Thursday, May 26, 2016

Drill, Baby, Drill!

Published as a podcast at on Friday 27th May 2016

Hello this is Anthony Day with the latest Sustainable Futures Report.

Yes, this week it’s all about fracking as North Yorkshire County Council gives the go-ahead. A giant cruise liner leaves Southampton and leaves under a cloud. And who’s flying a kite? Under water? Do you have a buy-to-let or investment property? Will it meet the new energy efficiency requirements? All this and more.

This week the big news of course is that North Yorks county council have  approved the application by Third Energy for fracking at Kirby Misperton. This is a village just outside the North York Moors National Park in what Lord Howell, father-in-law of Chancellor Osborne, once charmingly described as the desolate north-east. 

There are two sides to every argument although it is not clear whether they are evenly balanced. For example, there were well over 4,000 written objections to the planning application and only some 37 submissions in its favour. Third Energy dismissed most of the objections on the grounds that 64% were an identical form letter. I think this is completely disingenuous. If 4,000 people object to something they may well all object on the same grounds. If they sign a petition they are all putting their names to the same statement and for that matter if they vote in a referendum they are all making the same point, or at least one of only two points. That doesn’t devalue their opinion. Looking at some of the objections, and they are all available on the North Yorkshire county council website, they vary from loss of amenity to risks from pollution, particularly to the water table, to objections to the production of a fuel which will add to greenhouse gases.

Third Energy argue that this is merely a test drilling on a site which they have operated successfully and without harm to the environment for 20 years. Yes, fracking uses large quantities of water, but they already have access to water on site, so it won’t have to be trucked in. Opponents of the scheme point out that the purpose of the test is to find out whether commercial scale fracking is viable in the area and so this is not just about one test well. Indeed, as I reported last year, Kevin Hollinrake the local MP told Parliament that 900 wells would be needed in his constituency alone. Not all of these would have local water supplies and all of them would have to deal with contaminated water extracted from the site. The substantial increase in heavy goods traffic on the narrow roads of one of the nation’s principal tourist areas was the theme of many objections.

Of course there’s an energy security argument. At present we get up to 20% of our natural gas by ship from Qatar in the Persian Gulf. It’s not the world’s most stable region! Third Energy also pointed out that importing gas across the ocean has a far greater carbon footprint than extracting and using it in here in the UK. We’ll hear all about the carbon footprint of shipping in the next item. Still, it was mentioned in last year’s parliamentary debate that some 10,000 wells would be needed to replace what we import by sea.

Some people objected on the grounds that the process of fracking and extraction leads to fugitive gases. By this they mean that small volumes of gas, mainly methane, would inevitably leak from pipes and valves. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 . Third Energy’s response was that their business is harvesting methane so they would do everything they could to prevent any of it getting away. This is a misleading argument because potential losses are probably tiny fractions of one percent of production, with at least 99.99% of the gas being recovered. It’s impossible to trap that last 0.01%, but that would be enough to cause damage. Compare it with a bee sting. When a bee stings you it injects up to 50 micrograms of venom - a tiny amount compared to your bodyweight. Nevertheless it causes pain, discomfort and swelling - and even death in some cases. The venom is the catalyst which triggers the process which does the damage. The same is true of greenhouse gases. The concentration of 400 parts per million seems low in absolute terms, but it’s more than enough to trigger climate change. The catalytic effect means that tiny amounts can have major consequences.

The council and its officers are restricted in the grounds on which they can reject an application for permission to frack. If they exceed their powers they can of course be sued and in any case there is always the possibility of an appeal against the decision. In the case of fracking applicants can appeal, but by law objectors cannot. Compare this with the law on wind turbines. Anyone can object to the erection of a wind turbine and a single objection is sufficient for a council to reject the application. Already this has had a significant effect on the wind industry.

Paul Ekins, Professor of Energy and Environment Policy at UCL, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the price of gas had fallen by 75% and he thought it was unlikely that fracking in the UK would be economically viable. There is an oversupply of gas on world markets, as there is of oil. Much has been made of the fact that regulations on fracking are tighter in the UK than in the US. None of the American horror stories could happen here. But Professor Ekins pointed out that the Environment Agency, like much of the public sector, has been subject to cuts. There might be sufficient staff to monitor exploratory wells but it would be impossible to enforce the regulations on fracking at a commercial scale. I spoke last week about a shortage of skills. Here’s another example. Skills cannot be conjured up on demand.

