Tuesday, 23 December 2008


The Davies Christmas letter to friends and relatives has been despatched. Of course it contains a few paragraphs devoted to the carbon capture and storage campaign but I realise now that there is one glaring omission. How can I have forgotten to make mention of the second most important event of the year?

On 15 May the first passenger train in 40 years pulled out of Alloa station and headed up the line towards Stirling. A steam special, pulled by 61994 'The Great Marquess' (LNER K4), it passed under the town bridges and the site of the branch line that once led down to the docks, alongside the park where scores of children stood waving, across Grange Road and the site of Alloa West Junction signal box, and then onto the embankment by the side of the house where my grandparents and great grandparents had lived from the 1890s to 1970.

By then the train was out of town, running alongside the trees growing where once there was a marshalling yard with wagons that screeched and crashed, on to Cambus and the whisky warehouses, past the site of Manor Powis colliery, beneath Wallace's monument, round the bend to cross the Forth overlooked by Stirling Castle, across the junction with the main line to Perth and into the station platforms.

Sheer bliss, what a cathartic experience.

Early memories crowd in of listening from the bedroom of my grandparents' house to the sound of steam locomotives painfully, but determinedly, hauling trains of coal wagons out of the marshalling yard on their way to Kincardine power station. The smoke would rise in the icy morning air above the trees until the engine would finally emerge, visible for just a few seconds before passing out of view behind the house.

Then, one day in 1967, a poster appeared that marked the beginning of the end: "Notice of Withdrawal of Passenger Services." I was 12 but was sufficiently outraged to take my first political act, writing to the Scottish Transport Users Consultative Committee to protest. (I also spent an evening writing protest posters, but discovered the following morning as I went around the town that I had not thought through how to stick them onto walls!).

The passengers service between Stirling, Alloa and Edinburgh went the following year, and Alloa was left as the largest town in Scotland without a station. The coal mines closed and the last goods train ran in 1983. The line became derelict, but the rails were not lifted and nothing was built on the trackbed that could prevent its reopening. By 1988 a campaign was underway to bring that about.

The achievement this year has re-established the line from Stirling as far as Longannet power station for coal trains, and as far as Alloa for an hourly passenger service from Glasgow, but with a hefty price tag of £86 million for the 21km route. Passenger figures for the first months of operation are said to be double those forecast.
All credit to the Scottish Executive and little Clackmannan Council for bringing about the rejuvenation.

It's taken 40 years and a lot of money but it feels good to have been proven right. They should have listened to me in the first place: the line should never have been closed!

Good thing it is in Scotland, where railway re-openings have become commonplace since the country gained home rule. If the line had been south of the border, with finances controlled by the Treasury and directed by the Department for Transport, all hopes of its restoration would long since have been dead and buried.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, 19 December 2008


Peter Carl, the former head of the European Commission's environment department, has spent most of the year as an advisor on climate change issues to the French Government during its EU Presidency. Yesterday he spoke at a debate in Brussels at which, I am told, he described the outcome on financing carbon capture and storage projects as one of the most significant of all, potentially equal in importance to the rest of the measures combined.

But if it was so important, why has it attracted so very little media attention? I suppose it just wasn't on the radar of most journalists covering the negotiations; their story had been pre-defined as that of 20:20:20 - (20% energy saving plus 20% renewables to achieve a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020). It's an interesting reflection on what makes news and what does not. Maybe it will prove a slow-burner.

We held a celebration party in Brussels last night for those involved in the campaign. With hindsight, with €9 billion in the bag, we achieved a lot more than we could have ever dared to hope. Over the months I discovered a lot about the EU decision-making process, the strongest lesson of all being that EU governments spend too much time rehearsing their prepared positions and talking AT each other instead of debating seriously WITH each other about how to achieve shared objectives.

David Hone, Shell's climate change adviser, played an important role in giving substance to the idea of using carbon allowances as a means of supporting CCS capital investment. I read out an email from him: "Between us all, I feel we have done something pretty good for the world." A good note on which to end.

Except, of course, that it is not the last word on CCS. In the New Year I shall want to chase and chivvy the Commission into getting the programme of demonstration projects up and running.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


By majorities of more than 600 to 100 the various legislative elements of the EU's climate change package were approved today by the European Parliament. UKIP and its fellow travellers voted against I believe, and the Greens carped, as Greens do, but opposition from the Germans, Poles, and others voicing concern about loss of profits and loss of jobs faded away once the 27 governments had given their assent.

The result is not as ambitious as I would like, and there will be a real battle ahead when we try to implement the promise of making a 30% reduction in emissions instead of just a 20% one, but it is still the most serious attempt to curb the growth in global warming emissions anywhere in the world.

My own 'Davies Report,' dealing with the draft directive on the geological storage of CO2, passed along with the rest. The Liberal Democrat Group had agreed to support the package despite its imperfections but I voted against the targets for reducing CO2 emissions from cars. I was responsible for the pre-legislative report and the law approved today is a sad reflection of the hopes of a year ago. Everyone expresses concern for the current state of the car industry but the legislation will affect it as of today by not one jot. We would simply be telling the designers to start making plans for the next generation of more fuel efficient cars.

The votes followed a debate of more than 5 hours in the Parliament at Strasbourg yesterday. (Video clips of some of my contributions can be on www.chrisdaviesmep.org.uk). More than 50 MEPs spoke but to hear the final response from the French environment minister, the environment commissioner and the energy commissioner there were just 4 other members in the chamber. It was discourteous, and it weakened the effectiveness of the Parliament, making it look as though MEPs were just going through the motions.

In truth this is common to many parliaments. Physical attendance of members is usually thin and counts for little; debates can always be followed on television screens in offices while other work is done. But there are two particular problems with the European Parliament.

