Monday, June 19, 2017


Stunned by the range and scale of extraordinary and dramatic events in the last few weeks, this blog has remained very quiet and is only now starting to recover. It will remain quiet and slightly less frequent over most of the summer as the author is also working on some substantial papers about low carbon issues.


But it’s a good time to review quickly some recent events, in terms of their possible implications for energy and climate policy. Some of the themes may deserve a fuller treatment in due course. Some reflect on earlier postings.

Trump. The Trump comedy machine trundles on. Monty Python meets House of Cards is one popular characterisation of recent events (and not just with Trump or the US). But, as I commented earlier in relation to the Paris agreement, the damage of US withdrawal can be exaggerated. It will be limited both by growing appreciation within the US of climate issues, and by the increasing extent to which the rest of the world will simply ignore the US in the framing of its own policies.

The Middle East. Probably of more geopolitical significance are the strange diplomatic initiatives in relation to Saudi Arabia and Quatar. At the very least these risk adding fuel to the flames of conflicts that are already very terrible and will pose problems well beyond their own borders. These are very well explored by David Gardner in the FT.

The Saudis have long so mismanaged their energy resources as to have been forced to consider their own austerity programme, and on current prognostications for oil demand and prices their long term prospects must force some very substantial changes, not least in the very wasteful consumption of energy that has characterised much of the Middle East. We have long thought of the region mainly in terms of its role as a low cost intra-marginal oil producer, but consumption growth has been huge, and it deserves to be taken much more seriously in the broader context of how global adjustments and low carbon policies can be developed. We have to hope this will not be hindered by ill-considered diplomatic and military adventures on all sides.

UK. Bank of England forces financial institution stress tests in relation to climate change. This is another sign that widespread assumption of a low carbon future is gaining traction. Part of this is concern with the liabilities of insurance companies, in relation to some of the bigger risks anticipated from climate change, eg coastal flooding. But another of the Bank’s concerns is with the position of funds that have too much invested in companies that are going to lose out heavily if the world turns even more decisively against fossil fuels. Companies most at risk include coal, especially as the prospects for carbon capture appear to recede. Again this is an issue flagged in an early posting on this site.

And the UK election and Brexit. Direct implications for climate policy seem limited. There is no doubting the multiple close correlations and affinities between the fundamentalist free marketeers, the hard right Brexiters, the Trump camp and fossil fuel lobbies in the US, and refusal to accept the implications of climate science. Politicians like Redwood, Lawson, Trump himself, Farage and UKIP, Rees Mogg and Grayling, together with the small band of pro-Brexit economists, all fit the mould, and the correlations have been noted in earlier postings. But with too many internal battles over Brexit, and the relaxation of austerity,  any threats to UK climate policy, its 2050 legally binding targets or its commitment to Paris seem unlikely, for a host of reasons.

Where do we go on liberalised markets? Both major parties went into the election on a platform that included the prospect of price controls for the energy companies. This deserves a deeper analysis, perhaps, but surely marks the death knell of the liberalised market approach in the UK. The UK government, and most other European governments, intervene extensively in the energy sector.

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