The government makes much of the potential for jobs and investment as a result of fracking. There may be jobs, but not for local people because again the skills are not there. There may be investment and increased tax revenues, but there may be bankruptcies as there have been throughout the American fracking industry.

What’s my view? Well I’m against it. 
  • Fracking produces a gas which is a greenhouse gas - methane- and produces greenhouse gas - CO2 - when it’s used. 
  • According to the Royal Academy of Engineering it will be years before fracking reaches commercial production, so it won’t do anything to avoid the looming energy gap.

What should we do instead? We should manage demand. I think I’ve said this before. Where you’re sitting now, have you got the lights on? Is it dark outside? No? Well I’ll just pause a moment while you go and turn them off. But of course it’s about much more than lights and much more than electricity. It’s about how and where you drive. It’s about improving the energy efficiency of making and delivering products and services. It’s about choosing clothes for cold weather, not just turning up the heating.

Where do we go from here? Kirby Misperton is just the start. If permits are granted in other areas, if fleets of lorries start rolling through the Tory shires on their way to fracking sites and objectors find that the legal system is stacked against them I expect a backlash which will rock and maybe topple the government. Especially when people find that fracking does nothing to lower energy bills and especially if a hard winter leads to extensive blackouts. Perhaps that will lead the government to develop a sensible energy policy which involves all sources of energy, which manages people’s expectations and manages demand within the capability of the ageing infrastructure that we have left.

Just a thought, if we vote for Brexit will the French turn off the link under the Channel which provides a significant amount of French electricity to meet the UK’s peak demand? No, of course not.

Stop Press!
Just as I finish writing this I get an email from 38 degrees pointing me to an article on Huffington Post: 
“Under Section 49 of the new Infrastructure Act 2015,” it says,  “the Government must seek independent advice from Lord Deben’s Climate Change Committee on whether shale gas production can be compatible with future carbon emissions targets.
In a previous study, the committee concluded that the new energy technology can only go ahead “if production is regulated sufficiently to ensure that fugitive methane emissions are low”.
It also wanted shale gas production to be accompanied by “a strong commitment to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions” by setting a power sector decarbonisation target.
The CCC’s new report was submitted it to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd more than 6 weeks ago on 30th March.
And under the Act, Ministers are meant to present that report to Parliament “as soon as practicable” after April 1st 2016 - yet it still remains unpublished.”

The email also quotes reports on the impact of fracking from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (part of the LSE) and from Scientific American, among others.

Let’s take a break from all that heavy stuff. Have you ever fancied a cruise?

Sailing Away

Last Sunday the world’s largest cruise liner, Harmony of the Seas, left Southampton on its maiden voyage. The Telegraph reports that 2,100 crew will be responsible for 6,410 guests over 16 decks and 2,747 staterooms. The vessel has seven neighbourhoods and it even has its own park, which contains 10,587 plants, 48 vine plants and 52 trees. A total of 11,252 works of art are showcased across the ship.

The Guardian ran this story, but unsurprisingly with a different slant. Air pollution from cruise ships is getting worse every year, it says. The Harmony of the Seas has two four-storey high 16-cylinder engines which would, at full power, each burn 1,377 US gallons of fuel an hour, or about 66,000 gallons a day of some of the most polluting diesel fuel in the world. Southampton, which has Britain’s second largest container port and is Europe’s busiest cruise terminal, is one of nine UK cities cited by the World Health Organisation as breaching air quality guidelines. Residents complain that it is emissions from cruise liners and cargo vessels which are ruining local air quality. While in port and when close to some coasts ships are required to use low sulphur fuel or abatement technologies, but on the high seas they can burn what they like. One commentator has suggested that the fuel that they use would have to be treated as hazardous waste if it ever arrived onshore. The sulphur content alone is more than 3,000 times as high as in road diesel.

To put it into context, such a large ship as the Harmony will emit more sulphur than several million cars,  and over five tonnes of nitrous oxide and a half a ton of particulates each day. Thousands of cruise ships and thousands of cargo ships are all adding pollution which is damaging air quality and leading to the many thousands of premature deaths that we've reported in other episodes. And these emissions are also adding to the global total of greenhouse gases. There is group called the Sustainable Shipping Initiative which is a consortium of shipowners and related organisations.. You can find them at They have produced a ROADMAP TO A SUSTAINABLE SHIPPING INDUSTRY BY 2040, which covers a wide range of challenges and looks at a wide range of solutions. They recognise the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while anticipating a doubling of the fleet by the end of the 2020s. They consider issues such as deep sea mining, floating wind generation, expansion of coastal traffic off Africa and the need to combat piracy. They urge more government support and foresee new methods of propelling ships, including hybrid power trains and wind power. Unfortunately Royal Caribbean, owners of Harmony of the Seas, are not part of the Sustainable Shipping Initiative.

