To be Frank There are no Blue Policies for Blue Space

A more holistic approach which includes upland management, river valleys, urban areas, key infrastructure and ownership by a genuinely cross-agency approach is the only way forward.

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Floods hit communities every day worldwide. Rarely do they, or have they, hit the UK with such impact as they have recently. Rarely too, do they have a direct impact on the bigger cities in the UK but this Christmas holiday has seen devastating floods hit the valleys on the Foss, Aire, Calder and through the North West of England. Cities such as York, Manchester and Leeds have all been directly affected with elevated levels of rainfall and rivers in Newcastle and Liverpool too.

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Manchester’s new beach – silt left by the high water levels.

Let’s not forget it wasn’t so long ago that both Newcastle and Sheffield were flooded (2007) and Bristol, on the Severn, is regularly affected. By my reckoning 4 or 5 of the ‘Core Cities’ are now seriously worried about the effect these periods of exceptionally heavy and sustained rainfall will have on their citizens’ health and the wider city economy.

In the short term, committed volunteers are helping out. They’ve responded to the crisis to find warm and dry shelter for the most vulnerable whilst the blue light services pump water away from those areas.

Already questions are being raised about who is responsible, what more could be done, why there hasn’t been enough flood protection schemes built to protect the most vulnerable areas. The Chief Executive of Leeds City Council has stated that the cities of the north have been under-invested in whilst significantly bigger sums have been spent in London.

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Who is responsible for the floods and what should we do about it?

These are the sort of odd questions that get asked on mainstream media. Firstly, we’re almost certainly seeing the effects of climate change and warming global temperatures intensifying the strength of those storms, like Desmond, which have carried huge volumes of rainfall following the jet streams from the Atlantic and dumping it over the UK.

Secondly, as George Monbiot writes, “Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable“. Monbiot qualifies his comments by saying “Flood defence, or so we are told almost everywhere, is about how much concrete you can pour. It’s about not building houses in stupid places on the floodplain, and about using clever new engineering techniques to defend those already there.”

Thirdly, it’s certainly about the limited policies and duties all levels of Government have to deal with this. Whilst there is an expectation that local authorities in both rural areas and cities have resilience plans these often are little more than having all the infrastructure to respond to a devastating flood rather than anything about prevention. In truth, local authorities have very few policy tools they can use to mitigate the risk of flood. Much is responsive to planning applications. But the solution to reducing the risk and impact of flooding isn’t simply about allowing or denying a developer to build in a floodplain.

Under the last Labour government local authorities were tasked with adopting a number of key performance indicators from the ‘National Indicator set’ that monitored their performance and encouraged collaboration between authorities and their services. The least well known and understood of these was NI 188 – which set local authorities the challenge of implementing an adaptation action plan and a process for monitoring and review to ensure progress with each measure. Very few local authorities adopted this and virtually none continue to prepare plans since their resources have been reduced and the requirement to report to NI188 has been washed away too.

The intention of NI188 was to think laterally about climate adaptation and to identify how the impact of the floods could be reduced even if the likelihood of them couldn’t be effected by the local authority on its own. Almost certainly this would require local authorities to work with DEFRA (the weakest of all Government departments in the new Conservative government), the Environment Agency (now experiencing heavy cuts and putting on a very brave face), it’s neighbouring local authorties (all embroiled in the creation of economically-focused city regions and combined authorities without a mandate or appetite for climate adaptation and resilience).

The sort of outcomes NI 188 was intended to encourage are documented in Monbiot’s piece such as the group of visionary farmers at Pontbren. If similar measures have been taken in the Peak District before 2007 it is likely the flood that hit Sheffield would have been less devastating. But the tools to affect upland farming policies at a local level simply aren’t there.

In short, the political landscape hasn’t helped at all. The funding has dried up and the Government must listen to the advice it’s already heard from the Committee on Climate Change and from respected spokespeople like Lord Deben.

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Climate change is already having an impact. As the UK prepares for another big storm there needs to be a change in the governance around resilience, climate adaptation and more funding. More importantly, a realisation that we will have more water falling in more intense storms and we simply cannot build our way out of this situation. We’ve sealed-in our urban areas and our drains and sewers cannot and will never cope with the volumes we’ve experienced. A more holistic approach which includes upland management, river valleys, urban areas, key infrastructure and ownership by a genuinely cross-agency approach is the only way forward.

 

Paris COP21: Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we act…

The Urban Observer

This December, I joined almost 40 members of the IISD Reporting Servicesteam in Paris, to cover the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) and other ongoing events at the COP. My team covered the Rio Conventions Pavilion – linking the 3 UN conventions on biodiversity, climate change and sustainable land management. Of course most attention (and rightfully so) centered on the +2 weeklong negotiations, resulting in the historic and universally adopted Paris Agreementby nearly 200 parties.

