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.

 

Why we need a COP21 or: how scientists know climate change is happening

Paris remains prominent in the news, thankfully, this time it’s because the world’s leaders are in the city to discuss how we’ll avoid dangerous climate change.

It comes on the back of the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals which I drafted a blog on a few weeks back. This is the first big test of those SDGs in my opinion. I mean, if the SDGs can’t be translated into meaningful commitments towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions what is the point of the SDGs at all?

Let’s hope those world leaders come away with something meaningful. Let’s hope the debacle of Copenhagen 2009 is avoided. Let’s hope that developing and developed nations can work collaboratively to achieve this objective. If not, we’re doomed.

How do we know? Well as Professor of Climatology at University College London, explains – we do know climate change is happening. In fact, I urge you to read this superbly succinct piece to remind yourself of exactly what is known about the causes and the effects.

Source: Explainer: how scientists know climate change is happening

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.

People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership – Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

At the end of September the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed and published.  They will come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, the idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development and place greater emphasis on three key issues that were missing previously: the role of women; the importance of education; and the focus on cities.

All of this is hard to argue with of course but it is worth remembering we are now fast approaching another critical conference in Paris where 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.
Not only that, it is clear the pace of negotiations is troubling. With just weeks remaining all Parties were almost unanimous in acknowledging that progress was insufficient. “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies” said Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit.

The United Nations definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Previous dialogues on sustainability have more or less focused on climate change and environmental issues, but the new paradigm of sustainability includes all efforts towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and the planet. There is a significant departure from the previous framework to now include a “harmonising” of three elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Politically Led

The document is considered a political statement not a technical solution. Criticism that there are too many goals and targets is understandable but the SDGs cover a much broader range of issues than the MDGs. The millennium goals only covered “safe” themes such as poverty, primary education and child mortality. The SDGS weigh in on more meaty topics, such as governance, institutions, human rights, inequality, ageing, peace and climate change. The inclusive, detailed international negotiations have involved middle income and low income countries and as a result they are universal , holistic and ambitious –  the product of the 7m people who have given their views.

That said, not everyone agrees with the goals. Medical journal The Lancet, for example, describes them as “fairy tales, dressed in the bureaucrats of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis, and poisoned by the acid of nation-state failure”.

This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. Putting people first is undoubtedly a strategic signal that global population, health and sanitation will top the list of priorities, but for the first time there is an explicit commitment towards education, something welcomed by a wide group of expert practitioners including The Global Alliance of Tertiary Education Sustainability Networks who wrote an open letter to present to the Chair of COP21 in Paris this December.

Whilst the ‘western’ approach to education for sustainable development has largely been focused on environmentalism, Iain Patton, CEO of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges who are a key player in the Global Alliance, believes there ‘will [be] benefit from this wider and more inclusive perspective … it’s no longer just about a nice green lifestyle but about international hunger, injustice and poverty’.

The new Global Goals say to us in the north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe’, says Patton. ‘It’s a reminder that the pursuit of prosperity isn’t just something for people far away to worry about’.

A New Prominence for Cities

It is arguably the eleventh goal, SDG 11, and its promotion of safer, more inclusive and resilient cities that makes them genuinely revolutionary. After all, two thirds of humanity will reside in urban settings by 2030 and by 2050, roughly 6.4 billion people – almost the equivalent of the planet’s current population – will live in a city. SDG 11 calls for greater investment in infrastructure, governance and safety in all urban spaces and human settlements, including slums, shanty-towns, ghettos and favelas of the world’s most fragile cities. The focus on informal settlements is crucial since the proportion of people living in slums is massive, and growing. There are already around 1 billion people living in slums today, as compared to 650 million in 1990. This population will grow to almost 2 billion over the next three decades.

Steve Turner, a city policy maker in Manchester believes overall the ‘goals are valuable in generating a ‘shared’ vision, providing some form of collective view of where we want to be going’. But he, like many, recognises that whilst the SDGs and the Climate Treaty are drafted, agreed and published by UN Members they will not be delivered by the UN or even national governments, but rather at the city/metro level where the Commission are not the delivery agents.

Critically, Turner recognises that without an effective mechanism for enforcement they can be ‘ineffectual’, ‘if we are serious about this then there needs to be an injection of rigour around their delivery.’

The UN recognises this and the targets will be reviewed systematically using a set of global, largely quantitative, indicators. These will be developed by a specially convened Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed subsequently by the UN Statistical Commission as well as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Each nation and region will then go on to develop its own indicators.

Whilst the stats, numbers and measures might all sound rather clunky and dull, the SDGs give us an unparalleled opportunity to shape the international and national development agenda.