Did I say that wind was a new way of powering ships? Well there is a new way of using wind for powering ships. I came across Skysails GmbH, a German manufacturer of large kites. According to its website:

“Wind is the cheapest, most powerful, and greenest source of energy on the high seas.
“Now, with SkySails, modern cargo ships can use the wind as a source of power – not only to lower fuel costs, but significantly reduce emission levels as well.
“The worldwide patented SkySails propulsion system consists of three main components: a towing kite with rope, a launch and recovery system, and a control system for automated operation.
“SkySails can be installed effortlessly as an auxiliary propulsion system on both new builds and existing vessels.
“The SkySails propulsion system is efficient, safe, and easy to use – and the fact that wind is cheaper than oil makes SkySails one of world’s most attractive technologies for simultaneously reducing operating costs and emissions.
Interested? Speak with us! We will be happy to visit you at your office or on board 
your ship.”

Use of a SkySails system is claimed to reduce a cargo vessel's fuel consumption by an average of 10 to 35 percent annually, and by up to 50 percent temporarily. Due to its "dynamic flight manoeuvres," the kite reportedly generates 5 to 25 times more power per square meter sail area than a conventional sail. (Apparently this means that it’s constantly looping in a figure-of-eight pattern.) A study by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization suggested that up to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved each year, if the technology was broadly applied to the world's merchant fleet.

It appears that there are currently three SkySails systems in use on cargo vessels, including one prototype. Three more are planned. Presumably the low price of oil is depressing the market at the moment, and the oil which shipping uses is probably of very low value because it can’t be used anywhere else.

Serendipity Corner

While I was researching this item on kites at sea I came across Minesto and their Deep Green power plant. This is a kite, but it’s a tethered kite and it’s tethered at the bottom of the sea. Like the SkySail, it's designed to describe a constant figure of eight pattern. This means that it is actually moving significantly faster than the water currents in which it is located. The kite, or wing, has a turbine in the centre of it which produces electricity. The electricity cable runs along the tether to the seabed and then along a subsea cable to shore. At the moment the system is undergoing trials in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. It is claimed that because of the motion of the unit it can generate significantly more power from slow flowing tides than a fixed turbine would achieve. It can operate in depths between 60 and 120m, so it would not cause the same hazard to shipping that an offshore wind turbine might. What the actual output will be and how difficult it will be to maintain these units is yet to be determined. More at 

And finally, do you have a buy-to-let or an investment property?
Neil Dady of TBS Technical Business Solutions reminds me that commercial property landlords in England are legally required to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties to at least an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band 'E' standard by 2018, before they can be leased to new or renewing tenants. As from the 1st April 2018 there will be a requirement for any properties rented out in the private rented sector to normally have a minimum energy performance rating of E on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). The regulations will come into force for new lets and renewals of tenancies with effect from 1st April 2018 and for all existing tenancies on 1st April 2020. It will be unlawful to rent a property which breaches the requirement for a minimum E rating, unless there is an applicable exemption. A civil penalty of up to £4,000 will be imposed for breaches. 

According to estate agents Knight Frank it is estimated that approximately 20% of non-domestic properties could be in the F & G rating brackets.

It’s also worth noting that from 1st APRIL this year regulations have introduced a right for tenants to request energy efficiency improvements that a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse. You may need to make changes well before 2018.

You can contact TBS on  0800 169 93 55 or There is also information on the government website.

Well, that’s it.

I’m Anthony Day and I’m looking forward to the Bank Holiday weekend. Of course that means I shall only have a four-day week next week to write the next edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. No, three days, because it’s my wife’s birthday on Wednesday. No, two days, because it’s got to be done by Thursday night. It’ll be there!

Meanwhile, there are two places left on the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. Let me know if you want a copy of the prospectus - and put 7th July in your diary for the first meeting.

Until next week! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Published on 20th May 2016 as a podcast at

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.

Ende gelände.

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.

Hinkley C

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:  or mail me at 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.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Published as a podcast at on Friday 13th May.

