Gove’s Environmental Credentials Called into Question

It’s not unreasonable to expect any incoming Secretary of State to require in depth briefings on a new role. Any MP who is elevated to a position of authority within one of Whitehall’s departments would expect their leading civil servants to sit down with them and help them get up to speed with the current issues, the policies they’ve been working on and to point out any difficulties and issues there might be. This kind of thing happens in local elections, general elections, European elections. When you’re the new supremo you want the support of the people who will be working with you.

Bear in mind then that Michael Gove MP has a track record of opposing many policies (as detailed in today’s edition of The Independent) here in the UK. He wont have had the same in depth briefings as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs on matters pertaining to the environment, climate change, farming and fisheries when he was SoS for Education … but … whilst schools and education are often a matter of policy and funding (and can be extremely emotive), ‘the environment’ is loaded withMichael Gove science, evidence and policy is founded on that. He has systematically opposed reams of legislation designed to protect, enhance and safeguard our local, national and global environments. He has chosen to reject science (provided by experts) in order to further the aims of those who have persuaded him that setting carbon targets is not a good idea. He even voted to apply the Climate Change Levy tax to electricity generated from renewable sources.

Pity, then, the civil servants in one of Government’s weakest departments, where after cut after cut the one thing they needed was strong leadership and they got Gove. Imagine briefing the man who not only failed to support your policies but actively condemned them.

At a local level I have briefed consecutive Cabinet members in the city council in Sheffield. They may not have had the education of Gove (he attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford), but they each approached the role with an open mind willing to listen to BRITAIN-POLITICS-CONSERVATIVESthe officers who were professional with expertise and experience. I hope Gove is big enough to be open minded, to ask for advice and to seek expertise. If he does he has the chance to deliver the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. If he doesn’t, we might just end up no better off than the USA under Trump when it comes to climate change.

 

The vast majority of the UK’s air quality problem is the unregulated pollutants from road traffic. Predominantly as a result of particulate matter from the combustion of diesel and petrol. The fact that DEFRA retain responsibility for air quality and has no real influence over anyone, let alone DfT, is at the heart of this issue. Don’t get me wrong, DEFRA do a good job in developing and implementing policies which regulate other industries but without regulation and new policies air quality is not going to improve soon. I am very disappointed in the draft plan published today. There is nothing bold, imaginative or impressive about this wishy washy report.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39818083

Metro mayors are a chance for new green leadership

However your city or city region is governed there has to be stronger leadership on this agenda. The 6 city mayoral winners have a big challenge to deliver what their individual component authorities may well have failed on. Yes, Bristol has shown how it can be done and London has had *some* success but has, arguably, the biggest challenges too. I would like to see Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham use this as an opportunity to accelerate the ownership of this issue within the Mayor’s office. In time, perhaps, and if, Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham get to a position of agreeing a mayoral election, they might see the opportunities too.

Inside track

Fotolia_9704004_SThe general election may be the immediate focus of political commentary but, today, elections in six city regions will bring an important new tier of political decision making to England that will be worth watching. The election of new metro mayors will unlock the devolution of powers and budgets to the city region level, giving Westminster the confidence to hand power down.

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Derby and Nottingham to work together

Last year I wrote a blog outlining the Nottingham/Derby (or should that be Derby/Nottingham?) metro strategy. Following a consultation, a strategy with 4 key themes -Metro Enterprise, Metro Talent, Connected Metro and Metro Living – has been drafted and recognises that ” … if we are to fully achieve the ambitions set out within the strategy, a wider group of stakeholders will need to work together – many of these have indicated a commitment to be involved through the consultation, and key relationships are being strengthened.”

Nottingham City Council identified that “Developing a joint Metro Strategy with Derby can improve the opportunities for local people by helping to bring more investment and jobs to the area … and … with 40,000 people regularly travelling between the two cities, transport is clearly one area we’re keen to focus on. Developing more integrated links and realising the full potential of the planned HS2 station at Toton will be a key element of the strategy.”

One of the early measures will allow residents of both Derby and Nottingham to share services – such as leisure facilities and libraries – using a ‘Metro card’. The card will mean people in Nottingham could use facilities such as the £27 million Derby Arena velodrome and also get discounts in shops in both cities. But, it’s not going to be launched for a year or so …

The announcement comes as the cities launch their ‘Metro Strategy’, which will involve working together, including possibly combining backroom IT services between the city councils.

