Most deprived areas three times more likely to have been flooded than most well-off – Oxfam GB

A report out by Oxfam this week highlights why it is so important to have a strategy for adaptation to climate change that takes inequality into account and seeks to protect the most vulnerable. 

Flooded homes that had to be evacuated in the village of Moorland, Somerset Levels (Photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith)

The most deprived English neighbourhoods have been 3.5 times more vulnerable to flooding than the most well-off over the past quarter of a century, Oxfam revealed this week as it calls on governments to take stronger action to protect poor people from climate change.

The research commissioned by Oxfam comes after the UK’s wettest winter since records began more than 200 years ago, which saw more than 5,000 homes and thousands of hectares of farmland across England and Wales under water.

While anecdotal media stories focus on the homes hit by the latest winter floods in affluent areas areas, the analysis indicates that this was in contrast to the real picture.  It shows that almost one in five of the poorest third of neighbourhoods in England were hit by floods between 1990 and 2013. This compares to just one in 18 of the top 10 per cent.

The international agency is warning that as climate change is likely to increase the risks of flooding in the UK, the Government must act to protect vulnerable people at home as well as overseas from increasingly extreme weather and cut emissions to slow the pace of climate change.

The report comes as the IPCC meets in Japan to discuss the increased risks people will face around the globe as a result of climate change. Unless urgent action is taken to protect our food supply, climate change is likely to put back the fight against hunger by decades, according to Oxfam.

Sally Copley, Oxfam’s head of UK policy, programmes and campaigns, said: “This winter’s floods dramatically demonstrated that people in the UK will not be immune from the effects of climate change. Around the world, climate change is hitting the poorest hardest and we must make sure this doesn’t happen overseas or on our doorstep.

“Not only are poor people hurt most by extreme weather events, they are also most vulnerable to food shortages and price increases. In a world where one in eight people already go hungry we cannot afford to put off action any longer.”

Earlier this month the Centre for Alternative Technology, Mid Wales, launched a masters degree in Sustainability and Adaptation. The new MSc programme is the first in the UK to put adaptation to climate change on an equal footing with prevention. The course teaches a process called transformation planning, which enabled communities and organisations to integrate sustainability and adaptation considerations to transform the way they work. This kind of thinking is becoming increasingly urgent as the effects of climate change begin to be felt around the world.

Already this year, the worst drought in a decade has ruined crops in Brazil‘s south-eastern breadbasket, including the valuable coffee harvest. In California, the worst drought in over 100 years is decimating crops across the state, which produces almost half of all the vegetables, fruits and nuts grown in the US.

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts will become more serious. It is estimated there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five in 2050 compared to a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all under-fives in the US and Canada combined.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, due to be published on 31 March, is expected to warn that climate change will lead to declines in global agricultural yields of up to 2 per cent each decade at the same time as demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade.  It is also expected to warn of higher and more volatile food prices. Oxfam estimates world cereal prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change.

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Britain’s first ‘fracking village’ shows how to make Zero Carbon Britain a reality

Last year, Balcombe hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Targeted to be first in a new wave of oil and gas drilling, the sleepy West Sussex village found itself in the eye of the national storm surrounding the push for fracking in the UK.

This year will be different. Keen to see a positive, practical response to the divisive fracking debate, residents have set up a clean-energy co-op called REPOWERBalcombe. The goal: build enough community-owned solar power to match the electricity needs of all 760 homes in the village within 2 years.

The REPOWERBalcombe group (Image by 10:10)

It’s bold, it’s brilliant, and it could be the shape of things to come. The Repower approach is already on the rise, and success in Balcombe can help it spread faster.

Today (27th March) they are publicly launching their coop and its aim, for the first time. Climate Change campaign 10:10, has been lending the community a hand to help set it up, and today are launching their “Back Balcombe” campaign, to do exactly that – offering the nation a chance to support the village’s ambition to reject fracking and move to power itself from clean renewable sources, and hopefully inspire people around the UK to get involved with repowering their community

Research from the Centre for Alternative Technology shows that it would be possible to power Britain entirely by renewable energy without having to use fossil fuels. The Zero Carbon Britain report shows that a mixture of renewable energy sources, alongside energy efficiency measures and careful land management could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero within 15 years. Balcombe’s decision to embrace renewable solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels is a very welcome step that exemplifies the decisions that need to be taken for the whole of the UK.