I'm a gardener. I've often been told that there is no such thing as weed. It's just a plant in the wrong place.
I'm a consumer. We’re increasingly told that there is no such thing as rubbish. It's just materials in the wrong place.

Hello, this is Anthony Day and here is the latest episode of the sustainable futures report for Friday, 13 May.

This week we ask whether electronic waste is the new gold-rush and comment on a new report from the Environmental Services Association. What was the carbon footprint of COP21? Who might be making cars as well as vacuum cleaners? Where will the 5th Carbon Budget take us? 

Beware of Bank Fraud

But first, a cautionary tale which suggests that it’s sometimes a good idea to pay by cheque. We sold a family house recently and asked the solicitor to pay the proceeds into the bank. “No,” they said, “we’ll send a cheque. It’s the firm’s policy.”
“A cheque? For hundreds of thousands of pounds?”
They explained that there were too many cases where account numbers had been misquoted or fraudsters had managed to intercept and change them. The money went to the wrong account and disappeared forever. For these large amounts they now only use cheques.

This week it was reported that South Korea’s largest petrochemical company, LG Chem, made a $21-million wire payment to a fraudulent company account claiming to be that of Saudi Aramco, which is LG Chem’s supplier in Saudi Arabia of naphtha.
According to LG Chem, it had received an email seemingly sent by Saudi Aramco Products Trading in which it was notified about a bank account change. The sender was aware of the amount of money which LG Chem owed its supplier and asked for the sum to be wired into the new account. And it did. It’s urgently seeking redress from both its supplier and the government.

It’s very difficult to spot fraudulent documents and transactions in a busy accounts office. We’ve all seen very credible-looking invoices and received carefully-designed emails which are supposed to have come from the bank, or PayPal or the tax office. Most of these are for small amounts and could slip through for payment with minimal authorisation requirements. Good for a fraudster sending out thousands each day.

Bank account details are something else. If you receive notification of a change to a payee’s account your systems and procedures should demand confirmation via channels you know you can trust. You might consider sending a nominal £1 payment to any new account and confirming with the recipient that it’s arrived, before making a major transfer.


An article in poses the question ‘Is e-waste the next gold-rush?’

In 2014 alone, it tells us, the volume of e-waste generated across the world - scrap computers, phones, televisions, games consoles and so on - topped 40 million tonnes – enough to fill 15,000 football stadiums. By 2017, the world could be producing 50 million tonnes of the stuff every year. Less than 20 per cent of that is recycled worldwide. Why a gold-rush? Well, as rare metals get rarer and more difficult to extract, recycling starts to become more interesting. For a start, weight for weight there is 17 times as much gold in scrap mobile phones as there is in the same amount of ore. At the same time scrap phones contain copper, silver and rare earth metals. The problem is getting the materials out. Many components are glued in place and some of the materials are toxic. The only places where wages are low enough to support the labour needed to take scrap electronics apart are in developing countries. Few of these countries have regulations to protect either the workers or the environment. 

Modular Phones

The circular economy approach is to design products to make them easy to repair, refurbish and finally recycle. 
The new Fairphone, for instance, (we’ve mentioned it before) uses a case made from recycled plastics and a printed circuit board made from recycled copper. The idea is to have interchangeable components, which means that every part can be replaced separately without throwing away the whole smartphone. This means it can be upgraded, extending its life.

The rumour is that Google’s Project ARA is a modular phone. The launch has been announced and postponed several times. The Project ARA website has a single black page with an email address for developers to contact, and nothing else. According to this means that the launch is imminent and updates could come at the Google I/O trade show, to be held May 18 to 20 in Mountain View, California.

Other commentators suggest that Google wants to put ARA on the “too hard” pile and let it be quietly forgotten. Yes, a modular phone has tremendous advantages in terms of resource recycling and avoids any conflict minerals. It gives the consumer the opportunity to upgrade and customise the speaker, the battery, the camera, the memory, the screen and so on. The problem is that it has to compete in a market where other vendors - and consumers - still see the phone as a fashion item to be discarded for a new model, often in less than a year. The modular phone needs to be stylish, price-competitive and the modules mustn’t fall out. The technical problems are considerable. Imagine four or five exchangeable modules, many from third-party suppliers. Then imagine trying to ensure that they all work together in all possible combinations. Whose fault is it if they don’t? Whose fault is it if they wipe your data or even publish your address book on the internet?

