Renewables are a complement

Fergus Auld, first secretary, Climate Change and Energy, in the British High Commission, India, speaks to Mario D' Souza about UK's national policy on climate change, and carbon capture and storage

Published: Thursday 31 July 2008

Down to Earth Could you describe your mandate?

A recent strategic priority of the uk government is building a low-carbon, high-growth economy. My work is to accelerate this transition, making sure we deal with the inevitable consequences of climate change.

In India, we are setting up a new joint climate change and energy unit focused on promoting low-carbon technology and supporting international negotiations on a post-2012 framework on climate change. I will be leading one team within that unit, to look at supporting the international climate change negotiations.Another task will be to try and build necessary consensus within India for an ambitious and equitable post-2012 climate change treaty.

What is the national policy of the UK?

A number of pieces of domestic legislation on climate change are being discussed. The climate change bill going through the houses of Parliament is the first attempt by a government, anywhere in the world, to legislate emission reduction targets. The targets are a 26 to 32 per cent reduction in emissions on a 1990 baseline by 2020, and a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. The 60 per cent target is currently being reviewed. We have also set up a climate change committee which will make a series of recommendations about how to achieve the target.

Your comments to the Carbon Trust study that implies consumption, and not production, drives climate change

You can't have production without consumption. So it is absolutely right to consider both supply-side and demand-side solutions to tackle the challenge.

We have to reduce energy demand in industrial processes as well as at the household or personal level. But if you are looking at how to most efficiently make emission reductions, then looking at the end-point or consumer level is essential. It's important for us to see that a low-carbon lifestyle becomes the aspiration, rather than a high-consumption lifestyle. We already see that in some broad social trends in the uk and in Europe--I'm sure in India as well. We need to educate people about where the energy or the carbon they expend is coming from, so that they can make important choices about their lifestyles.

Where does carbon capture and storage-(CCS)-technology come into the whole picture?

Recent studies like that of the International Energy Agency show the growth in emissions will come from fossil fuel-fired power stations, particularly the carbon-intensive coal ones, in India, China, us, Germany, Poland, South Africa and in lots of the world's biggest economies. Any government or business considering a fuel source is going to be thinking about the price, availability and carbon footprint of that fuel source. In a situation where coal is a necessary strategic choice, our only option is to take the carbon out of that coal-fired power generation. So while India is looking at building nine new ultra-mega power plants, we have to see if we can assist in making sure that decisions are not taken now which will lock in carbon for the whole lifecycle of those power plants. That is why we are looking at what needs to be done to make those power plants fitted to capture co2 now. We realize there are a number of questions that key actors in India have about the technology. Let's try and address them, but also not shut out ccs.

In the uk, we are hoping we will be able to move quickly to commercial deployment of the technology. Then we will be able to work with countries like India and share the lessons we have learnt. I recognize that there is a lively debate around the issue and we in the British High Commission can provide inputs to it, but that is a discussion that has to be ultimately be taken by all the key stakeholders within India. It is not for the British government or any government to prescribe correct options.

But why put in large sums of money on CCS, that depends on a polluting source, rather than on renewables like solar or wind?

It's a legitimate concern and it's shared by a number of people in the uk as well. Carbon capture and storage technology is one mitigation option but its potential to sequester co2 is pretty high. Even if we scale-up the use of renewable sources of energy enormously, we are going to be way short of making the reductions that we need.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Stern review, we need to to reduce emissions globally in 10 to 15 years if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. If we don't have an answer for coal, we don't have an answer for the climate challenge. ccs and renewables should complement each other.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.