Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sustainable World

Published as a podcast at on Friday 25th March

This is the Sustainable Futures Report in another week when terrorists have attacked civilians in another European capital. It seems only a couple of weeks ago we were mourning the deaths in Paris, and now the same sort of thing has happened in Brussels. We lived as a family in Brussels for most of the 1990s so we know Zaventem Airport well and frequently took the metro through Maelbeek station. Fortunately, our friends who remain there are all safe. We feel for those injured and bereaved in these latest attacks, and indeed for those still coming to terms with Paris and other attacks elsewhere.

A sustainable future must be built on a safe, stable and secure society. It’s a challenge for us all and a grim responsibility for our politicians and governments. 

In the sustainable world this week: solar-powered street lights, the hottest February, sitting in the dark for an hour, di Caprio on China, more on the idea of a basic income and more, I’m afraid, about that planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Oh, and if you’re decorating this weekend, what are you going to do with the paint left over?

Hello, I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 25th March. A quick word on next month’s Sustainable Best Practice Exchange - that’s on 14th April. We have some very interesting people signed up, both as speakers and as delegates. There’s a special rate for listeners to the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m delighted that several of you have taken it up already. Go to and get in touch with me via the contact page and I’ll tell you more.

Solar street lights

This week I came across a company called Scotia. It makes solar powered streetlights. I was talking in an earlier episode about the United Nations global goal number seven, sustainable energy for all. One of Scotia's products is a streetlight which can be installed totally independently, storing the energy from the sun to power the light at night. It’s therefore ideal for installation in remote areas where there’s no existing infrastructure. Where there is infrastructure there’s a model which connects to the electricity grid and feeds surplus energy into the system during the hours of daylight. It can be part of an integrated community energy scheme. A third model is designed for smart grids. It has a buffer battery and can be set up to sell power to the grid when demand, and the price, is highest. It might sell all its stored energy and buy electricity to run the light at night when it’s cheapest. Smart, eh? It’s a great example of cutting carbon emissions and managing demand.

The company was founded in 2008 by Steve Scott and the chairman is Scott McCaw, but it’s not based in Scotland, it’s in Denmark. In fact it provided some of the lighting at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. It doesn’t manufacture in Denmark, but not in China either. The products are made in Austria.

Find out more at 

Have you noticed? It’s getting hotter

The year 2015 made history, with shattered temperature records, intense heatwaves, exceptional rainfall, devastating drought and unusual tropical cyclone activity, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). That record-breaking trend has continued in 2016.

The WMO Statement on the Status of the Climate in 2015 was released to coincide with World Meteorological Day on 23 March, which has the theme “Hotter, drier, wetter. Face the Future.”

“The future is happening now,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records,” said Mr Taalas.

“Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and cut greenhouse gases now before we pass the point of no return,” said Mr Taalas.

Key Findings of Statement on Status of Climate in 2015

  • Large areas of the oceans saw significant warmth. Increased ocean heat content accounts for about 40% of the observed global sea level increase over the past 60 years. Sea level, as measured by satellites and traditional tide gauges was the highest ever recorded.

  • The daily maximum extent of Arctic sea ice on 25 February 2015 was the lowest on record but this record was already beaten in 2016.

  • Many countries saw intense heatwaves. Several new temperature records were broken (Germany 40.3°C, Spain 42.6°C, UK 36.7°C).

  • North West USA and Western Canada suffered from a record wildfire season, with more than 2 million hectares burned during summer in Alaska alone.

  • There were many cases of extreme rainfall, with 24-hour totals exceeding the normal monthly mean. For instance, the West coast of Libya received more than 90mm of rain in 24 hours in September, compared to the monthly average of 8mm. The Moroccan city of Marrakech received 35,9 mm of rain in one hour in August, more than 13 times the monthly normal.

  • On the other hand, severe drought affected southern Africa, with 2014/2015 as the driest season since 1932/1933, with major repercussions for agricultural production and food security. El NiƱo induced drought exacerbated forest fires in Indonesia, impacting air quality both in Indonesia and neighbouring countries. The northern part of South America suffered a severe drought including North East Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela, hitting the agriculture, water and energy sectors. Parts of the Caribbean and Central America were also severely affected.

