How do we get climate at the forefront of politics? How can we good data influence the climate transition? In the first episode of the second season of Cleaning Up, Michael Liebreich speaks to Bryony Worthington: a crossbench member of the House of Lords, founder of Ember, and the lead author of the 2008 UK Climate Change Act.
Baroness Bryony Worthington is a Crossbench member of the House of Lords, who has spent her career working on conservation, energy and climate change issues.
Bryony Worthington was appointed as a Life Peer in 2011. Her current roles include co-chairing the cross-party caucus Peers for the Planet in the House of Lords and Co-Director of the Quadrature Climate Foundation.
Her opus magnum is the 2008 Climate Change Act which she wrote as the lead author. She piloted the efforts on this landmark legislation – from the Friends of the Earth’s ‘Big Ask’ campaign all the way through to the parliamentary works. This crucial legislation requires the UK to reduce its carbon emissions to a level of 80% lower than its 1990 emissions.
She founded the NGO Sandbag in 2008, now called Ember. It uses data insights to advocate for a swift transition to clean energy. Between 2016 and 2019 she was the executive director for Europe of the Environmental Defense. Prior to that she worked with numerous environmental NGOs.
Baroness Bryony Worthington read English Literature at Cambridge University.
Why we really do need nuclear power (June 2015)
100 UK Leading Environmentalists (Who Happen To Be Women) (November 2020) https://www.forbes.com/sites/solitairetownsend/2020/11/16/100-uk-leading-environmentalists-who-happen-to-be-women/?sh=2a7c93ac2451
UK to Enshrine Carbon Neutrality by 2050 in Ambitious National Law Statement from Baroness Bryony Worthington, Executive Director of Environmental Defense Fund Europe (June 2019) https://www.edf.org/media/uk-enshrine-carbon-neutrality-2050-ambitious-national-law
The Climate Change Act at 10: Baroness Bryony Worthington on the best thing she ever did (November 2018)
Fracking: Think again, campaigner urges environmentalists (September 2015) https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34191713
Hello, my name is Michael Liebreich and this is Cleaning Up. Our guest today, on this first episode in the new year is Baroness Bryony Worthington. She's spent her career working on sustainability, biodiversity and climate change. She is a sitting peer in the House of Lords. She also chairs a charity called Ember, which produces data and information on the energy system. And she advises Quadrature, the Quadrature Foundation on grants, and we'll be hearing about that during the course of the interview. She is also probably most famous as lead author of the 2008 Climate Change Act, a historic piece of legislation, which meant that the UK was the first major economy in the world to put climate change into law. Please welcome Baroness Bryony Worthington.
Cleaning up is brought to you by the Liebreich foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. So, Bryony, welcome to Cleaning Up.
Well, thank you, Michael. Thanks for inviting me.
Great pleasure to have you on. And this is quite a historic day as we film this, you'll actually be... we will be showing this in the new year. But today, as we film it is the day of the announcement of the Sixth Carbon Budget, is it not?
It certainly is, yes And just prior to that we had the UK Paris pledge as well. Our NDC was announced. So it's been a big week.
It has been a big week. And you know, it's quite incredible. Because, you know, what was the... so the Paris pledge was this 68% on reduction on 1990 by 2030. And the Climate Change Committee Budget is 2035. Which is a... what is it? It's a 78% cut? I mean, these are big numbers. Is this? I mean, how do you feel about them?
Yeah, no, they are big numbers. And actually, what was useful about the NDC was that the CCC did it, rebased it according to the 2019 levels. And it's actually a 42% cut on 2019. So we're looking at, you know, 42% in a decade, which is not bad really, you know, when you think about it?
Well, yes. And, you know, I suppose, you know, part of the context here, just so that the audience knows: we were sat on the Strategic Advisory Group for that Sixth Carbon Budget. But it really all goes back to, you know, when people throw around these budgets and the climate change committees on it actually all comes.... And all of this flows from the UK's Climate Change Act 2008, does it not?
Yeah, a lot of it does. Well, like certainly the Sixth Carbon Budget does. And the reason we were able to write an NDC for Paris so quickly and easily is because we have the Fifth Carbon Budget, which coincides with the Paris pledge. So yeah, the Climate Change Act has really created a really strong infrastructure for us to set these sorts of targets and not just setting them also then bringing the policies to meet them, because that's the really important part, right? You can set any number you like, but if you don't actually then follow through bringing the policies, you won't get there. So the Climate Change Act was designed to both set targets and give government the powers to get there.
So you were the lead author on that? Is this, and be honest here, is this the architecture? I mean, is this working the way you thought it or the way you hoped it would work? Are you sitting here going 'Wow, this is just kind of... this is... this is just flowering and doing some stuff that we never envisaged', which is it?
Um, but it's a bit of both. I mean, firstly, I can confess and say that the whole architecture was based on Kyoto, right? The five year budgets, were just a complete lift from the way that Kyoto was phrased. And all we did was we analysed what went wrong with Kyoto, which was it being the UN, they only set one budget, which is completely useless, right? If you don't set a second, and a third, and the fourth, and fifth budget, there's no point in setting the first, because there are no consequences. A single five year budget is useless. So we just said, the idea we had, or that I had was, we would set nine consecutive budgets right from the outset, and constrain the area under the curve over that period, over a 45 year period. And that would create the constraint on government and you could borrow between the budgets, but overall, our commitment to the atmosphere was fixed. And then I went into government, of course, this vision of constraining the area under the curve got watered down a little. And we ended up with three consecutive budgets on a rolling basis, which was better than nothing. And, you know, I was really happy with that. And it's been that process then of turning that concept into the reality of well, who advises on the budgets and how do they get set. And the architecture we built was really focused on process. So you must do this by this date. And if you don't do that, then you're in breach and, you know, all of these sort of legal...a legal metronome really, that makes you keep going, even if you don't want to. So it sort of ties the hands of government into making things happen on a regular basis. And that was the concept. So yeah, it's been a... it's been a success, but it's <inaudible> because it was already a good idea. We just adapted it really.
