Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lords A-leaping

Published as a podcast at on Friday 29th April

Lords are all over the sustainability news this week. They’ve been signing letters to The Times, signing international agreements and commenting on decarbonisation. Other people have been flying electric planes, talking about air pollution and counting green leaves.
The weather is breaking more records - Michael Flanders and Donald Swann had something to say about that - and is the oil price on the up? The prospectus for the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group, SBPMg, will be out shortly. Get in touch if you want a copy.

All this and more in this week’s Sustainable Futures Report. And who is Lord Bourne?

Anyway, I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 29th April.


Oil is nudging $46/barrel today, up from the $43 I reported last week. Will this be a steady upward trend? Probably not. Gasoline demand in the US has been higher than normal for this time of year and production has slowed, which together have put upward pressure on prices. The downturn in production has been due to industrial action in Kuwait and to closures for maintenance in other oil fields. All of this is likely to be solved very shortly and Iran is likely to continue to increase production now that Western sanctions have been lifted. There are still extensive worldwide stocks. of oil. I expect the price to fall back by next week, although that’s my personal opinion and I wouldn’t like you to rely on it.


On 22nd April, Earth Day, 175 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement at United Nations Headquarters. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the next critical step is to ensure that the landmark accord for global action on climate change enters into force as soon as possible.
“If all the countries that have signed today take the next step at the national level and join the Agreement, the world will have met the requirement needed for the Paris Agreement to enter into force,” Mr. Ban highlighted, congratulating the 15 Parties that have already deposited their instruments for ratification.

He said that countries accounting for at least 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions would have to ratify the agreement in order to bring it into force. The United States and China between them could account for almost 40 per cent and Ban Ki-moon  called on all countries present at the signing ceremony to use the opportunity to announce their timelines for joining the Agreement as soon as possible”

Emphasising the importance of the event, 31 countries were represented by their head of state, 3 by vice-presidents, 24 by heads of government and 9 by deputy prime ministers. Delegates included President Francois Hollande of France, the  Deputy Prime Minister of China, US VP John Kerry and Canadian - PM Justin Trudeau. 

The UK was represented by Lord Bourne. Yes, you know: Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. He’s the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change. 

Says it all, really.

Danish website CPH Post Online headlined the news of the agreement with:
More turbines, more biogas 
A spokesman for DI Energy, the Danish federation of energy equipment manufacturers, said the ambitious climate agreement would most probably lead to an increase in the demand for Danish wind turbines and biogas plants.
“We will hopefully cement the agreement in the form of increased exports of Danish energy technology,” he said.

According to figures from DI Energy, Denmark earned £7.4 billion in 2014 as a result of exporting its energy technology – 12% of total Danish exports that year.
And according to the company, this number is only set to grow. They predict demand for Danish green tech will lead to an increase of £6 billion in revenues by 2030.

On the same day the Ecologist reported a missed opportunity as the International Maritime Organisation failed to reach an agreement to take action on controlling GHG emissions. 
The IMO itself predicts that emissions from shipping could rise by as much as 250% from 2012 levels by 2050. At 3% of global emissions, the shipping sector currently has a carbon footprint roughly the size of Germany, but at that rate it could grow to equal that of the entire EU.

CO2 Greening the Planet

Apparently the effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) is not all bad. A report published in the Journal nature climate change reveals a substantial increase in global leaf cover. The research is based on satellite imaging and the conclusion is that 70% of the effect is caused by raised levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Climate sceptics are quick to point out the advantages of stimulating growth in this way, but the researchers remind us that this does not to do anything to offset the other effects of raised greenhouse gas levels such as rising sea levels and disrupted weather patterns including intense and unpredictable storms and droughts. Increasing agricultural productivity is a welcome bonus, but I want to know whether all plants react in the same way. Could we be in danger of stimulating weeds and suffocating food crops? More research, please.

Solar Impulse 2

High in the sky this week, and looking down not at leaves but at acres of ocean was one man in an electric aeroplane. Solar Impulse 2 took off from Hawaii and crossed the Pacific to land in Mountain View, California. The aircraft is well on its way to completing its round-the-world flight. It has a wingspan greater than a jumbo jet with solar panels and batteries which keep it flying even through the night. It is very expensive, very slow and totally dependent on good weather but it is a research project, giving us insights and ideas into how we may be able to develop air travel in the future. I bet the air was clean up there.

