Sustainability in higher education

This blog was first published on 30th November 2021 for the Association of University Administrators

Universities across the UK were prominent at COP26.

Our students protested and our academics gave evidence. In the most populous of COPs our universities were there. Never before has a COP meeting been such a circus. To those who were there – well done. You ensured that leaders, politicians and civil servants knew just how important all this is.

We saw Glasgow packed and the Glasgow pact signed but just as the final cards were being played our croupier, Alok Sharma, admitted it nearly all fell apart as China and India played aggressive hands and the pact nearly cracked. The phasing down, as opposed to phasing out, of coal was a significant and defining moment for the conference but also the Paris Agreement.

Whilst China has leaned in to the negotiation and insisted on a phasing down of coal it’s surprise statement to work proactively with the USA caught us all out – but it’s noteworthy the big breakthrough on methane – (cutting methane emissions is a low-hanging fruit because the main sources (oil and gas companies) are easily monitored). The US-led deal could cut global emissions by 30 per cent even though Russia, China and India did not sign up.

In amongst the myriad of commitments announced during COP26 the Department for Education published its draft climate change and sustainability strategy and recognises that schools and universities represent 36% of total UK public sector building emissions.

In announcing the draft strategy the Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP, said “Education is critical to fighting climate change. We have both the responsibility and privilege of educating and preparing young people for a changing world – ensuring they are equipped with the right knowledge, understanding and skills to meet their biggest challenge head on”.

But the strategy is light on higher education. It’s a predominantly schools-focused and lacking any clear expectations or signals to universities.

Over the next few months I hope the strategy develops further to recognise the enormous opportunity universities provide for government’s climate change strategy. COP26 showed that universities across the UK are developing new technologies, approaches and techniques to reduce emissions in our urban environments, in agriculture, aviation, land and marine transport, material efficiency, chemistry. Our universities are crucial to understanding not only how to reduce global warming but also how to cope with climate change – adaptation and resilience to future climates is vital. Educating young people and adults throughout their lives is key and enabling society to understand and learn new skills that meet the future green jobs market has to be at the heart of our teaching programmes.

Universities can also show real leadership in how they operate – many have made commitments to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement – and their role as influential players in their towns and cities is never more important as we recover from a global pandemic. Indeed, there is a fantastic opportunity for universities to show real civic leadership together with their local authorities, health trusts and local businesses. There are some great examples out there, including the Universities for Nottingham initiative which my own university has been part of, where by working at scale universities can be a force for good working at scale to make real impact.

I was pleased to see Universities UK publish Confronting the climate emergency: a commitment from UK universities – a strategy that coalesces ambitions to address climate change. 140 universities have committed to climate action and champion the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

We’re seeing universities recognise the important role they want to play in tackling the most pressing of global challenges and it’s no longer a minority sport. It’s time for all facets of our universities to get behind it.

So, what does it mean for our university estates? Without doubt, the challenge of climate change is here right in front of us and we need to respond. We need to:

  • Reduce our contribution to the problem by reducing the amount of energy used from fossil fuels (especially gas). We need to phase out gas fast and move towards renewables in all new construction and refurbishments.
  • Tackle the emissions associated with the consumption of goods and services in our supply chains (which are often 5 or 6 times bigger than our emissions from gas and electricity). This will mean repurposing and retrofitting buildings and protecting the carbon embodied in their structures.
  • Preparing our campuses and supply chains to be more resilient to future climate change.

If we’re going to reduce the carbon impact of our estate, we need to invest heavily and improve glazing and the wider building envelope – walls, roofs and doors as well as the systems that keep the buildings warm or cool. Whilst no one wants high gas prices, the business case for moving to alternatives to gas has never been stronger. I want to see more renewable energy generated on campus and to invest in walking, cycling and public transport as well things like electric vehicle charging points. But how about if a good number of universities came together and invested, collectively, in large scale renewables, such as offshore wind, that would make a big difference. That would be real impact.

Within the UK Higher Education sector every university is already highly engaged on this issue, but the Decarbonising Heat Networks in University Estates reportcarried out by the Association for Decentralised Energy on behalf of the Association (and the Scottish Association) of University Directors of Estates – points to a stark truth. While the UK government has been among the first to establish a clear national target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which in turn has encouraged others including local authorities and universities to make their own similar commitments, it has not yet used every lever at its disposal to draw together the required whole-system approach. It urgently needs to do so.