Collaboration and co-operation is borne out of both necessity and opportunity. ‘Austerity’ measures mean that doing things once and in the interests of both parties can mean reduced costs and economies of scale. Taking unnecessary costs out of the investments needed to make both cities more attractive, investment-ready as well as providing the basic services citizens need can only be a good thing.

The bigger picture, of course, is that the Metro Strategy provides a shared vision for the opportunities, quality of life and sustainability of both cities and their hinterland. Compared to global cities (and even Birmingham) the combined might of Nottingham and Derby is still relatively small but they can be nimble, agile and reinvent themselves as cities of the 21st Century together rather than competing for the same limited resources out there.

Local places must seize the opportunities of adaptation, or risk being left behind

Climate resilience in practice

The way places develop and grow are increasingly being linked to their climate resilience.

Ask anyone who works on climate change and they’ll tell you the jury is still out on whether we’ll really get a handle on tackling it. On the one hand we have the fantastic success of the Paris deal. On the other, the recent U.S. election throws doubt on how quickly the low carbon transition will take hold.

Even before the election, the political ambition was at odds with the reality. INDCs, the technical terminology for each countries’ emission reduction pledges, put us on a trajectory of around 2 and a half degrees whilst the EU thinks to get to the 1.5 degree target of warming, we’ll need negative emissions technologies.

It’s no surprise then, that the World Economic Forum highlight failure to adapt to climate change as one of their top ten risks of…

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Growing Sustainably – The Elephant in the Room

The ‘Growing Sustainably‘ Cabinet report bound for the Sheffield City Council later this week (15th March) is now available online. It’s the Council’s response to the multi-agency, Council co-ordinated Green Commission which started in May 2014 under Councillor Jack Scott (the then Cabinet Lead) and taken on by Cllr Jayne Dunn subsequently. The Council’s response is prepared for a third Councillor, Cllr Mazher Iqbal.

The Council’s Cabinet report states that “We [Sheffield City Council] understand the vital contribution the Council can make in creating a sustainable future, and by identifying our five priority themes are providing a bold message of our commitment to take this forward.”

Since the Commission began the Council has seen a significant loss of staff with expertise in this area. Those responsible for previous (and similar) strategies have long since left the Council either because of ‘austerity’ or out of sheer frustration at the lack of commitment shown to this agenda since 2012. The Green Commission was, I believe, a sensible way of engaging a wider group of key stakeholders in the city. There are some talented and experienced individuals who contributed to the Commission. However, several have moved on and cut their ties with the city since the Commission reported. Two key partners, Veolia and Amey, appear to be at odds with either the public or the Council, or both at the time of writing.

I have written several Cabinet and Scrutiny reports, including in 2005 a 2 hour session at Full Council on climate change. Writing reports is the easy bit in many respects although the process is often tortuous and subject to the editing, cutting, pasting and redaction of anything that smacks of ambition. This report follows reports I have drafted and delivered on with limited resources, but the resources available to SCC now are less than they have ever been.

The report clearly states:

“There are no immediate direct financial or commercial implications arising out of this policy report as it does not propose to incur cost in respect of specific actions to realise the objectives of the Green Commission. In order to realise some of the city’s ambitions, specific actions will be required and the expenditure associated with these will be brought forward for approval under the Council’s existing Revenue and Capital Budget procedures. This may require the reprioritisation of expenditure as there is currently no budgetary provision for these activities.

So, in truth, this report sets out 5 key priorities (which align well with the previous Environment Excellence strategies), says they are important to a growing Sheffield faced with a changing climate, worsening air quality, reduced public transport patronage and increased carbon emissions. Except this time round there are no officers to deliver it and no budget. I applaud the Council for being prepared to re-state it’s commitment to this agenda but without staff to co-ordinate it or a budget to deliver it, I am afraid this is simply will not deliver the benefits to our city’s economy, health and wellbeing.

