I’m Running to Catch Up
The working title for this episode was Grounds for Optimism, because good things are happening on the sustainability front. Not nearly enough and many challenges remain, but credit where credit’s due.
Hello, it’s Tuesday 21st May 2019, I'm Anthony Day with the latest edition of your Sustainable Futures Report and indeed I’m running to catch up with all the issues and sustainability news which has happened since my last podcast and while I’ve been away. I'm back. I'm on the case. There's plenty to do.
In positive news,
Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam was cleared by a jury over his King's College protest, the Committee on Climate Change believes that the UK 'can cut emissions to nearly zero' by 2050, Greta Thunberg addressed MPs and the UK Parliament subsequently declared a climate change emergency and on the face of it it’s good news that climate change has been a key issue in the Australian election campaign.
On a more challenging note,
After the Extinction Rebellion London protests Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, called for stronger penalties for demonstrators, the Committee on Climate change warned that it might be necessary to curb the growth in UK flying while the Environment Agency predicted that flooding caused by the climate crisis could force some UK towns to be abandoned. Earlier this month more than a million people had to be evacuated as Cyclone Fani hit India and Bangladesh with costs of damage estimated at more than $4 billion. There are signs of faster melting in world's largest ice shelf and the British government has had to lend £100m to British Steel, a private company, to help it pay its carbon bill.
Upside Down in Australia
First, things seem to have been turned upside down in Australia. Last weekend voters went to the polls in the full expectation that the Liberal coalition would be thrown out of government and the Labor party led by Bill Shorten would take over. The polls have been predicting this for at least the last six months. This election is important because climate change was a major topic of debate. Australia has its climate problems. As a nation it has one of the largest carbon footprints per head in the world. Much of its prosperity is based on mining and exporting fossil fuels - coal and gas. Bill Shorten recognised that action had to be taken but he was criticised throughout the campaign for not specifying how much all this would cost or how it would be paid for. In the end voters rejected what they saw as negative messages. Against the odds, Scott Morrison’s Liberal coalition held on to power and Bill Shorten resigned as Labor leader. No new green policies in Australia, then. How far will Scott Morrison go the other way?
One of the campaign slogans is worth thinking about:
There will be no jobs on a dead planet.
ER in Court
For the two weeks over Easter Extinction Rebellion supporters attempted to block roads across London. Over 1,000 of them were arrested, including founder Roger Hallam. He was one of the few who were actually prosecuted, and in his case it was for alleged criminal damage because he wrote slogans on the walls of Kings College urging the institution to divest itself of oil and gas investments. After a three-day trial the jury found that the potential danger from the climate crisis that Hallam was drawing attention to was far greater then the damage caused by writing the slogans. He and his co-defendant were acquitted.
Extinction Rebellion’s demands are that the government should tell the truth and recognise that there is a climate crisis, take action to counter it and set up a citizen’s assembly to determine the way forward. They have pledged to continue action until these demands are met. Their actions over Easter blocked several roads in London and the costs of policing the action were reported to be £7.5m.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick complained that the legislation under which the police could act was out-dated and she called on the government to look at new laws to impose harsher penalties for civil disobedience. Extinction Rebellion has said that until the government accepts its demands it will continue to demonstrate. Cressida Dick says that next time the police will be ready to act much more swiftly and be much quicker to make arrests. Some demonstrators have made it clear that they will not be deterred, even by the prospect of imprisonment.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, also a contender in the race to replace Theresa May as prime minister, said,
“Let me be clear: I totally condemn any protesters who are stepping outside the boundaries of the law. They have no right to cause misery for the millions of people who are trying to lead their daily lives. Unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Let’s hope that the government will engage in dialogue rather than confrontation. Let’s hope.
There will be no prime ministers, and no police commissioners on a dead planet.