Kit Jones from the Centre for Alternative Technology said:

“This is a brilliant milestone on the path to a Zero Carbon Britain. It is an example of a community that has rejected the endless race for more extreme fossil fuels and embraced a positive alternative. We know that an energy system supplied entirely by renewable energy is possible. We should back Balcome and hope that it inspires other communities to take energy production into their own hands too.”

Joe Nixon, cofounder of REPOWERBalcombe said:

“We all need energy, but buying dirty fossil power from giant utilities is no longer the only option. Advances in renewable technology mean that communities like ours can now generate the energy we need ourselves, locally, in a way that benefits us directly instead of big power companies – and helps the environment instead of harming it. This is win-win for Balcombe and for the planet.

Leo Murray, from 10:10 and the Back Balcombe campaign said:

“People don’t want fracking but are being told there is no alternative if we want to keep the lights on and have secure power supplies. Well there is. Balcombe is sending a clear message that while fracking has to be forced on communities, they choose clean renewable power.

“If the UK is to cut carbon emissions and meet its renewable energy targets it has to take local and community owned energy more seriously. Massive offshore wind farms and tidal turbines are essential but so is our turning our homes, farms, shops, village halls and rivers into clean power stations.”

You can find the website of the REPOWERBalcombe community energy coop here:

You can find out more about Zero Carbon Britain here:

You can find the website of 10:10’s Back Balcombe campaign here:

The village already has some solar power – mostly on homes.


How it works

The first phase of the energy scheme will be all be funded locally. Residents who put money into shares in the the co-op will become joint owners, giving them a say in how it’s run. These local owners will put up the capital needed to repower the village to the equivalent of 10% of its electricity needs.

While REPOWERBalcombe was set up to serve a local need, Balcombe’s status as the front line of fracking in the UK means the project is likely to attract national support.

The group wants to harness this to fund a much larger second phase. Working with 10:10’s Back Balcombe campaign and Energy4All, they’re developing a mechanism that will allow anyone to invest in helping them meet their power needs from clean renewable energy, while keeping control in local hands.

Surplus income from the scheme, (expected to be tens of thousands of pounds a year) will go into a community benefit fund set aside to pay for energy efficiency improvements for local homes and community buildings.

The first installation will be at Grange Farm, a family farm close to the village, with a handful of other sites expected to go public in the next few weeks. Overall REPOWERBalcombe aims to install around three megawatts of capacity overall, adding up to about 12,000 solar panels in total.


Balcombe, in West Sussex (image by 10:10)

Help us ensure adapting to climate change doesn’t make the problem worse

Changing Planet

The other morning I cycled past a beautiful ancient oak tree, ripped from the earth in last month’s violent storms. The newspapers have been full of images of devastation from the flooded Somerset Levels. Overseas, we’ve seen extreme snow in the US, bushfires in Australia and a tropical cyclone killing 5,700 people in the Philippines.

Finally, people all over the world are waking up to the probability that climate change isn’t some abstract future threat: it is happening now, to us.

It would be easy to say ‘I told you so.’  For decades CAT and its many supporters have been warning the world about climate change and developing ways to mitigate it. But scoring points won’t save our beautiful planet. Across the world people are learning how to adapt to climate change but if we are not careful, some of those adaptations are only going to make the situation worse. We must act now to lead climate change adaptation in the right direction. We need appropriate adaptation that also addresses the root cause of the problem.

Why now?

Since 1950, the earth has warmed by 0.7°C, due to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and other human activities. If these aren’t checked rapidly, then by 2050 what we’re experiencing now will be remembered as a mild wet period. We’d be seeing a pattern of deluges followed by droughts – which means massive social challenges as well as environmental. How are we going to protect the most vulnerable and avoid conflict when these changes really hit?

