Monday, July 04, 2016

Over and Out

Broadcast as a podcast at on Friday 1st July

Well we’re not quite out and I sincerely hope it's not all over.

Hello, this is Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 1st July and in a change to the advertised programme this is the final episode before September.

Yes I'm going to talk about Brexit, I'll try and avoid all the things which have already been said. This week IEMA presented an important webinar on the legal consequences of Brexit for environmental regulation and I’ll tell you what I learnt. I’ll tell you about the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group  and the new LinkedIn group which will take it forward.

Energy Minister Amber Rudd remains committed to carbon reduction. There’s more helium than we thought - why is this good news? But first, electric lorries are on trial. 

Electric Highways

Electric lorries? Well no, perhaps more electric highways.
Global Construction Review informs us that “A truck-clogged traffic artery leading to the Port of Los Angeles will be the testing ground for the world’s first “eHighway” – a stretch of road strung with overhead cables to power heavy vehicles that will coast along without burning diesel and spouting fumes.” 

Actually Los Angeles was beaten to it by Sweden which opened a 2.2 km electrified section of the E16 motorway between Sweden and Norway last week. For both projects the catenary infrastructure is installed by Siemens, working with Mack trucks in the US and Scania in Sweden. On normal roads the trucks burn diesel or natural gas but, when they hit the eHighway, sensors locate the overhead cables and the trucks automatically connect. The system lets trucks change lanes to overtake other vehicles at speeds of up to 90km/h. Siemens claims that the eHighway system is about twice as efficient as burning diesel, and is emissions-free. The trucks’ braking systems also feed energy back into the grid. The Swedish government aims to achieve zero fossil fuel transportation by 2030. It has predicted that using electricity from renewable sources to power the trucks will lead to a reduction in carbon of up to 90%. It sees the eHighway system as one way of reducing carbon emissions without building railways where none exist now. 

The next logical stage must be to couple multiple trucks together under the control of a single driver. And the stage after that is to have no drivers at all. All we need is an overhead power line infrastructure and a supply of electricity. I can’t help thinking that this might be a much better investment than the UK’s HS2, the planned high speed rail link.Helium
The discovery of a helium gas field in Tanzania's East African Rift Valley could help ease fears of a global helium shortage on our planet, according to the Washington Post, which reported the news last Wednesday.


Helium is a noble gas used for the super-cooled magnets in MRI machines; a mixture of 80% helium and 20% oxygen is used by deep-sea divers and helium-neon gas lasers are used to scan barcodes at supermarket checkouts. Vast amounts are needed to keep superconducting magnets cool at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern near Geneva. Helium is also used to blow up party balloons but fears of a shortage led Nobel laureate, the late Robert Richardson, to say that helium balloons should cost £75 each to reflect the true cost of the gas.

Helium is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, but Earth’s initial stocks seeped into space many billions of years ago.  It cannot be synthesised; it only occurs in nature. It cannot be replaced or renewed. What is available for use today is produced inside rocks through the steady radioactive decay of uranium and other elements. The hard part is finding where the gas builds up into useful reserves. Now a team from the UK and Norway has uncovered a huge resource in Tanzania after applying expertise gleaned from oil and gas exploration to understand how helium is produced in rocks and where it accumulates.
According to independent analysts, this natural store of helium found in the Rift Valley contains an estimated 54bn cubic feet of the gas, enough to inflate a similar number of party balloons, or to fill 1,200,000 hospital MRI scanners.

Let the party continue!

Who is Amber Rudd?

Speaking at the Business and Climate Summit in London this week, energy secretary Amber Rudd said that Brexit would make it harder for the UK to tackle climate change but its commitment to do so would be undiminished by the EU referendum result. "While I think the UK’s role in dealing with a warming planet may have been made harder by the decision last Thursday, our commitment to dealing with it has not gone away," she said. She also insisted that the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point would not be affected by Brexit.

