Can we trust the silver bullet of technology to fix climate change? The prime minister seems to think so. In a speech due soon, he is expected to pledge his faith in offshore wind power, solar, carbon capture, hydrogen, clean cars, and zero-emission aviation. Clean technologies are clearly a huge part of any solution. But the PM is being accused of techno-optimism bias, because he does not mention other key factors in reducing emissions. In fact, experts say, tackling climate change will need action right across society and the economy – with a host of new incentives, laws, rules, bans, appliance standards, taxes and institutional innovations. They also warn that citizens’ behaviour must shift, with people probably driving and flying less, and eating less meat and dairy produce. In other words, when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, there’s no silver bullet – it’s more like silver buckshot. But Boris Johnson still seems to have a bandolero stuffed with technologies resembling silver bullets. Let’s see whether they’ll go with a bang. UK governments have agonised for decades about nuclear energy, but Boris Johnson recently gave it the nod. That means he’s likely to either agree a financial package for a new station at Sizewell or for small modular reactors, or both. But nuclear is still a divisive issue. While it “could definitely help to reduce emissions,” said Professor Jim Watson, from UCL, “it’s very expensive.” “To play a major role, the cost of new nuclear plants will really need to fall, especially when the costs of other technologies like wind and solar have dropped so far. “And nuclear developers will need to show that they can build their plants more quickly because we need all electricity to be low carbon within the next 10 years.” He agreed that mini reactors might bring down costs – but said it was far too soon to be certain. A long list of policies requires government attention, including: standards for new homes; green recovery; food production; planning rules; peat; heat and buildings; meat eating; infrastructure statement; road building; carbon dioxide in soil; medium-term emissions targets; tree planting; energy storage; industrial strategy; appliance standards; and the comprehensive spending review. I’ll examine some of the non-technology innovations for tackling climate change in a future article.
BBC 25th Oct 2020 read more »