Shifting economic paradigms

The UK is on the search for new economic models to tackle future environmental challenges   ::   In Germany, a new study confirms the effectiveness of the EU emissions trading scheme

Present and future impacts of climate change are a looming threat to the global economy. The UK and Germany are embracing new approaches in energy management and scientific research.

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UNITED KINGDOM

Kew Gardens, London, United Kingdom. Image: DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia

The UK governmental spending is at the center of public attention as Whitehall is re-allocating funds within two major research programs. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, will lose 1.5 million pounds. As reported by Alice Bell and Ian Sample on The Guardian, the cut adds to financial problems totalling 5 million pounds, a hole in Kew’s budget that could lead to the loss of a sixth of the institution’s staff, mostly in scientific areas. The Guardian reports that Kew Gardens’ collections and its scientific team are globally recognised as an invaluable resource for research on biodiversity, climate change, conservation and crop improvement. The botanic gardens boast a plant collection among the largest in the world.

On the other hand, the government will spend 200 million pound in a new polar research ship, in an attempt to boost the country’s economy. The ship will be equipped to carry out research in marine biology and oceanography, and its robotic technology is meant to help pave the way for industrial activities. Commentators highlighted that the research would also facilitate fossil fuels exploration. In a blog post in The Guardian, Alice Bell reflects on the political choices underlying the allocation of funds, pointing out that “we are limiting science’s scope if making money is the only reason we do such work.”

The Conservative party has included significant cuts in subsidies for onshore wind farms in its electoral program for next year’s elections. The Huffington Post UK reports that existing and planned wind farms would be enough to meet the climate targets set by the EU for 2020, hence any further developments should not be subsidised. In its review of the issue, Carbon Brief argues that halting the development of onshore  wind farms to promote alternative clean technologies while meeting the EU targets may be possible, but it would be expensive.

At the present rate of energy production the UK is expected to have 11 to 13 GW of onshore wind power by 2020. Enough for the EU, but not enough for the UK’s legally-binding Climate Change Act, which imposes a 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Being a well established and relatively cheaper technology, onshore wind power would help meet the 2050 targets at a lower cost. Boosting alternative clean sources is certainly possible but developing the necessary capacity to reach the same results would be much more expensive, argues Carbon Brief’s Robin Webster.

As the construction of the High Speed Two rail network connecting London to the north of the country goes ahead, environmentalists worry about potential damage to biodiversity and natural heritage. Nick Corr, transport correspondent at the right wing daily The Telegraph, reports about a proposal put forward by the charity Wildlife Trust of a green corridor to be created alongside the railway, with the purpose of making up for the 500 important wildlife sites affected by the project.

The Wildlife Trust labelled the current proposals as inadequate, as they dramatically underestimate the scale of potential damages.

But in a column on The Guardian, George Monbiot warns on the risks of biodiversity offsetting, the practice of replacing damaged habitats with new ones created elsewhere. He maintains that natural world and its cultural, biological and historical heritage are invaluable and cannot be traded, as the idea of marketing natural capital suggests.

Lou Del Bello

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GERMANY

Critical Mass in Magdeburg, Germany. Image: Zeitfixierer (CC-BY-SA 2.0), via Flickr

The Critical Mass movement, encouraging bike riders to take over the streets, is gaining following in Germany, according to left-wing newspaper Taz (die Tageszeitung). In many German cities, cyclists meet every last Friday of the month to showcase their social presence on the streets. At a Critical Mass in March, hundreds of participants cycled through Cologne and Oldenburg, and over a thousand cruised through Berlin and Hamburg, and more are expected in the coming, warmer months.

The newspaper lists 22 cities that plan to participate this Friday. According to the author, the idea dates back to the 1990s, when the first bike riders took to the streets of San Francisco. In Germany, a minimum of 15 cyclists can act as one participant in traffic: if the first rides through a green traffic light the other may still follow even when the light has turned red. Therefore cycling in a group during rush-hour traffic could be a method to actually influence and change the traffic system, suggests the author.

A new study by the Kiel Institute for World Economy concludes that emission trading actually works, reports Süddeutsche Zeitung. While many argue emission trading has been a failure, it seems to have actually abated emissions. According to the report, the study finds that emission trading has no negative effects for industry. Emission reductions by companies obligated to own emission certificates have been a fifth higher than by companies who do not need to meet this obligation, according to the authors of the study. Currently, Brussels experiences a battle between the lobbies as the EU considers a further tightening of the emission trade scheme.

On April 25,1954, Bell Labs physicist Daryl Chapin and his colleagues Gerald Pearson and Calvin Fuller presented the first solar battery by successfully sending voice over their solar-powered device. Public radio Deutschlandradio Kultur celebrated the anniversary of the solar cell with a short historical piece. The initial goal in developing the solar technology was to find a battery that worked well in tropical regions – not concerns over negative impacts on the climate. While solar technology was soon applied in space travel, it was still exceedingly expensive for the average citizen. Today solar power has become much more accessible and inexpensive, and according to the report, could supply most of the energy needed by the middle of this century.

Anja Krieger

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