There is a fantastic opportunity for the Government to make inroads to the UK’s carbon emissions by supporting large organisations like universities. For instance natural gas is responsible for around 60% of carbon emissions in the HE sector and considerable barriers remain for universities to move to low carbon alternatives. Whilst amazing work is being carried out across UK HE in everything from climate science to the practical delivery of new energy-efficient technologies, universities need a public policy framework that gives long term confidence in alternatives to gas, the financial resources for infrastructure investment and the cross-sector links into other public or private sector organisations that would facilitate collaborative action, to achieve the 2050 goal, which is now less than 30 years away.

I hope the higher education sector, with its various representative bodies, such as Universities UK and the Russell Group, BUFDG, AUDE and EAUC, can shape the DfE’s strategy; work with Government to show the potential the sector can bring if the right policies and investments are made; and accelerate the transition we need in enabling our graduates to have the skills to tackle this challenge.

Sheffield’s Green Commitment (Again)

This week saw the publication of ‘Sheffield’s Green Commitment‘ for consultation. The report brings together the outputs from the 12 month plus process led by Cllr Jayne Dunn with the expert input of 14 ‘commissioners’ contributing towards the new vision for Sheffield’s environment:

Sheffield Green Commission – an independent commission made up of 14 individuals from business, industry, the public sector and both Sheffield universities and chaired by Cabinet Member Councillor Jayne Dunn – was tasked with hearing and reviewing written and verbal evidence from a wide range of expert witnesses and using this evidence to make recommendations for securing Sheffield’s environmental, social and economic future.
The final report of the Sheffield Green Commission, “Sheffield’s Green Commitment”, has now been published and we are inviting citywide stakeholders to respond to this report, help develop it further, and set their own firm targets to make this into a deliverable, measurable, programme of change over the next 15-20 years.

The council will develop a city-wide implementation strategy having allowed time for different sector responses arising from the consultation.

The approach borrows from that taken by Birmingham and Liverpool in recent times and was an idea initiated by the former Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Jack Scott, who’s interest, knowledge and commitment to this agenda was both refreshing and unwavering.

In its favour, the process of developing the commitment has given experts the opportunity to provide quality input to the vision, ambition and plan set out. It has also enabled the opportunity for a winder input, through the public hearings, to be made. There is no doubt that the make-up of the commissioners was sound and brought together respected individuals and organisations in an attempt to provide a more holistic vision that knitted together the economic, social and environmental challenges for the city. To its credit, the report mentions an ambition to be ‘smart’ and to address health inequalities.

It’s eminently readable. As a document it’s accessible and could be readily digested in 20 minutes. It’s tried to remain jargon free and understandable. The report headlines 4 principles for its vision of a sustainable city:

  1. A Connected City -A city with transportation systems that are efficient and affordable, reliable and clean, simple and intuitive,networked and integrated, and low-emission. A city digitally connected to reduce avoidable travel. A city where there is a modal-shift towards active travel, where people move more on foot or by cycle, particularly for short-distances of under 5k/3 miles.
  2. Transformative Energy – An energy secure city with transformative affordable,clean, efficient, low-emission, networked, renewable, resilient,simple and locally owned energy solutions.
  3. European Green City – Sheffield is a green city both in its urban core and its surrounding landscape and this is part of its attractiveness and distinctiveness. A city with an accessible, ambitious, bold, biodiverse, equitable and high-quality, well-designed formal and informal landscape that is sustainable to maintain and delivers a myriad of benefits. An outdoor city that provides legacy in terms of its place-making. Green space which when linked together into a permeable network is game-changing for people, and for wildlife. An outdoor city ecosystem.
  4. Learning City – A Core City and Eurocity which, building on its unique resources and capabilities,collaborates with partners in order to innovate and learn from its residents and from others in moving towards a more sustainable future. Sheffield is committed to continuously learning about how to make Sheffield a smart, sustainable future city.

Compare this, then, to the Environmental Excellence Strategy of 2009, signed off less than 7 years ago by the Sheffield First Board, which also had 4 ambitions:

Environmental Excellence is the framework for Sheffield’s sustainable development and the Big Ambition in the City Strategy of Sheffield being,” An Attractive, Sustainable Low Carbon City”. Sheffield aspires to become a world leader on sustainable development with a growing reputation for innovation and creativity in energy and environmental technology industries, strong leadership through the Sheffield First Partnership strategic frameworks and those of its partners.

