U.K. alternative technology expert discusses U.S., British relationship on energy and climate

As the House prepares to vote on the Waxman-Markey climate bill, what lessons can the United States learn from the United Kingdom on energy and climate? During today's OnPoint, Paul Allen, director of the U.K.'s Centre on Alternative Technology, discusses the U.K.'s Zero Carbon Britain program, which pushes for a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2027. Allen also explains how Wales can serve as an example to the United States on building efficiency.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Paul Allen, external relations director of the U.K.'s Center for Alternative Technology. Paul, it's great to have you on the show.

Paul Allen: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Paul, you're in town for the Convergence on Zero Conference, which seeks to bring together energy and environment leaders from Wales and the U.S. for a discussion on climate and energy policy. Talk a bit about what you would like this conference to achieve in terms of the relationship between the U.S. and Wales on energy and the environment.

Paul Allen: Well, the Center for Alternative Technology has been researching and developing alternatives to conventional technologies since 1973. What we're looking to do is to bring that experience here and share our best understanding with leading experts in the U.S., because we're all focused on Copenhagen and getting what solutions we can presented there. So, we really want to share what we've learned and learn from you.

Monica Trauzzi: Obviously, Wales and the U.S. are two very different places, different GDPs, different manufacturing bases. How much likeness do you see between the two in terms of the approach that's we shouldn't have on energy and the environment?

Paul Allen: Well, I think historically we have a very common link in that we've been big fossil fuel producers and both those fossil fuel products have gone and peaked and gone into decline. The Welsh coal, I mean Wales led the world into fossil fuels I suppose 150 years ago, in 1913 Cardiff was the Dubai of the world. It was the world's largest fossil fuel exporting port. Similarly, the U.S. has been a big oil exporter. Those products have peaked, gone into decline and we need to think about new alternative technology, particularly renewable technologies because they simply won't peak. What we found was that when coal declined and the communities that were involved in the production and extraction of coal were left high and dry with no work. Similarly I think we found other communities in the U.S. that have suffered with the decline of oil. But with renewable, as you get the economies of scale going and you get better and better at extracting it, it becomes viable in more and more marginal locations. So the annual production goes up year on year.

Monica Trauzzi: So, your research is all for this zero carbon Britain program, which is essentially creating a blueprint for sustainability in the U.K. How does that fit into the larger global climate discussion?

Paul Allen: Well, what we're doing with Zero Carbon Britain is what we called evidence-based scenario development. I mean if we're looking at what we need in terms of hospitals or schools for an area we do it on an evidence-based assessment. We look at what the information that's available telling us is required. So with Zero Carbon Britain we started off with a reading of the science. We talked to people like Sir John Horton, the ex-co-chair of the IPCC. So, what exactly is the science telling us we need to do? Then we looked at what policies and what technology rollouts that we could do that would actually meet the challenge as defined by the science, because quite a lot of our political climate science is driven by political goals really. So what we wanted to do was use existing technologies, not fanciful future kites in the stratosphere, but what technologies we already have, but assume that we had political buy-in. Then we looked at how quickly we could deploy those, what are the jobs, what are the economic potentials of doing that? Then we take those evidence based scenarios and we present them back to the politicians.

Monica Trauzzi: And one of the things that you've presented is a 50% reduction in emissions by 2027. That seems like a pretty aggressive goal, especially when you consider what we're talking about here in the U.S. in terms of a cap and trade. Also when you look at the European ETS phase 1 was considered not to be wholly successful. How achievable is a 50 percent reduction?

Paul Allen: Well, if we look at how we deliver our well-being at the moment our attitudes are actually rooted back in the 1930s. Our approaches to energy are from the Ark. We're energy dinosaurs. We need to really put on a whole new set of attitudes to how we deliver well-being and the services we need, the buildings, the good, the transport, but with a different approach to energy, with a 21st-century attitude to energy. If we do that we find that we can deliver, by the end of a 20 year period, the services that we currently enjoy but on about half the energy that we currently use, just by being smart about it. Then, if we look at what is the strategic renewable reserve of the U.K., of the U.S., how quickly can we ramp that up to meet that powered-down, energy-lean target?

Monica Trauzzi: It sounds though that a real societal shift needs to happen; I mean in the way that we all think about energy. How do you get there? What approaches need to be taken to educate the public on energy, energy use, is enough being done at this point?

Paul Allen: Well, one of the core reasons why we do the Zero Carbon Britain scenario development is that when you have that picture of what needs to be done, then it's so much easier to project that to all different sections of society, linking what homeowners and families do in their homes with what happens at city and state level with what needs to happen at federal level. So you have one common coherent picture of what needs to be achieved. Then you can project that onto society. You can then use arts, you can use media. You can inform artists, get all sorts of different channels and peer-to-peer communication.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the Copenhagen meeting which is happening in December of this year and Zero Carbon Britain calls for a collective international agreement, sort of a clear global framework for moving forward on climate change. It's a bit iffy at this point how far things are going to go in the Copenhagen meeting. What are your thoughts on the path forward to Copenhagen and post-Copenhagen if a treaty is not signed?

Paul Allen: Well, I think the important thing is to see what's happening at Copenhagen to deliver climate security in the wider picture of what we also need to do to deliver energy security, because global fossil fuels are peaking and going into decline just at the time when energy demand is exploding across the globe. So what we have to do to be climate safe is also what we have to do to be energy secure. And there's also the recognition that there's a massive economic potential, particularly in the green-collar job sector for kick starting the economy and doing this and having a green new deal with a carbon army of employees who will be super insulating all of the building stock and will be building the new next generation of smart, light electric vehicles.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. I wanted to get your thoughts on offshore drilling. It's been a heated debate here in the U.S. for years now and certainly we just saw it in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as they were passing through energy legislation. What are your thoughts on that? Should that play a role? Many people think that we need to do more of that in order to increase our energy security; however, it does seem to compete with climate security goals.

Paul Allen: Yes, exactly. There's many energy security goals that are actually directly opposite to the climate goals. But there is a big, common path where they all overlap and if we look at the U.S.'s strategic renewable energy reserve, that's the amount of energy available not in biologically sensitive areas, but in what is generally acceptable renewable harvesting terrain, then that's a massive amount of energy. We've got wind, we've got wave, we've got desert heat technologies. If we can have a big push into those technologies we hit both goals of climate security and energy security. I mean for example, the Welsh assembly government is now four years ahead of the rest of Britain in having an aspirational goal that all new build will be zero carbon from 2011. So Wales, having led the world into fossil fuels is now deliberately trying to use its constitutional commitment to sustainability to lead the world out of fossil fuels. Those are the sorts of policy and technology shifts that our children will thank us for doing I think.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we will end it right there. I thank you for coming on the show and giving us your perspective.

Paul Allen: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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