Published on 20th May 2016 as a podcast at www.susbiz.biz
Yes, it’s Friday - it’s 20th May
Yes, this is Anthony Day
And yes, here’s another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report
This week I’m concentrating on skills - the skills we need to build sustainable futures. The skills James Dyson’s been talking about; skills mentioned at this week’s Buy Yorkshire conference and skills covered at the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange. Also in this episode some comments on Ende gelände, the Queen’s speech, Hinckley C (I couldn't leave that out, could I?), the future of bees and global temperatures in April.
Sir James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur recently said: “Engineers are the people who can create practical solutions to our 21st-century challenges of sustainability, housing and an ageing population. And we need more of them.” This echoes a report published last year by the Royal Academy of Engineering which suggests that the UK needs more than a million new engineers and technicians by 2020 to meet industry demand. Engineering is no longer just about hard hats and hi-visibility vests, yet the way it is portrayed in society and seen by policymakers has not kept up with this evolution, says the report. It shows how engineering skills are now needed in an increasingly diverse range of fields including brain imaging, airport security, drug delivery systems, materials science and prosthetic limbs. This week I was at Buy Yorkshire, one of the UK’s largest business conferences. The billion dollar panel, chaired by local entrepreneur Jonathan Straight, was asked what the principal challenges were to business. Cyber crime was the first answer. We'll come back to that in a future episode of Sustainable Futures Report . The second most important issue was skills, and speakers kept coming back to that throughout the session. A key difficulty is finding the right calibre of engineers and IT specialists outside the M25. Panellist Luke Lang, founder of crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, has based his business in Exeter in the south west of the UK some 200 miles from London. He said it was difficult to get the people he needed and in some cases it was difficult to get people based in London to take him seriously given that he had no plans to move his business to the capital. Why ever not? It's a quality of life thing. And as Exeter happens to be my home city I can certainly endorse that.
Phil Jones of northern power grid made a similar point about far too many skills concentrated in the London area. While there was a clear shortage of skills in the north, he said there were still pockets of world-class expertise. The problem was that many government decision-makers did not realise this and were therefore more likely to place contracts and make investments in the south-east. It becomes a vicious circle. A questioner asked why there were not more women in senior and skilled roles. Phil Jones said that northern power grid appointed solely on the basis of ability, but said that in their latest graduate recruitment round only 2% of the applicants were female. The panel agreed that there was a need to improve academic attainment, particularly in the North, and to educate people at a much younger age about what engineering and technology actually are, and where the career opportunities lie. It’s essential to get the message into schools.
Tomorrow, or today by the time you hear this, I’m judging an event run by Solutions for the Planet at Bradford University. Teams of school children aged 10 to 14 will pitch their business ideas to the panel. They have already submitted their business plans, which include solutions for problems including car pollution, suicide, flooding and the decline in bees. This approach to solving real-world problems must help them understand the sort of skills and qualifications that they will need in later life.
Skills was the theme of one of the panel sessions at last month’s Sustainable Best Practice Exchange. Here are some comments from Tim Balcon, CEO of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, about skills in the context of sustainability.
And in other news…the Queen’s speech, the Bees, April global temperatures and the Oil price.
First though, Ende gelände. That’s German for “End of Story”. It's also the name of a protest group set up in Germany to lobby for the closure of the lignite mines. Lignite is a particularly dirty type of coal and the operator of a vast opencast lignite mine near Berlin, Vattenfall, has decided to sell it. The protest group claims that this is just the company turning its back on its responsibility for a highly polluting asset. They want the whole thing closed down. Last weekend was a weekend of international protest. You may have missed it because the media largely ignored it. In Germany thousands of people invaded the mine forcing operations to be suspended. Similar protests happened across the world where other people demonstrated against the continuing use of fossil fuels.
Protesters were arrested in Washington State, near Chicago and in Albany, New York. In some places they blocked railway lines used to transport fossil fuels. 1,300 marched in Washington DC to call on Barack Obama to end offshore drilling for oil and gas,
In Australia a group of kayakers attempted to shut down the world’s largest coal port, and in the UK they invaded a huge opencast coalmine in south Wales.
There were demonstrations in Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Canada and Indonesia. An estimated 10,000 people marched to oppose a new coal-fired power plant in the Philippines.
A concern to many people is that last year’s Paris climate deal committed nations to keeping global temperatures below a 2C increase on pre-industrial levels but contained no explicit commitment to phase out fossil fuels. Instead, nations are left to devise their own ways to cut emissions and meet their pledge to avoid dangerous climate change.