[Within the Environmental Excellence Strategy.] There are 4 key challenges for environmental excellence and the big ambition of becoming “An Attractive, Sustainable, Low Carbon City”.
These are listed as follows –
1. Realise the ambition for Sheffield to become a low carbon city that adapts effectively to a changing climate and mitigates carbon emissions.
2. Deliver an attractive and effective public transport network providing real opportunities for active, low carbon lifestyles.
3. Sustain Sheffield’s distinctive character and enhance the quality of its built and green environment.
4. Achieve a behavioural shift in consumption patters and waste generation – this involves everyone, householders, businesses as well as the third sector and public sector.

I will leave you to determine how far apart these ambitions are and how much further on the thinking has developed.What can be confirmed though is the commitment of the Sheffield First Environment Partnership in that 2009 paper “to meeting bi-monthly and monitoring progress on the strategy at each meeting, with an annual report and review session with key stakeholders”. There is an apparent lack of governance and ownership over the next steps for the Commitment although the report does say”:

The council will develop a city-wide implementation strategy having allowed time for different sector responses arising from the consultation.

The report comes at an interesting time for the city. Its development has come at a time when the resources available within the City Council are at an all time low. 10 years ago, as Head of Environmental Strategy, I had a team of 8 officers in place to develop the City’s Environmental Excellence Strategy. Today, there are no members of staff identified to deliver this piece of work. They have all been allowed to leave or take on other roles as austerity bites and the Council’s commitment to this agenda wanes. If the City Council is to resource the development of an implementation strategy and monitor it serious consideration is needed about the resource needed to do that and the governance and oversight of it. It wont be enough to leave this to the Council, of course. The launch of the Commitment is a ‘Call to Action’ and needs the commitment, motivation, costs and benefits to be owned by more than the City Council. What role is there here for Sheffield First, the Sheffield City Region, the Chamber of Commerce, the universities and colleges in the city?

As a resident of Sheffield I value the quality of the local environment. It was important to me in choosing a city to locate to and live in. I love the green spaces, the wildlife, the open moorlands that give peace and tranquility. I enjoy the parks that give green lungs to our city and provide enviable places to relax, socialise and enjoy time with friends and family.

I also recognise the city can, and should, make a meaningful contribution to the global agenda too. It can only do that by making bigger, bolder contributions which appear missing from the Commitment. The opportunity to develop citizens of the city through our schools to understand sustainability, climate change, the global ecosystem would help ensure future generations do not repeat the mistakes of the past. To build on the excellence that both Sheffield’s universities offer in this area would further contribute as graduates take that learning to the workplace, or develop new technologies, products and materials for global market places. It’s pleasing then, to see, mention of the Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at The University of Sheffield mentioned.

If I am honest, I don’t see too much new thinking here. Many of the elements in the Commitment are evident in previous strategies. The Transformative Energy ambition references the E.ON 30MW biomass plant and the Veolia district heating network. The former is a recent development and one of a handful of significant heat networks to be developed in the UK. The latter is starting to show it’s age and Veolia’s commitment to it questionable. Schemes to install solar PV on social housing stock or create a municipal energy company in the way Nottingham City Council has have fallen by the wayside. The resources within the Council to develop new projects are virtually zero.

Similarly, the vision and ambition for transport still relies on things the City has been talking about for years and just not developed. No mention of tram extensions; no real commitment to low emission vehicles or the policies to promote air quality improvements. The language in the report (see page 10) where ‘organisations with large return to base fleet (such as the NHS and local authority and their sub-contractors) consider the feasibility, and possible benefits, of using clean vehicle technology” is weak. Where vision and commitment is needed the Commitment requires consideration of the possibility when the City needs action.

So, what next? The Commitment smacks of motherhood and apple pie. It says great things but not even the City Council is committing to anything new here. In fact, it’s diluting commitments it has made in previous policies. Who’s going to sign up to this document? What will they commit? What difference will it make? If they don’t deliver, what are the consequences?