So... and this is now, that was passed into law in 2008. But it started... I mean the First Carbon Budget was when? Was 2010 to 15. If I'm not wrong,
Yeah, it would have been 8 to 12. it you know, like Kyoto used to do: you take the midpoint year and you bridge the other side of it. So the aim is five over the decade, or the five yearly milestones.
I should know this having just sat on the Strategic Group for Sixth Budget, but you said that it was nine of them. And so that pretty much runs out in 2050. Right?
Yeah, the ninth would have taken us from 2005 all the way to 2050, but it got watered down.
Yeah, but we didn't have net zero 2050 at that point. I mean, we could have had a government that turned around and said, you know what, net zero 2070 is good enough. And so then we...
We had 60, at that point, so that in legislation when we went... when we published the draft bill, we had a 60%, cut by 2050, which was really inadequate
60% by 2050. And now we're sitting here, and everybody who's just kind of like, okay, it's s 100% by 2050, no big deal.
Yeah, which is, which is amazing, right? That just tells you how much we've come in the last 15 years, that technologies have changed the price of the adapt... You know, the price of moving has changed, confidence is boosted. We've got jobs off the back of the investments we've made. So the whole thing is... become a sort of spiral, you know, an upward spiral of success, which is really amazing. And I don't think anyone really thought that would be happening so quickly.
Well, it's funny, because I was completely outside that process. But had you asked me, I would have said, oh, no, this is going to be much cheaper than anybody says. And you know, at the time, McKinsey was producing these kind of $300 carbon prices by the end of the process. And I say no, it's just not good, because there's path dependency, and there's learning. And so I was out there, saying this stuff's gonna get much cheaper than people think. But I wasn't really plugged into that process in any way at that time.
Yeah, well, we had to pick a number, we had to pick a number for 2050. And the only thing we had then was an RCEP report, which was Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which had happened in the early 2000s. And that had given us the 60% number. And we didn't have time to do any new numbers. And of course, when it went through Parliament, lobbying started and it got moved to 80. So it left Parliament with an 80%, cut by 2050. And then now, you know, several years later, we were able to ratchet it to 100%. And I'm confident we will ratchet it again. We'll be at minus 120, minus 140. For sure.
It's been one of the features of each Carbon Budget is that whatever numbers were in the previous one, it's either become cheaper, or we've been able to go deeper or both, hasn't it? I mean, it's pretty much consistent throughout the however many we've had. Well, the sixth now. It's been a feature throughout, hasn't it?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, the funny thing was when the first three were set, so you know, the architecture was put in law, but the actual budgets weren't. And it was up to the CCC to advise on them. And they made a kind of rookie error, because they said... they gave two budgets to government and said, you can either do an interim budget, which isn't what we suggest, this is an all you can do an intended budget, which is much tougher, and we'd rather you did the intended one. And of course, government: well, you've given us two options, we're going to take the easiest one. So they said... they introduced these quite lax budgets for the first three, which meant that we kind met them so easily, we were overcomplying, because we were taking coal off the system in parallel. So as soon as you're doing that, you're always going to be you know, you're getting the easy things out early. And we could have gone much more ambitious early on. And this is what doesn't come across. It's that people assume: oh, it's easy to... it'll be easier to get to deeper later. But actually, when you've got low hanging fruit, right, lying around that are so obvious. You can go deeper, faster, and not wait for these technology cost curves to come down because there were always things lying around that should have been done that can be done.
And because you just said that we've now got this sort of 40% odd to get between, you know, over the next decade. And you know, it doesn't it get harder. I mean, we've got rid of coal. And, you know, I can sort of see how transportation is actually not going to be that hard, people are making a big fuss about it. Heating, and industry, and aviation, and shipping, surely they're going to... just at some point, we're going to hit the wall, aren't we?
Well, I don't think so. Because if you also think about what's happening in the other side of the equation, which is the sink side, you know, it, though, it's net, right? It's net zero. So if you can remove and store more carbon, you can allow yourself a little bit more leeway on the emission side. And if we've only just started scratching the surface on that bit, and within a decade, we'd have worked out, it's pretty easy to shift agricultural subsidies to store carbon, it's pretty easy to start thinking about industrial processes that use carbon instead of emitting it. So I think we'll find removals and sinks are actually coming on stream, just at the right pace to make sure we do get to zero and go beyond really.
Oh, that's very interesting, because that's still a kind of cutting edge or controversial view that, that it is okay, to rely on removal. Because, you know, certainly the IPCC models, they've all got vast amounts of removal. And you know, there are those who say, oh, you know, removal is just, that's just kind of a way of fooling ourselves into continuing this lifestyle, flying around, doing all the things we like to do. But you're confident that removal is a real thing.
Oh, it has to be. Like, if you wanted to set a science based target today, you need a time machine, or you need removals. That's the reality, because we've already
For one and a half degrees or for two degrees?
For both. I mean, if you look at the IPCC study that everyone says, oh, we need to get the world to net zero by 2050. If you look beyond 2050, there's then gigatons of removals assumed to get us to a stable climate <inaudible>.
That's one and a half scenario. For a two degree scenario, you can.. By the way there's also at least one modelling group that has said we can get there, we just have to be much more aggressive on energy efficiency and a whole bunch of things and we could get there without the removals?
