MPs call for councils to have power to create clean air zones

MPs in the UK are finally coming to terms with the need to address air quality in our towns and cities. They ask that clean air zones should be introduced in UK cities to tackle the problems caused by air pollution, according to a new report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

The new report warned that air pollution is a “public health emergency”, linked to the early deaths of 40,000–50,000 people every year from cardiac, respiratory and other diseases, as well as harming the environment and agriculture.

It also found European Union limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution were breached in 38 out of 43 UK areas.

It’s all well and good for this call to come but it’s not going to be the UK Government, nor its MPs who set the policy or invest in the infrastructure needed. It will be the local councils, the Metropolitan authorities and city councils who will be tasked with that.

I blogged on this almost three years ago (see here) “here is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue seriously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem”.

These local authorities, at a time when money is short to invest and when they are wholly reliant on income from, for example, car parking charges, will be required to introduce policies which many of their electorate will find unpopular – such as restricting diesel vehicles in areas where pollution is already high. This might include taxis (wait for the Uber-lobby), buses (wait for the public transport lobby), trucks (wait for the Chambers and Business ‘leaders’ lobby) and, of course, the electorate to vote accordingly.

Interesting timing then, that this should be put on the table now, one week from local elections. How many people will choose who they vote for based on their commitment to improved air quality? Well, in London, Khan, Goldsmith et al are being pushed on it so it’s only a matter of time before other cities such as Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield all face it becoming a manifesto challenge.

For years local politicians have called for the Government to take the policy lead on this. If they do there will be nowhere to hide for local councillors and they will have no more excuses to put off measures that will see local air quality improve.

You can read my thoughts of some three years back (https://aardvarknoseface.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/sustainable-cities-need-low-emission-vehicles/). In summary though, local authorities have got to redress the balance between walking, cycling and the car. Investment in public transport (and not dirty 25 year old diesel buses) and infrastructure for refuelling low emission engines (preferably electric, gas and hydrogen) with the right policy incentives is absolutely central to this debate.

Who wouldn’t vote for a cleaner, pedestrian/cyclist friendly city centre afterall?

Source:

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.

 

 

 

“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’?

 

Three Commissions – One Outcome?

I wrote a recent blog about the use of commissions in helping cities form and develop visions, strategies, policy. Often this has been in response to two key factors:
– addressing the perception that policy is not co-designed with the citizens of the city the officials are representing; and
– the lack of policy and strategy capacity within local authorities who have prioritised investment in front line services at the cost of those teams who look further ahead beyond the current financial horizon of ‘end-of-year’.

I promote this as the City of Sheffield – my home city – promotes its latest activity of the Fairness Commission (http://www.ourfaircity.co.uk/ and follow on twitter via https://twitter.com/FairSheffield) – challenging individuals and organisations to demonstrate their commitment to a fair and equal society.

https://aardvarknoseface.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/sustainable-cities-commissions/

This sits alongside two further activities – the City’s Green Commission (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/policy–performance/green-commission.html) and the city’s economic commission.

To take such an approach is noble, open and engaging when undertaken well. The challenge will be to identify the ‘sweet spots’ where the outcomes of the three commissions land on the same priorities and actions – but, even more importantly to reconcile the conflicts between ambitions where they occur. This is where a maturity of elected members comes in to play. These decisions are the crucial ones. Is priority given to local environmental quality, health or economy? Does the city prioritise global environmental impact over local economic growth? These decisions remain difficult but those decision takers should use the commissions they have brought together to ensure they have an expert input to a robust argument informing their recommendations and decisions.

Only when you get in to these difficult spaces and conversations do you add real value. It would be a pity of the commissions are cosmetic and only airbrush over the issues for this generation and give the future generations of Sheffield no chance at all.

My suggestion is, at the end of this commissioning process, a symposium for the city is convened to draw together and debate both the opportunities that have been identified and where conflicts need to be reconciled. It should be Chaired by an independent member to whom the Chairs of the three commissions report their findings. It would prove to be an effective way of re-engaging with the wider stakeholders – not just those who have been involved in the process of the individual commissions. Only then can a clearer vision for the city be set out with confidence.

My hope is the city doesn’t fudge this and try and be all things to all people. It needs to differentiate itself. It can only do that through a process of prioritisation with an outcome that makes it a distinctly different place that people can identify with. Otherwise it will be simply re-providing every other city of half a million people in western Europe. And it is better than that.

Simon Anholt: Which country does the most good for the world?

Simon Anholt: Which country does the most good for the world? | Talk Video | TED.com.

Just got round to watching the policy advisor, Simon Anholt, on TED.COM who has dreamed up an unusual scale to get governments thinking outwardly: The Good Country Index. In a riveting and funny talk, he answers the question, “Which country does the most good?”

Globalisation means a greater need for global solutions to global challenges underpinned by collaboration. Will you vote for politicians who will support this agenda?

Simon Anholt: Which country does the most good for the world? | Talk Video | TED.com.