The process of developing this Commitment was, unquestionably, valuable. I am sure, by engaging stakeholders in the debate and the discussion there was a better understanding of the need and the solutions. The City is inviting comment and I would encourage you to do so by going to this website: https://sheffield.citizenspace.com/place-business-strategy/sheffield-green-commission

I would encourage you to comment not only on the governance but also on the content of the Commitment. I will be making comment – particularly where I see gaps in its scope, not least around climate adaptation (resilience is fleetingly mentioned).

 

 

 

#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.

 

How to ensure governments stick to their Paris climate commitments

There was a great piece written and published in The Conversation today –  How to ensure governments stick to their Paris climate commitments.

Earlier this year I wrote “… the UN Climate Talks present a challenge to draft and agree a meaningful commitment that supersedes the Kyoto Protocol. Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. That hasn’t been forthcoming.

More recently a considered group of esteemed universities, colleges and educational institutions lay a challenge to COP21 – “The collective voice of the world’s universities, colleges and students will be heard at COP21COP21. The United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in Paris, France during the first week of December. In an open letter they remind us of “the critical role universities and colleges play in finding and implementing solutions towards climate change mitigation and adaptation and places it in the context of addressing wider issues of sustainability, including social and economic policies and practices.”

More than 146 countries covering 87% of global greenhouse gas emissions have now submitted their national pledges to tackle climate change in advance of the major climate summit in Paris. These are known as Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions. Note the language: these aren’t commitments and are only “intended”.

But will countries stick to these pledges? And what happens if they don’t? Read the full piece by Peter Newell of The University of Sussex.

Committee on Climate Change Challenge SoS on Commitment

The Government’s department responsible for energy and climate change has been seen to produce a number of statements in recent months that, on the face of it, sweep away commitments to renewables and pave the way for nuclear and fracking solutions.

To its credit, the UK Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee has launched three inquiries into the Conservative Government’s track record on the low-carbon economy and potential policy options going forward. The Committee’s Chairman, Lord Deben, recently wrote to The Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to request further clarity about the direction of UK low-carbon policy. 

The UK’s ability to meet carbon budgets at least cost depends on firms and households making long-term investments and decisions based on how they think UK policy will unfold over a 10-15 year period. From that perspective, the announcements potentially present problems as the cumulative impression has been of a weakening of the policy framework.

The final consultation of a three pronged approach will be dedicated to looking into the country’s energy infrastructure, including decentralised energies such as district heating and combined heat and power.

Air Quality Remains Poor – But the Blame has Shifted to the Car Manufacturers

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Air quality in cities has been increasingly poor for years. Sustainable cities need great air quality. As regulation tightened on industrial emissions from factories, construction and combustion the predominant source of particulate matter, sulphur, NOx and ozone shifted to combustion engines in vehicles.

Earlier this year I blogged ‘At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution’. The blame, at that time, was squarely on the British Government for failing to deliver on the legislation originating from Brussels.

Two years ago I suggested (in light of the Government’s electric car strategy) ‘There is good news in it – especially the announcement of £500m to be made available over the next parliament to support electric cars. However, there are clear problems with this strategy so Labour has an opportunity to set out its own, more radical, agenda. With the Labour Group in conference in Brighton – heartland of the Green Party, I wonder whether Corbyn will be willing to make some bold commitments – not least because last week we saw the blame shift from the Government to the manufacturers. It’s akin to blaming the bankers for providing the cash to everyone who wanted to borrow. If you want to buy a car, buy one – you’d think you were safe in the knowledge there are people monitoring the performance of cars in the same way there are watchdogs guarding the banks.

Today, in conference, Labour committed to getting the taxes owed by Starbucks, Google and others. Maybe tomorrow they’ll commit to ensuring multi-national car manufacturers will be brought to book for not just failing, downright deceptively avoiding, standards.

Government will be quick to confuse the issues of legislation, choice and deception. Government will suggest the cause of the issue is entirely down to the poor performance of new vehicles coming on to the market, a la VW. There isn’t many places the car manufacturers can go other than to fall on their catalytic convertors but the hiding place for national and local government wont be long lived.

If government’s don’t tighten up their regulation of the automakers and air quality there is only one loser – us. If government’s do respond we can see better vehicle technology deployed, an accelerated shift towards electric, gas and hydrogen engines and, as a result, cleaner air.

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Read also: http://www.citiesofthefuture.eu/volkswagen-cheating-an-opportunity-for-cities/

If only everything in life was as reliable as a … oh.