Sure, but you're looking at a precipitous, almost vertical fall in emissions globally, and who thinks that's likely in the next couple of decades? I mean, it's just not going to happen. So I mean, I would like it to be falling at 10% a year, don't get me wrong, but it's not. It's falling... Even in Britain, it's falling at what, 3-4% a year. If that. So, and if we're at the vanguard of this, you can't see it happening anywhere else. So, but I just think removals is a massive part of the equation. But the challenge, though, to not take the foot off, you know, you don't want to let any pressure off the emitting sectors. So you set dedicated removals budgets. That's the way to do it. So you have parallel efforts going on the decarbonisation and the removals, and you keep them separate, so you're getting investment in both.
Yes, the problem I have is that these direct air capture folks when they're currently at kind of $600 a tonne, and then they paint this picture about how they're going to get to 150, 160, I think. I haven't heard of anything realistic. By 2050. And I'm thinking, you know, this is really a stretch to believe we're going to be doing this and you know, not doing a bit of it, you know, so that we can sell that carbon capture to rich people who will still want to fly to Mustique, I'm talking about really doing, you know, gigatons of carbon direct air capture, I'm finding that really, really hard to square to be quite honest.
Yeah, now I'm similarly sceptical. I just don't like to rule out anything because I think human ingenuity... We like a good problem to solve. And my fear is actually the methane concentrations are going to, you know, we're gonna have to do something about that short term forcing for methane And if there's an engineered solution out there that can actually keep pace with the methane fluxes. I'm not going to say no to that, because it's very hard to know how else you'd really stop that from being a tipping point. So yeah, I'm open to engineering solutions, I think it's fair to say, but similarly, I agree, it can't be at any price. And you've got to really have a sensible plan for how you're going to get to scale and see some cost reductions.
Surely on methane, we just got to stop, we just got to stop emitting methane. That's the first step, which is just an extraordinary... And that's a problem that I believe is going to yield quite quickly. Because now we've got these satellites that can see where the methane comes from. It becomes much harder for the oil and gas companies just to kind of, you know, emit it.
Yeah, but that's what the problem is, is the permafrost. It's the natural feedback cycles that you might see,
Okay, we'll go down a rabbit hole because they don't, they won't start on, they won't start on a decadal timeframe. None of the science says that they'll be decadal all of it shows that's the kind of 100 year - 200 year. It's a real problem, but it's not the problem for this century.
No, well, but I mean, well, we'll see when we look at what's happening. You've got anomalies that are really off the scale happening now. Which you know, I don't think any Arctic scientists expected it to be happening at this pace. So the science is really uncertain. Everyone I spoke to, they really don't know.
Like I say, that's a rabbit hole, because every paper that I've read everybody who wants to, there's a lot of there's a lot of 'woo, feedbacks', but every paper I've read, and including, you know, summaries by Johan Rockström and the planetary boundaries, and so is actually that... You know, the worry is that we could do things this century that cause us problems in future centuries. You know, absolutely. But the amazing thing on methane, I'm going to give you an amazing fact. Did you know that if you go into Canada, there are provinces where it's not just that you flare methane, you actually just vent it? It is incredible. You have companies just venting methane. And that is a legally allowed thing. In Canada. So if there's any Canadians watching this, just stop that. That's absurd.
Yeah, no, let's not get too <inaudible>. But, yeah, you're right. There's loads of stuff.
But let's, let's come back to the Climate Change Act and your role in it. Because, you know, we dived straight in, and that's great. You know, we got started, but what were you doing that put you in a position to be lead author on that? How did that, because you know, you studied English, you suddenly ended up writing the Climate Change Act? I mean, there must have been something that happened in between those episodes in your life?
Yeah, no, lots happened. And I should say, lead author, isn't... It's an interesting term, I was a civil servant, I had a Grade 3, who was my boss, you know, who was responsible for taking this whole thing up to the Secretary of State, I was a part of a team of about 10 people, I worked on certain parts of the bill, I commented on others. And, you know, the reason described as the lead author is because I suppose I'd started the campaign <inaudible> Friends of the Earth for Climate Change act as a campaigner, and had this concept of how it should look, when I arrived in that team. Unlike all the other civil servants who were all scratch, you know, brought in from departments and put together. So, you know, in a sense, I had a lot of, you know, I had a lot of already pre thought ideas when I arrived at the team, but it was definitely a team effort. So I, you know, I don't want to take full credit and, you know, it went through the machinery with a really<inaudible> Secretary state and really good spads in all the departments, and it all helped make sure it came out in a fit for purpose way. But yeah, to answer your question. I mean, I'd been, I'd been working on wildlife conservation for most of the 90s. And as a policy person, you know, calling for new laws for wildlife. And then I remember distinctly sitting in a meeting with some English nature scientists and talking about sites of scientific interest and how, you know, we need to preserve them. And they said, well, you know, all of this is going to be completely disrupted by climate change anyway. So it's all a bit immaterial. And I remember thinking in the meeting, well, hang on, if that's true, why am I wasting my time, you know, trying to get all these protections in for ecosystems and species. Clearly, climate change is the thing I need to work on. So I switched then, at that point in the late 90s, to being totally focused on climate. And as soon as you look at climate, you look at the data, and it just says, this is an energy problem, first and foremost. You know, it's going to be an agricultural and <inaudible> problem now, but, well, then it was clearly an energy system problem. It was clearly a power sector problem. So I just started writing campaigns for Friends of the Earth that got us focused on getting coal out of power. And in parallel, was really frustrated that the government of the day had no concept of what was actually the driving forces of why emissions were bouncing around, and had no policy for addressing the relative price of coal and gas. It didn't even come into their thinking, because for them, climate change was about energy efficiency, or, you know, making sure people cycle to work or some really small policies that were never going to really get at the problem. So I thought we needed a top down, managed, data-led approach to the problem that would force government into looking at the really important things driving, you know, emissions up, and not doing this, you know, adding up all these small measures and hoping, crossing your fingers and hoping. And so at Friends of the Earth we launched the campaign for that top down, legislated campaign. And then I kind of was getting a bit bored in the NGO land. So I went to work for a power company for a while. And actually...
