Today, David Cameron was supposed to have given his first green speech since becoming prime minister – nearly two years after announcing that this would be the Greenest Government Ever. Damian Carrington in the Guardian lambasted Cameron for abandoning his plans for a keynote speech. There’s no question that he was planning to make this speech – we were one of the “green” groups that were canvassed for ideas to include in the speech and duly committed time and effort to developing ideas in the hope that Number 10 would spot a shiny bauble and pick it up. Instead, The Prime Minister has announced today that Green Energy “must be affordable” . Sound Familiar? – its the same refrain we heard from the Chancellor in the budget – “environmental sustainability must follow fiscal sustainability” – that means we can only afford to be environmentally sustainable when we’ve got rid of all of the public spending deficit.
Yesterday, at the same meeting as the PM is speaking at today, the deputy head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) made a plea to world energy ministers to “please take our warning seriously” that the world is on track to warm by Six Centigrade because greenhouse gas emissions were continuing to increase at such a high rate. The IEA is not a climate change fanatical outfit – far from it.I heard Prof Bob Watson, Defra Chief Scientist make the same statement at a meeting recently – I was very sad to read that he is retiring from Defra as he has been a wise counsel to that Department – I just hope his replacement continues to provide sound advice.
In the IEA’s report, particular criticism was levelled at the failure to develop Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. Despite many unfounded claims, Government argue that this is the solution to our climate change problems, capturing the gases emitted by power stations and industry and pumping it deep underground where it will be stored forever safely (were these ideas developed by the same people who promoted deep burial of nuclear waste as the safest option?).
We’ve been talking to DECC about a much simpler, cheaper and proven approach to CCS – one that doesn’t involve spending billions developing new technology, or building massive new infrastructure, or even needing to know whether the CO2 once pumped underground is in danger of seeping out again.
This is because grasslands, if managed sympathetically, soak up Carbon – loads of it. A semi-natural grassland can store over 500 Tonnes of CO2 equivalent or around 140 Tonnes of Carbon. When you think there are 4.5 Million hectares of grassland in England, that’s an awful lot of Carbon.
With this in mind, on tuesday I attended a workshop organised by the Soil Association promoting Low Carbon Farming. You can see more information about the day here. If you are interested I would recommend you go along to a workshop near you – the SA are organising a number around England this year.
The beauty of storing Carbon in grasslands is that the best grasslands for storing Carbon are also the best for wildlife and other ecosystem services. As Graham Harvey, author of The Carbon Fields, eloquently explained, the answer lies in the soil, or specifically mycorrhizal fungi. These take Carbon from plants and use it to create more fungal mycelia. In return they provide the plants with nutrients from the soil. Grasslands with more species of plants have more mycorrhizae. The other really important point about grasslands as carbon stores is that they continue to provide food – land planted with trees for carbon displaces food production elsewhere, potentially to places where the food has a bigger carbon footprint. Think of beef being produced on a field in England – that field is planted with trees and the beef production is displaced to Brazil.
What I hadn’t realised until Chris Lloyd from EBLEX explained it, is that there is a reason why this approach is not recognised or encouraged by Government. The Carbon Trust are supposed to tell everyone in an objective way the carbon footprint of all sorts of activities. They have developed carbon calculators for just this purpose. These Carbon Calculators (ECO2 is the main one) don’t include the carbon sequestered and stored in grasslands when they calculate the carbon footprint of a kilo of beef or lamb. So the value of grasslands as carbon stores is currently excluded from all carbon footprint calculations.
Needless to say we will be paying them a visit and asking them why they are ignoring this massive opportunity to store carbon cheaply and effectively.
Miles King, Director of Conservation