In the first blog I contributed to ‘Sustainable Smart Cities’ I wrote about the known impacts of poor air quality – particularly in urban areas. In that blog it said:

A report ‘Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom’  (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2040416) states ‘Combustion emissions are a major contributor to degradation of air quality and pose a risk to human health. We evaluate and apply a multiscale air quality modeling system to assess the impact of combustion emissions on UK air quality. Epidemiological evidence is used to quantitatively relate PM2.5 exposure to risk of early death. We find that UK combustion emissions cause 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional 6000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions.

In the EU, with a raft of legislation and Directives, there was frustration that nation states were failing to put in place the policies that would drive local air quality improvement. Local government would be nervous of introducing any policies that were considered ‘anti-business’ or ‘anti-car’ for fear of losing votes. National governments just ran scared of dictating uniform standards and policies. But there was hope. There was an increasing growth in electric vehicles, hydrogen technology, and compressed natural gas. Major hauliers have moved away from diesel and reaped the rewards. However, whilst there were tax incentives for motorists for lower emission vehicles there was always going to be an uptake of diesel and its growth in the UK has been in direct response to that.

We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxide (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

But, overall, the policy makers have been weak to press harder despite the fines from Brussels hanging over Member States for whom air quality improvements have yet to be realised.

The growth in diesel vehicles by number has probably masked the very fact that has been exposed this week – that it is in the interests of car manufacturers to ‘fiddle’ the system to ensure in tests their vehicles pass the emissions tests. But in reality, on the roads, they are performing knowhere near where they say they are and a dirty, choking country mile from where they need to be. Don’t think either that it’s just diesel. Petrol, whilst more refined, is not much better and the real challenge is to switch from petroleum based products altogether.

The revelation that the respected car manufacturer, Volkswagen, has been ‘fiddling’ has brought a backlash that meant the CEO walked. The company’s credentials for reliability smashed by the story breaking. They wont be alone, surely. In a report ‘Don’t Breathe Here: Tackling Air Pollution from Vehicles’ – T&E analyses the reasons for and solutions to air pollution caused by diesel machines and cars – the worst of which, an Audi, emitted 22 times the allowed EU limit. In fact, every major car manufacturer is selling diesel cars that fail to meet EU air pollution limits on the road in Europe, according to data obtained by T&E.

As a consequence of this and emissions from diesel machines, much urban air in Europe is not fit to breathe. The high levels of particles, nitrogen oxides and unburned fuel create a cocktail of harmful pollution. The effects are half a million premature deaths each year; a quarter of a million hospital admissions; and 100 million lost working days cumulatively costing over €900 billion.

The regulators in whom we trust have been undone in the US and, who knows, in the EU too. So why is it that it we are surprised? The Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment aren’t. They have long been among those highlighting the fact that the real world experience of many car owners, even in terms of fuel consumption, did not come anywhere near to the official figures that resulted from emissions testing.  The question arises of why it takes underfunded NGOs to discover these problems, rather than the regulators themselves.

Now that the truth is out will politicians respond and toughen up? Will the outcry and outrage of the car-driving public demand politicians sort things out? Or will they, like they did with the banking industry, simply wait for the dust, particulates, NOx and ozone to settle and let the auto industry carry on the way it has?

Source: How Volkswagen got caught cheating emissions tests by a clean air NGO

Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change 

Two highly respected commentators and influencers in the world of city devolution and governance have come to the fore this week. As the House of Lords finished its work, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution (for which the LGA provides the secretariat) launched a ‘far-reaching’ inquiry on devolution and constitutional reform. The inquiry is to be led by Lord Kerslake, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who told us: “The work, so far, has been encouraging. We’ve had some very good names come forward to join the panel and a willingness of some quite senior people to give evidence as well.

“The feedback that I have had is that this is a positive step and could help move devolution on really in every form.”

Whilst Lord Kerslake is a formidable negotiator and well versed in the politics of cities there is an altogether more tub-thumping and positive, outcome led call to arms from Mayor Bloomberg.

“‘The world’s first Metropolitan Generation is coming of age, and as a result, the world will be shaped increasingly by metropolitan values: industriousness, creativity, entrepreneurialism, and, most important, liberty and diversity. That is a hopeful development for humanity, and an overpowering counterweight to the forces of repression and intolerance that arise out of religious fanaticism and that now pose a grave threat to the security of democratic nations… As those in the Metropolitan Generation assume leadership positions, cities will become not just more culturally significant but also more politically powerful.” 