Air Pollution

We mentioned Air pollution in the UK last week. It’s a “public health emergency”, according to a cross-party committee of MPs, who say the government needs to do much more including introducing a scrappage scheme for old, dirty diesel vehicles.

These MPs are talking about giving more councils the right to deter vehicles from parts of their cities where pollution is bad by introducing schemes like the London congestion charge. If you’re in business this is likely to have an effect on your distribution costs. Of course there are clean air zones already in the UK and large freight vehicles must have scrubbers fitted to minimise the nitrous oxide emissions. Unfortunately a side effect of the process is a slightly increased level of CO2 emissions. Small vehicles are not required to have these systems, but we’ve recently learned that the majority of cars on the road in Europe are emitting vastly more nitrous oxide than the official tests reveal. The same presumably applies to vans. So should we insist that they are retrofitted with scrubbers?  Scrappage will only be effective if the new vehicles are truly cleaner than the ones they replace. Not a lot at this stage has been said about particulates, but it has been well known for years that they are a health hazard. Particulates are microscopic particles of soot which lodge deep in the lungs. Diesel engines produce quite a lot of these.


Here's another lord. Lord Adair Turner is a former chairman of the UK government’s climate change committee and is now chairman of the international Energy Transition Commission. Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he explained that we must reduce carbon emissions and at the same time protect economic growth. He saw a future for renewable and nuclear electricity - the cost of solar energy is now down to US¢6 per kWh and competitive with gas and coal - but he pointed out that the electricity accounts for only 20% of global energy use. We need to decarbonise our transport fleet, which of course would have a dramatic effect on urban air pollution. It would also have a dramatic effect on electricity demand raising questions about matching demand with supply and providing an infrastructure which could support the vast number of charging points which will be required. Let’s hope Lord Adonis (there’s another one) and his Infrastructure Commission have this under review.

To decarbonise our economy we must also increase our energy productivity, in other words reduce the amount of energy required to produce each unit of GDP. It's going to be difficult to do this with some heavy industries and carbon capture and storage may be the answer here. Unfortunately CCS has lost government support and is taking a long time to be proved at the commercial scale. Lord Turner said he believed it would be technically possible to limit global warming to 2℃, even to 1.5℃, but this would be challenging.

Letter to The Times

This week a number of lords wrote to the editor of The Times newspaper. Here's what they said:

“We are writing because we are concerned that some of your recent
coverage of man-made climate change and energy risks bringing
discredit on your paper….

“The particular article that stimulated this letter appeared on 23rd
February, entitled “Planet is not overheating, says Professor”, by
your environment editor Ben Webster. It concerned a “study”
purporting to show that there is no statistically valid evidence for
man-made climate change, and therefore the planet will not warm
significantly by the end of the century.
That a paper of The Times’ standing chose to report on this study at
all is astonishing, given its poor quality. Since your article appeared,
scientists have commented, for example, that the method used
involves ignoring everything that science has discovered about
atmospheric physics since the discovery of greenhouse warming by
John Tyndall more than 150 years ago. They have shown that
already global warming has proceeded more rapidly than the upper
bound of the study’s projections. It was performed by someone who
is not a climate scientist, used methods that are unverified in the
climate change context, was not peer-reviewed, and was
commissioned and paid for by an NGO pressure group, the Global
Warming Policy Foundation.
On social media it has, literally, been a laughing stock.”

The letter goes on to quote other examples and then continues,

“As Editor, you are of course entitled to take whatever editorial line
you feel is appropriate. Are you aware, however, how seriously you
may be compromising The Times’ reputation by pursuing a line that
cleaves so tightly to a particular agenda, and which is based on
such flimsy evidence? The implications for your credibility extend
beyond your energy and climate change coverage. Why should any
reader who knows about energy and climate change respect your
political analysis, your business commentary, even your sports
reports, when in this one important area you are prepared to
prioritise the marginal over the mainstream?”

And then: 
“If you lose trust, you lose
everything; and on this issue, you are losing trust.”

There’s a lot more to it and it’s worth reading in full.