COP21 celebration Laurence Tubiana, COP21/CMP11 Presidency; UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon;  COP21/CMP11 President Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister, France; and President François Hollande, France, celebrate the adoption of the Paris Agreement (Photo: IISD RS/ENB Kiara Worth)

Each day we arrived at 10:00, often leaving around midnight, after publishing daily reports. To say that it was an exhausting, exhilarating, jam-packed 2 weeks is an understatement. I’m…

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It’s time to wake up and smell the greenhouse gases | Times Higher Education (THE)

Vice-chancellors must do much more to prepare students to tackle climate change, argues Joy Carter

All universities should be teaching students about the causes, the impact, the history, the solutions, the economics and the politics of climate change.

These might not be lectures or seminars for particular students on particular courses. Sector leaders – myself included – need to be more creative and innovative in how we embed and stimulate teaching, learning, research and inquiry into the subject of climate change across all our disciplines and areas of study.

Source: It’s time to wake up and smell the greenhouse gases | Times Higher Education (THE)

#COP21 -Now We Know the Rules, Let’s Play the Game

Over the past two weeks or so we’ve seen some good coverage of the talks in Paris that have set the objectives for carbon reduction across 97% of the world’s population (and 94% of all emissions). In fact, the UK have covered the talks extensively in mainstream media.

What’s been agreed is usefully summarised in this excellent infographic by The Conversation. To use a sporting analogy, it’s as if, over the past two weeks, a FIFA delegation has sat down to agree the new rules and objectives for football and the next World Cup. The overall objective hasn’t shifted and everyone knows what’s needed to win – it’s the subtleties of the rules which have changed. Imagine this:

  • We don’t have time for 90 minutes, you’re going to have to play faster, harder but over 60 instead.
  • If you’re an established World Cup qualifier from the ‘developed world’ you’re going to have to do even better just to qualify because you’ve had it good for far, far too long. Show some leadership on this Germany, UK, France.
  • Developing nations – we know we make it tough for you to qualify, so we’re going to relax things a little for you, but if you fail, we all fail. So don’t get complacent. You still need to improve, score goals and up your game.

The good news is – to win you still need to play well and score goals. There are many ways in which you might achieve this but we’ll be asking to see your tactics every five years and we’ll decide whether we think they’re good enough. But, unless everyone plays well and scores lots of goals the World Cup will fail. Success is dependent on everyone winning – not just a few of you.

Even then, there are many who have questioned whether the talks have created a contract strong enough to avoid dangerous climate change beyond the 2 degree increase. That’s where my analogy ends. But other commentators have been superb in unpicking the nuances of the agreement.

Several, unsurprisingly, recognise that deal doesn’t go far enough. They are not applauding the efforts of the bureaucrats and diplomats who fought their corner and, to be fair in many cases, championed the commitment of their nations. They are identifying that the deal wont avoid that 2 degree increase. It wont avoid devastating climate change that will follow it. They are pointing out that there is a very real risk that these wont be achieved and that it’s all very well having clear rules and objectives – what we need now is compliance and for those nations to play the game as it is intended.

Katja Frieler, the Deputy Chair, Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research  says:

At the Paris climate summit, delegates have struck an agreement that calls for the world to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”.

But the climate action pledges made by 185 countries ahead of the summit don’t add up to 1.5℃ or warming or even 2℃. Taken together, they add up to a 2.7℃ world.

As the negotiations go on, 2015 is about to set a new global temperature record, and is likely to have reached 1℃ warming already. (Read the full article here).

Myles Allen writes in The Conversation:

I wonder how many of the delegates in Paris realise that they have just created the mother of all “take-back schemes”. As a consumer, you may have already come across this sort of deal: if you don’t want to dispose of the packaging of your new sofa, you can take it back to IKEA and it’s their problem. In many places, you can even take back the sofa itself when your kids have wrecked it. For the Paris climate deal to succeed something similar will have to happen, where companies that rely on fossil fuels will be obliged to “take back” their emissions.

I remain optimistic. For the first time since Kyoto it feels like the World’s Leaders get it … but leaving behind their own short term political time horizons and their nation’s own self-interest means there is a very real danger the objectives wont materialise. It’s likely that it will be those in the poorest of nations who will suffer the consequences of failure first, deepest and longest. They may never recover from a failure to deliver these targets.

The involvement of businesses in these talks has been scrutinised. This is complex, but there are companies out there – micro to global – with the solutions to these challenges. Their involvement has been to illustrate how a low carbon revolution is good for society, good for the planet and can deliver sustainable economics. It’s this argument that stands between Paris being a success or being considered a two week jamboree of hot air. A solid, unwavering commitment to low carbon policies that encourage investment in new technologies that harness the energy of the sun, the wind, the waves, the tides is central to this. A commitment to leaving as much coal, gas and oil in the ground as is possible is necessary.

Holding politicians to account is important. They’ve signed up to this because, in the UK at least, it’s something voters believe is important. The UK government has been warned that a major U-turn in energy policy is required if it is to avoid charges of blatant hypocrisy following the commitments it made in the Paris climate deal this weekend. Critics say that the first test for Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary, will come later this week, when she announces whether or not she plans to go ahead with a proposed 90% cut in solar subsidies.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s main employers’ organisation, demanded on Sunday that ministers take action at home as well as making their voice heard abroad. “The government must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants,” she said.