The announcement goes on: 
The theme Hotter, Drier, Wetter. Face the Future highlights the challenges of climate change and the path towards climate-resilient societies.
The increase in hot days, warm nights and heatwaves will affect public health. These risks can be reduced by heat-health early warning systems that provide timely alerts to decision-makers, health services and the general public.
Droughts must be addressed more proactively through integrated drought management, which embraces guidance on effective policies and land management strategies and shares best practices for coping with drought.
In the event of heavy precipitation and floods, impact-based forecasts enable emergency managers to be prepared in advance. Integrated flood management is a long-term holistic approach to minimizing the risks of flooding.
Building climate and weather resilient communities is a vital part of the global strategy for achieving sustainable development. The WMO community will continue to support countries in pursuing sustainable development and tackling climate change through the provision of the best possible science and of operational services for weather, climate, hydrology, oceans and the environment.

Let’s hope that governments are listening, but worryingly Republican front-runner Donald Trump said last year he did not believe in climate change, while his key rival Ted Cruz has dismissed it as "pseudo-scientific theory".

- See more at:

Earth Hour

Sponsored by Climate Action/UNEP United Nations Environmental Programme, Earth Hour was founded by WWF in Sydney in 2007, and is designed to increase awareness about energy consumption and environmental issues. I was going to remind you to turn off your lights for an hour on Saturday. Then I found out that it was last Saturday.

Still, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and Buckingham Palace were among more than 350 landmarks that turned their lights off between 8.30pm and 9.30pm GMT. Across the UK, The Palace of Westminster, The Shard, The Ritz, Old Trafford and Edinburgh Castle were among the famous buildings to turn off their lights, and nearly 10.5 million people participated. So did people in 178 countries.
But not me.
I forgot.

Showbiz news

Leonardo DiCaprio said on Sunday that China could become the “hero of the environmental movement” for its work in addressing climate change.
China is currently the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions but has taken significant steps to develop renewable energy and reduce air pollution in recent years.

You’ll remember that DiCaprio also used his acceptance speech at the Oscars in February to call on world leaders to combat climate change.

Celebrities often get criticised for entering debates and they are often written off as insincere publicity seekers. Leonardo di Caprio, however, has an established reputation for addressing climate change. You may have seen his 2008 documentary, The 11th Hour. There’s a rumour that there’s another one in preparation. He addressed the Mayors Summit at COP21 in Paris and he also spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year where he received the Crystal Award for artists and cultural leaders who are helping to address the world’s humanitarian and environmental challenges.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was established in 1998 with the mission of protecting the world’s last wild places. It now has some 25 million followers.

Emma Thompson and Mark Rylance were among 12 celebrities who posed nude with dead fish this week. Miriam Margolyes looks like Medusa. The objective was to raise awareness of overfishing.

It’s easy to criticise these celebrities for having no qualifications for talking about the causes they support, but then, the majority of people who do support such causes have no qualifications either. We rely on those experts who have examined the issues in detail and we all have every right to promote their findings. Emma Thompson and her fish made it into the national press, including the Sun. That sort of publicity is priceless.

Do your green credentials stack up?

That’s a question posed by DS Smith Plc which claims to be a leading provider of corrugated & plastics packaging. They have a recycling operation and their website states that as the only integrated provider to pledge zero waste, they stay true to the waste hierarchy with the aim of making 100% of resources into something useful once more. There’s a series of graphics which warn that 82% of customers believe that packaging should contain more cycled materials, waste crime costs the UK economy £568m each year but General Motors generated $1bn from scrap and re-cycling.
Of course it’s a sales pitch, but there are some useful ideas there. Go to their website to find out more. 

Basic Income

Last time I spoke about the idea of a basic income. I suggested that if artificial intelligence comes to displace more and more jobs, wages will no longer be an effective mechanism for distributing the nation’s income.

I found an article on about the basic income paid in Alaska. Alaska? Isn’t that the home of Sarah - drill, baby, drill - Palin? Indeed it is, and when she was governor she paid out the annual Permanent Fund Dividend with a special bonus. Sounds far too socialist.

The Alaska Permanent Fund was set up in the 1950s as a way of allowing all citizens to benefit from the state’s natural resources. Of course there was no oil industry then, but when that was established significant royalties were paid into the fund which was invested in a wide range of stocks. It wasn’t until 1982 that it was decided to distribute an annual dividend. The conditions to receive this dividend are that you must be a US citizen, you must be a resident of Alaska and have lived in the state for at least one full calendar year and you must fill in a form. There is no means test or work requirement. In 2015 the annual payment was around $2,100. That may not sound much, until you realise that there’s no age limit on the payment, so children are entitled on exactly the same basis as adults. A family of four therefore received just over $8,000 last year.

It may not be a perfect model and it may not be appropriate to all nations, but it bears thinking about.