Scottish and Southern Energy? Was that under Ian Marchant?
Scottish and Southern Energy. It was under Ian Marchant, who was, you know, one of the best bosses I've ever had, and was just fantastic. And he, I think he... I used to argue with him, we were both on an Ofgem advisory panel. And I used to have a good old argument with him. And one day, he said, well, look, you come up to, you come up to Perth, and you can tell me how to run my company, and I'll tell you how to be a better campaigner. So I thought that was a good offer. So I took him up on that. And at the end of it, we sort of thought, well, maybe I could come and help and I think he just wanted some...
Did Scottish and Southern have any coal at that point, because all of that analysis that you've done: top down, you want to be data driven. I mean, it's basically at that point in history, it's just so obvious that the problem is coal. And by the way, the problem is probably about to become, since that's the late 90s, it's about to become Chinese coal, isn't it?
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I was very focused on the domestic agenda at the time. And yeah, the same analysis holds held true globally, and still does to this day. But for me, in my little world of you know, how can I actually effect change, it was always going to be about UK policy. And then obviously, as my career has developed, I've taken a much greater interest in the global picture, and been fortunate enough to sort of have jobs where I can think more about that. But in those days, it was just, it was so obvious what we need to do in the UK. 17 years ago we launched the Friends of the Earth campaign to get rid of the remaining coal stations. And you know, I'm glad to see that we're phasing them out now. But it was a been a hell of a slog, getting that logic accepted. And yes, Scottish and Southern we're running two stations really hard, and making shedloads of money out of them. They could have, they could have shut them down a decade earlier. But the market... they made money, so they weren't going to go against that. You know, that was when I got really interested in carbon pricing and policies that would change that fundamental dynamic of running the cheapest hardest. And you know, you needed to basically price carbon at that point to get coal off the system.
And when did you make the jump to becoming the civil servant, going into what was presumably DECC?
It was DEFRA at the time. It was so yeah, Margaret Beckett had just handed over the reins to David Miliband. And I was seconded in...
You went into DEFRA, you were not at DECC. You were at DEFRA, okay.
I was at DEFRA under David for a while. Well, actually, David had created this thing called the Office of Climate Change, which was a cross-departmental group, just before the committee got set up. And it pulled in civil servants from all different departments. And it was given to the OCC to write the draft bill. So I went from DEFRA to OCC, which is where
But how did you get into DEFRA?
How did I get into DEFRA? So that was basically a civil servant who knew me but from my Friends of the Earth days, asking me to come in and help them run a communications campaign around climate change. And I went to Ian and said, look, I really wants to do this. Can I have a few days off? And he said, oh, look, I'll second you in. So I was seconded in from SSE, to do that climate change campaign. And then while I was there, it became obvious that I had to <inaudible> about Climate Change Act. So I got moved across.
Okay, and DEFRA for our audience, because I'm always just conscious that not everybody out there knows all these acronyms. And that is the Department of... What is it? Food
Food and Rural Affairs? Yeah.
Rural Affairs, okay.
Which was also looking at the climate at the time.
Was that the lead department then on the Climate Change Act?
Yeah. It was initially, yeah. Under David. And it was, I mean, it was really interesting, because Margaret Beckett had been focused on the international negotiations, that was her thing, you know, trying to get Kyoto through, working on that. And because it was a global problem, it made sense. But when David came in, it flipped to much more focused on what can the UK do, and also, of course, the Friends of the Earth campaign by this stage was really gathering momentum.
So that's David Miliband. Right? But then when it got pushed through into legislation, that was Ed, correct?
That was Ed, yes. Yes. Ed then had taken over as the secretary of state. Yeah, yeah, the Miliband brothers. But you know, you've got to hand it to David Cameron, because he played a really important role in all of this. He saw the Friends of the Earth campaign as a really good opportunity to help reinvent his party. So he came out really strongly and said, I will give you, if you elect me as your prime minister, I'll give you a Climate Change Act and that's what pushed the hand of Labour into supporting it. So it was a really cross-party thing.
That's interesting. So David Cameron actually supported it before he was in government. See, cause I'm always looking for the key intervention where it's the Conservatives that do all the good stuff. So now I know. That was neither Miliband who was key they were just the pen pushers. They were the scribes. You were the one who had your name on the document. And it was David Cameron, who was the actual driving force behind this. It was hug a climate change act.
Yeah, I think it was pure political expediency on all parts. I think we were just lucky that the public at large cares about climate change, right? It is just the public, the British public are well-informed, despite the efforts of the deniers you know, most people are sensible, believe the scientists and care about nature. So all politicians in the UK, fundamentally know they've got to do the right thing. And then it's just about scoring points off each other really.
Okay. So this is very interesting discussion, right? Because the alternative point of view, you know, that's a very reassuring point of view, because that says that the public actually knows what they're doing. And they are pulling the strings, and the politicians are kind of having to go along. And it's all fairly sort of coherent. And, you know, very often I get non-Brits who say, oh, you know, the great thing about Britain is you have this amazing, you know, bipartisan, tripartisan cross-party consensus. And I'm like, I don't think, because the alternative view is that the whole thing is just politicians lurching from one expedient to the next, and almost accidentally turning the UK into the world leader on climate change and on climate action. Just, you know, suddenly deciding to get rid of coal, suddenly deciding to have a floor price for carbon, suddenly deciding to have a Climate Change Act without fully understanding that you've built in this extraordinary ratchet. That means they can never stop doing these damn budgets and making more extreme commitments. I mean, is it? Is it? Is it the UK humming along strategically? Or is it a sort of series of cock-ups?