The negotiators have done their bit. The deal is drafted and there is a contract of commitment in place. The politicians have signed it off and now need to deliver. Fortunately, business sees the opportunity this challenge presents. It’s a huge, trillion $ opportunity. But we cannot rely on politicians and business alone. If we do, we’ll likely end up 20 years on without having made the necessary cuts in emissions we need.

We all need to contribute – that means taking individual action too. This brilliant piece about home comforts and energy consumption by Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs says it eloquently.

What characteristics would your ideal home have? A sauna? Lots of natural light? An open-plan kitchen? Whatever your answer, you probably didn’t consider how the things you wanted would affect the energy you use. The link between comfort and energy is not something that troubles most people, but actually it’s very important. In the UK, our houses consume up to 27% of the energy we produce.

What a pity then, that the UK Government scrapped the introduction of the Zero Carbon Homes policy for 2016. It’s scrapped the Green Deal and has withdrawn millions of £ of funding to improve the existing stock’s energy efficiency. As Jeremy Leggett, the founder of world leading renewable energy company Solarcentury, spelled out: the challenge for Rudd and George Osborne, the latter being seen as the real axeman of green policies. “The government has a huge credibility problem, having signed a treaty of historic importance, and yet [having] been pursuing a path of [energy policy] travel that is 180 degrees opposed to what is needed,” he said.

 

Learning to love the Europa League (and its metaphor for England’s cities)

Always worth a read. David Marlow uses footballing analogies to help paint the picture of provincial cities.

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One of the greatest nights to be at the Lane... One of the greatest nights to be at the Lane…

As a lifelong Spurs fan, two of my signature memories are our UEFA Cup Final victories over Wolves and Anderlecht in the 1970s and 1980s. I retain an affection for that competition’s successor –  the Europa League. It has too long been treated as the ‘runt’ of EU competitions, compared to the self-perpetuating cabal who appear to call the shots in the Champions League (ECL).

This blog has argued periodically for a ‘rebalancing’ between the relative largesse distributed to ECL and Europa League participants. The respective 2015/16 Group results of the two competitions seems to reinforce this case.

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Addressing the Energy Policy Trilemma at Making the UK Energy System Work

The University of Nottingham today hosts a conference that challenges us to consider how we make the UK Energy System work. As the debate in Paris gets in to full swing at COP21 it’s pertinent to consider how the trilemma of carbon, cost and resilience can be resolved.

The University’s own Chair in Sustainable Energy and Director of the Energy Technologies Research Institute, Prof Gavin Walker, opened the conference and introduced Prof Paul Ekins – a leading expert and commentator on energy policy – from UCL.

The inclusion of decarbonisation as a challenge alongside cost/competitiveness and energy security has changed everything. As we transition from carbon intensive energy supplies of coal, oil and gas, where do we turn for our primary energy needs and do we have the infrastructure to generate, store and distribute energy to meet current and future demands.

Ekins recognised the challenge and opportunity afforded by cracking the energy storage solutions we need to meet our needs. New demand technologies, e.g. electric cars and electric heat pumps, need to be integrated into the existing systems, offering both infrastructure challenges as well as opportunities to store and transform our systems.

But transformational investments are needed. 4 key ones are:

  1. Large scale renewables
  2. Small Scale renewables
  3. Nuclear
  4. CCS

Possible opportunities, but with significant implications, include bioenergy – recognising the competition for space, biodiversity, food and energy.

Internationalisation, as part of the global system, is central to the debate around fuel supply (bioenergy, gas, oil), technologies and investment and, of course, achieving carbon emissions. Integration of international systems, notably across the EU, through inter-connected grids is uncertain.

These choices are, essentially, political. There is not always compatabiity between these technologies either. It needs to be seen as a whole system.

The 20/20/20 targets by 2020 across the EU is driving change and promoting carbon reduction, renewable energy investments and energy efficiency. The UK’s share is less than the EU average. So, what has been the UK’s response?

The Climate Change Act has created a framework of legal commitments which has led to sizeable carbon reduction but challenges to achieve renewable energy capacity remain. The process, overseen by the Committee on Climate Change, is science-led and has proved challenging for politicians.

The absence of carbon pricing is a barrier to driving faster and deeper change. It’s only the taxes imposed in the UK on carbon-intensive energy that contributes to this approach. Markets, therefore, by themselves, will not decarbonise.

So, what needs to happen to achieve the targets we have set? There are a large number of questions, but before anything is undertaken there should be a  trajectory of future demand needed first and foremost.

What’s the future of gas and their networks? Can they be re-purposed for biogas or hydrogen?

Ekins recognises this is an unprecedented policy challenge and recognised Stern’s work and recommendations to put in place carbon pricing; technology policy, and; promoting behavioural change and the need to remove barriers to that. Will carbon pricing drive investment in energy technologies and behavioural change.

Cities recognised as having a key role in this challenge.

Ekin’s analysis of the current UK Government’s policy is damning, recognising its response has been contradictory to the commitments mdade in law. We have moved from subsidising the most efficient and cheapest forms of energy (solar and on-shore wind) to heavily subsidising the most expensive (nuclear). In combination, the Conservative Government has undermined investor confidence such that we cannot be sure that the investment needed in new energy generation will be forthcoming.