The letter was signed by: 
Lord Krebs Kt FRS
The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO ChStJ PC FSA
Lord Deben PC - he’s the current chairman of the government's climate change committee
Lord Hunt of Chesterton CB FRS
Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng - she’s also a member of the climate change committee.
Lord May of Oxford OM Kt AC FRS FAA
Lord Oxburgh KBE FRS Hon FREng
Lord Puttnam Kt CBE HonFRSA Hon FRPS - the film producer and educator,
Lord Rees of Ludlow OM Kt FRS FREng
The Earl of Selborne GBE DL FRS
Lord Stern Kt FRS FBA - the economist who wrote the Stern Report
Lord Turner of Ecchinswell - we heard from him earlier, and 
Lord Willis of Knaresborough

But not Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. Well, he was in New York, signing the Paris Agreement.


As I write this Emma Thompson is baking a cake in a field in Lancashire. Yes, It's another Greenpeace protest. The field is scheduled as a fracking site even though Lancashire county council have refused permission. Legislation now permits the government to overrule that decision, despite the wishes of the council and of local people. It's interesting, isn't it, that a single objection can block the construction of an onshore wind turbine, but no one is allowed to block fracking even though there is much public opposition. My own objections to fracking are on two grounds. First, it will take many years before fracking will yield any product and secondly that product will be a fossil fuel and incompatible with the nation’s objective of reducing carbon emissions.

The Weather

And finally, the weather. 2014 was the warmest year ever, only surpassed by 2015. January 2016 was the warmest January on record, February 2016 was the warmest February on record and March 2016 was the warmest March. April is on track to break records as well. It is expected to be the coldest of April on record. We had snow yesterday. Take heart. Remember that song by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. It goes:

“Come July the sun is hot. Is it shining? No it’s not.”

And that's it for this edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. I'm Anthony Day, leader of the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group, and thank you for listening.

And next week, there'll be another episode.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Renewables - clearing the air

Published as a podcast at on Friday 22nd April

The Sustainable Best Practice Exchange took place last week. To keep exchanging best practice I'm setting up the Sustainable Best Practice mastermind group and a number of conference delegates have already expressed interest. There’s a couple of places left, so if you want to join a select group of business leaders and public officials, call me today on 07803 616877 or send a mail to for an invitation to the Orientation and Selection Day. It’s on 7th July.


The oil price is up - and down. What of the future? Bernie Sanders wants to phase out most fossil fuels by 2050 but his opposition to nuclear power is causing debate. Elsewhere in the US children are taking the Federal Government to court over climate change. A meeting of the European Geosciences Union counted the cost of natural disasters and the Pakistan government was criticised for not doing more. 

Did green taxes drive Tata Steel out of the UK? Surprisingly, the opposite seems to be true.

 In Washington, scientists are conjuring electricity out of the air, but here in the UK you may soon be able generate electricity by spending a £1 and then spending a penny.

And why is Lord Nelson wearing a face mask?

Oil Price

First the oil price. It rose this week in advance of an OPEC meeting when everyone hoped that production would be cut. Then it fell when there was no agreement. Given that Iran doesn’t talk to Saudi Arabia it’s surprising that anyone expected success. The price is now somewhere between $40 and $43 per barrel. Well below the $140 peak, but significantly better than January’s $29. Predictions of $80 by June now seem unlikely. Every day a million or so barrels are put into stock unsold, so there’s a considerable and growing buffer which will surely dampen any sudden price movements.

Across the Pond

Manda Scott, yes you know, the famous one, draws my attention to an article in “Bernie Sanders wants to phase out nuclear power plants. Is that a good idea?”

Bernie, still in the race for the Democratic nomination but unlikely to win, makes his support for clean energy clear on his website.

“Right now, we have an energy policy that is rigged to boost the profits of big oil companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell at the expense of average Americans. CEO’s are raking in record profits while climate change ravages our planet and our people — all because the wealthiest industry in the history of our planet has bribed politicians into complacency in the face of climate change. Enough is enough. It’s time for a political revolution that takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters.”

He goes on: “Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet. The debate is over, and the scientific jury is in: global climate change is real, it is caused mainly by emissions released from burning fossil fuels and it poses a catastrophic threat to the long-term longevity of our planet.”

He doesn’t pull any punches: “97 percent of scientists agree about the urgent need to act and the vocal minority who don’t are bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.”

“In the 60’s, President Kennedy set a goal that many said was impossible – but by the end of that decade, Neil Armstrong had successfully taken his giant leap for humanity. Our government needs to think that big today and commit to prioritizing the transition to an economy powered by more than 80 percent clean energy sources by 2050.”

