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Showing posts from January, 2014

Reflections on 2013 and looking ahead to 2014 (and 2015)

As I approach the six-month milestone of my Directorship and we enter 2014, I thought it appropriate to share some New Year musings. It has been an enriching and educational experience being the Cabot Institute's Director. I have met with many of you and been impressed by the passion that so many people in the University, the City of Bristol and beyond have for our environment and the people living with it.  And I have been similarly impressed by the ideas and wisdom they are applying to these challenges.

Working in this area is an amazing but often frustrating experience. We are collectively trying to address some of the largest – but also some of the most complex – issues facing our planet and our society.  This has been starkly illustrated by events during 2013.  The Haiyan Typhoon showed how devastating extreme weather events can be.  The severe winter in the Middle East and its potential impact on Syrian refugee camps reminds of us of how vulnerable we are, especially when en…

The carbon mountain: Dealing with the EU allowance surplus

It’s not news that the EU emissions trading system (EU-ETS) is in trouble. A build-up of surplus emission allowances has caused dangerous instability in the carbon market and a plunge in prices since the economic slump in 2008 began (See Figure 1, courtesy of David Hone).


The discussion at the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group’s (APPCCG) meeting on the 28th of January centred on the causes and consequences of the EU-ETS allowance surplus. The majority of speakers at this session had a background in the discipline of economics, so inevitably the exchange of views was… frank.  The panel were in agreement that EU-ETS is in crisis; but can and should it be saved?

Emissions trading schemes, of which EU-ETS is a canonical example, are an attempt to allow market forces to correct the so-called ‘market failure’ that is carbon emission. From the point of view of a classical economist, the participants in carbon emitting industries do not naturally feel the negative effects their act…

India-UK scientific seminar: Developing new records of global change

The Royal Society of London, which was founded in November 1660, is the oldest existing scientific society with a long history of working internationally. Indeed, in 1723, the Royal Society established the post of Foreign Secretary, nearly 60 years before the British government did. In 2014, science remains a global endeavour which requires both international discussion and collaboration. In order to facilitate international and collaborative study, the Royal Society recently funded a three-day seminar for Indian and UK climate scientists. The aim of the proposal was to help develop new records of past global change in India using a variety of geological and geochemical techniques.

The seminar, hosted by Professor Paul Pearson (Cardiff University) and Professor Pratul Saraswati (IIT Bombay), was held in Bhuj between the 15th and 18th of January. Bhuj is a relatively small city in the district of Kutch and is located approximately 100km from the Indian-Pakistan border. In 2001, Bhuj w…

Growth and energy use - a surprising relationship

One assumption that is often made in public discourse is that the size of the economy and the consumption of energy are firmly and linearly linked; the growth of one inevitably requires the growth of the other. But are things really that simple? I’m not so sure.

A great place to start when considering a question like this is the excellent dataset maintained by the World Bank.  Let’s start in the UK: how does GDP relate to the usage and production of energy? These are plotted in Figure 1. The economy has grown steadily since 1960, but the same can’t be said of energy use or production; indeed, production can be seen to be in steep decline since 2000.


To get a clearer picture, let’s consider the relationship between UK energy use and GDP in Figure 2. Clearly, the trajectory is far from linear. In fact, since 2000 the UK economy has both expanded and contracted, whilst energy use has been in rapid decline in the same period. It’s likely that advances in energy efficiency and the decline…