 

Why and How Universities should lead the way to Carbon Neutrality

University scientists have been warning for decades that we need to reduce our carbon emissions. They have discovered the mechanisms behind global warming, calculated the limits of our planet and developed solutions for how to continue in a sustainable fashion. Hence, you would expect universities to be leaders of sustainability already, showing us how their solutions work. However, despite their scientific evidence and what they teach students, most universities are failing to deliver meaningful carbon reductions. In the UK, a recent report by Brite Green revealed that 71% of UK higher education institutes are forecasted to fail HEFCE carbon targets. This highlights a historical disconnect between research and campus operations, which must be overcome. Interdisciplinary networks with a climate vision can be catalysers to change this path and help harness the economic, cultural and environmental benefits that come with such a transition.

I invited Christian Unger of The University of Sheffield’s Carbon Neutral University Network to share his thoughts on why, and how, universities ought to be leading the way to carbon neutrality.

 

Climate change science and the importance of universities

As early as the 1820s, French mathematician Joseph Fourier first argued that the earth’s atmosphere could act as an insulator 1. British physicist John Tyndall later proved experimentally that the various gases in the air could absorb heat in the form of infrared radiation. In 1859, he was the first to measure the absorptive power of carbon dioxide (CO2) among other gases 2. Based on these works, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius described and quantified the impact of the CO2 and other ‘greenhouse gases‘ on the temperature of the Earth in the early 1900s 3.

 

The Keeling curve, named after chemist Charles Keeling, showing continuously monitored atmospheric CO2 concentration from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since 1958 provided the first real evidence for an abnormal increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The first concentration measured in 1959 was 313ppm 4 and since then has significantly increased, reaching the 400ppm mark in 2013 5. To put this in perspective, the atmospheric CO2 concentration over the last 800.000 years until the start of the industrial revolution (~1850), as measured in a study from 2008 from Antarctic ice cores, ranged between 172-300ppm 6. Further research, going back even longer, determined that the last time CO2 concentrations were as high as today was 10-15 million years ago; when our ancestors the orang-utans diverged from the other great apes, temperatures were ~3-6°C warmer and the sea level was 25-40m higher 7.

 

Together with this CO2 concentration record, the planet has now reached 1 degree warming above pre-industrial level 8.  This warming and the associated ice melting has increased sea level and extreme weather events all around the world, displacing people through drought, floods and resulting food shortages. In the 1990s, scientists first described the 2 degrees target as a threshold between extensive and significant destruction risk 9. Limiting global warming to below 2 degrees, as agreed by the world’s nations in the 2015 UN climate negotiations in Paris 10. This will require reducing worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero as soon as possible and stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 430-480ppm 11.

 

Universities are at the heart of climate change research; hosting the same scientists who measure warming effects and predict what carbon budget we have left to protect us from extreme danger. University engineers develop renewable energy solutions; social scientists design near zero energy homes, advise on government policies and research behaviour change to reduce our energy demand.

 

Considering the availability of knowledge, one would expect universities to be beacons of innovation – running their estates sustainably in accordance with their scientific findings.

 

However, too many universities are not achieving government targets or have even increased emissions in the last few years. In England, a recent report by consultancy Brite Green revealed that 71% of 120 English universities and colleges are predicted to miss their 2020 carbon targets.

 

Universities educate hundreds of thousands of students every year, employ tens of thousands of staff and impact their local community in so many ways that what they do has a significant multiplier effect – positive or negative. They possess the knowledge not only to plan and indeed become carbon neutral ahead of other institutions, but to trigger transformative change beyond their own borders through their research and teaching – locally, nationally and internationally.

Setting a carbon neutral vision is important and feasible

 

It is particularly important that universities in the developed world do their bit, as 50% of GHG emissions are generated from 10% of the highest emission countries, including the UK 12.

 

Achieving carbon neutrality in terms of energy consumption is necessary to stop global warming and indeed feasible. Through their research and teaching expertise, many universities can uniquely deliver solutions for this ambitious energy transition, at the same time as strengthening and promoting their innovation, research and teaching capacity.

 

More importantly through their solutions, they can provide hope for current and future generations.

 

The Zero Carbon Britain report produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology aspires for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2030 13. Many other countries, i.e. Germany, Japan, Chile, and cities, such as Berlin and Copenhagen have developed plans to reduce emissions to zero 14. Indeed, there are universities worldwide already on their path to carbon neutrality i.e. Cornell University (U.S.) or the University of St Andrews (U.K.) to name just a few.