Anyway, assuming we can design products for recycling, including many more products, not just mobile phones, a new report from the Environmental Services Association called Delivering Sustainable Growth raises a number of issues. 

A Future for Recycling

It starts by explaining that: “The Environmental Services Association (ESA) is the voice of Resource and Waste Management Industry in the UK. Our Members turn waste into valuable resources while protecting the environment. We represent approximately half of the waste sector—including all the major companies” 
In his foreword to the report, chairman Peter Gerstrom says:
“The industry is working hard to fulfil its ambitions of a more Circular Economy that is beneficial both for the environment and for GDP. This report sets out our achievements and ambitions for delivering sustainable growth within our industry and for the whole nation. 
“However,” he goes on, “there are certain barriers to reaching our full potential where Government intervention is crucial, and in many cases, increasingly urgent. 
“Household waste volumes are once again rising, putting a huge burden on local authority finances. Our industry is also currently experiencing immense challenges with the drop in commodity prices putting pressure on the economic viability of recycling. This unstable outlook has had knock-on implications for investment in waste infrastructure. Combined, these factors are making the likelihood of the UK reaching its target of 50% household recycling by 2020 ever smaller. On top of this, the problem of waste crime is undermining legitimate business and costing the Exchequer hundreds of millions of pounds each year. 
“We believe that with the right policy climate, not only can immediate threats be averted, but our industry can contribute even more to a thriving workforce, a flourishing environment, and a prosperous economy. 
He calls for four key actions:
  1. The development of more resilient recovery markets for waste-derived products 
  2. The introduction of a new framework for producer responsibility which transfers resource ownership from local authorities to product supply chains 
  3. More efficient use of waste collection systems and infrastructure
  4. Waste crime driven out of the sector
“We believe,” he says, “that tackling these areas will unlock much needed investment in our industry, which would help deliver economic growth, thousands of new jobs, and a greener, cleaner Britain.”
How far the government can help with this is not clear, although it has specific responsibilities under the European Directives. Should we decide to leave the EU at the end of next month of course all that would change. I can’t see this government, focussed as it is on cutting spending and minimising the role of the state, rushing to introduce its own more stringent regulations.

The report is an interesting read, containing case studies and more information on the measures needed to achieve its key objectives. It includes useful diagrams, some recycled from earlier documents. But then, recycling is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

You can find a link to the report above. 

In other news

Who might be making cars as well as vacuum cleaners?
What was the carbon footprint of COP21?

And where will the 5th Carbon Budget take us?

The Government is required to set a legally binding carbon budget for the period 2028-2032 by the end of June 2016. The independent Committee on Climate Change has recommended a budget that would limit annual emissions to an average 57% below 1990 levels, as being the most cost effective way for the UK to achieve its long-term climate targets.

Twenty Conservative MPs have written to the prime minister urging him to accept the steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions required by the UK’s ‘fifth carbon budget’, making a strong statement that climate change is a problem that cannot wait.
The 20 backbench Tory MPs include former fisheries minister Richard Benyon, chair of the health select committee Sarah Wollaston, former under secretary of state for health Daniel Poulter, and member of the environmental audit committee Rebecca Pow.

“[The carbon budget] is tailored to meeting our carbon obligations at the lowest possible cost and with the highest ancillary gains,” they wrote to David Cameron. “Early and full acceptance of that advice will give investors and government the confidence to act and so maintain this government’s proud record of lower emissions combined with sustained economic growth.”
The letter was co-ordinated by Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness since 2005 and a long-time campaigner for climate action who is also vice-chairman of the Globe group of legislators around the world pushing for laws on greenhouse gases.

Under the fifth carbon budget, emissions must fall by 57% below 1990 levels by 2032. The budget was set out by the Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body set up under the climate change act to advise ministers on how to meet the UK’s long term climate target of an 80% reduction in emissions by mid-century.

iema reports

This week IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, published the results of a survey of environment and sustainability professionals. It showed overwhelming support for the UK Government to adopt the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. for an ambitions 5th Carbon Budget. 

IEMA’s research found that almost 90% (87.3%) of respondents to its poll conducted during the past week believe that the UK Government should accept the Committee on Climate Change recommendation.
Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor said:
The Government’s independent climate advisors have recommended a carbon budget that is consistent with the UK meeting its national and international emissions reductions in the most cost effective way. Government urgently needs to adopt this recommendation to provide long-term certainty to business and investors”. 
The true test of climate leadership is about sustaining the implementation of policies to achieve long-term climate goals. Government must remain resolute in its support for the UK achieving the 2050 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions. The 5th Carbon Budget provides the basis for giving confidence for investment, innovation, progressive transformation and effective action.”