Women and Education – Fundamental to the SDGs

For example, much greater emphasis has been placed on the role of women and their access to education around the world. Whilst the rhetoric of the Sustainable Development Goals is laudable they are criticised for not garnering the financial commitment to achieve it. “In order for the SDGs to be met, implementation and financing plans must address inequalities and human rights, especially for women and girls. The financing plan being advocated by the US and other northern countries will merely uphold the world we have and not get us to the world we want,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

Like re-taking your marriage vows, the Sustainable Development Goals re-state the importance of those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 and, with the benefit of hindsight, experience and in the light of a rapidly changing world, reaffirm those commitments. So, are the Sustainable Development Goals the world’s biggest promise…. or the world’s biggest lie? Will the SDGs really re-shape the plans and behaviours of nations, multilateral institutions, companies, development organisations and people, to make the world a fairer and more sustainable place?

Many believe the goals have helped to direct public policies and budgets towards the poorest and are recognised as important drivers of international policy which ensure that national governments maintain a commitment to these global challenges.

Eddie Murphy, a respected sustainability expert at Mott MacDonald believes that ‘the MDGs have had some impact on driving governments to put in place legislative interventions to implement positive impacts, and this has helped the green agenda’.

In addition to the evidence about indicators, the MDGs created a real ‘hook’ that kept global poverty on national and international agendas.  Annual multilateral reviews of achievement; the MDGs + 5 and MDGs + 10, UN General Assembly meetings; and numerous regional and national meetings meant that poverty reduction received much greater attention around the world than it had in the past. At the same time, there are perfectly plausible arguments that most of the numerical progress made wasn’t a direct consequence of the MDGs, and that critical promises were broken.

It’s [Not] All About the Economy [But]

Amongst the financial recessions that have hit globally perhaps the MDGs have maintained at least some profile for the environmental agenda. Teresa Hitchock, a Partner in DLA Piper UK LLP and Head Safety, Health and Environment believes the Millennium Development Goals fell short of achieving their objectives in the face of other world crises such as terrorism , ebola and the Syrian conflict.  She believes ‘sustainability is still seen as the second cousin to immediate pressures’ and hopes the SDGs will redress that.

Many believe that whilst governments and policy makers have been active they have been unable, or unwilling, to lock-in business benefits to achieving the goals set out. Whilst there is a strong human rights agenda emerging there is a growing belief the SDGs must concentrate on making sustainability good business sense. This is a view shared by Paul Caulfield, Director of the MBA in CSR at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at The University of Nottingham Business School. He sees ‘the main objective of SDGs as being to provide a common language and currency for business strategies’ so that what makes good business sense is doing the right thing. Are you listening Volkswagen?

Ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris it’s reassuring that SDG 13 states the need to ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ including the commitment to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards and natural disasters in all countries ; integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning; improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning; a implement the commitment undertaken by developed country Parties to the UNFCCC to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible; and to promote mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change related planning and management, in LDCs, including focusing on women, youth, local and marginalized communities.

That sounds like a pretty sound framework – making it absolutely crystal clear that the delivery of Goal 13 is, in no doubt, dependent on some concerted effort and commitment at those talks.

The new SDGs bring together people, organisations and governments committing to reducing poverty and inequality, moving towards environmental sustainability and promoting social justice.  What’s not to like? The ambition is great, so let’s not do them down for that. If even half of the SDGs were achieved then by 2030 we should be living in a better world.

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.

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

District energy in cities – UNEP Report

The development of ‘modern’ district energy (DE) systems is one of the best options, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a new publication: District energy in cities – unlocking the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Launched at the International District Energy Association’s (IDEA’s) annual conference last month, the report calls for the accelerated deployment of DE systems around the world. The full report is available here.

 

The District Energy in Cities Initiative will support national and municipal governments in their efforts to develop, retrofit or scale up district energy systems, with backing from international and financial partners and the private sector. The initiative will bring together cities, academia, technology providers and financial institutions in a joint ambition to build the necessary capacity and transfer of know-how while engaging all stakeholders and reducing emissions. Twinning between cities – matching champion ones with learned ones will be a key component of the new district energy in cities initiative to scale up lessons learned and best practices.

 

19 cities around the world have indicated interest in joining the initiative. In addition to Danfoss, eleven other private sector and industry associations’ partners commit to contribute technical. In addition to UNEP, six intergovernmental and government organisations as well as networks are interested to support the new initiative and to facilitate technological expertise. This new initiative is being co-ordinated by UNEP and Danfoss with lead partners ICLEI and UN-Habitat. A key finding was that LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE UNIQUELY POSITIONED TO ADVANCE DISTRICT ENERGY SYSTEMS in their various capacities as planners and regulators, as facilitators of finance, as role models and advocates, and as large consumers of energy and providers of infrastructure and services (e.g., energy, transport, housing, waste collection, and wastewater treatment). This was something I wrote about in previous blogs on this site. See: Waste, Steam and District Heating in Nottingham; Can we be transparent on District Heat Data?; 4th Generation Heat Networks; Cities Take the Lead on District Energy