Most people believe that climate change requires a serious response. The difficult part is how. Every option in the transition involves tricky calculations about its carbon impact and financial cost. As those costs become more visible, politicians are having to factor in the shifting mood of voters.
After years of emotive protests demanding that more should be done, there is now a backlash from those paying for the huge subsidies. Are our politicians making the right choices about which firms to back? And how much are these companies willing to pay to ensure that they get chosen?
Abzed’s aim is intelligent decarbonisation and we have exposed how many ‘green’ decisions actually increase emissions.
It is easy to understand why politicians like bioenergy. Shifting from burning coal to wood is a move to a quasi-renewable fuel. New trees eventually grow back and reabsorb the carbon released when the previous ones were burned. On top of this is the possibility of also capturing the carbon from power station chimneys. Together that could create negative carbon emissions - which would offset residual positive emissions.
That is the theory. Yet there are huge problems with this approach - not least of which is that burning trees creates more carbon emissions than coal. Abzed has not let the Government brush off these problems.
When Abzed was asked in 2021 to hold Drax to account very little of this was in the public domain. Drax was spending hand over fist to defend its subsidies - buying the silence of academics and part of the media.
Controlling the narrative claiming it was merely using “forest residue”. Our success came because we did the hard work of digging through documentation to find the facts Drax wanted to hide.
We shifted the media debate by showing that the Government’s bioenergy plan would require burning around 120 million trees a year by 2050. We also made waves in Parliament. We drafted letters for MPs critical of Drax and, then through thousands of calls, got 116 MPs to sign one or more of them.
We also passed it to other papers and BBC Panorama which used it in its expose of Drax’s destruction of primary forests in Canada. Since then we have helped the Daily Mail and The Sunday Times with newspaper columns.
Our efforts also resulted in Parliament debating the “burning of trees”.
The result for our client? The Government has held back from greenlighting a massive expansion that Drax has been seeking.
That is despite Drax having thrown huge resources into its lobbying to try to secure £31 billion in future subsidies. Abzed, a small consultancy, is winning the battle.
Methane is the least bad of the fossil fuels - much more carbon efficient than burning coal or wood. It is also very flexible, making it the backbone of domestic and industrial heating as well as electricity production. It is so entrenched that getting rid of it is the most difficult part of the transition. That means it is not likely to fade away for a decade or more. Which in turn leads to the tricky question of where to source the gas from.
Beating Friends of the Earth
To frack or not to frack. It is a delicate decision for policymakers around the world. Over 1 million wells have been fracked in the USA. And the UK Government has debated whether it would provide an alternative to importing gas.
A fierce opponent of this is the campainging group Friends of the Earth. But one of their fundraising leaflets crossed the line.
We were asked to challenge it and made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. The result was a 14-month tussle with Friends of the Earth’s lawyers trying every delaying tactic. We persisted and got the ASA to force the charity to withdraw the leaflet. We then got the verdict splashed across the media.
Resigning from Government
Former Labour MP, Natascha Engel told us she would be resigning from her subsequent role as the Government’s Shale Gas Commissioner. She wanted maximum media coverage and gave us the job of breaking the story late on a Saturday evening.
Secrecy was key - we did not want the Government to get early warning and brief against Natascha. So we gave two trusted Sunday papers the story. We also warmed up the Sunday morning political programmes to expect a resignation announcement overnight.
Then at 11pm on the Saturday evening, Abzed sent out the press release and rang around the major newsdesks.
The preparations meant that the news story gained rapid momentum. By midnight it was leading the BBC bulletins. The following day we generated a flood of coverage in the national and international media. We had top broadcast as well as print outlets giving Natasha’s point of view in editorials and comment articles alongside news reports.
A left-wing media watchdog gave its grudging respect:
CoalHuge effort has gone into removing coal from the UK economy. Yet in some areas - notably steel production - using it is currently unavoidable. That leads to a challenge - how to source the coal with the lowest carbon consequences. Due to its weight, coal has very high carbon transport costs. Therefore the decision by the UK Government in 2020 to close remaining coal production not only did not stop the UK burning coal but increased overall emissions. And as Abzed warned, it resulted in the UK importing more coal from Russia.
NuclearIn 1956 the UK was the first country in the world to use nuclear energy. The Government’s net zero target is to expand nuclear energy from its current 5 GW output to 24 GW. The problem is that it has not had a new power station come into production since 1995. So, as old plants retire we could be down to 1 GW by 2028. That is why new builds like Hinkley C are vital if nuclear is to become the centrepiece of decarbonising energy supply. Abzed is contributing to this discussion.