Friday, 2 September 2016

Refutation of recent Climate Policy paper written by Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling

A recent Climate Policy paper, written by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool & Andrew Stirling, claimed nuclear power supporting countries do worse at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The paper is rubbish. It has many flaws enumerated below.

Some abbreviations and terms.

  • AGW: anthropic global warming, or man-made climate change.
  • CO2: Carbon dioxide - a gas made by burning wood, oil, coal, natural gas and carbon-based fuels. Just about all fuels are carbon-based.
  • GHG: Greenhouse gas. A gas causing AGW, generally by means of radiative forcing. Usually measured in CO2 equivalents.
  • EU: European Union
  • Eurostat: Primary source of data for EU countries
  • bioXXX: biomass (usually wood), bio-gas, and biofuel
  • RE: renewable energy
  • Sovacool: A report author
  • GFC: Global Financial Crash
  • NPP: Nuclear power plant

Flaws in this paper:

  1. The data they use for European emissions (% GHG emission reductions in table 2 of their paper) is not found in the reference they give page 27 of (pdf). Their reference has no data since 2012 but is based on Eurostat numbers. Eurostat themselves have emissions data for 2013 and 2014. So does EDGAR. I looked for data similar to theirs in other Eurostat data feeds but found nothing.
  2. The term renewable energy is arbitrary; a political construct. Biofuel is not renewable. Corn grown to make ethanol biofuel requires phosphate fertilizer which must be mined. Biofuels are often not even 'carbon neutral', let alone a cause of GHG emission reductions. Nuclear power is at least as 'renewable' as biofuel.
  3. Renewable energy does not always have low emissions. In many cases biofuels have higher emissions than the fossil fuel they replace. Biomass does not reduce GHG emissions. The opposite. BioXXX is also highly constrained by limited land availability. It uses land intensively and inefficiently.
  4. Most EU RE is still bioXXX and waste, which, according to Eurostat, was over 62% of all EU RE in 2014 and 71% of German RE in 2013:
    EU renewable energies by source (Eurostat)
  5. The report authors uncritically associate more RE with GHG emission reductions. This is not necessarily the case, for 2 reasons:
    1. BioXXX only came to be seen as renewable by political decree
    2. Intermittent renewables, such as: solar, wind, tidal, and wave require fossil fuel support to cover for their unreliability
  6. Their core notion that 'nuclear power phase out' countries like Germany do better at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is nonsense. Germany does worse at reducing GHG emissions. It had no GHG emission reductions from 2009 to 2015.
    German GHG emissions, CO2 eq.
  7. Germany's nuclear power phase out caused it to build masses of new coal power. At least 10.7GWe of it since 2010. Of all fossil fuel, coal produces the most CO2 per unit of energy made. It is worst for GHG emissions.
  8. For data, they reference fellow antinuclear power campaigners who wrote 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015'. They should use data from unbiased authorities instead.
  9. They split European countries into 4 groups, but their split is arbitrary. For example: Slovenia could be in their group II or III because Slovenia plans a second nuclear reactor. Group II are nuclear power phase-out countries (according to the authors).
  10. They excluded Croatia from their European countries for no clear reason. They don't even say why. Yet this is crucial because Slovenia (which is included) shares ownership of a nuclear power plant with Croatia!
  11. They give no reason, nor evidence, why their group II countries are 'nuclear phase out'. All their group II countries apart from Germany are very ambivalent, to say the least, about a nuclear phase out. The other six in this 'nuclear phase out' group are:

    • Slovenia: Has not shut the reactor it jointly owns with Croatia, but instead, they intend to add more nuclear power
    • Switzerland: Public voted to continue with nuclear power
    • Sweden: Will phase out its nuclear tax in 2019. It has not banned new reactors
    • Spain: In 2011, the government lifted the 40-year limit on all reactors, allowing owners to apply for license extensions in 10-year increments
    • Belgium: When Germany tried to bully them into closing a reactor they refused
    • Netherlands: In 1994 voted to phase out their 2 NPPs. In 1997 one NPP shut. In 2003: shutdown of others was postponed till 2013. In 2006 shutdown was postponed till 2034. Seriously Holland! it's only one reactor. If you're committed to the anti-nuke cause shut it down like our report authors want you to!

    Six out of seven countries show less than 100% commitment to phaseouts and some of them had only very minor commitments to nuclear power start with (Slovenia, Netherlands). Strange how the authors made these 7 countries into a "group". I keep thinking There must be something else they have in common too!

    The French parliament recently voted to install 50% renewable energy sometime in the future. Perhaps the authors should move France from a Group III (pro nuclear) to their Group II (anti-nukes)?