On Thursday the Government announced that it had agreed with the Climate Change Committee and proposed that the emissions target for the  fifth budgetary period covering 2028 to 2032 should be set at 1,725 MtCO2e., the organisers of the edi sustainability conference report that if met, the Fifth Carbon Budget would put the UK firmly on track to meet the legally-binding carbon reduction targets laid out in the UK’s Climate Change Act (2008), which sets an 80% emissions reduction target for 2050.

According to the CCC, the UK is currently on track to outperform the Second and Third Carbon Budgets, but off track to meet the Fourth - which covers the period 2023-27 and requires a 50% emissions reduction from 1990 levels.

Ahead of this announcement, concerns had been raised by green groups and sustainability leaders that the Government's Fifth Carbon Budget would be postponed or perhaps even weakened in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) last week. But Amber Rudd had already made it clear at the Business and Climate Summit that this acceptance of the CCC's proposals sends a clear message to green investors that the Government remains “fully committed” to delivering a clean and affordable energy supply for Britain.

Amber Rudd has a history of firm commitment to environmental and sustainability issues, but since becoming energy minister she has become a hate figure in some quarters. It was Amber Rudd who announced the block on on-shore wind farms just after the last election. It’s Amber Rudd who says fracking is the future. It’s Amber Rudd who continues to insist that the nuclear power station at Hinkley C will be built, despite resignations at contractors edf, technical problems with the proposed design, cost overruns and extensive delays at similar plants under construction and the fact that it will make no contribution to UK supplies for at least 10 years. Chancellor George Osborne, a known climate sceptic, appears to have been in overall control of energy policy, so some would say that she’s simply been mouthing his words. Amber Rudd was on the Remain side of the referendum debate, unlike her junior minister Andrea Leadsom, so her continued role in government may be in question. The fact that she has pushed through adoption of the CCC’s proposals for the Fifth Carbon Budget is encouraging. Hopefully the government will be too busy dealing with the consequences of Brexit to have time to come back and revise it.

Unlike Andrea Leadsom, Amber Rudd made it clear that she would not enter the race for the Tory leadership. When asked at the summit about the possibility of a climate-sceptic leader she said:

 “When I consider who to back as leader of the Conservative party and future Prime Minister, knowing where they stand on this issue, which is so important to me and I think is so important to the whole country and to everyone here, will be absolutely central to who I support.
“And I will be very, very clear about that and very vocal in holding anybody to account on that and getting the sort of commitment that will reassure all of us.”

This was taken to be a direct criticism of leadership favourite Boris Johnson who has expressed climate change scepticism in the past. And then at 12 noon on Thursday as nominations closed and I finalised this script we learnt that Boris would not stand for the leadership.

You couldn’t make it up!


And now to the legal consequences of Brexit. IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment presented a webinar this week on the consequences of Brexit. It was their most popular webinar ever: 700 people signed up and overwhelmed the system. Fortunately they made a recording so I've been able to catch up with it. You can find that recording at . Here’s my account of what was discussed. If you want further information or intend to act on the information provided I urge you to take the advice of the presenters. The session was introduced by Josh Fothergill, policy lead at IEMA, and the main presenter was Simon Colvin, Partner and National head of the environment team at law firm Weightmans, .

Josh reported that in polls of 4000 institute members prior to the referendum 83% believed that EU regulations were beneficial  and 76% thought the regulations were positive for business. He didn't think that there had been enough on sustainability and the environment in the referendum campaign and he hoped that DECC would continue to adopt the fifth carbon budget by the end of June as normal. Which we now know it has done.

Simon Colvin admitted that he went through a range of emotions on Friday, finally arriving at acceptance. His presentation set out what had happened, what was going to happen, and what we could or should do about it. To start with, he said that the referendum vote has no legal effect, although the government accepts that it has a moral duty to follow it. Many people expected that the results would be to remain, so many people were unprepared. 

