Thursday, March 29, 2007

Contraction and Convergence: An Incontestable Truth

You've watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, now here is the sequel - An Incontestable Truth. I attended the launch of the DVD by Colin Challen MP of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change yesterday. The DVD and online video explains a simpler way forward for determining global use and limitation of carbon emissions. Don't be put off by the term, Contraction and Convergence - it sounds complicated, but it's not. At heart it is a beautifully simple and equitable concept.

Contraction and Convergence is supported by the likes of eminent environmentalists, such as Sir Oliver Tickell, writers such as Mark Lynas and the insurance industry (who clearly have a vested interest in making sure we get it right!). Hear the simple theory explained and various individuals talking as to why they believe the Contraction and Convergence is the just, equitable and necessary way forward for Post Kyoto Protocol negotiations. It's online now at: An Incontestable Truth.

Increasing our CO2 emissions is comparable to water pouring from the tap and filling a bath. The bath is like the atmosphere from where the emissions are accumulating - and without pulling the plug, the water will not drain away. That is what is happening now. The plug is firmly stuck - which normally allows the CO2 emissions to drain away. Thus, just as CO2 emission are threatening our environmental stability, so the flow of water is threatening to overwhelm. The only way to ensure that the bath does not overflow is to turn off the tap soon enough. Same with CO2 - we have to stop the increase of emissions. That's where Contraction and Convergence comes in.

The key focus of Contraction and Convergence is the stabilisation levels for CO2 emissions in the atmospheres - how high the bath water should be allowed to go. Once that's worked out then you can negotiate between countries as to how much each country should have on a per capita basis. In other words, one unit per person. Those countries that use less (developing nations at most risk of climate disaster) than their units allocated, can sell them to countries that use more, and can use the money to invest in zero carbon technologies.

That is what Contraction and Convergence is designed to achieve - an international agreement for that purpose. An equitable, just, simple and fair system.

Watch the video and as all MP's have been sent a DVD, ask your local MP to support it. And if they do not - demand to know why not.

C&C video: An Incontestable Truth

Friday, March 23, 2007

Budget 2007

Gordy's green measures in a nutshell:

• Duty on fuel will rise by two pence per litter (ppl) for 2007-8, with the change being deferred until 1 October 2007 (which will continue until 2009)
• Vehicle excess duty (VED) will be increased on the most polluting cars (band G) to £300 in 2007-8 and £400 in 2008-9
• Low carbon vehicles in band B will be subjected to a reduced VED of £35
• 20ppl biofuels incentive has been extended until 2009-10

• Tax breaks on Liquid Petroleum Gas will be increased
• Rules will be relaxed to help small biofuel producers bring products to market and remain efficient
• A two per cent discount will be given to company cars using hi-blend bioethanol will be permanently reduced on biofuels used in off road transport such as trains.

• Householders generating their own wind or solar power through the use of technology, and selling it back to the electricity companies, will not be subject to either income or capital gains tax on any payments received
• An additional £6 million will be used to help develop low carbon homes
• Pensioners without a central heating system can receive an additional discount of up £300 when installing a new system
• Any new home (up to the value of £500,000) deemed to be "zero-carbon" will be exempt from stamp duty
• Any homes meeting this criteria over £500,000 will receive a reduction in stamp duty of £15,000

• From 1 April 2008, until at least 2010-11 the standard rate of landfill tax will be increased by £8 per tonne
• The lower rate which applies to inactive waste will also be increased to £2.50 per tonne
• The fund available to redress the cost of landfill sites on local environments will be increased by £5 million taking the total to £65 million for 2007-2008

Other highlights
• £800 million to help support overseas development in the areas of environmental protection and the reduction of climate change
• Increase funding of research and development into environmental technologies through public-private partnerships to £800 million by 2008
• To encourage the use of low energy light bulbs the government has suggested to the European Union that a reduced rate of VAT be applied to energy efficient products
• An enhanced capital allowance will be payable to companies that develop energy saving technologies but are not in taxable profit to encourage growth in this area
• A competition will be launched to develop a full carbon capture and storage programme

Whilst these cautious proposals are a welcome, yet so much more still needs addressing. Transport for one has been sidestepped. Growing aviation was not addressed (especially in light of yesterday's open skies aviation deal which will bring an anticipated 50% increase of transatlantic air travel over the next five years), nor was the need for investment in better public transport infrastructure to encourage drivers to forsake the car for attractive alternatives. There is still the need to tackle waste at source - introduce a plastic tax and retailers will reduce their packaging overnight. In the home, further incentives will be needed to help off set the high initial costs of installation, and existing stock has not been brought under the same umbrella as new homes.