In particular, Bloomberg cites the challenge of global warming to which cities, in the absence of national and even State governments, must respond.

Climate change calls on societies to act quickly, and cities tend to be more nimble than national governments, which are more likely to be captured or neutralized by special interest groups and which tend to view problems through an ideological, rather than a pragmatic, lens. 

For mayors, reducing carbon pollution is not an economic cost; it is a competitive necessity. Earlier this year, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants because any marginal financial benefit they offered was swamped by their net costs, including those of health care and forgone economic investment. Dirty air is a major liability for a city’s business environment.

Urban leadership on climate change has also led to an unprecedented level of cooperation among cities. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, for which I serve as president of the board, has brought together more than 75 cities committed to sharing best practices and spreading proven solutions. The evidence is clear that this networking strategy is working, as many carbon-reduction projects have spread to cities across the globe. For instance, only six C40 cities had bike-sharing programs in 2011. By 2013, 36 had them. As London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said in 2013, “By sharing best practice through C40—and shamelessly appropriating other cities’ best ideas—we can take action on climate change and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

 

Source: Michael Bloomberg | Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change | Foreign Affairs

Source: Lord Kerslake: ‘Immense challenge’ to empower local communities and cities

Disquiet among Danish city’s residents over Apple district heating deal

Whilst cities continue to take the lead on district heating development, the Danish town of Viborg is unhappy about what they believe is a lack of transparency surrounding a planned data centre, which had been supposed to provide district heating for residents. Indeed, in the UK, the consumer watchdog, Which?, has been calling for consumer protection and it seems like the residents in Denmark would welcome it.

On the back of the recent UNEP report promoting district energy, this is one of those difficult issues that needs to be addressed in the modern 21st century schemes.

It’s very likely that the town is paying the price for being one of the early movers in the integration of data centre development and district heating. Many have been supportive of the concept of capturing purged heat from high density computers for the benefit of those living nearby and high latitude countries remain attractive to the likes of Apple where they can reduce costs of overheating with lower ambient temperatures. Equally, local residents in these high latitude towns demand heat to warm homes and businesses. Sounds like a win-win. Except it’s clear that unless there is transparency over who pays for, and who owns, what there will be legal and financial challenge.

You can read my thoughts on ‘4th Generation Heat Networks‘ and an earlier blog on transparency in district and communal heat network data.

Source: Disquiet among Danish city’s residents over Apple district heating deal

Improving climate change communications: moving beyond scientific certainty

The University of Nottingham has just blogged a great piece which reaffirms the challenge of engaging more effectively on the causes and effects of climate change and how to help people understand what they can do to mitigate and adapt to climate change now and in the future. My experience is this is a really tough thing to achieve. Unless somebody has direct experience of the effects of climate change (such as a flood, or heatwave or similar) they fail to believe it will have any effect in their lifetime.

Dr Pearce says: “Climate science draws on evidence over hundreds of years, way outside of our everyday experience. During the press conference, scientists attempted to supplement this rather abstract knowledge by emphasising a short-term example: that the decade from 2001 onwards was the warmest that had ever been seen. On the surface, this appeared a reasonable communications strategy.

“Unfortunately, a switch to shorter periods of time made it harder to dismiss media questions about short-term uncertainties in climate science, such as the so-called ‘pause’ in the rate of increase in global mean surface temperature since the late 1990s. The fact that scientists go on to dismiss the journalists’ concerns about the pause – when they themselves drew upon a similar short-term example – made their position inconsistent and led to confusion within the press conference.”

This short termism and, for want of a better expression, disbelief, meant it was incredibly difficult to engage decision makers, let alone the general public, in this debate. DEFRA, for the UK Government, has plenty of evidence and data about the causes and effects of climate change but they have been unable to help people understand what it means for them as individuals, communities, businesses.

Expertise in the field of social marketing does exist. The last Government’s ‘Nudge Unit’ acknowledged this but was often met with a cynical ‘Big Brother’ stance. But look at the good work that has happened in the field of health (@divacreative) and climate change () as examples of where it does work – but you need to take a long term and sustained view to achieve it.

The full press release is here and a blog by Warren Pearce is here:

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