  12. They ignore, or elide, history and time, for example:
    • France is nuclear powered because in the 1970s the economy was badly hurt in the oil crisis, caused by a huge oil price rise after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. France had a lot of diesel powered electricity back then. France began building nuclear power plants when GHG and global warming were not issues.
    • Sweden had plenty of renewable energy (hydro) for decades. Well before AGW became an issue. Because it's cheaper there where they have lots of land, water, and hills.
  13. They ignore geography. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and the 3 former Soviet Baltic countries have much lower population densities and/or access to RE energies like hydro, geothermal, and or land for biomass. Unsurprisingly these countries generally have the highest renewable energy, RE, proportions in Europe. Lots of spare land and water make RE easier.
  14. They never factored in the effect of the Global Financial Crash, GFC in reducing GHG emissions in Southern Europe: Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy. Southern European countries were heavily affected by the GFC, and many still are. This caused their economies to contract, and economic contraction is a big cause of GHG emission reductions.
  15. This report has an odd list of other works cited. Many of the cited works have no link to the report, in terms of ideas or data. It looks like they are citing papers of their friends and political allies just because they are anti-nuclear. Gaming the academic system to make their anti-nuclear friends look good with cross-citations.
  16. It has not been peer reviewed. Nothing this bad could've been peer reviewed. It's not been well edited either.
  17. One author (Sovacool) references himself 10 times within his own paper!
  18. They use flowery language to make renewables sound good and nuclear power bad. That shows their clear bias from the start.

The source Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling claimed for their data does not contain the data they said they extracted from it (issue 1). Yet I'm still curious to know what effect different base years have on GHG emissions. So I took CAIT data and selected 4 different base years 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005. This is shown right at the end of this blog in the (Appendix):

The last 5 columns (in the appendix) show GHG emissions reductions. 4 were calculated by me and one copied from the Sovacool paper. Nearly every country has been reducing emissions since 2005. Yet the EU uses 1990 as a base year for emissions reductions. A negative value shows an emission fall (good) but a red number shows a rise (bad).

Let's look at how Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling Group III (nuclear friendly countries) do. The data below is just copied from the previous calculation already shown in the Appendix.

Group III% GHG emissions reduction
1990-20121995-20122000-20122005-2012Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling
Czech Republic-27.9-13.9-11.9-10.29
United Kingdom-16.7-12.0-13.2-14.4-16

Group III countries do very well indeed for nearly every range upon which emission reductions are calculated. They do best for the longest range 1990-2012, which is the one that counts in the EU w.r.t. climate policy, and targets. Except for those mysterious values provided by Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling (the last column) for which no one has been able to trace the source of. I hope this gives the reader a valuable lesson in the art of cherry-picking and obfuscation. Well done to misters: Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling.


Total CO2 Emissions Excluding Land-Use Change + Forestry (MtCO2). Source: CAIT
% GHG emissions reduction
Country199019952000200520121990-20121995-20122000-20122005-2012Lawrence, Sovacool & StirlingLSS Revised (2012 - 2005)
Czech Rep152.1127.4124.5122.1109.7-27.9-13.9-11.9-10.29-7.1
EU (15)3178.73154.23248.63363.52913.4-8.3-7.6-10.3-13.4--
EU (28)4188.43974.63975.74116.93610.5-13.8-9.2-9.2-12.3--


  1. This kind of nonsense is so typical of the career antis. I'm surprised though that Sussex uni allows sovacool et al to publish crap like this. It really looks bad for the unis reputation.
    Reminds me of the judy wileyman/Jim green PhD rubbish coming out of Wollongong uni in Australia.
    Personally you would have to pay me to attend either of those unis.

    1. I surprised the journal published it. I found most of these issues after about 1½ hours reading and checking it. You'd think an editor could find a few reading it too?

      This kind of article is bad for science and academia. It looks to me like the authors of this paper are gaming the system in several dimensions and academia has no means, nor even intention, of stopping them.

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  3. Editorial:
    In your list of abbreviations, you define "Savacool". Its "Sovacool".

  4. IIRC, their complaint was that nuclear committment impeded "attainment of Climate Change goals". But their definition of climate change goals was NOT CO2 related. It was related to the %RE installed. So their report was in fact true, but totally irrelevant.

    1. A fair point. Yet their table 2 has a column called 'emissions reductions' and I can't find their data in the source they reference. It is not on 'page 27' where they said it was. Nor do their emission percentages show any relation to any other 'emissions reductions' I've seen. For all I know they just made that column up.

    2. "For all I know they just made that column up."

      Are you suggesting that the data was fabricated? No, tell me it ain't so! Surely made-up data wouldn't get by the editors.

    3. I don't dare suggest they fabricated their data. I live in the same country as some of them and defamation laws here are still mean. I suggest they cherry-picked their data.

  5. Regarding nuclear phase out countries. Joris van Dorp wrote in his facebook feed regarding Dutch political parties: "All the other political parties are not against nuclear, or already for it". That is all the other parties apart from the Dutch Greens support nuclear power as part of a solution to climate change induced by greenhouse gas.

  6. Dear “Mark4asp” and those reading the “Nukes Pretty Please” blog,

    We read with interest your critique below and wanted to engage with some of its main points. We also wanted to refer you to an already published rebuttal that touches upon, and responds to, some of the criticisms you raise below:

    In the interests of both transparency and intellectual dialogue, we respond point-by-point below to the arguments raised here. We have offered our responses below.


    Andrew Lawrence

    Andy Stirling

    Benjamin Sovacool


  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Dear Mark, after both reproducing the analysis and reading Nick Thompson's blog, we have decided to formally retract the article. We approached the journal about this many weeks ago, but it took them time to process it. You can see our retraction statement here, and a modified press release here We have a third reply submitted to Nick at his blog so refer there for more.

  9. Can someone post the original rebuttal as PDF? Links taken down.