This Budget reminds me of 1970's transport caf food. It was served up with a bit of wilting garnish on the side - gave a bit of colour but was in reality of little additional substance. Problem is, now that I understand the nutrient value of a good bit of greenery, I want the full-on salad experience to go with my meat. Gordon, if this is an indication of your leadership on environmental issues you need to think more like that other Gordon. Be more like Mr Ramsay: bold, brave and without the bulls**t.

Friday, March 16, 2007

UK Climate Change Bill, Green Politics and You Tube

Meanwhile, back in the UK, environmental politics have been riding high on the political agenda this week. Sunday brought green flight proposals from the Tories, Monday evening saw Labour's Gordon Brown announce his environmental proposals to the Green Alliance, Tuesday 13th brought the laying of the all party endorsed draft Climate Change Bill.

The Conservatives have launched their Greener Skies consultation on how to use environmental taxes to reduce the rapid growth in carbon emissions from aviation. Shadow chancellor George Osborne unveiled his environmentally responsible 'frequent flyer' package consisting of fuel duty, VAT on domestic flights, and scrapping of air passenger duty in favour of a tax per flight based more closely on carbon emissions. Aimed at frequent fliers rather than those enjoying an annual holiday abroad, the approach is based on a "pay as you burn, not pay as you earn" approach.

As things stand at the moment, carbon emissions from aircraft are taxed less than virtually any other form of carbon, yet because they are released high into the atmosphere, they can do most damage. The current Air Passenger Duty is not directly linked to carbon emissions and does not provide incentives for airlines to use more fuel-efficient aircraft.

To watch David Cameron speaking about the Greener Skies initiative, see: webcameron.

Gordon Brown outlined Labour's policy framework on Monday evening, focusing on energy. Low-energy light bulbs are to become a requirement by 2011 and standby lights on appliances should be phased out. He is offering subsidies on insulation, advice on helping households reduce their carbon footprints, and incentives for a high-efficiency forms of decentralized generation, including micro-generation and combined heat and power.
Planning applications are to be improved to speed up the process for major infrastructure projects, such as wind farms and waste disposal facilities; recycling targets are to be cranked up and landfill emissions to be squeezed down. Investment in transport innovation was also promised, but no specifics were given, and mention was made of a personal ‘carbon calculator’ scheme in the pipeline.

To watch/listen/read Gordon Brown's speech "Meeting The Challenge", go to: Green Alliance

13th March brought the publication of the draft Climate Change Bill, the first of its kind in any country, and accompanying strategy setting out a framework for moving the UK to a low-carbon economy.

Key Points of Climate Change Bill
Official targets: Establish five-year "carbon budgets," beginning in 2008, to reduce emissions by 60 percent by 2050.
Independent oversight: Create an independent body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), to advise government on reducing emissions.
Legislative power: Increase government's power to introduce and implement new trading schemes for domestic emissions.
Accountability: Have the CCC produce an annual progress report for Parliament; require government to report to Parliament after every five-year carbon budget.

All great news, but - and these are big buts:
- Is this commensurate with the scale of the problem? Recent evidence suggests higher targets are needed.
- International aviation and shipping are not included, thus failing to recognise the full extent CO2 emissions
- This Bill still fights shy of setting the necessary annual targets - it merely proposes targets set for 5 year periods, which would present reporting after the government's term of office. Annual targets are vital if we are to stay on track. There is a danger that the five year approach will enable responsibility for failure to be shunted on from one government to another.

To watch David Miliband speaking about the Climate Change Bill, see his short video Greener Living on You Tube.

  • How do the parties stack up? See The Independent's article Which Political Party is the Greenest?

  • For a critical analysis of the problems lying ahead see George Monbiot's recent article The Target Wreckers
  • Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets

    They say a day in politics can be a long time - a week even more. None more so than the last 7 days, when much progress in the EU has started to take shape. The battle centred around the acceptance of binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by drawing 20 percent of power from renewable sources by 2020.