Going for Zero
Earlier this month a report from the Committee on Climate Change stated that the UK ‘[could] cut emissions to nearly zero' by 2050. The UK has already made good progress, but as we move towards the goal, cuts in emissions will be more expensive and more difficult to find. The report says,
“This is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change. Global average temperature has already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our climate that are apparent increasingly. In the last ten years, pledges to reduce emissions by the countries of the world have reduced the forecast of global warming from above 4°C by the end of the century to around 3°C. Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to further limit the rise to 1.5°C.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasised the vital importance of limiting further warming to as low a level as possible and the need for deep and rapid emissions reductions in order to do so.
“The CCC’s recommended targets, which cover all sectors of the UK, Scottish and Welsh economies, are achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and should be put into law as soon as possible, the Committee says.
“Falls in cost for some of the key zero-carbon technologies mean that achieving net-zero is now possible within the economic cost that Parliament originally accepted when it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008.”
The steps which the committee prescribes include,
- Quadrupling the supply of low-carbon electricity by 2050,
- Improving the efficiency of the whole of the UK’s building stock and introducing low-carbon heating
- Introducing electric vehicles, which should be the only option from 2035 or earlier, (the present target for the UK government is 2040, although many other countries have chosen earlier dates.)
- Developing carbon capture and storage technology and low-carbon hydrogen. The committee says these are a necessity not an option, but such development has not so far been successful on a commercial scale,
- Stopping biodegradable waste going to landfill,
- Phasing-out potent fluorinated gases, (presumably used in refrigerators and air conditioning)
- Increasing tree planting
- Introduce measures to reduce emissions on farms.
The committee notes, however, that these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.
Extinction Rebellion’s demand is that the UK should reach net zero by 2025 - completely impossible in the view of the committee. Even the 2050 target will be challenging.
If the UK is to achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost the committee believes that clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy must be introduced without delay. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency, and the public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed.
The committee makes the point that the costs of the transition to a net-zero economy must be fairly distributed. There must be policy changes as well. For example, the committee urges the government to review its intentions to expand aviation and recommends that the decision to build Heathrow’s third runway should be brought back to Parliament, presumably with the intention to cancel.
The committee describes numerous benefits, apart from emissions reductions, as a result of these changes.
These include, it says, benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles, more active travel thanks to increased rates of cycling and walking, healthier diets, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.
In addition, the UK could receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.
Clearly the responsibility is laid firmly on the government. Governments throughout the world have similar obligations. For the last three years the UK government has been focussed on Brexit to the exclusion of all else. We cannot wait until that is out of the way for the government to act.
Greta from Sweden
Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl behind the school strikes on Fridays has been in the news this month. She has been roundly criticised in a number of countries, although nobody has successfully challenged arguments, relying instead on personal abuse. She spoke to Parliament in the UK and was quite scathing about the creative accounting which the UK government has used to claim good progress on emissions reduction. At least after her visit there was a parliamentary debate on climate and it was agreed that there was indeed a climate emergency. This agreement was reached by all parties without a vote, but its conclusion does not commit the government to do anything. There is still a way to go on that. It will be interesting to see how the climate emergency figures in the party manifestos for the next general election, which as you know will take place in 2022, or possibly next month given the current febrile state of UK politics.
Environment Agency Speaks
Also this month Environment Agency Chair, Emma Howard Boyd launching a major, long-term strategy to tackle flooding and coastal change. “We cannot win a war against water by building higher flood defences,” she said, and called for a new approach to ensure communities are resilient to the threat of flooding posed by climate change.
Opening an 8-week consultation on the new strategy, Emma Howard Boyd said that the Environment Agency was preparing for a potential 4°C rise in global temperature and urgent action was needed to tackle more frequent, intense flooding and sea level rise. That’s very interesting because the IPCC has said that we need to limit warming to 1.5℃ to avoid reaching the tipping point towards climate disaster. The Environment Agency clearly doesn't think we're going to make it and so is planning for a 4°C increase.
Ms Howard Boyd went on to say,
“The coastline has never stayed in the same place and there have always been floods, but climate change is increasing and accelerating these threats.