It's the wisdom of the crowd, really. And it's a particular segment of the crowd, who are the people who join, you know, Friends of the Earth, who pay their subs to Greenpeace, who bother writing to their MP, when they see something they're not happy about. You know, there's a quite a big wedge of kind of the public, you make themselves heard. And it's been, you know, there's been a sort of general educational process of having all these scientists housed here talking to us directly. Now, we don't have to wait for the BBC to say something and go straight to the scientists and get all the information you need. That's what's fed the youth movement now, getting directly all their news. So it's a sort of it is the public leading and the politicians following I think. Combined with some really sensible civil servants, who have got enough knowledge about how to make change happen, that when they craft policy, they make sure, or they try to make sure that listen to what the incumbent is telling them and then think, yeah, you would say that, wouldn't you? I'm actually going to do this. And so that's a really important thing as well, you've got a civil service that's knowledgeable, and knows about how to write policy.
I'm enormously reassured that, you know, you sit in the House of Lords. So you see this thing close-up. And after all these years, you do think that the system fundamentally works. Whereas I'm not, I was never quite sure, as an outsider, much more of an outsider. You know, I could just see this sort of unexpected lurches that I just couldn't, I can't really see where they come from. And yet they have added up to global leadership without... And of course, yeah, it's very helpful that we've got the technologists, we've got the City of London able to sort of hose money at things. Well, that's all very helpful, but I have a much more, sort of a less charitable view, perhaps of the process than you.
Well, I mean, I thought I've painted a rosy picture there. I mean, the reality is of how did we get to gigawatt scale, offshore wind in the UK. And it came about, and maybe I've said this to you before, but it came up because the nuclear industry was a really effective lobby, and knew exactly what to do. There's a revolving door into government. When we privatised the energy system, the electricity sector, obviously, the nukes are out of the money. So they basically requested a policy that gave them an income to supplement what they were getting when they were in public ownership. And they created the non-fossil fuel obligation. And that then led to onshore wind, and onshore wind kind of actually, you know, was much more successful than anyone imagined. And then the RO system came in. And then we had after that the CFDs, right? And the CFDs were crafted and written by EDF for EDF, and they just happen to appear into a government bill. And then again, the civil servants said, well, we can't just do that for nuclear, we'll do it for everything. And of course, you know, that system really seeds big scale investment cause it was designed for nuclear. So you get offshore wind as a kind of byproduct of that. So it's when you've got an incumbent who, you know, knows how to play the system, knows how to get regulations and has got, you know, a revolving door, that's when you get these big shifts. But nobody really appreciates that we've got nuclear to thank for that.
But you are sort of confirming that it's somewhat accidental. Because it didn't end up being great for nuclear. I mean, yes, EDF got, you know, Hinkley, C. But Hinkley C in a way, has just demonstrated to the world that the current generation of nuclear power stations, you know, it's just incredibly expensive, and it's much better to pursue, you know, wind, solar, offshore wind. And, you know, almost I would say absolutely anything else but, you know, this generation of nuclear power stations.
Yeah, but notice what's happening now, right, they've evolved again. So now they want a RAB model. Now they want it as a part of a regulated asset base because they know that... Yeah, I'm... you probably know this, I am actually very supportive of nuclear and I'm very happy that, for lots of reasons, we keep our nuclear capacity. So I'm quite relaxed. Unfortunately, building big nukes is never going to be... the market will never sustain it. While there are lots of political reasons why you might want it. So I'm very comfortable with us finding ways in which we can still build infrastructure that's going to last for 60-80 years and provide reliable, zero-carbon electricity. And I don't really care if the economists are telling me that in the near term that doesn't make any sense because I know long term and politically it does matter.
So I'm on the record of sort of wanting to keep nukes open for as long as safe and possible, because of just the vast amounts of low carbon power they produce. And also to, you know, push ahead with the next generation, whatever that looks like, because it may or may not work economically, but it's definitely you know, worth pursuing. And there are all these co-benefits in nuclear power. Setting aside security, but also just, you know, in medicine, in metrology, measurements, in food industry, all sorts of things. But the current generation, I mean this current generation of massive nuclear power stations, pretty much everywhere in the world, is so expensive, and so difficult to bring in on time, that I've essentially just said: forget it. If that's what it looks like, you know, if the logic is: 'we're rubbish at these projects, but please give us more projects, so that we can improve.' I've just walked away from that. I've just said that I just can't see it.
Yeah, I mean, the thing is, if you're actually prepared to put the steel and concrete on the ground and build this thing, that's really persuasive to a government. You can intellectualise about what the ideal pathway is you know, till the cows come home. Unless you actually got someone with the cash, with the concrete pourers, with the steel to build something, it's not real. So they come along, and they say to government, we want to build this thing. It's not perfect by any means. And I would prefer to see us have gone with a different reactor design, don't get me wrong, I think EPR is, you know, overly complex and has proven and failed, right? We should have taken a leaf from the Chinese and actually waited and seen which ones were the quickest to get away at that cost and it wouldn't have been a reverse EPR. But there we go. But they've shown up, they want to build it, they're going to build it.
With respect, they don't just show up with teams of, you know, crews of people ready to pour concrete and do stuff. They show up, first and foremost, with their cap in hand and with their lobbyists. As a behaviour in the, you know, I just react against that. And this is not EDF point it's you know, frankly, that was how the Olympics ended up in London. You know, it's every major project turns up, cap in hand, schmoozing politicians, ignoring the economics, ignoring the cost, and they just know that we, the public, are gonna end up paying for it, are we not?
Well, we're paying for our future generations. The reason why paying a lot now is so that we can have completely free power for 20 years at the end of this, or more. So and that's fine. I'm very happy for this generation, because, that's quite frankly, has got rich off the back of fossil fuels, be paying a bit more back now for our children. I'm not worried about that. Anyway, again, we could go into the... but I... my belief is that we need to build shedloads of zero emission , electricity, and fast and if someone turns up on your doorstep says I'm prepared to put 3.2 gigawatts of firm power on your system. I wouldn't turn it down.
