Monday, August 13, 2007

Revealed: cover-up plan on energy target

Ministers urged to lobby for get-out on renewables

Ashley Seager and Mark Milner, The Guardian, Monday 13th August 2007:
Government officials have secretly briefed ministers that Britain has no hope of getting remotely near the new European Union renewable energy target that Tony Blair signed up to in the spring - and have suggested that they find ways of wriggling out of it.

In contrast to the government's claims to be leading the world on climate change, officials within the former Department of Trade and Industry have admitted that under current policies Britain would miss the EU's 2020 target of 20% energy from renewables by a long way. And their suggestion that "statistical interpretations of the target" be used rather than new ways to reach it has infuriated environmentalists.

An internal briefing paper for ministers, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, reveals that officials at the department, now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, think the best the UK could hope for is 9% of energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar or hydro by 2020.

It says the UK "has achieved little so far on renewables" and that getting to 9%, from the current level of about 2%, would be "challenging". The paper was produced in the early summer, around the time the government published its energy white paper.

Under current policies renewables would account for only 5% of Britain's energy mix by 2020, the document says. The EU average is 7%; Germany is at 13%. It acknowledges that Germany, unlike Britain, has built a "strong and growing renewables industry".

EU leaders agreed the 20% target for the bloc in spring. The European Commission is working out how to reach this .

DBERR officials fear that Britain may end up being told to get to 16%, which it describes as "very challenging". The paper suggests a number of ways ministers could wriggle out of specific commitments. It also suggests ministers lobby certain EU commissioners and countries such as France, Germany, Poland and Italy to agree to a more flexible interpretation of the target, by including nuclear power, for example, or investment in solar farms in Africa.

Officials ask ministers to examine "what options there are for statistical interpretations of the target that would make it easier to achieve".

They suggest the target lacks credibility because it is so ambitious, while acknowledging that the Germans will be difficult to persuade because the Chancellor Angela Merkel is the champion of the 20% target and wants to commit Germany to 27%.

"These flexible options are ones that may be difficult to negotiate with some member states such as Germany, who we expect to resist approaches that may be seen to water down the renewables target," the briefing says.

Environmentalists were shocked. "This briefing reads like a 'wriggle and squirm' paper," said Andrew Simms, director of the New Economics Foundation. "It combines almost comic desperation from civil servants suddenly realising that they actually have to do something to promote renewable energy, with a breathtaking cynicism as they explore every conceivable get-out clause to escape the UK's international commitments."

A spokesman for DBERR said he would not comment on leaked documents, but added: "This government is committed to renewables and reducing emissions in line with EU targets."

The Conservative's shadow secretary of state, Alan Duncan, said: "This is a staggering revelation and shows the government has known all along it won't meet its targets but has deliberately avoided admitting it. They have been living a lie."

The Lib Dem environment spokesman, Chris Huhne, agreed: "This news confirms that the government has said yes to an EU target of 20% of renewable energy without any visible means of achieving it. If the government's policy is now to have any credibility and not be seen as a cynical attempt to woo green opinion, ministers must stop fudging and start acting."

The paper reveals an aversion to renewables on the basis of perceived cost, arguing that they are a more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than the European Emissions Trading Scheme. It estimates that getting to 9% by 2020 could cost the economy £4bn a year.

Environmentalists reject the idea that renewables are too expensive. Even £4bn a year is only about one third of the 1% of gross domestic product rich countries were recommended to spend a year combating climate change.

The paper also reveals that carbon capture and underground storage of CO2 emissions from new coal-fired power stations is projected to make little contribution before 2020. "This is betrayal of the highest order," said Rajiv Bhatia, head of renewable energy distributor Alternergy.

Jeremy Leggett, of solar energy company Solarcentury, said: "It would not surprise me if this delay in renewables deployment was the tactical objective all along for some senior officials in DTI. Serving on the government's Renewables Advisory Board from 2003 to 2006, I witnessed what cynics could easily have mistaken for a deliberate campaign of delay, obfuscation, and the parking, if not torpedoing, of good ideas coming from industry members of the board."

Read the leaked document here
Environmentalists urge Brown to overhaul Britain's energy policy

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Community Action

Something remarkable is happening in the UK. Something is happening in a place near you. Quiet little places, that you might have once driven through and given little thought. But to those who live there a pioneering sprit has been unearthed. One by one villages and communities are gathering together to take action on climate change. Not for them the writing to MP's or signing of petitions. Not for them the waiting for government to take lead on how to address the impact of environmental issues on our daily lifestyles. No, they are taking matters into their own hands and promoting grassroots action by changing the way they live and work as people and communities.

What is so remarkable is that these are ordinary places taking practical steps and using practical persuasion. Villages and towns for from as far afield as Biggar in Scotland are committing to reducing their carbon emissions through tree planting, renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Other networks, such as Transition Towns in the West Country, and the Crags network of Carbon Rationing Action Groups has at least 20 group members, from Chiswick in west London to York, Leeds and Glasgow. All are actively tackling climate change from the bottom up and are embracing the need to help their communities to live a cleaner energy, lower carbon emission, future.