Every month so far this year I have reported that the preceding month has been the hottest month on record for the time of year. Protesters pointed out that the same is again true for April 2016. Although many of us in the UK who suffered frosts and snow in the last weeks of the month will find it hard to believe, NASA has confirmed that on a global scale April 2016 was the hottest April ever.
I like this quotation from Naomi Klein, the author and climate activist: “The global climate justice movement is rising fast,” she said, “But so are the oceans. So are global temperatures. This is a race against time. Our movement is stronger than ever, but to beat the odds, we have to grow stronger.”
Whatever you believe about the rights and wrongs of all this, there is no doubt that protest, pollution and planetary politics are all going to have consequences for your business.
The Queen's Speech
Talking of politics, this week we had the Queen’s Speech. That’s when Queen Elizabeth visits Parliament in state and delivers a speech from the throne which outlines the programme of legislation for the coming parliamentary session. Of course, the speech is written by the Prime Minister. This one was notable in having very few definite plans and nothing at all controversial in case it caused a row before the referendum on EU membership which takes place at the end of June. There were very few bills promised; many more good intentions, reviews and legislation to be brought forward. There were a couple of straws in the wind which I noted.
“My ministers,” she said, “will ensure the United Kingdom is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles.”
“To spread economic prosperity, my government will continue to support the development of a Northern Powerhouse.”
There’s quite a lot of scepticism about that. Is “Northern Powerhouse” more than a political slogan? At Buy Yorkshire Phil Jones of Northern Powergrids said he was sure there was substance to it, but unfortunately he didn’t have an opportunity to elaborate.
“My government,” said Her Majesty, “will continue to play a leading role in world affairs, using its global presence to tackle climate change and address major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges.” Can’t argue with that. We’ll look eagerly for evidence of how that will be carried out.
“Britain’s commitment on international development spending will also be honoured, helping to deliver global stability, support the Sustainable Development Goals and prevent new threats to national security.” Interesting to hear the Sustainable Development Goals mentioned, and again it will be interesting to see what action is taken.
The bees are in the news. Cereals and grain crops are wind-pollinated, but tree fruits such as apples, plums and pears and soft fruits like raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and many others or rely on bees and other insects for pollination. And bees are suffering. In particular, in the United States colony collapse disorder has been widespread. Here in the UK bees are at risk from diseases and parasites, so bee-threatening pesticides are bad news for people like me who keep bees - and for any grower who needs bees to pollinate the crop. The main controversy is about neonicotinoids. I have until recently had a relaxed attitude towards these chemicals because although it has been proved that they can damage bees, it has not been proved that bees can ingest sufficient pesticide from treated crops to cause a problem. I was concerned that if farmers stopped using neonics, which are systemic pesticides, they would go back to spraying which can cause much more damage to insect life. However, there has been a temporary ban on the use of neonics, a product typically used on the rapeseed crop, and in spite of this farmers have been able to produce record yields. Nevertheless they have been lobbying to be allowed to use these products again. This was permitted for a short window but that has now been closed. Farmers are continuing to lobby for the ban to be lifted. I believe that it is too risky to allow this to happen. We should rely on the precautionary principle and assume that neonics will cause problems to bees and other insect life until the research which is currently in progress proves the case one way or the other.
The oil price is up. At the time of writing Brent Crude is at $48/barrel but this week it’s nudged $49. James Spencer of Portland Analytics told me earlier this year that he expected a high of $50 but now he expects $60. Interestingly he expects the market to be volatile. He doesn’t see the price going beyond $60 and expects it to fall back and then rise again as the year continues. There are various factors, and I hope to cover these with him in a future episode. The fires are still burning in Canada, of course, and a number of oil operations which re-opened have closed again. This is very serious for Canada, although its effect on world markets is relatively small and short-term.
Before I go I’m surely you’ll be wondering about Hinkley C, that planned nuclear power station at the heart of the UK government’s energy policy. Despite promises by the EDF CEO to the parliamentary committee that the decision to go ahead would be taken by 15th May, the French government now says that no decision will be taken before September. The rumour is that the Chinese, already committed to investing in the project, will take over the whole thing. There’s another rumour that suggests that the Russians might do it. Well in the UK we haven’t got the skills, have we?
And that’s it. This is Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report. The Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group launches in July and if you’d like to see the prospectus you’ll find a link here: http://www.slideshare.net/AnthonyDay10/sustainable-best-practice-mastermind-group or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your postal address and I’ll send you a copy.
Membership is by invitation.
That’s the Sustainable Futures Report for this week. This is Anthony Day. Until next time.