Clean energy for Bernie includes phasing out nuclear power as well as fossil fuels. “But nuclear is clean,” cry his critics. True, it’s clean in operation providing you ignore thermal pollution at some sites. Cooling water can be returned to rivers or the sea at up to 18 degrees warmer than when it was extracted, which is not without environmental consequences. Of course, constructing a new nuclear plant has a massive carbon footprint. “But if you close down nuclear power stations generators will just burn more coal and gas. They’re doing that already in Japan and Germany.” But Bernie’s going to tax oil and gas and he’s going to phase out nuclear by tightening the requirements for re-licensing existing plants. Nuclear power stations in the US must be re-licensed every 20 years and some will need extensive investment if they are to be brought up modern standards. Including the one in northern California which is sited on a seismic fault which was not known at the time it was built.

Even as president, Sanders would have a hard time turning his policies into law. But at least he’s ignited a fierce debate. His spokesman commented:

“Sen. Sanders knows there are lots of reasons why nuclear power is a bad idea. Whether it’s the exceptional destructiveness of uranium mining, the fact that there’s no good way to store nuclear waste or the lingering risk of a tragedy like Fukushima or Chernobyl in the U.S., the truth is: nuclear power is a cure worse than the disease. Safer, cleaner energy sources like wind and solar will help us meet America’s energy needs while protecting the health of our people and combatting the threat of climate change.”

Kids take the US to court

Bernie’s not alone.  Imran Jiwa spotted an article in Forbes Energy ( ) by James Conca

He reports that in the first lawsuit to involve a planet, Judge Thomas Coffin of the United States Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon, ruled in favor of twenty-one plaintiffs, ages 8 to 19, on behalf of future generations of Americans in a landmark constitutional climate change case brought against the Federal Government and the Fossil Fuel Industry.
The lawsuit alleges that the Federal Government is violating the Plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels.

The judge recognised a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. 

Or as Conca put it: “This is legalese for “global warming may eventually hurt all of us, but it will hurt our children and grandchildren the most, so they have the right to sue.”

Most importantly, the judge unequivocally rejected all arguments raised by the Federal Government and the Fossil Fuel Industry in their Motions to Dismiss.

The next step in this case is a review of Judge Coffin’s decision by Judge Ann Aiken, another judge in the same Federal Court.

Dr. James Hansen, famed climatologist and also a plaintiff in this case, said, “Judge Coffin in effect declares that the voice of children and future generations, supported by the relevant science, must be heard.” 

 Unsurprisingly, the three fossil fuel industry trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, called the case “a direct, substantial threat to our businesses.”

16-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett said, “The future of our generation is at stake. People label our generation as dreamers, but hope is not the only tool we have. I am a teenager. I want to do what I love and live a life full of opportunities. I want the generation that follows to have the same chance.”

Unfortunately she’s not old enough to vote for Bernie Sanders, but look out for her in 2020.

Natural disasters

In a paper presented to the recent European Geosciences Union meeting it was reported that losses due to natural disasters since 2000 amounted to around $200 billion, equating to around 0.25% of Global GDP.

Over 40% of this was due to flood and rainfall, 26% to earthquakes - which we can’t do a lot about, 19% due to storm effects and 12% due to drought. A case in point is Pakistan’s Thar Desert, southeast of the port city of Karachi.  Pakistan Press TV reports that some 2 million people have been affected by drought for the last three years. They have no water, they have no food; they rely on handouts. Since March alone at least 130 children have died due to famine. Now a report by a fact finding mission says the tragedy could have been prevented had authorities acted in a timely manner. Authorities across the world need to wake up to new responsibilities as the climate changes. Even in York in prosperous England, where the floods back in December were trivial by comparison with most national disasters, the authorities admitted that they had no contingency plans for the events that occurred.

As I said, there’s not much we can do about earthquakes. Our thoughts are with the people in Japan and Ecuador, whose communities were ripped apart by earthquakes last week.

