Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015 preview.


A very warm welcome and best wishes for the New Year!

In time honoured fashion, I would like to take an early opportunity to look forward into next year. To avoid this becoming a rambling diatribe, I intend to cover a few topic headings of interest to me and see what turns out to be correct, or not!

The current price war taking place in the oil supply market has been a bonus for big users of oil and has certainly helped to stave off a slow down in a number of developed countries! The flip side of this, is that oil producing states are now seriously starting to feel the squeeze, with many only breaking even or worse on the more difficult oil fields..

 This has numerous impacts, not least the black hole created in tax revenues (UK Exchequer is likely to face a shortfall of around £6bn), which are likely to add to the current woes of austerity. It has also impacted on share prices, a worrying trend for investors and pension funds (is this a sign of the carbon bubble about to burst?).

One doubled edged consequence could be that investment will dry up for exploration and development of smaller fields and unconventional oil and gas? This could be a great opportunity for a switch to investment in renewables!  If this were the case, it might be that new oil will fail to come on line, creating both a shortfall in supply and a gap that can be filled by renewable energy. In reality, this could indicate 'peak oil' as investment declines and carbon pricing could also play a part in an overall decline.

My predictions are as follows:

  • Oil prices will remain low into 2015,' but lack of investment could create future shortages, so prices will go back up. This may not be soon enough or high enough however,  to return to current levels of supply. In which case, renewables are likely to fill the gap (possible hydrogen economy)!
  • I think carbon pricing on a global scale will become more likely, Paris could be a turning point for this, if the true cost of adaptation is to be realised.
  • The divestment movement will gain more traction and place the carbon bubble under greater strain! Expect to see major investors sit up and move towards renewables.
Climate change

To date science has made great progress in computing and modelling our impacts on our climate. This has not been matched by progress in conveying that message to our leaders, politicians and the skeptical public! Dealing with issues of uncertainty around a more certain trend, has proven a difficult task for scientists, one that needs to be addressed for 2015!

Globally the evidence is mounting, we seem to be experiencing more extreme weather events, with droughts, floods and stronger winds! The problem is however, that there is always something more important; recession, war, famine, planes going missing (no disrespect to those who have lost their lives) etc. Climate change continues to tick away in the background.

2014 is going to be the warmest year on record, one of numerous recent record breaking years! It is possible, perhaps even likely, that 2015 will put them all in the shade! With an albeit, weak El NiƱo, and evidence the Decade  Oscillation in the N. Pacific, has switched and is now returning heat to the   upper ocean, anything is possible (it's a lot of energy!).

Maybe some freak events will serve to get proper coverage and focus the minds for Paris! Our ultimate survival may depend upon a really positive outcome. Global carbon pricing and a focus on new economics would be my wish, as this would serve to continue the pressure on fossil fuels and help us move away from a carbon based economy.

So my predictions for 2015 are:

  • It could be a roller coaster year with extreme events and a clear sign that our climate is on the move again!
  • Science and the more informed society may finally get their act together and start to win the politicians and skeptical public over on the important issues of climate change and the need to act now.
  • Youth will start to have a greater involvement and influence in our democracies, bringing a more open mind to many issues, including climate change. They will break the mould of traditional politics in 2015', flocking to the newer parties, like the Greens, where they will find a voice.
Waste & resource

Waste and resource are opposite ends of the same sustainability paradigm, the resources that we use to consume and generate growth are finite. Waste is an indicator of how efficiently or not we use them, but with waste comes the potential for pollution and illegal activity.

Whilst much effort and focus has been placed on tackling pollution and crime (maybe with the correct intention), primarily improving resource efficiency should reduce both pollution and opportunity for crime. 2014 saw the emergence of  the term 'circular economy', an element of resource efficiency and one that can be grasped by industry and politicians alike. It is however a double edged sword and will require strong picky leads, in order to operate effectively.

I believe that 2015 will be a difficult but crucial year for the circular economy, with prevarication in the EU and obfuscation at home! Only clear policies, smart regulation and a sensible time line will bring all the threads that are needed together in a way that will deliver a working model. 

Sitting amidships in the waste hierarchy, recycling is currently the largest section, in terms of growth and turnover. It is however, facing a degree of uncertainty going into the New Year, with new regulations, a stalled English recycling rate and low commodity prices! I believe we need to see the same levels of investment in reuse and Eco-design, if we are to archive higher resource efficiency!

What do I think will happen in 2015?
  • I think recycling (especially in England, but not exclusively), will face a torrid start to the New Year, with oil prices at a low, transport, conversion and processing of raw materials is comparatively cheap right now! This could lead to over supply and a fall (or crash) in commodity prices, which will impact recycling!
  • If we are to be more resource efficient, then low prices may be a blessing, if it helps to drive out low grade material. Whilst new requirements to separate waste for collection, may add initially to this burden, we need high quality recyclate if we are to be resource efficient!
  • I also think that 2015 will start to see changes from the traditional industry model of collecting waste mixed and then processing, towards a more bespoke service for producers. Waste will be collected separately and returned for reprocessing and rremanufacture, opening the way for small enterprise and reverse logistics.
This is a small insight into my thinking for the coming year, it will be nothing less than exciting and challenging! I hope that you all find something positive from it and that at the end of the year, we will all be one step closer to a sustainable future!

Best wishes for a happy and safe New Year!