade with the EU. Now comes India and Australia and the US looms, all part of the new Global Britain. As with almost all trade deals, agriculture tends to be a big issue despite its relatively small part of the economy - just 0.6% of UK GDP. Much of it is simply uncompetitive. 

Sheep farming in the hills cannot match the costs of Australian ranches. It is claimed that the welfare and environmental standards are lower, though this may be less than it seems. Then there is the important bit of carbon, and the need for a carbon border adjustment. Fair trade needs a level playing field. In such a new world, the scope to redirect subsidies to make better use of the land should trump protectionism for farmers.


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 13: Net zero – why we need a carbon border tax
11th May 2021

It is simply not good enough to reduce terrestrial carbon production emissions to net zero by 2050 on a unilateralist basis, and to expect that this means we stop causing climate change. It doesn’t. It could even make matters worse – the quickest way to get carbon territorial emissions down in the UK would be to complete the closure of the steel industry, the remaining oil refineries, the car industry and import all these instead. 

The UK is already made up of 80% services, importing all the main carbon-intensive goods from countries like China. Climate change is global and what matters is our global carbon footprint. Imports and domestic production both cause climate change, and both do so because they are part of our carbon consumption. When it comes to such consumption, the UK does not look so good. Not to tax carbon at the border whilst having a carbon price at home is precisely wrong. This bit is unanswerable, but then those with a vested interest in the imports argue that such a carbon border adjustment is impractical. No carbon price is perfect, at home or abroad, but it can be roughly right. Imposing a carbon tax at the border on imports from any country without an equivalent carbon tax at home is a great way to spread carbon pricing globally, and a great step in the right direction.

Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

Podcast 12: COP26 – too much hype, too little substance?
23rd April 2021

The hype around COP26 is getting out of hand. The excitement is palpable - the US and China, and then the other world’s leaders are all, if one believes the spin, going to come up with targets that add up to 2˚C maximum global warming. It will be a triumph for Boris Johnson. We have been here before, at Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban and Paris. What happened? The concentration of carbon in the atmosphere – the only number that counts – has just kept going up at around 2 parts per million every single year from 1990 onwards. Not a blip following the world financial crisis in 2007/08, nor even a blip for 2020. 

The COP process has not worked so far. Why? Because the climate change problem is very much about China, India, Africa and Brazil. China is building coal power stations so fast as to more than compensate for all the coal closures in the US and the EU. It has 1,000 or so power stations, burns more than half the world’s coal and is 28% of total COemissions. The developing countries all want the developed countries to pay.

COP26 needs to come up with credible targets that are actually going to be met and massive financial transfers for this top-down framework to deliver the goods. The alternative is bottom-up, building a coalition of the unilateral willing, to include the EU, the UK and the US. But this means unilaterally committing to carbon consumption targets, to pay for the carbon footprint and to include imports. The polluters should really pay for their carbon consumption. It turns out that carbon border taxes incentivise exporters to tax carbon at home rather than pay the carbon duties to the likes of the UK and US governments - and that proliferates the carbon prices globally. 


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.

This podcast accompanies my paper, COP26 - too much hype, too little substance, which covers the issues in more detail.

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.


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify 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.


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.


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.


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.


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify 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? 


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. 


Also available on AppleGoogle and Spotify  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.


Also available on AppleGoogle, Spotify 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.


Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and 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.


Also available on AppleSpotify and YouTube.

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.


Also available on AppleSpotify and YouTube.









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