Eco-tax and TATA Steel

Did green taxes drive TATA Steel out of the UK? No, in fact, they made them money - an estimated £700m according to the Guardian. The tax involved is EU ETS, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.  The way it works is that businesses that emit greenhouse gases have to pay a tax on every tonne, by buying credits. This helps to make it more economically attractive to build a newer, cleaner plant than continuing to run an old and dirty plant with a high level of expensive emissions. It is recognised that this surcharge on emissions can make some heavy users of energy uncompetitive, even if they are efficient. They are therefore awarded a number of credits free of charge to offset this. What happened was that TATA Steel were awarded far more credits than they needed. They were entitled to sell them on to other, dirtier, businesses which were short of credits. And they did. And they made £700 million. Unintended consequences?

Wireless power

Wireless power makes me think of Tesla. Tesla probably makes you think of Elon Musk, electric cars and super batteries. The link is Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American electrical engineer, physicist and inventor from the late 19th century. Among other things he built a transmission tower designed to send messages to ships at sea long before Marconi started his work. There were also plans to distribute electricity wirelessly. At this point his financial backers withdrew and the tower was demolished. Conspiracy theorists say that his backers had interests in cables and withdrew because wireless transmission would have destroyed their market. Who knows?

This week however, comes news that scientists at the University of Washington have developed a wireless electricity transmission system. Well, more of a harvesting system. This doesn’t involve building any big towers and it won’t power your washing machine or electric car. It comes out of the development of the internet of things. The internet of things, or IOT, is the move towards putting a chip in almost everything and connecting it to the internet. Smoke alarms, security cameras and all sorts of sensors are gradually building our connected world. The problem is that every one of these units needs a battery and every battery needs to be recharged or replaced. Researchers have come up with a battery that can be recharged from energy in the signals from mobile phone masts, wifi routers and TV transmitters that are all around us all the time. This energy is minute, but the requirements of these sensors is minute as well. Presumably, since these batteries will effectively be on charge all the time, they only need to be small. Costs as low as $1 have been quoted.

In for a penny in for 1p.

Meanwhile, at the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Bioenergy Centre in the UK, research continues into a unique form of renewable energy. Scientists have developed a microbial fuel cell which generates electricity from urine. This latest version is smaller and more powerful than previous units - and it’s cheaper.  The Engineer magazine reports that the universities are working with Oxfam to put arrays of these cells to light up toilet cubicles in refugee camps in developing nations. Of course they can be used to light anywhere where there is no power supply and could probably charge up phones and small electronic devices. And they don’t need sunshine. At a cost per cell estimated at around £1 they are a realistic solution for poorer countries, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be used everywhere else. However, comments on the Engineer article do say that solar panels are a much cheaper solution, and they criticise research into a problem which they say has already been solved. However, if there's a source of energy that we normally just flush away, surely we shouldn't just write off methods of making use of it.

And finally, why is Lord Nelson  wearing a face mask? 

Here is a message from Greenpeace:

“Lord Nelson famously said that desperate affairs require desperate measures. 40,000 lives are cut short by air pollution every year. This is a national health emergency and people need to know about it. That’s why activists scaled Nelson’s column and 14 other iconic statues.”

There’s a petition to the prime minister about air quality on the Greenpeace website. And Queen Victoria’s wearing a face mask as well.

That’s it for another week. I’m off to check my beehives to see if they’ve started making any honey yet. Before I go…

SBPMg, that’s the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group, holds its inaugural Orientation and Selection Day on 7th July. If you want to be part of a small and select group focussing on business and organisational excellence contact me now by phone or email and I’ll tell you more. Once we’ve established the group I won’t tell you anything about it, because Chatham House rules - what’s discussed in the group will stay in the group. Of course, if you become a member, you’ll know.

Well that is it. Thanks to all who have written in with comments and ideas. Please keep them coming. It’s really useful to know what you’d like to hear about and the stories that you’ve found.

Until next week, this is Anthony Day! 

And that was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Who’s driving?

Published as a podcast on Friday 8th April at

Hello, yes, it’s Anthony Day, it’s Friday 8th April 2016, there’s less than a week to go to the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange and this is the Sustainable Futures Report.


A while ago we were talking about Peak Stuff. Now people are talking about Peak Car. What are we going to drive, or are we all going to stop driving? And how will that change where we live? This week I'm talking about the new Tesla - 300,000 people want one -  about self driving cars, and about where we get the power from to run them. That could be a problem in the UK where we are closing power stations, but an opportunity in Saudi Arabia where Jeremy Leggett reports a major project to exploit solar energy. Must be good news for air quality. I'll talk about that as well. While some see the UK as a basket case in terms of energy and carbon reductions policies, the committee on climate change soldiers on with a new report out this week. And I expect we’ll slip in something about Hinkley C.