So what's next? Article 50 is the piece of European legislation which governs the exit of a member from the EU. The process is that the departing member must notify the European Council and then the process must be completed within two years unless this is extended by the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining members. He thought this was unlikely, so two years would be the limit. Under article 50 the departing country takes no part in the discussions around the exit. Indeed, this week we have seen the first EU meetings for 43 years held with UK representatives excluded. The exit agreement has to be approved by the European commission and by the European Parliament. Clearly under article 50 power lies with the remaining states and the process is designed to be difficult to deter states from leaving. Article 50 can only be triggered by the departing state although the EU could possibly insist if there is undue delay. The British government is quite happy to defer invoking the article because the two year time clock starts ticking from the moment that that action is taken. They want to wait until there is a new Conservative leader, a new prime minister and effectively a new government. Simon thought that there was a possibility that there could be a general election in the autumn, but he felt that the timescale was very tight and that this was unlikely to happen. He thought also that a second referendum was theoretically possible, but highly unlikely. Once article 50 has been triggered then the EU will insist that the exit is completed. There will be no opportunity for reviewing the agreement or putting it to a second referendum.

A serious problem is that the focus of politicians and civil servants is going to be exclusively on the process of unwinding UK membership of the EU for the next 2 1/2 to 3 years. This means that everything else is effectively going to be on hold. The environment will be some way down the agenda because emphasis on negotiations on the economy and trade will take priority. Environmental regulations are unlikely to change in any case until it is clear how our trading relations will change because to some extent they will be interdependent. The financial conduct authority issued a statement last Friday morning saying that there would be no immediate change to financial regulations. The environment agency has said something similar privately. Simon was concerned that in the face of uncertainty there will be reluctance to change which could lead to effective paralysis over the next few years. He thought that there would be a new piece of primary legislation possibly called the independence act which would confirm the status of laws which are based on EU legislation. There would also be a piece of legislation to repeal or amend the European communities act which gives EU law precedence over UK law.

It is known that DEFRA has prepared a contingency plan for Brexit but so far this has been confidential. It is now time to reveal and discuss it. There is a great deal to be done with legislation. For example there is a significant amount of referential legislation. That means that there are UK laws which simply say that they will enact specific European regulations or directives. Once these no longer apply, the UK laws will have to be rewritten to provide the detail which is now in the European documents. There is also the question of how we treat new EU laws issued in the next two years while we remain a member of the EU. Decisions have to be made on whether we adopt or replace technical standards. In many environmental areas there is a policy vacuum because the UK government has been content to follow the EU lead.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, there are serious doubts as to whether the UK civil service has sufficient people with the skills and experience to handle this immense volume of work.

Once we are finally out of the EU the European Court of Justice will no longer have jurisdiction, although it will continue to do so during the two-year period. There is therefore a question of at what point we stop referring issues to that court, bearing in mind that its proceedings can take a year or more. There's also the question of caselaw and whether it will continue to be binding and acceptable as a precedent in UK courts after we leave the EU. Simon thought it would, but he also said that there may well be barristers who might see it as a point of weakness and there could be increased litigation.

Well, what can sustainability professionals do about all this? The first question is what legal obligations are written in to your environmental management system. Do they relate to the UK or EU legislation? This needs to be reviewed. There will be some impact from trade agreements and there will inevitably be changes to legislation, at least eventually. Now is the time to carry out risk assessments, to derive an action plan and timeline, and talk to customers and suppliers.

Simon presented an overall timeline for the whole Brexit process.

First there will be a 3 to 6 month period of clarification, and this of course will include election of new leaders for both our major political parties, the appointment of a new prime minister and doubtless the shaping of a new government. At that point article 50 will be triggered. This leads to the two year negotiation process. This will be a dominant activity which means in the next 2 to 5 years there will be inactivity on almost all other issues. In the next 3 to 7 years surplus legislation will be removed but it will take 3 to 15 years to plug gaps, to accommodate new trade agreements and finally recover from the break. Simon's message was that nobody should put their head in the sand - an awful lot is going to go on.

The webinar closed with a range of questions. For example does there need to be an act of Parliament to trigger article 50? Answer, no, the referendum result is sufficient to authorise the government to take that action.

The UK tends to follow the EU baseline on a number of regulations. With the absence of this baseline will legislation be watered down in order to stimulate growth? Certainly this is a possibility.