 

However, why are there so few UK universities leading the way and how can others become models of best practice?

 

Historically, researchers and campus operations teams only communicate on a limited basis, with researchers and teachers provided with space and facilities to deliver research and teaching to their students and the international community. Research findings themselves are communicated internationally to other scientists via specialist journals, hence often failing to inform campus operations.

 

Further complicating the development of climate change solutions is the interdisciplinary nature of the solutions needed, ranging from climate modelling via renewable energy technologies to sustainable architecture, behaviour change research and politics. These research disciplines are often run entirely separate, which means new communication channels first need to be established for people to come together and improve innovation output.

 

As an example, at the University of Sheffield, these above partitions effectively weaken the engagement, support and input of researchers into delivering our 43% carbon reduction targets for the year 2020.

Furthermore, although scientifically clear, the need to reduce emissions to zero (carbon neutrality) in the long-term future is not a vision officially accepted or taken forward yet.

Forming a structure for change at the University of Sheffield: A Carbon Neutral University Network

 

Conscious of the urgency of climate change, we started a small working group of sustainability visionaries to research and compile a written case for carbon neutrality that could trigger further action within the existing university governance structure. This prompted the idea of forming the Carbon Neutral University network (CNU) to support such action – a university community that researches and communicates the climate change problem and uses internal available capacity (students, staff, facilities) to develop local solutions to reduce our carbon emissions to zero.

 

Before our network was launched in 2015, there was little transparency about the university’s sustainability aims and actions. To improve transparency, CNU has established a website and social media presence reaching currently up to 10000 views each month. We have organised and run information events on climate change research and policy, on university impacts and on building efficiency, which have attracted more than 700 visitors. To reach a wider audience and provide a resource, expert presentations at these events have been recorded and are made available online.

 

Further, following the network launch, CNU received an official seat on the University’s Carbon Management Group, which oversees energy strategy. This provides our network with first hand access and allows us to present our ideas and proposals to the governance structure. For example a case for a large 35MW wind farm able to generate 100% of our electricity is just one of a few projects under discussion.

 

Since then, the initially small CNU working group has evolved into a community of more than 250 volunteers from undergrad students to managers and heads of department, along with activists from outside the university. Our community members contribute ideas, time or lead projects, while being supported by a strong coordinator team that tracks, discusses and communicates vision and project outcomes.

 

Our network founder and current co-chair, Dr Christian Unger, received a Fellowship at the prestigious Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, supporting him to compile and publish the initial CNU network experience and vision in a Carbon and Sustainability Strategy (CaSS) proposal for the University of Sheffield. The proposal describes the underlying reasons for a carbon neutral vision; the situation at our university; and the first steps forward based on working strategy examples from universities around the world. In particular, it suggests (1) putting in place a carbon neutral university goal and (2) forming a structure that can develop and drive a plan to deliver this vision. This strategic proposal has been well received. It aims to initiate the development of detailed plans to embed sustainability in university business through an overarching focus on carbon neutrality.

 

Our network now provides a hub structure for climate change action at the University of Sheffield, which previously didn’t exist.

 

Volunteers at any university at no initial cost can establish a Carbon Neutral University network. It translates the passion and expertise of the university grassroots community to start and/or support carbon reductions. The CNU network at the University of Sheffield created a new foundation for a whole range of sustainability activities. It provides a focus point for future ideas, connects the right people to develop a transition plan, and with additional administrative funding, it can provide an important sustainability hub functionality long-term.

 

We need more universities to become sustainability leaders, by harnessing their unique innovation ability to show the feasibility and benefits of strong carbon reduction solutions to the world. Interdisciplinary communities, such as the Carbon Neutral University Network, can trigger this urgent transformation and we implore everybody to not sit idle and start your own climate action.