Yes, somebody has suggested that we’re approaching Peak Car, and from here on fewer and fewer people will own their own cars and fewer will drive. For the moment people are still wedded to cars, but they’re looking for something new. Elon Musk, inventor of PayPal and CEO of Spacex the rocket company, has just announced the launch of Tesla Model 3, his third electric car. Electric cars are already very sophisticated. If you’ve looked at the BMW i3 or the Nissan Leaf the comfort and specification is extremely high. The problem, though, is range anxiety. People are afraid that they will run out of charge, and they know that it takes at least 30 minutes to partially recharge and that’s only possible if there’s a handy charge point. The typical range of current models is 80 miles. More than enough for the average commute, but not enough for that unexpected journey or diversion. Tesla has addressed that problem. The original Model S has a range of over 300 miles. The new compact Model 3 has a range of over 200 miles. OK, that’s significantly less than the Model S, but the Model 3 costs $35,000 instead of $120,000. Nearly 300,000 people have already placed pre-orders for the new car, and to do that they have had to put down $1,000 or £1,000. Good news for Tesla’s cash flow.

If you go to the Tesla website it features Autopilot, a system of automatic steering, braking, lane changing and parking. Most of the technology for self-driving cars is therefore already available. It’s no secret that Google are trialling self-driving cars and Apple are strongly rumoured to be developing an electric car to rival Tesla. Apple should be well placed to turn it into a self-driving car. (Self-driving car: that’s a bit of a clumsy phrase. Time for a new name. Suggestions on an email please. The winner will receive a valuable prize.)

This week Highways England announced that it would spend £150m on trials of wirelessly connected vehicles and driverless cars on UK roads. These vehicles will be on motorways by the end of 2017. You can find out more from the Innovation strategy report which is available from 

What will driverless cars mean for the way we live?

Prof Andry Rakotonirainy of The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia believes that a road network full of self-driving cars will be far safer than today’s human-directed traffic, but what has him concerned is how to make the transition.
“We know that in over 90% of cases, crashes are due to human error,” he says,  “But we face a transition period of a mixture of automated cars, human driven cars and other road users like pedestrians and cyclists who are not automated.”

However, once cars are fully automated it opens a whole range of new possibilities. For example, when vehicles are able to continue driving, by themselves, after dropping their passengers at a destination, they can carry on to meet the needs of other commuters rather than taking up space in a car park. Car parks can be smaller as well. At present, car parks have to be designed so that every car always has a route to the exit. If cars are shared you just take the one nearest the door.
Jonathan Roberts, professor of robotics at QUT, foresees companies preferring to offer their cars as a taxi-style service rather than selling them directly to motorists. This is servicisation (horrible word) which we’ve discussed several times recently. It’s promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as one of the routes to the circular economy.
Regardless of whether such an arrangement becomes the transport norm, Roberts believes it is likely to be how driverless cars start out: Uber is investing heavily in robotics technology with dreams of an efficient fleet of self-driving vehicles.
“Uber hired dozens, if not hundreds, of robotics researchers,” Roberts says. “They are clearly serious and aren’t thinking 20 or 30 years ahead, but autonomous taxis in the next 10 years.” Bad news for Uber drivers!

Gilles Vesco is the politician responsible for sustainable transport in Lyon.
He has a vision of cities in which residents no longer rely on their cars but on public transport, shared cars and bikes and, above all, on real-time data on their smartphones. He anticipates a revolution which will transform not just transport but the cities themselves. “The goal is to rebalance the public space and create a city for people,” he says. “There will be less pollution, less noise, less stress; it will be a more walkable city.”
Vesco, played a leading role in introducing the city’s Vélo’v bike-sharing scheme a decade ago. Now he is convinced that digital technology has changed the rules of the game, and will make possible the move away from cars that was unimaginable when Vélo’v launched in May 2005. “Digital information is the fuel of mobility,” he says. “Some transport sociologists say that information about mobility is 50% of mobility. The car will become an accessory to the smartphone.”
The Vélo’v scheme is being extended, car clubs that use electric vehicles are being encouraged, and what Vesco calls a “collaborative platform” has been built to encourage ride-sharing by matching drivers with people seeking lifts. There is, he says, no longer any need for residents of Lyon to own a car. And he practises what he preaches – he doesn’t own one himself.”