What important EU environmental legislation is expected to come out in the next 3 to 4 years? 
The circular economy is extremely important because it cuts across so many areas. The EU model will no longer apply to the UK. There is an absence of policy from the UK government here, especially with regard to waste management, as they have relied on the EU to lead. Will we be able to redefine waste in the UK in future? Yes, but if these materials are to be transferred to the EU they will not be acceptable unless they comply with EU legislation.

Will consultation still go ahead on the European environmental impact assessment directive? We'll still need to comply until the end of our membership.

Will Brexit cause delays to the Paris agreement? Probably not. The UK is an independent signatory as well as part of the EU. It's exit will have little effect.

Nick Blyth, IEMA Policy & Practice Lead, brought up the question of ESOS - Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme - and CRC - Carbon Reduction Commitment. Both of these are out for consultation this summer and it remains to be seen whether DECC will hold this timetable. ESOS after all is a mechanism to implement a European directive,. Will this still be the government’s approach?

How will Brexit affect UK as an entry point to the EU? Anything exported from the UK to the EU will have to comply with EU regulations as now. The only difference is that we will no longer have any say in framing those regulations.

What about the habitats and birds regulations? Will they be removed from UK legislation because of pressure from housebuilders? There may be some softening of the regulations, but in general EU legislation will continue to apply at least for the next two or three years. There will be no wholesale destruction of legislation in any field following Brexit. Legislators will be preoccupied with negotiating and implementing the U.K.'s exit.

What about the industrial emissions directive? Again, there is unlikely to be any change for two or three years. The present European standard states that the best available technique should be employed to reduce emissions. It is difficult to believe that the UK government would move away from this.

At the close of the webinar Josh thanked speaker Simon Colvin from Weightmans and said that there were still 500 listeners logged to the webinar. The Institute’s publication, The environmentalist, is available online with more information on all the points discussed.
Some people have suggested that now that we have voted to leave it's no longer necessary to carry out environmental impact assessments. This is certainly not the case. Compliance with the existing regulations will continue to be required until those regulations are replaced with something else which could be years hence. In any case, legal compliance is not only the reason for respecting our regulations. There is a moral and an economic reason as well.

As I said, the whole of this webinar is available online. It runs to just over an hour and you can find it at–Reports   

I'm sure this will be only the first of many discussions.

And Finally...SBPMg...

Well, before I go and sign off for the summer, what else is going on? Not the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. The meeting scheduled for next Thursday, 7 July has been postponed indefinitely. I've had a lot of support and enthusiastic feedback from sustainability professionals. The problem appears to be that while business owners and chief executives will pay for mastermind groups for themselves they will not pay for similar activities for their senior professionals. Sometimes they even grudge them the time. My suggestion is that if you would like to work together with fellow professionals and we are talking here about a mastermind group, not a conference or workshop but a regular event when you work with and get to know similar people. If you have a spare conference room why not invite colleagues to meet on a regular basis? I have spoken to a large number of people in relation to SBPMg. I cannot share their contact details for obvious reasons but you are all encouraged to join the SBPMg LinkedIn group and I hope that you will be able to find people that that you can work with to increase the sum of knowledge and the fund of best practice. I wish you the very best of luck with it. 

Right. I'm signing off now until September. On 2nd September we still won't have a new prime minister, we presumably will not have initiated article 50 and things will very much be in limbo. 

I'm not really happy about the future. We are going to devote our best brains in the civil service and in Parliament to negotiating our exit from the EU. All that effort will go on for 2, 3, 4, 5 or more years. None of that skill and expertise will be available to work on education and schools, on health care and hospitals, on transport, poverty, defence, social justice and all the other important things which should be the government’s first priority. Somebody in my local newspaper said that this would be Britain's finest hour because we always perform best with our backs to the wall. I don't think we needed to put our backs to the wall. I don't think we needed to shoot ourselves in the foot. 

Maybe everything will all have changed by September. If it does I sincerely hope it's changed for the better. 

Have a great summer. This is Anthony Day and for the moment that was the Sustainable Futures Report

The next episode will be available on Friday, 2 September.

No comments: