HELM TALKS: PODCASTS

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/carbon-pricing-and-carbon-taxes-an-essential-part-of-a-net-zero-strategy

Also available on Apple, Spotify 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.


https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/helm_talks_nature_based_solutions_climate_change

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/cop-26-and-global-climate-agreements-will-they-work

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/helm-talks-net-zero-green-recovery-green-industrial-revolution-plans

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. 

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/how-much-is-it-going-to-cost-to-meet-the-net-zero-target

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? 


https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/ep-6-cost-net-0-in-2k-pages-edit-v1-14012021-1212

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/how-green-is-the-government-really-1

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/helm-talks-net-carbon-how-to-build-better

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/helm-talks-bespoke-carbon-taxes

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/what-is-a-carbon-offset-worth

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/net-zero-is-economic-growth-possible

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. 

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/cop26-too-much-hype-too-little-substance/s-597djUc2zPJ

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 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.
https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/helm-talks-carbon-border-tax

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/trade-is-free-trade-fair

Also available on AppleGoogleSpotify and YouTube.
Helm Talks: Podcast 15
21st June 2021

Net zero: keeping our homes warm without frying the planet

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.

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/15-keeping-our-homes-warm

Also available on Apple, GoogleSpotify and YouTube.
Helm Talks: Podcast 16
13th July 2021

COP26: time to get real about fossil fuels

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 Apple, Google, Spotify and YouTube.
Helm Talks: Podcast 17
29th July 2021


The EU leads on climage change – again

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.
To listen to the podcast, click the link below:

https://soundcloud.com/user-649259350/eu-leads-on-climate-change

Also available on Apple, Google, Spotify and YouTube.
Helm Talks: Podcast 18
20th August 2021

Net zero and greenwashing electricity

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 Apple, Google, Spotify and YouTube.

Helm Talks: Podcast 19
6th September 2021

Do electricity prices really need to go up?

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".
To listen to the podcast, click the link below:

To listen to the podcast, click the link below:




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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