Birmingham, which vies with Manchester for the title of England’s second city, (strange, when I lived in Manchester everyone there  thought the second city was London.) Anyway, Birmingham has been following the experience of Lyon and other European cities closely, and is now embarking on its own 20-year plan called Birmingham Connected, to reduce dependence on cars. For a city so associated in the public mind with car manufacturing, this is quite a step. The initiative is being driven by the veteran leader of Birmingham city council, Sir Albert Bore, who talks airily about imposing a three-dimensional transport plan on the two-dimensional geography of the city: “French and German cities all have an infrastructure which has a far better understanding of how you need to map the city with layers of travel.”
“Multi-modal” and “interconnectivity” are now the words on every urban planner’s lips. In Munich, says Bore, planners told him that the city dwellers of the future would no longer need cars. Bikes and more efficient public transport would be the norm; for occasional trips out of the city, they could hire a car or join a car club that facilitated inter-city travel. The statistic everyone trots out is that your car sits outside, idle and depreciating, for 96% of its life. There has to be a more efficient way to provide for the average of seven hours a week when you want it.

Bikes are great. Except when it rains.

Car clubs offer a second statistic. Whereas a personally owned car caters for an individual or a family, a car-club car can service 60 people.

London, which has pioneered congestion charging and has a well-integrated system of public transport, has led the move away from cars over the past decade, during which time 9% of car commuters have switched to other forms of transport. “People in London have a lot of options and there’s been huge growth across all modes,” says Isabel Dedring, the deputy mayor for transport in the capital. “There’s been a massive increase in investment in public transport.”

I think that’s well known. Not everyone is happy that the investment per head in London is 10 or 20 times the investment per head in other parts of the UK.

Dedring says the past decade has seen a 30% reduction in traffic in central London.
“Traffic levels have gone down massively, partly because of the congestion charge, but also because we are taking away space from private vehicles and giving it to buses through bus lanes and to people through public realm [developments].” And now to cyclists, too, with the planned “cycle superhighways” and cycle-friendly neighbourhoods being trialled in three London boroughs.

Many city developments are now predicated on there being no car spaces for residents. Developers worried about this initially, but have come to realise it doesn’t pose a problem for the young professionals likely to be buying their flats, so have accepted the demands of council planning departments. 

There’s a lot more on how cities all over the world are adapting to cars in a Guardian article by Stephen Moss entitled “End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile” Find the link in the text version of this episode at  


Back to Tesla’s new car launch. CNBC asks, “With reservations for Tesla's new Model 3 topping 276,000 in less than three days, one key question remains for those who want to get in line: Will they be able to get a $7,500 federal tax credit for purchasing the electric car?
The Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle Credit was created in 2009 as an incentive to get Americans to buy electric cars. It's offered to the first 200,000 buyers of an electric vehicle in the U.S. from each automaker. After a manufacturer hits that electric vehicle sales number, the credit is phased out.

There’s a grant of up to £4,500 for new plug-in cars here in the UK, but if electric cars and plug-in hybrids become popular maybe that will be abolished too. Probably at short notice.


If electric transport is the future, where will the electricity come from? In the UK we closed two coal-fired power stations on 31st March: Ferrybridge C and Longannet, with a combined output of 4.4GW. Rugeley B (1GW) is scheduled to close in the summer. Eggborough and part of Fiddlers Ferry power stations were also to close this year, but have been retained by National Grid on standby contracts. That means we will have lost 5.4GW by the end of the summer, and a further 3.5GW when those standby contracts expire. Total 8.9GW. Hinkley C, the new nuclear power station, will have an output of 4GW, so despite being the UK’s largest generator when it opens and accounting for 7% of the nation’s electricity, it won’t nearly fill the gap. And in any case it’s not scheduled to come into production until 2025 at the earliest.

Last winter the National Grid predicted a safety margin of just over 1% between electricity supply and demand in the event of a harsh winter. Of course it was very mild so there were no problems. Can they be as lucky in 2016? I’m looking forward to the Grid’s Winter Outlook Report.

In the UK  we’ll probably fill the gap - a gap which takes no account of significant use of electric transport - by using more gas power stations and diesel generators. 