Governments are already being forced to develop adaptation strategies. But with many ‘deniers’ still in power, there’s a real risk they will do it the wrong way. Quick fix solutions to climate change, such as pouring concrete into the floors of buildings at risk of flooding, or cranking up the air conditioning in offices, would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Our society must adapt sustainably and not just store up problems for the future. To achieve such a fast and radical culture change will take nothing less than a new, low carbon industrial revolution.

Why CAT?

CAT is ideally placed to develop the right kind of expertise and share the knowledge that will steer governments, organisations and individuals away from the wrong decisions and help them adapt sustainably.

For 40 years, CAT and its supporters have taught and inspired people to deliver practical, sustainable solutions. Our graduates include environmental policy advisors, local authority energy efficiency experts, architects specialising in sustainability and engineers managing renewable energy installations.

We’re launching our Changing Planet campaign to share this knowledge as widely and as fast as we can. Can you donate now to help us rise to this vital challenge?

If you can help us, here’s how we will help the world:

We’ll teach new courses, enabling change-makers to lead sustainable adaptation: From September, CAT will be teaching a series of new courses on sustainability and adaptation. We’ll teach professionals how they need to approach building, town planning, land use and water security in the light of our changing environment.

We’ll spread our message to more people by making our Eco-cabins accessible to a wider range of educational groups, improving our visitor centre and holding more conferences and distance learning courses to make our knowledge widely available.

We’ll keep inspiring research leading to new technologies: We have already won awards for our ground-breaking research into hemp – an astonishing crop which, used for building renovations, could massively reduce the UK’s energy consumption.

But we can’t do it without you.

If you can make a donation today, it will help us inspire and educate many more people.  For example, £100 could pay for one of our world-class experts to write and deliver a lecture on climate change adaptation. £2,500 could pay to put on a conference on adaptation towards climate change for 200 delegates.

Yours sincerely,

Adrian Ramsay

Incoming Chief Executive


Starting a career in renewable energy

Dan Halahan, a graduate from the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT, tells about how he completed his MSc alongside getting a job working for DULAS, a local engineering firm that started as a spin-off from CAT.

Dan examining a PV panel on the solar roof at CAT

After finishing a BSc in Physics, I looked to pursue my interest in renewable technology. I volunteered for 6 months in the engineering department at CAT with the idea of later studying an MSc elsewhere in the UK.

Whilst volunteering I worked with a local engineer on refitting a 20kW photovoltaic roof array, which lead to an offer of a job at Dulas, a local well established renewables energy company.

I later found out about the REBE MSc course at CAT. The structure of the course allowed me to accept the job offer, but also carry on with my plan to study for an MSc.

I completed the MSc in 2013 and now work in the wind monitoring department at Dulas, specialising in remote sensing and installing Sodar and Lidar monitoring systems all over UK. The job has taken me to remote, far and wild corners of the country, both on and offshore.

I found it particularly rewarding studying an MSc with enthusiastic fellow students, in such a beautiful area with a rich history in renewables.. The course was lectured by professionals working in the industry, using examples of operating renewable systems within walking distance of the lecture theatre.

Biomass module packed with site visits – Student Story

Dom Busher, a student currently taking our MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment comments on the varied and in-depth biomass module that he recently attended.

Dom (centre) on a site visit during the biomass module

“A broad overview of a massive area, and a very in-depth practical outcome. Over two visits to CAT we covered everything from biogas buses to chimney design and coppicing. We carried out detailed studies of a domestic and a commercial building to design a suitable biomass heating system, calculating passive gains, heat loads based on dynamic modelling, plant room lay out and financial appraisal.

Students learn about log batch boilers in the purpose-built biomass training facility at CAT

“We delivered a group presentation in the second attendance, a great opportunity to team up, learn from each other, and present our heating solution to fellow students and four tutors. I particularly enjoyed the trip to visit a local wood processing business, two biomass heating systems of very different scales with the chance to interview the owners and operators, and the IBERS centre for biofuel development. Our practicals included measuring fuel moisture content, testing and calculating the efficiency of a storm kettle, and experimenting and tinkering with various biomass boilers on the CAT site. Other factors that made it a special experience were the fantastic food, accommodation, course organisation, accessible friendly tutors, stunning location, the Tafarn Dwynant down the road, and a great bunch of students, all exploring and challenging themselves to question how we move our energy systems in the right direction.”

