A Grey, Blue, Green Implementation Spectrum

This is my second blog on the Sheffield Green Commission. 

With time to re-read, reflect and review the output of the Green Commission, would like to make the following observations:

  1. The report covers 4 key areas – ‘Connected City’; ‘Transformative Energy’; ‘European Green City’; and ‘Learning City’.
  2. It’s been facilitated by the City Council and co-Chaired by a City Councillor but has no new policy commitments from the City Council within it (nor any real commitment to develop new policy).
  3. It makes recommendations but it’s not clear who will follow through these proposals and has neither incentives nor sanctions for those acting (or failing to) on them.
  4. The scope is laudable, comprehensive and builds on the City’s strengths but ignores some difficult areas and conflicts.
  5. The Commissioners involved in the process are respected, knowledgeable and committed to the City but they have no levers, influence or clout to deliver their work – other than their own personal commitment to this agenda.
  6. The recommendations are written as if the people of Sheffield have a choice and there is a ‘policy-on’ or ‘policy-off’ choice. There isn’t. Successful cities have embraced the kind of recommendations proposed here. They’ve demonstrated how the social, economic and environmental commitments made are mutually reinforcing and effective.
  7. Sadly, there appears to be little input from the private sector and its representative bodies, with the notable exception of E.on, Veolia and Amey – two of whom are contractually linked to the City Council. The Chamber of Commerce representative left the Commission before the concluding report was published.
  8. The report is written in a passive, hopeful voice. It, too often, suggests ‘Sheffield considers’ and ought to have a few more verbs in it – strategy and policy are good, but there needs to be a sense of action, with timeframes.

Whilst this might sound critical, there is much to like on the visioning. A highly connected city, with smart ambitions, commitment to public transport, walking and cycling with smart cards and high speed internet connectivity sounds wonderful. Imagine a city where everyone can get where they want to, when they want to, how they want to without creating choking air pollution or pumping more Co2 in to the atmosphere. Sounds great.

I love the vision of a learning city where Sheffield actively engages with its UK city counterparts through Core Cities and with leading European Cities through the Eurocities network, bringing knowledge, experience and opportunity to benefit the citizens and businesses of Sheffield. Sadly the City Council’s commitment to the Core Cities Energy & Climate Change work has been inconsistent in the past 2-3 years and its involvement in Eurocities weak. Officers fail to attend or bring back the lessons learned.

At last, Sheffield is recognising that its green assets should form the central core of its ambitions – but recognising it must invest less in grey infrastructure and consider blue space, water and its ability to adapt to future climate change.

Lastly, who wouldn’t want a city more resilient to the frailties of the UK Government’s weak energy policy. More investment in localised energy generation and distribution of both heat and power is the cornerstone of any successful city. There are some interesting ideas posed in the report about ways in which finance can be raised to invest and references Bristol’s work in this area. I would suggest that other cities are also acknowledged – not just to borrow ideas but to give the confidence to decision makers to get on and make this happen. Nottingham is buying gas and electricity wholesale and acting as a supplier through its Robin Hood Energy Company to pass on those benefits to its citizens.

In my previous blog I wrote about my concerns for the lack of governance and monitoring of implementation. The report is honest in its appraisal of what is needed but the City is kidding itself if it thinks it’s really committed politically. It’s not the politicians fault either. Successively, over the last 5 years the expertise the city had has been allowed to retire, retreat or just fade away leaving fewer and fewer to do what the Council does best: govern. Even if all recommendations are supported there is no-one left to oversee their implementation. None of the City Council’s own employees lasted the duration of the Commission – at the end of the process there wasn’t a City Council officer – just the co-Chair, Cllr Jayne Dunn – to take the next steps.

The Council has several roles it can play, but fundamentally it can take direct action by commissioning, contracting and writing and implementing policy; or it can make things happen indirectly by facilitating investment, derisking it and working with the private sector (such as happened with the E.ON investment in the Lower Don Valley). Unlike previous policies this paper doesn’t commit what the role of the Council should be. Sadly, in times of reducing resources I fear the City Council will keep its head down and hope this all blows over.

Any of you who know me personally and/or professionally will know I am positive, optimistic and supportive of good ideas. There is much to like in this report in terms of vision and ambition. But until there are clear policy commitments to tackling carbon emissions, investing in blue infrastructure, air quality and to smart city ambitions I am afraid this will be just another document. The commissioners involved in this process deserve the elected Members of Council to show real commitment to delivering this. Time to step up SCC.

You should read the report and can contribute your own thoughts to the consultation here.

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The Department of Changed

Consider that 3.2 billion people —nearly half the planet’s population at the time—watched the last World Cup soccer tournament at some point; one billion tuned in just for the final game.

Even more—over half the planet–watched the Beijing Olympics, 4.4 billion; the largest population to ever watch anything in the history of mankind.

In both cases, what people saw was sports. In both cases, the games featured major sustainability stories—and not even a fraction of the viewers knew about them.

In Brazil, the World Cup tried but failed to reach the sustainability goals within its grasp.

On the other hand, the Beijing Olympics broke many sustainability barriers, despite the challenging air pollution problems faced there. In the game’s’ aftermath,  China has started to phase out all coal-fired power plants nationwide.

Source: The Department of Changed

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

But transformational investments are needed. 4 key ones are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cities recognised as having a key role in this challenge.

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

 

 

 

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

“Fundamentally, I want energy policy to be boring”. Oh.

I’ve just read Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy (Source: Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy – Speeches – GOV.UK). I have to say, nothing in it surprised me. She wants it to be boring. I’d like it to be a little more enthusiastic, exciting and innovative. It chimes with the Conservative approach to energy policy we’ve seen before. It even celebrates the sell-off of the UK’s energy assets.

So, read the speech and make up your own mind, but there were some [amusingly?] redacted ‘political content’ that didn’t make it and then it was a case of ‘Tory Bingo’ with some common phrases – these all made it in:

  1. This Government is focused on securing a better future for Britain.
  2. We’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports.
  3. We know competition works. It keeps costs low and can deliver a clean and reliable energy system.
  4. It’s about the long term security of our energy supply. And my view is that is best served through open, competitive markets.
  5. And I can say to Europe that Britain stands ready to help make this vision a reality.
  6. Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable.
  7. So our approach will be different – we will not support offshore wind at any cost.

The bits I expected to see were all there:

It’s pro-nuclear, pro-fracking. With regard to heat: “We will set out our approach next year, as part of our strategy to meet our carbon budgets.” Disappointing given the good work done by DECC on its Heat Strategy not so long ago – and still a long way down the contents of her speech unfortunately. Pleasingly: To set an example to the rest of the world, the UK also has to focus on where we can get the biggest carbon cuts, swiftly and cheaply … and Innovative, new suppliers, which range from start-ups to local authorities, are demonstrating how competition is working for people.

Deep, deep in the statement a final mention for energy efficiency: More than 1.2 million households are seeing lower bills due to energy efficiency improvements over the last 5 years. We are committed to ensuring a million more get the same benefits by the end of this Parliament. But no mention of the Green Deal, the commercial opportunities in energy efficiency nor the links with housing policy.

Boring? Is that the same as ‘unsurprising’?