According to Chandrakant Isis, quoted in my newspaper this morning: “As opposed to what Tesla supporters believe, electricity is not harvested from unicorns. In most countries, including the US, the majority of the electricity is generated by burning coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels.” True, but petrol and diesel cars pollute, and particularly on short runs when the engine is cold. Cars running on electricity, even from fossil fuels, can be cleaner.

But in Saudi Arabia the approach is very different.


I’ve mentioned Jeremy Leggett and his book “The Winning of the Carbon War” in previous episodes. He’s a tireless campaigner for clean energy with a string of academic and business credentials. You can find more at

Anyway, he was recently invited by Saudi Arabia’s national finance daily to write a piece for publication on Saudi Arabia’s solar opportunities. Why should the world’s biggest oil exporter need to bother about another source of energy?

Well, if it stopped using oil to generate electricity it would have more  oil to export. But more than that, the Saudi government has just announced a plan to set up a two trillion dollar investment fund for the post-oil era. Here is an oil giant preparing for the end of oil.

In his article Leggett identifies the trends and developments which are making the move away from oil and fossil fuels inevitable. The most important factor is that the cost of solar installations has fallen by 80% since 2008 and is continuing to fall. In some areas solar power plants are already cheaper than those running on natural gas, leading to new solar plants being built in Dubai and Colorado. The one in Dubai was built by a Saudi company. Within three years Leggett expects solar to be cheaper in the UK, even with its much lower levels of sunlight. The rapidity of the change has taken many by surprise; even industry insiders. Up to 2007 the International Energy Agency was forecasting an installed solar base of no more than 20GW by 2014. The actual figure for 2014 was 180GW.

Apple, apparently, will have solar-powered cars within four years. Tesla, not just a car company, is producing battery packs for home and industry so that surplus solar energy can be stored for use after dark.

Maybe Saudi Arabia can be a world leader in this new industry. Certainly many saw the UN Paris Climate Conference as the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. Time for an oil state such as Saudi to consider diversification. Fortunately it has two trillion dollars to throw at the problem.

If we all go electric, it can only improve the world’s air quality.


At a recent lecture on atmospheric chemistry Prof Lucy Carpenter of the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories at the  University of York told us that atmospheric pollution is second only to smoking as a cause of death in the UK, and way ahead of obesity. She explained that the atmosphere is far more  complex than was thought and new insights are due to advances in analytical technology. It is now possible to detect trace gases in the atmosphere when the concentration is as little as a few parts per trillion. Such gases may be unstable, so air samples cannot be shipped back to the lab for examination. They need to be analysed in the field, which could be the Cape Verde islands, the Antarctic or somewhere up in an aircraft.

It’s not just gases that affect the quality of the air, it’s particulate matter as well, which has been identified as causing heart disease, strokes and other illnesses. Many particulates come from motor vehicles and recent revelations have shown that emissions from cars are far greater than official tests seem to indicate.

Professor Carpenter told us about CFCs, the refrigerant gases which caused the hole in the ozone layer, and how the Montreal protocol brought countries together do something about it. As a result CFCs, which can persist in the atmosphere for 100 years, are declining and the ozone layer should be back to its 1980 thickness by 2030. CFCs are greenhouse gases and it has been estimated that removing them from the atmosphere has had an effect five times the size of the effect that was expected from the Kyoto Protocol.  That was the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. An example of unintended consequences - this time, benign.

While CFC levels have been declining, so have levels of ethane and methane; both potent greenhouse gases. But since 2008 these two have been rising again. Climate change is causing increased emissions from wetlands, but the increase is more than expected. Professor Carpenter and her team have prepared a paper suggesting that fugitive emissions from fracking sites across the US could be responsible for this anomaly. Once it is published I hope someone in government takes time to read it.

So there we are, that’s another week. The world is going electric, our cars will drive themselves, this will change the character of our cities, we’ll get our electricity from solar power even in Britain (although obviously not under the present government) and we’ll all enjoy cleaner air.

And the Committee on Climate Change? Sorry - deadlines. I’ll look at that next week, along with floods in Karachi, Bernie Sanders’ strategy for renewable energy and any thing else sustainable which catches my eye.

For the moment this is Anthony Day, less than a week away from the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange which looks like being an amazing event. I hope I shall see you there - you’ll be sorry you missed it!

That was the Sustainable Futures Report and yes, there will be another episode next week. I’d better start writing it now!