And now Hinkley - Getting to the Point

I know I’ve covered this topic many times before, but it’s a major element of the government’s energy policy and if it’s built it will not only be the most expensive power station, it will be the most expensive construction in the world.

This week the Parliamentary select committee on energy summoned the parties involved in the development of this new nuclear power station at Hinkley point in Somerset. I watched the proceedings on parliament live TV. There is also a recording that you can see at Look for proceedings on Wednesday 23rd March. 

The first witnesses were Dr Simon Taylor, Lecturer in Finance, Judge Business School, Cambridge University; Peter Atherton, Managing Director, of Jefferies, an investment banker and Dr Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist and Policy Director, Greenpeace UK 

They were first asked whether the plant should be built. Unsurprisingly, Douglas Parr from Greenpeace said no, but the other two thought it should go ahead. They were asked if it would be good value for money and both Dr Taylor from Cambridge and investor Peter Atherton expressed serious doubts.  Atherton said he had heard the figure of £18billion, but had also heard that the EU estimated the cost at £24.5 billion. He wasn’t sure which was correct.
They were asked if they expected the project to be on time and on budget. Panellists said they had no direct knowledge, but similar projects led by EDF had all failed to meet their targets.

Witnesses in the second half of the session included Vincent de Rivaz, Chief Executive Officer of EDF;  Zhu Minhong, General Director of UK Nuclear Projects at China General Nuclear and representatives of the companies involved in the construction and manufacture of the plant.

The first question was to CEO Vincent de Rivaz. When would a final decision be taken to start the project?

Of course, he said, they were committed to the project. They were all committed to the project. Indeed, they had already spent £2billion at the site (yes, that’s £2billion) and they were currently spending £55 million per month.

The question was repeated. When would a final decision be taken to start the project?

Very soon.

Yes, but you’ve been saying that for the last 6 months.

Politicians have a reputation for avoiding the question and M. de Rivaz proved that he was every bit as good at this. Finally he admitted that the French minister of energy had said that the decision would be made in May.

When in May?

Early May.

So it would be made before the 15th May.

de Rivaz protested that he could not give a firm date, but he was boxed in by  now and the committee proceeded on the assumption that the decision to proceed would be reached by 15th May.

He was asked about the financial security of the project and in particular about the recent resignation of EDF’s chief financial officer. He couldn’t possible comment about individuals.

Zhu Minhong, General Director of UK Nuclear Projects at China General Nuclear was asked similar questions. He acknowledge each question as a super question, but was as good as de Rivaz at avoiding a straight answer. He admitted that no legal agreement had been signed with EDF. 

When would this happen? By mid May? 

They were making huge progress, he said, they were confident that the plant would be built.

A member of the committee commented that if the plant were fuelled on confidence and passion it would surely be a success.

And so it went on. Every question, on technical difficulties at EDF’s Flamanville plant, on the fact that no similar plants were in operation anywhere in the world, that the UK Nuclear Inspectorate had not licensed the plant (and probably had insufficient staff to do so in time), that similar plants under construction were over budget and seriously delayed, they were all stone-walled.

In conclusion, the chairman of the committee said that if the decision to go ahead was reached by 15th May it could be announced in the Queen’s speech the following week. If not, EDF would be recalled to the committee.

And so it goes on. Watch this space.

Easter Holiday

Are you doing any decorating this weekend? What do you do with the paint left over when you’ve finished a job? Does it go to the tip, or do you put it on a shelf in the garage, only to find that it’s gone all hard and useless when you next open it up? It’s estimated that some 50 million litres of paint are unused each year in the UK, and are either stored or thrown away. Community Repaint, sponsored by Dulux, is a scheme for collecting unwanted paint from individuals and the trade and distributing it to community groups, charities and people in need. If you’ve got leftover paint or you know somewhere in the community that needs painting get over to to find out more. It’s not quite the circular economy and it’s not exactly recycling, but if it keeps paint out of the waste stream and stops it cluttering the nation’s garage shelves, that’s got to be good news.

And finally, 

if you’re wondering how I’ve managed to keep up with the Sustainable Futures Report and do jury service, well it’s all a bit of an anticlimax, actually. Of the 10 days that I was summoned for I was actually required to attend court on three, and was never involved in a case. And now I probably never will be. 

Leaving me more time to finalise the details of the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange ( - tickets still available, discounts for listeners to this podcast) and to think about the next Sustainable Futures Report. And you know when that’s due!

This is Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and there will be another one next week.

Have a great Easter Holiday!