I guess I would first look at well, maybe the other ways of doing the same. But I want to come back to something else, actually. Which is, you've espoused some unpopular positions. Right, you...you've, I don't know. And I guess what, I guess I'm trying to turn that into a question. Right. So do you do that on purpose, because you've also written in The Ecologist about fracking, and how we shouldn't be so precious about fracking. So, you know, between nuclear and fracking. And you know, even today, you and I have worked on a couple of things that are kind of going against the received wisdom, like hydrogen in trucking and so on. I mean, do you just do that because you enjoy being the contrarian? Or because you've just kind of crunched the numbers better than everybody else and have deeper insight. It's got to be one of the two.
No, I'm definitely not a contrarian for the contrarian's sake. I'm really scared of climate change. I mean, I think more so than most people. And so my overriding goal is to solve that problem as quickly as possible. And so I don't agenda-hitch lots of other issues onto it. And a lot of the things that I think the Green Movement tends to take against is based on agenda-hitching. You know, it's like oh, well, we don't like this because of that or that's very pro capitalist. Or that's, yeah, you know, that's got a safety concern, which is actually not real, you know. And so that's what I object to. I suppose what I am is just very, very laser-like focused on climate. And therefore I do come to these, you know, supposedly controversial, but they're not that controversial. I mean, if you're importing gas from America, you know, how can you then say that a bit of fracking in Lancashire is going to end the earth, you know, the end of the world. It's just not true. And so it just annoys me when we expend political capital on these sort of fake, phoney wars, really.
But how have you gone through, you know, Friends of the Earth? And, you know, coming at this from a sort of, you know, from the left of the political spectrum, without agenda hitching? I mean, there just aren't that many people that have managed that.
I haven't got time for that. I mean, that's just like, you know, sooner or later, we've got, like... Honestly, it just, it came from that realisation that everything I cared about was going to be devastated by this thing. This massive global experiment, we were conducting with absolutely no knowledge of how it was going to play out. So, you know, yes, I really care about equality. And yes, I really care about development. And I really care about biodiversity, actually, that's why I got into this thing. But I'm like that can all be sorted out, after we've got some semblance of a solution on climate. And the other thing about climate, which is really fascinating is though it's complicated, it can be done, right? It's not rocket science, it really isn't. There are four or five big segments of the economy that need to shift. The solutions are there, they're getting cheaper, it's just a no brainer. So let's just do that. And then worry about all these other things that obviously are wrong with the world, but we don't have time to sort those out. That's my...
I love the one, I love the phrase 'agenda-hitching' because I, in a way, I've had a sort of the mirror image in that I come from the right of the political spectrum. But there's a whole bunch of agendas there that I just, you know, I just reject. I'm just not interested in. And so I've ended up, you know, working on clean energy. Actually, and my main driver, certainly to start with was not actually climate at all. It was just the sheer inelegance of burning dirt, and having all this pollution, and all this stuff with these clouds, and so on and so on. There are just better ways of doing things. Better, more elegant, and more economically efficient. So I <inaudible> rejecting all of the corporatist notions that, you know, big businesses is always the kind of the knee jerk way to... the way to go. But it is surprising that we've ended up as allies on so many recent initiatives. And I want to talk about a couple of those. Nuclear, I would say, broadly, we're in the same place. I think we may not, not quite. But let's talk about the shipping one, where our paths crossed. And you've been a vocal champion of ammonia, the use of ammonia in shipping. Talk about that a little bit.
Yeah. So when I... After I'd done all this stuff and spent some time in the Lords, I then took a job working for an Environmental Defence Fund, which is big US NGO, and setting up the European office. And I was kind of given the task of what could we do out of our London office, that would be, you know, a good thing for us to work on in climate terms. And I hit on shipping, because, well, a) it was a segment of the economy that got overlooked and b) the headquarters of the UN body that governs shipping was in London. So it...
So that's the IMO, isn't it?
Yeah, the IMO, based on the banks of Thames.
International Maritime Organisation.
Yeah. And you know, it's a rule-writing body. And it's a really good example of an old-fashioned UN treaty where it was designed to facilitate cooperation. And there was no agenda-hitching. It was just how do we make economic development happen fast? Okay, we need a treaty. Let's do that. An it's a good example of how the UN works. And I, again, I could probably go off on a tangent about how I think the UN lost its way and started trying to conflate all these goals and getting completely muddled in what it was supposed to be doing. But back then, they wrote these treaties, and they were quite specific. So I thought, well, that's interesting, because if we could get that to tackle climate change, and write a global rulebook for the whole sector, that would be really efficient. And it was set. It was set in train, a new kind of, a new industrial revolution around fuel for a new propulsion revolution. From a sector that had been hitherto ignored. So I sort of pushed EDF to work on it and then I got really, really fascinated and it is one of those sectors that you want to get into, you can't really, you never forget. I'm still very, very interested in it and, and I still believe that if we can just work out how to get the machinery of the IMO working, they will write laws and policies that will completely break open the hegemony of the oil market.
But they've recently produced they're kind of 2050 plans. I mean, and it doesn't go nearly far enough does it?
To follow what the IMO was actually doing, you have to really get into the weeds. So they've just done this interim thing where they were setting some energy efficiency standards, and they were really not great. But the thing to watch is the policies, they bring in 2023. And that's when it's going to start thinking about propulsion and not efficiency. And by then I'm pretty confident we'll have a lot of ships or shippers and ship owners who've worked out that actually, they can get off the horrendous, you know, that get off the hook of oil. Because let's face it, that's their biggest expenditure, it's highly volatile. If they can find another way of doing it, they will.
But at the moment, it is just this huge sort of subsidy for extended supply chains. Because they are just not paying the environmental cost of shipping around the world. And they're using the most appalling. I mean, they've just tightened the rules on sulphur and on some pollutants, but they're still, you know, horrendous compared to any sort of land based transport. And that's a form of subsidy is it not?