Further to the recommendations made by the Committee on Climate Change, the Paris COP 21 climate agreement set in place a framework for limiting global warming to well below 2℃ and to limit net global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the end of this century.  The agreement also set an ambition to limit average global warming to 1.5oC. 
In the UK, the Climate Change Act (2008) sets an 80% GHG emissions reduction for 2050 compared to 1990, with a rolling programme of 3 carbon-budgets each spanning a 5-year period.  

Economic Report

It’s encouraging to hear Tory MPs speaking up in support of carbon reduction. All too often the denialists claim that low carbon policies and green taxes are destroying our industry. Interesting then to read a report from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE. Among other things they conclude that:

The UK is part of a leading group of nations that is taking ambitious action on climate change. This group includes many of the UK’s trade competitors.

There is robust evidence that current UK climate policy regime has not damaged the competitiveness of UK based businesses nor led to relocation. In particular, there is no compelling evidence that investments in the EU have been cancelled, or production moved, because of the EU Emissions Trading System or, in the UK, because of the Climate Change Levy.
Climate change policies generate low-carbon innovation which can boost economic growth. Low-carbon technologies have high social and economic value and tend to have broad application across the economy.  Their breath of application is comparable to new technologies in the ICT sector.

Indeed, it says that
The EU should be prepared to raise the ambition of its emissions reduction target. Its current aim to reduce emissions by 40% (compared to 1990) is at the low end of the target range that would enable the EU to meet its 2050 target at the lowest cost to businesses and consumers.

What are you driving?

Talking or low carbon technology, some of us are old enough to remember the Sinclair C5, the electric car launched by computer pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair. It was a pedal-assisted electric tricycle, assembled at a Hoover factory in Wales. It had a 20-mile range, a maximum speed of only 15 miles per hour (24 km/h), a battery that ran down quickly, a lack of weatherproofing and pedals which you needed when going uphill. It bombed.

Now there’s another link to electric cars and vacuum cleaners. At the end of last year James Dyson bought American battery company Sakti3. 

Prof David Greenwood, who leads the energy storage work at Warwick University’s manufacturing group, said that if the company’s solid-state battery lived up to its promise, Dyson could rival Tesla on the car market. There are already rumours that Dyson is working with the government on the development of an electric car. The key to successfully powering vehicles is energy density within an energy store - the amount of energy stored for a given weight. Petrol, for example, is highly energy-intensive.

Prof Donald Sadoway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the magazine Nature that high-density batteries could prove decisive in the widespread adoption of electric vehicles: “If we had batteries with [energy densities of] 350 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg) we’d have electric vehicles with 350 miles of range, and that’s the end of petroleum.”

Dyson’s battery company, Sakti3, has not disclosed the energy density it has achieved but industry experts estimate it has already passed 300Wh/kg. Sakti3’s patent states: “No solid state batteries with ceramic electrolytes have come close to achieving [our] level of energy density.” Solid state batteries do not have liquid electrolytes - by definition - and do not have the fire risks of lithium ion batteries, which have affected some electric vehicles and some aircraft, notably the Boeing Dreamliner. 

Why put down a deposit for the new Tesla when you could soon be driving a Dyson instead? Made in the UK? That’s the next question.

A Clean COP?

And finally, how clean was COP21, the UN climate change conference held in Paris last December?
Making COP21 a carbon-neutral conference was one of the French Presidency’s commitments. On Thursday, 7 April 2016, Pierre-Henri Guignard, Secretary-General of COP21, presented the carbon footprint of COP21 on national territory: 9,600 tonnes of CO2 equivalent – equal to the annual emissions of just 800 French people, and half the amount forecast, all thanks to an effective action plan.

Not sure whether that accounts for all the air miles, but I expect that the delegates all purchased offsets.

And so another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report draws to a close. Thankfully no casualties have been reported as a result of the wildfire in the tar sands region of Canada. Oil is still nudging $47. I’ll have to ask an expert what that’s all about.

Until next time this is Anthony Day wishing you a very good week and promising you another episode of the sustainable futures report next week. If you're in the UK, enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. I'm certainly going to.

Bye for now.