“We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences. We need to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience in England that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond.”
The strategy calls for all infrastructure to be flood resilient by 2050 and the Environment Agency has committed to working with risk management authorities and infrastructure providers to achieve this.
In addition to resilience measures, an average of £1 billion will need to be invested each year in traditional flood and coastal defences and natural flood management. The National Audit Office has previously reported that for every £1 spent on protecting communities, around £9 in property damages and wider impacts is avoided.
“Build back better” means rebuilding flooded properties with greater resilience, like raised power points, flood doors, solid floors and tiled walls that can be easily cleaned.
However, in some cases, the scale of flooding or coastal change may be so significant the concept of ‘build back better’ may not be appropriate. This may mean potentially moving communities out of harm’s way in the longer term.
According to the Sun Newspaper, entire towns could be relocated. That’s not exactly what the lady said, more of an extrapolation.
Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said:
Everyone can see climate change accelerating. The UK urgently needs to stay ahead of worsening impacts by adapting. The Environment Agency is doing just that by setting out their flood strategy but we won’t be able to keep up with the pace of change if we don’t reduce emissions to zero. The Committee on Climate Change’s net zero report shows how to do that.
Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission said:
It’s essential that the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, published this autumn as part of the Spending Review, adopts our recommendation and backs this up with a robust and effective plan for funding and delivery.
Huw Evans, Director General of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said:
A lack of major floods in recent years is no cause for complacency. As well as building defences we need to increase awareness of flood risk and encourage home and business owner to put in place their own measures to protect their properties too.
Lack of major floods? He obviously wasn’t in York on Boxing Day 2015. The Environment Agency is still working on the new flood defences for the city.
Nicolas Aubert, of Willis Towers Watson said:
The financial sector must redouble its efforts to address climate risks and, working with the public sector, support the investment and other interventions needed to deliver national and local resilience, now, and in the decades ahead.
Experts have spoken. Let’s hope the government is listening.
We don't just get floods and storms in the UK, of course. Fani, a rare summer cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, hit eastern India on May 03. It is one of the strongest cyclones to have hit India in the last 20 years, according to the Indian government’s meteorological department. Storm surges and powerful winds reaching 125 mph blew off roofs, damaged power lines, and uprooted countless trees. And don’t forget reports of Cyclone Idai which brought catastrophe to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the island of Madagascar back in March. It’s long gone from the news reports of course, but don’t believe that everything is back to normal. It won’t be for months - probably years. Just to put things in perspective…
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) is a biennial multi-stakeholder forum established by the UN General Assembly to review progress, share knowledge and discuss the latest developments and trends in reducing disaster risk. The latest session took place last week.
Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation Petteri Taalas told the assembly: "We live with the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 3 million years. The four warmest years on record have been in the past four years and the warming trend which has lasted since the start of this century is expected to continue as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas levels. Climate change mitigation is essential, as is climate change adaptation,” he stressed.
“Last year, in the United States alone, there were 14 weather- and climate-related disasters where the devastation cost more than US$1 billion dollars each, with a total of some US$49 billion. Worldwide, more than 35 million people were affected by floods. This year, tropical cyclone Idai left more than 1,000 people dead in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, and only a few weeks later tropical cyclone Kenneth was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall and strike the furthest north in Mozambique since modern records began,” said Mr Taalas.
There are continuing signs that weather is becoming more extreme. According to Professor Ian Young of the University of Melbourne the world’s oceans have become more stormy during the past three decades.
The findings add to concerns that as the world gets hotter, extreme events such as storms and floods could become more frequent and more devastating in their impact.
Slight increases in average wave height and wind speed were recorded in oceans across the globe, with the strongest effects in the Southern Ocean. Extreme winds in the Southern Ocean have increased by 1.5 metres per second, or 8%, over the past 30 years, while the highest waves have increased in height by 30 centimetres, or 5%. The strongest winds increased in the equatorial Pacific and Atlantic and the North Atlantic by about 0.6 metres per second.