 

If you want to find out more or need help to start your own, please get in touch with us via our website: http://www.carbonneutralshef.weebly.com

 

 

References

 

 

  1. Fourier J. Rapport Sur La Temperature Du Globe Terrestre Et Sur Les Spaces Planétaires. Mémoires Acad. Royale des Sciences de L’Institut de …; 1824.
  2. Tyndall J. Note on the transmission of radiant heat through gaseous bodies. In:; 1859.
  3. Arrhenius S. Arrhenius: Worlds in the Making: the Evolution of the Universe. Harper & brothers; 1908.
  4. Keeling CD, Bacastow RB, Bainbridge AE, et al. Atmospheric carbon dioxide variations at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Tellus. 1976;28(6):538–551. doi:10.1111/j.2153-3490.1976.tb00701.x.
  5. Jones N. Troubling milestone for CO2. Nature Geoscience. 2013;6(8):589–589. doi:10.1038/ngeo1900.
  6. Lüthi D, Le Floch M, Bereiter B, et al. High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000-800,000 years before present. Nature. 2008;453(7193):379–382. doi:10.1038/nature06949.
  7. Tripati AK, Roberts CD, Eagle RA. Coupling of CO2 and ice sheet stability over major climate transitions of the last 20 million years. Science. 2009;326(5958):1394–1397. doi:10.1126/science.1178296.
  8. Hansen J, Sato M, Ruedy R, Schmidt GA, Lo K. Global Temperature in 2015. 2016.
  9. Rijsberman FR, Swart RJ. Targets and Indicators of Climatic Change. 1990.
  10. UNFCCC. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. In: 1st ed. Paris; 2015. http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/finale-cop21/.
  11. Pachauri RK, Allen MR, Barros VR, et al. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. EPIC3Geneva, Switzerland, IPCC, 151 p, pp 151, ISBN: 978-92-9169-143-2. 2014.
  12. Gore T. Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first. Oxfam. 2015.
  13. Allen P, Blake L, Harper P, Hooker-Stroud A, James P. Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future. Published in July 2013, the latest ZCB scenario report integrates new detailed research on managing the variability in supply and demand of a 100% renewable energy system, and on balancing our land use requirements to provide a healthy low carbon diet.; 2013. http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org/en/component/k2/item/85?Itemid=289.
  14. Allen P, Bottoms I, James P, Yamin F. Who’s Getting Ready for Zero?; 2015:59. http://zerocarbonbritain.org/en/ready-for-zero.

 

Renaissance of City Leadership

The UK Green Building Council hosted a conference to explore leadership in creating sustainable cities at The Studio, on the side of the river Aire in Leeds. Chaired by CEO, Julie Hirigoyen, and featuring a good number of respected commentators and contributors, it was a forum full of city leaders from Salford, Oxford, Nottingham, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Cities, with increasing urbanisation worldwide, are certainly central to sustainability. It was broadly acnkowledged that demand for and creation of innovation were particular to cities. To deliver it will take a new role for cities here in the UK and new leadership. In times of austerity it was recognised that city councils no longer have the same capacity or capability as they once did.

Fundamental to the debate was the challenging question – “How can policy makers and the private sector create more sustainable places to live and work?” and “Who are the new leaders?” because there was a clear recognition it’s not going to be just city councillors, nor officers. Indeed, the need for other players, including the private sector, universities and other public bodies was unanimously supported.

Supported by Arup, Genr8, British Land and Leeds City Council it felt like a return to a similar event 8 or 9 years ago when the Core Cities and Cabe ran a sustainable cities programme bringing together the 8 core cities outside London (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield)  where similar questions with, perhaps, similar answers were positioned, challenged and agreed. Key learning points then, and now, are that we really need strong leadership taking a ‘whole place, whole system’ approach that takes an outcome led approach, doesn’t stifle creativity and innovation and trusts in collaboration in terms of partners and operating at a range of scales – increasingly at a city region and city region+ scale.

Key learning points:

a) redefine leadership and leaders – there’s a role for wider stakeholders.

b) Standards are important – operating across the UK, e.g. building regulations, EV charging points.

c) There’s still a need for some up-front enabling works for development

d) The social value in procurement should be more credibly used to demonstrate wider benefits

e) Devolution is a process not an outcome

Delivering housing, climate change targets, jobs and improving health and wellbeing is increasingly going to sit with cities. They have the governance, the scale and the demand. How they create the capacity and the capability to set the vision, the outcomes they are looking for the confidence is a challenge we hope the new industrial strategy will deliver.

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