    First off 7th March, in the UK. After a telephone call with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Tony Blair finally accepted the need for a binding target to help establish EU leadership in the worldwide fight against climate change.

    8th and 9th March, Brussels: 2 days of EU negotiations netted a binding compromise agreement. Greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 20 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020, with a 30 percent reduction to be implemented when other nations follow suit. Mandatory targets were agreed: 20% energy is to come from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020 (Currently renewables account for less than 7% of the energy mix used in the EU). 10% of cars and trucks will run on biofuels made from plants by 2020.

    The compromise:
    1. Individual targets will be allowed for each of the 27 EU member states to meet the renewable energy goal, with less stringent targets for East European countries who lag behind the rest of the EU in developing renewable energy (Poland, for example, obtains more than 90 percent of its energy for heating from coal).
    2. The inclusion of nuclear energy. Despite stiff resistance from Austria, Denmark and Ireland, Mr. Chirac succeeded in lobbying hard for the inclusion of nuclear power as a noncarbon energy alternative (95% of France's energy comes from nuclear).

    Detailed rules specifying how the agreement will be enforced have yet to be drawn up and The European Commission, which drafts legislation for the European Union, will be charged with coming up with individual countries’ targets in coordination with those nations. Doubtless much legal wrangling lies ahead.

    Nevertheless, these are significant foundations. The importance of mandatory targets are two fold. Firstly, mandatory targets mean teeth: violation of targets will result in prosecution at the ECJ and imposition of heavy fines - a necessary deterrent to ensure targets are met. Secondly, it finally opens the door to the renewables industry. Despite the lack of subsidies that conventional energy receives (to the tune of $250-300 billion annually worldwide), renewables will be able to compete in the energy sector and investor confidence in the renewable market place is assured.

    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    UK Green Building Council

    Green buildings are the homes of our future, and I for one want assistance on how to transform my draughty, energy guzzling, Georgian terraced home into a heavenly haven of carbon neutrality. To go completely off-grid - in the centre of London. Now that would be a challenge!

    But what of new-builds? Although my heart lies with a well seasoned building of 140 years plus, there are many out there seeking new developments. Where to turn for assistance on that front? Well, the UK has just launched it's own UK Green Building Council ( at the recent Ecobuild show. Drawing together some of the foremost influential companies in the building sector, the intention is to unite the industry around a set of core goals by developing a roadmap with clear targets on how to achieve a step change in sustainability across the entire built environment, including urban planning, carbon emissions, waste and water.

    The UK GBC will act to ensure sustainability is ‘built-in’ to all stages of the cycle from funding and procurement to design, construction and product manufacture, to operation and maintenance.

    Having been contacted by individuals seeking builders with knowledge and understanding of sustainable practice, it is clear to me there is a very strong need for reliable and accurate information regarding sustainable construction. It is not only the property developer but also the building companies that want to know what works and what doesn’t. A key role of the UK GBC will be to share best practice and knowledge with not only the building sector but also the general public.

    The Council, which is industry led, independent, not-for-profit, membership based organisation, will also promote the development and application of the UK’s world leading environmental assessment tools. It is their aim to provide a single, powerful, pan industry voice to Government.

    Nine countries have now joined the World Green Building Council (W-GBC) with a further 30 countries actively considering establishing GBCs – see This could help to ensure that the transformation of the construction sector becomes a global phenomenon.

    And of course, what of the architects? Yesterday evening I attended a talk at RIBA given by Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, entitled "Building a Sustainable Future". There, he highlighted the ultimate objective - to strive for a zero carbon built environment, with the need for architects and builders to incorporate renewable technologies and promote energy efficiency. It was his stated belief that "if we can develop efficient ways of farming solar energy we can provide for the future."

    Given that over 50% of carbon emissions are come from buildings and another 10% come from the materials used in those buildings, it makes sense that the starting point is to put one's house in order. Sir David King, it transpires, is busily doing just that - on a Greek island. 10 meters above sea level. I strongly suspect he will be investing in a set of nifty pv panels.

    You can register on the website for regular updates.

    To read a stimulating debate on architecture and the environment see George Marshall's blog, Climate Denial, where he takes the architectural establishment to task: Anti Environmental Architecture

    [Photo credit: Bedzed]