“Although increases of 5% and 8% might not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major impacts,” said Prof Young.
Meanwhile, an article in Nature Geoscience reveals that melting of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica is speeding up as warmer water melts it from below. The Ross Ice Shelf is a floating mass of ice the size of France. If floating ice melts it has no direct effect on sea levels. Just as, if you have ice in your gin and tonic, when the ice cube melts it doesn’t cause your glass to overflow. However, the sheer bulk of the Ross Ice Shelf acts as a brake on the glaciers flowing off the Antarctic continent into the sea. As this braking effect weakens and the glaciers flow faster they increase sea levels at a faster rate as they flow off the land into the sea.
And In Other News
Private company British Steel has been negotiating with the government for a £100m loan to help it pay off its bill for EU carbon credits. The situation has changed since the British government opted for Brexit. However, the news indicates that by the time you hear this British Steel may be in administration. Clearly it’s got more problems than just the EU-ETS. (Emissions Trading Scheme). Does this mean the company’s furnaces will go cold and its emissions cease?
In London this week BP headquarters have been blockaded by Greenpeace. Activists have installed heavy metal containers outside each entrance to the building. There are two people in each unit locked in for the long haul and kitted out with food, books to read, phones and a portable toilet. Other activists have chained themselves to the top of the units. Says Greenpeace: “ BP can’t continue as if it’s business as usual in this #ClimateEmergency we’re in.”
BP staff have been told to stay at home.
The blocks were installed on Monday 20th and the company’s AGM takes place on Tuesday 21st. At the time of writing it’s not clear whether the protesters are still in position.
The government has come in for repeated criticism and legal action because of its poor record on atmospheric pollution. It’s introduced the London Low Emission Zone and encouraged local councils to urge drivers in stationary traffic to turn off their engines and to penalise those that don’t. Now an article in The Conversation claims that turning off your engine could have the opposite effect. It all turns on the catalytic converter. This device strips noxious gases from the exhaust stream, but it only works when it’s hot. The argument is that when the engine is turned off the catalyst cools down so that when the engine is restarted it emits much more pollution than it would have done if the engine had been idling. So far only one study has been carried out on one model of car in the US. More research is definitely needed. Or maybe we should all go electric.
The electric car is not quite here yet. Certainly the UK charging infrastructure is fragmented, unstandardised and unreliable. How about the electric taxi? The electric flying taxi. I’ve always been very sceptical about flying cars but this autonomous flying taxi, capable of carrying 5 passengers for 150 km, could be the future. It’s in development at the moment but it looks amazing. Have a look at the video on the website: lilium.com
I need your help. I’ve been invited to appear on Radio Sangam next month and chat to presenter Martin Morrison about the climate crisis and other environmental issues for two hours. He’s asked me to suggest 10 songs to play. Have you any ideas? Bear in mind that the station broadcasts principally to the Asian community. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And that’s it. Apologies for the break in transmission. I’m aiming to get back to my weekly timetable with the next episode on Friday 31st May. Particular thanks to my Patrons for staying with me. If you’d like to show your support and keep the Sustainable Futures Report ad-free please go to patreon.com/sfr and sponsor me from as little as $1 per month. It all goes towards my hosting and research costs.
I’m Anthony Day.
Thanks for listening
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and there’ll be another next week.
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The hounding of Greta Thunberg is proof that the right has run out of ideas
The Greta Thunberg effect: at last, MPs focus on climate change
PM's claim Coalition saved reef from nonexistent 'endangered list' condemned as 'ridiculous'
The Guardian view on a Green New Deal: we need it now
Climate crisis: flooding threat ‘may force UK towns to be abandoned’
Extinction Rebellion founder cleared over King's College protest
‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK
World's oceans are becoming stormier, researchers discover
Research suggests that restarting engines could be more polluting than just letting them idle.
Lilium electric flying taxi
BP headquarters in London blockaded by Greenpeace