A diplomatic storm has been brewing between the UK and Russia over the Kremlin’s threat to derail the impending international climate change negotiations with excess emissions allowances known as ‘hot air’.
The issue of climate change ‘hot air’ has long since dogged the credibility of the Kyoto Protocol on a global scale. The hot air refers to an excess of ‘assigned amount units’ (AAUs, allowances dished out by the UN to countries with Kyoto targets) being available in Russia and other countries due to the historical oddity that the baseline year for the whole process was set in 1990, just as the industrial power of the Soviet Union fell into steep decline. This has left modern Russia with a target that is easily met and so an excess of allowances that could in theory be released without limit onto the international emissions trading market.
The issue has recently escalated into a diplomatic incident that only adds to Anglo-Russian frostiness on the back of such troubles as the Litvinenko murder and South Ossetia sovereignty dispute. The spat revolves around the Russians’ claim that they are not the first to commit this offence. A statement from the Kremlin said “we are shocked that the UK think they can criticise us over this position. The UK has been routinely flooding the climate change policy arena with hot air for more than a decade and has suffered no international repercussions for its actions.”
Indeed a brief look into UK climate policy does appear to reveal a long history of large quanitites of nothing but this alleged hot air. For 10 years the country’s leaders have made self-congratulatory speeches at how the nation leads the world in emissions reduction policy as they leap from Jaguar to Jaguar and tropical villa to villa. The UK’s modest Kyoto success is of course mostly a convenient upshot from power sector deregulation which led to a switch from coal to gas for power generation in the 1990s. This so-called “dash for gas” – or to give it its full title “dash to cash for Gazprom” – gives particular satisfaction to negotiators in Russia who could of course help the UK’s reduction efforts by switching from gas to hot air in their pipelines if the dispute continues. If nothing else the dash did help to knock the wind out of the UK renewables industry – hundreds of megawatts of turbines stuck in planning disputes have propelled this world leader to appear 3rd from bottom in a list of European national renewable energy levels with 1.3% of total energy: narrowly beating Luxembourg but salvaging some pride by eclipsing Malta (0%). The discussions over renewable heat have gone on so long that the air is no longer even hot – rather defeating the object of a heat policy – and biofuels policies have proved more renewable than the fuel itself. Looking forward, the future seems to hold new coal fired power stations and a third runway at Heathrow.
As the UN’s climate change conference opens in Poznan next week it remains to be seen how the UK will respond to this criticism. It is believed that the UK will stand firm in the belief that Russia depends on the West’s market and so its hot air will be worthless if Europe refuses to buy. The Russians are thought to be looking to build a pipeline to China to find a new market for their air. Expert observers expect this plan to be doomed from the outset. Not only is China unlikely to be interested in buying – why would you need hot air when you do not yet have an emissions cap but do have hundreds of millions of CERs to play with – but severe winter pipeline sabotage is also expected when Siberian residents get to hear that so much free hot air is passing so close by.
As the Poznan talks commence the hot air is likely to continue to fly and could prove a boon to delegates bracing themselves for a freezing Polish December.