Oh, completely. And you know, they're taking the very worst grade of fuel from the bottom of the oil refinery barrel. And, yeah, and it's, it is horrendous, dirt cheap though. And that's why they do it. And you know, until they come to shore, no one knows what's going on. So it is a bit of a kind of final frontier, what goes out on the ocean, no one really knows. But yeah, it is regulated...
If we're lucky, then what we'll see is that using ammonia as the fuel will end up cheaper than using that appalling bunker fuel. And that will really set the cat amongst the pigeons, but it's a bit too early to see whether it can be cheaper.
Yeah, definitely too early. And at the moment, the game is to try and find a way, like we did with renewables, get them down the cost curve, by bringing in, a you know, targeted subsidy that can pay a pretty high price to get the early, early users off and away and then the price will come down.
So let's talk about another one, which is long distance trucking. Where you... I'm not quite sure what your involvement was, but there's David Cebon I'm not sure how to pronounce his name even. Cebon, who's a professor of mechanical engineering in Cambridge. Yay. That's what I studied, where I studied it. And he produced this report saying that for long distance trucking in the UK, it costs a mere £20 billion, which, by the way, is much cheaper than the alternatives to move to electric trucks being charged from overhead cables. How did you get involved in this?
This is an interesting story. Well, he's a fellow at my old college, and I bumped into him at an event then we...
Which college? I'm gonna get territorial here.
Queens', what about you?
Yeah, so, I met him there. And he kind of buttonholed me and said, you know, I said something about hydrogen, I think, and, you know, really shouldn't talk about it that way. And it's, it's only useful for such a small thing. And so, anyways, I said, well, look, yeah, absolutely. Tell, tell me more, I want to hear more. So he, you know, this started this dialogue with him. And he was producing these long scripts and documents, and I said, 'look, David, I want to send this to people in government, but you're gonna have to write me a document that's really concise, it's got lots of lovely pictures, it's got some headline numbers, and I can then share it'. And so then began this process of trying to get that report out. And he was brilliant. I mean, he produced it without, you know, it didn't cost us a penny, he did it all himself. And it's really a brilliant report, I think. I had to tone down the anti-hydrogen stuff, because he's really passionately anti-hydrogen and then pro catenary overheads. Actually, I just kept saying, 'be pro catenary, don't worry about fighting hydrogen'. But he's right. You know, there is a lobby out there. It's very well resourced, and I think he felt viscerally, that he has to try and match that, and not allow it to take over the lobbying. And it will, if we're not careful. But yeah, David's amazing. But you know, and what's interesting is in the exchanges we've had, and with others, in I think, it's electrifying trucking, with catenary playing a role, you know. Whether that's because it's en-route charging, or it's your predominant, you do the whole network. I don't really feel strongly, but I do know that if you've got electrons, and you're throwing half of them away, that's not good. That you can use all of them and get them straight into something that reduces fossil fuels. Let's do it. Let's do it. You know, that makes sense to me.
So speaking as somebody who has dived into the economics of transportation using hydrogen and using electrons. It's really difficult not to be vitriolic about the stupidity of using hydrogen in any situation where electrons work. Now, there may be niches: mining vehicles or driving across Canada or Australia in huge truck, whatever. There may be some niches but generally you look at it and like, 'why is anybody even talking about this'? And of course, very soon when you ask yourself that question, you come up against the Hydrogen Council, the lobbyists, the sort of the incumbents. And it is very difficult not to become quite a sort of... quite a believer in I don't know, again, my sort of, you know, my view that the progress is despite rather than because of any rationality, I don't know, it's hard not to get cynical, and you see that to be honest.
Yeah, but you know, look at... Buried in the ten point plan, was this little line about a trial starting on catenary overhead and hydrogen. So somebody somewhere, read David's report, realised that he's, you know...
Bryony, how can I put this? I may know who read it. I may have been involved. Who knows, nobody knows how this stuff works. But I think what's also interesting is we're also... I think this is the day when the government said that their transport decarbonisation plan was going to be delayed until the spring of next year. So I think we've got another few months reprieve where we could try to put some good data and logic and information out there about what might work. And these are areas where we've got to do it with our European partners. Also an interesting day, given that Boris right now is having dinner with the president of the EU, because, you know, you can't do long distance trucking off on your own, using a different gauge of railway to the rest of Europe. We're going to have to move in some way in convoy, I think.
Yeah, well, then that's the interesting thing about transport really, is that, going back to multilateralism in the UN, I don't think there's been a UN proper treaty on transport for decades. Like it's always been a domestically thought about issue. And there's no reason why we couldn't start a plurilateral or a multilateral process on decarbonizing transport, that helped set standards internationally that everyone could use. That's exactly why shipping has a treaty. It's why aviation has a treaty. Why don't we do one for land based transport? Yeah, where we standardise things.
Whether it should be the UN or whether that's... Because fundamentally land based transport tends to be regional. So whether that's the right vehicle, I'm very interested in, you know, what could the WTO potentially do? Because I, you know, my role on the Board of Trade. In fact, you know, I should probably, I should probably be asking you what you think I should be doing on the Board of Trade? You know, in terms of, particularly the shipping and transportation side of things. If you have any thoughts now?