The first is that the chambers ('hemicycles') in Brussels and particularly in Strasbourg, are vast, so it is difficult to establish the sort of initimacy that is possible in the tiny House of Commons. Personally I always leave my designated seat and go and sit at the front during debates so that I can maintain eye contact with ministers and commissioners. It works quite well I think.

The second is the difficulty of multilingual communication. Of course the interpretation is excellent but it is still comes ove as "interpreter-speak" - difficult and dull to follow. Genuine interchange of views, genuine 'debate', is hard. English being the 'esperanto' of Europe give me a natural advantage, and that coupled with my often direct and sometimes challenging approach gives me a better sense of involvement than most I feel.

We voted also on the Working Time Directive, sadly with big majorities in favour of ending the British opt out. To me, and to most of my Lib Dem colleagues, this is a test for subsidiarity. I introduced a proposal for working time legislation in the House of Commons back in 1997, but I think this is a matter for national parliaments to determine and European harmonisation is inappropriate. The fight on this one is not over yet.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


The barbed wire around the Council of Ministers' building has been taken away and the nerves of yesterday have been replaced by a pleasurable sense of achievement.

Europe's prime ministers yesterday agreed a series of measures known as the climate change and energy package, intended to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 (30% if international agreement is secured) through energy saving, increased renewable energy provision, and investment decisions shaped by the EU's emissions trading scheme.

Messy compromises were needed to win the support necessary, yet the deal still represents the most advanced series of measures agreed anywhere in the world.

But the only thing I was interested in was whether the Council would back the proposals I had succeeded in putting on the table. These were to use 'spare' carbon allowances to fund investment in the development of carbon capture and storage technology.

Snippets of information leaked out from contacts inside the building. At 1pm, news was that the draft summit conclusions called for the use of 200 million allowances, enough to raise €4-5 billion, with each billion estimated to be enough to support one CCS commercial demonstration project somewhere in Europe.

NOT ENOUGH! Better than nothing, of course, but insufficient to take forward the minimum number of projects needed to test and develop the full range of potential technologies. Rude words of despair mixed with consolation were exchanged over mobile phones.
The end-of-summit press conference began. Sarkozy saying the deal was great for Europe (and thereby for French leadership!).

Then a call from the Reuters correspondent in the Council's press room. One diplomat has just said the number had gone up to 300. Story needed to be confirmed. Apparently some detailed negotiations were still going on.

Half an hour later another call. Three sources had now confirmed, would I like to give a quote? "This should raise €6-7 billion," I said, "it's the bare minimum needed but it's enough to do the job."

Inside the meeting, I learnt later, Gordon Brown, pushed hard by John Ashton, the Foreign Secretary's special adviser on climate change and the man who got me involved with CCS in the first place, had insisted that 200 was not enough. Britain was supported by the Netherlands, but these positions were well rehearsed and the intervention of others was needed to break the logjam. Astonishingly it came from Italy (Berlusconi had left by this time). Merkel of Germany came out in favour. Sweden, Romania, and others indicated that 300 at least was acceptable. If the French had put 350 on the table, as the European Parliament had sought, we could well have got it.

So all credit to Gordon Brown. I may have put the ball on the spot, but he kicked it into the goal.
Congratulations filtered through as the news got out. "This is a huge step forward," said John. "It's comparable to the Apollo programme. It makes possible the idea of zero carbon power production using fossil fuels. As a step towards fighting climate change its importance is incalculable."

"Get your daughter, and tell her what her father has done," said Jules Kortenhorst of the European Climate Foundation, bringing tears to my eyes.

I feel choked about some of this. I know that the only reason this financial package has been put in place is because I became the CCS rapporteur in the Parliament last February and I made it my priority to find a way forward on the issue of funding the technology. I didn't have to do it, it wasn't part of the legislative brief, and someone else probably would not have been interested in the challenge.

The result is without any question the greatest political achievement of my life.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Within the next 24 hours or so I shall know whether my personal efforts of the past year in the fight against climate change have come to fruition.

Back in February I landed the job of European Parliament negotiator on new legislation to prepare the way for the development of carbon capture and storage technology. This calls for CO2 from fossil fuels used in power stations to be separated, captured, and then piped for permanent burial deep underground in the rocks of saline aquifers or those that formerly stored oil or gas.

In a world that is hugely dependent on the use of coal, with China getting 80% of its electricity from the stuff and opening a new power station every week, CCS could prove a vastly important stopgap measure that will curb emissions into the atmosphere.

Europe's leaders promised last year to have up to 12 commercial demonstration projects in operation by 2015. But they failed to say where the money will come from to make them happen. The technology will be a big loss-leader in its early years of development, requiring subsidy of €7-12 billion.

I have steered through the European Parliament a plan to gain the funding from the sale of spare carbon allowances in the emisssion trading scheme. In the absence of any alternative the Council of Ministers has reluctantly agreed the principle. That's as good as it gets.

I say we will need to set aside 350 million allowances to provide finance to test the full range of technologies. A majority of Ministers don't want to go above 150 million - perhaps enough for just 3 demo projects.

So here I am in Poznan, at the UN climate change conference, frustrated that at this final stage of the decision-making process I no longer have real influence over the course of events.

Meanwhile the Prime Ministers are gathering for their summit in Brussels. Will they give their fine words about developing CCS some real meaning, or will they prove to have been nothing more than hot air?

It's crunch time, and a chance for Gordon Brown to show his merits as a negotiator. The UK Government is an enthusiastic supporter of CCS and has given my proposal strong backing. If our Prime Minister takes a stand on this isssue he could make all the difference