One such village is Ashton Hayes, a village in Cheshire of approximately 1000 people. It is their stated ambition to become England's first carbon neutral village. Since their formal launch in January 2006, much has been achieved.

They are a community determined to do its bit to put the brakes on global warming, and it is proving immensely popular. So much so, that since the launch of their initiative, they have received £26,000 funding from Defra to assist them to take actions that should enable the village to declare itself carbon neutral in a matter of years. In their first year, they cut their emissions by 20%. Now they are busy advising other villages not only in the UK but also in Australia, Norway and Denmark on how they can do the same.

To help in its aim of becoming carbon neutral, the village has invested in a ‘carbon sink’ - new and young trees that will absorb some of the CO2 produced by residents. Chester city council has pledged its support by offering every child under seven in the area an opportunity to plant a tree at school. Local businesses have given free expert advice ranging from suitability of plants to be used.

The project has generated tremendous community support with many people keen to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through personal energy saving and lifestyle considerations, some volunteering to provide practical help, others offering tracts of land for tree planting. Recycling rates in the village have risen, The Golden Lion pub (and hub of much activity revolving around the project) has reduced it's own carbon emissions considerably and saved £200 a month by hanging laundry outside, switching off the cigarette machine at closing time and turning down the thermostat. It now serves locally sourced produce to complement their immensely popular carbon neutral quiz nights.

Energy is supplied from 100% renewable energy suppliers, such as Good Energy, and six houses have so far invested in solar panels as has the local primary school. But some of the most ambitious plans are still to come, including a microgrid to transmit renewable energy to buildings on the north side of the village from local renewable sources, a wood burner is to be installed at the school, wind turbines or solar panels to be situated on the church.

There's much strength in numbers. What started with one or two individuals has created a rolling momentum, with other villages and communities taking up similar challenges. It starts at the bottom, showing the way and then shapes decision making at the top. In this way government ministers will be encouraged to take politically bold decisions - be it the banning of high energy light bulbs, taxing of unnecessary plastic packaging, supporting renewable energy projects and local initiatives, investing in more sustainable infrastructures and setting necessary emission targets.

As one local Ashton Hayes resident commented, “it's simple really, you just start with changing the lightbulbs and keep on going from there.”

This is what George Monbiot calls active citizenship. Let me know what is happening in your town.

carbonrationingactiongroups (CRAG)

For full article, see Concept for Living, September 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Nosedive for BAA

Joss Garman, John Stewart and Leo Murray outside the RCJ yesterday.
As a member of the Woodland Trust who supports the campaign for aviation to pay for the environmental damage it causes, I have kept an eye to see whether I would, along with 5 million others, turn up on BAA's environmentalist blacklist.

BAA, owned by Spanish construction and services group Ferrovial, went to the High Court in London to restrict the actions of campaigners, various environmental organisations and those due to attend the annual The Camp for Climate Action located near the airport between August the 14th and 21st.

Coming more from the stable of discourse rather than direct action, I nevertheless have a strongly held admiration for those who take to the runways to make their voice heard. They are the frontliners, the ones who make others - and clearly BAA - sit up and listen, even when they do not want to. And it has to be said that Joss Garman and Leo Murray of the anti-avaition group Plane Stupid, more than any other environmental organisation, have firmly placed the issue of flight CO2 emmissions on the radar. They have proven to be a great stumbling block in BAA's smooth flightpath of profit at the expense of the planet.

So much so that BAA felt compelled to take their own radical action, seeking an injunction to curtail protestors from disrupting Heathrow during the week-long climate change camp which is due to commence next tuesday. Their hit-list of objectional protestors included, against others, Airport Watch which is an an umbrella group of various organisations including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Woodland Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

But it didn't wash. Yesterday the proposed injunction against Heathrow Campaign Against Aircraft Noise(HACAN), No Third Runway Action Group(NoTRAG), AirportWatch and Geraldine Nicholson (Chiar, NoTRAG) was dismissed. Instead Mrs Justice Smith at the High Court imposed a vastly limited injunction covering trespass and nuisance upon just three named organisers - John Stewart (HACAN), Josh Garman and Leo Murray. All three had previously offered undertakings to the court that they would not engage in disruptive direct action. The The Camp for Climate Action planned for the 14th to 21st August is allowed to continue and remains injunction free.

This was an ambitious pitch and corporate flexing of muscle by BAA. It was in essence a challenge against some of our basic human rights: freedom of thought, conscience, expression, assembly, peaceful protest and freedom of association. However, despite demanding the whole cake they ended up with only the crumbs. Mrs Justice Swift in her decision ensured this was a victory not only for human rights but also for common sense.

The Camp for Climate Action
Plane Stupid
Heathrow Campaign Against Aircraft Noise(HACAN)
No Third Runway Action Group (NoTRAG)
Woodland Trust