Well, you know, my belief is that trade is facilitated by good common standards that allow that grease the wheels of commerce, that's why there's an IMO, that's why there's an ICAO for aviation. It just.. it helps if you've got common standards, and everyone can move forward on. And so I actually do think that, you know, trade deals, bilateral negotiations, are you know, they're a way of moving you forward, but far better, to try and get something that lifts all the boats everywhere. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it... Because trade, you know, often ends up being arguments about tariffs, or what you can do to get through the WTO rules. And it feels very regressive and not particularly positive. I like Iaws that change things in a positive way. So I suppose that's my…
My exam question on the Board of Trade is how can we make trade work as a race to the top environmentally and on climate, rather than a race to the bottom? But maybe, I won't put you on the spot on that one, as I'm sure that our paths will cross on that question. And others, you know, because we're reaching the end of the allotted time. And I just want to ask you, okay, so I know that, and you said that you were at the Environmental Defence Fund for... I think you were there for four years. But you now do a bunch of things. You're still involved with Ember, which produces fabulous data, you're advising Quadrature, which seems to be making some quite substantial grants. What's your theory of change for, you know, for Bryony now? What's the biggest lever that you've got? And how are you trying to sort of, you know, accelerate the issues that you care about on climate?
Yeah, so I have got this new role that I took on this year where I'm advising two really great philanthropists in their giving to climate. And they've said, you know, all the money they want to spend is on climate mitigation. So, we've got the challenge of working out how to spend that money wisely. And I suppose it comes back to what I said at the start that, you know, we can as civil society really move things because politicians are really followers, not leaders, in the way that they currently operate. And so the NGO movement and the not for profit sector is really influential. And so what I'm trying to work on is how do we maximise political leverage of that baseline of concern. So that baseline of concern translates into good policies and good regulations that allow all the technologies we've talked about to flourish, and to kick out the incumbents. So that's, that's the big, meta picture.
And so, you've got these funds to disperse. What sorts of things are you going to fund and you know, you're gonna have people listening to this who are thinking, you know, either yes, that, you know, they could apply or no, they couldn't. What sorts of things are you looking for? What would you love to see in your email tomorrow morning?
Well, at the moment, I'm looking for an Ember for agriculture.
So Ember, Ember is taking a data based approach. Correct?
Yeah, so I'm a little bit obsessed about data into action. Not just data for data's sake, but data to tell a story, to drive an agenda, to move it, to move people's understanding of a problem. And Ember has been doing that on coal, you know, since we set it up, and it it's new...It was Sandbag and now it's Ember. And, you know, that sort of analytical approach in the power sector is now really well served. But when I turned to agriculture, it's just not there. You know, there's academics doing good work. And there's, you know, research scientists and agronomists and all sorts. But where's the campaign that takes all that knowledge about how agriculture is basically contributing to climate change and getting rid of a lot of our biodiversity and turns that into campaignable asks that can be then delivered by politicians? And I'm working on how do we get that going. And with a very, very, very strong focus on climate, that's the thing.
Because there does seem to be... there's a sort of rewilding movement. And then there's the eat less meat movement, and there's that, there's all sorts of bits. there's a bit of soil carbon movement, but there's nobody across it. Is that what you're saying?
Yeah, we've been looking for some wedge analysis of like, where are the sensitive intervention points? What's the easiest wins? What's the coal equivalent? Right? And it probably is, I mean, it might be, that we all stop eating beef burgers, right? But I want someone to be able to tell me that with data and analysis and show that that's all possible. And we can get those emissions down fast.
My sense is we need large ruminants as well, in order to have biodiversity, you can't do it if we all went vegan, you wouldn't have biodiversity because there'll be there'll be stuff missing from the from that. But, you know, who knows? There is no data, as you say.
Yeah. And actually, what I, what I truly believe is that and it's got a bit of a bad reputation. But ecomodernism, which is this marrying of really intensive use of a technology with rewilding is the is the way forward. Because if you take your pressure off land, you will be able to do more for nature.
Can I sell my movement, which is ecopragmatism? And the reason I react to ecomodernism, is that every single ecomodernist I've ever interacted with, in the end has attacked renewable energy, every single one. And it's except, to be fair, if they're Finnish. Finnish ecomodernists are cool, and all other eco modernists have ended up just trying to, you know, to just try to throw shade at solar in the most, you know, stupid, you know, in the most absurd way. And so I'm done with eco modernism some time ago, but ecopragmatism, let's just get the data and do the obvious things. But that I think you would probably endorse, right?
Oh, yeah, completely. And we've been calling it science-led approaches, or technology-neutral approaches or evidence-based policy, call it what you like. Yeah. And that's why I say I think ecomodernism has definitely suffered from some of its agenda-hitching, possibly, I don't know.
So Bryony, that is a fantastic note on which to finish evidence-based policy. But I think we also see a real can-do attitude in your remarks. So it's not just fiddling at the edges with small bits of evidence and small moves. It's about big chunks of evidence and big moves. And so what you're saying is, if anybody can prove that, anybody's got the data sets to do that in agriculture, they should email you. And just in general, I'm sure that you'll continue to work on all sorts of things. Our paths will cross and I really look forward to that. Absolutely. It's an absolute delight working with you, Bryony.
Well, no, thank you and apologies for various door slamming and children arriving and all the usual things, that come with...
Don't say that, we'll probably manage to edit that out. But if not, that's absolutely not a problem, because that's the world we live in. And it's all the better for it.
It is exactly. All the carbon we're saving. Look, now, thank you. And it's been a delight. And I hope our paths do continue to cross, because there's lots to be done. But I think we've got the wind with us at the moment, the headwinds are subsiding. And we've got some good tailwind. Let's go for it.
Very good. Thank you very much for joining us here on Cleaning Up. Thank you.
So that was Baroness Bryony Worthington, lead author on the historic 2008 Climate Change Act in the UK. But as you can see, in no way resting on her laurels, still very much involved in all sorts of issues across the environment, but particularly climate change. My guest next week on Cleaning Up is Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment in the FCDO, that's the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office under the Boris Johnson government. He's also a minister at DEFRA. That's the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He's a lifelong environmentalist. He's a former editor of The Ecologist magazine. He's been an MP and he's also been the Conservative mayoral candidate. Please join us at this time next week for conversation with Lord Zac Goldsmith.