Students on a site visit during the biomass module

Find out more about studying at CAT

NEWS: New Chief Executive to Lead CAT’s Refreshed Mission

The Centre for Alternative Technology has appointed a new Chief Executive to lead the charity’s work in promoting practical solutions to the effects of climate change.

Adrian Ramsay, who is a former Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and currently a lecturer in politics and economics at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment, will take up the post of Chief Executive on 23rd June.

Adrian Ramsay will be the chief executive of CAT from June

The news of the appointment comes in the month when CAT has celebrated its 40th birthday and announced plans to run new courses on climate change adaptation and planning for a sustainable society.

Mr Ramsay will lead the charity’s work on its refreshed mission of addressing the effects as well as the causes of climate change. CAT will be promoting, researching and teaching practical solutions to environmental challenges such as increased flooding and volatile weather patterns.

To support this work, Mr Ramsay will be tasked with leading the change to a new leadership structure to enable the organisation to increase its income and maximise the impact of its unique rigorous, independent and practical approach to addressing environmental challenges.

Adrian Ramsay said: “I’m delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to lead the work of an internationally-renowned environmental charity. I passionately believe that we can create a better world where we live in an environmentally sustainable way – for the benefit of people and planet. The huge talent we have among staff and the wider community at CAT puts us in a strong position to demonstrate and lead change.

“CAT’s unique role in researching and teaching practical environmental solutions to a changing planet is more important than ever before. The storms and floods across the UK in recent months show that climate change is already here: we need to adapt to them in environmentally sensitive ways in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

Mick Taylor, Chair of Trustees for CAT, said: “On behalf of the Trustees of CAT I would like to welcome Adrian’s appointment as CEO. He comes with an excellent track record on the urgent issues of sustainability and has the experience and determination to lead CAT through a process of radical change as it celebrates 40 years of leading the field in sustainability and renews its mission in order to promote its ideas to the widest possible audience nationally and globally.”


Bio: Adrian Ramsay

Adrian Ramsay, 32, was born and brought up in Norwich. He studied at the University of East Anglia, where he gained a First Class degree in Politics and Sociology and then a Masters degree in Politics.

Mr Ramsay served as a Green City Councillor in Norwich from 2003 to 2011. He played a leading role in building up Norwich Green Party to become one of the most successful local Green Parties in the country: it has been the second largest party on Norwich City Council since 2008. Mr Ramsay was also Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2008 to 2012, working alongside Caroline Lucas as the Green Party’s first formal leadership team. At the 2010 General election, he stood in the Norwich South constituency and achieved the second highest Green vote in the country.

Mr Ramsay has also worked as a consultant for the Local Government Association and more recently as a lecturer in CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment.

Mr Ramsay currently lives in Norwich with his wife Jenny. They will be moving to Wales in June.

1974 – 2014: CAT turns 40!

2nd February 1974: “South West gale, rain.

Arrived at Machynlleth with Pat Keiller. Found the Centre very much as we had left it. A Douglas Fir had fallen across the top of the road, but all the structures are intact.

The evening at Lady White’s cottage, Pantperthog. Most comfortable.”

– Anthony Williams, project manager at the National Centre for Alternative Technology, 1974.


2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Alternative Technology. When the first volunteers arrived on-site they faced a huge challenge – turning an abandoned slate quarry into a renewable-energy-powered sustainable community.

40 years on, what better way to celebrate their amazing achievements than with a party? On the evening of the 2nd February CAT staff and friends, old and new, gathered at the Centre for an evening of food, music and reminiscences on the theme of ‘Arrivals’, echoing the arrival of the first workers 40 years before.

For the past two years CAT has been running an oral history project to document the stories and anecdotes of people associated with CAT. Voices from a Disused Quarry is the culmination of two years of work on the project, providing a unique insight into CAT’s early days. It also formed the backbone of the party, with songs and sketches written especially for the evening based on the oral history accounts.

A CAT adaptation of the Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch.

Of course, the 40th anniversary celebrations do not end with that night. Throughout 2014 we will be hosting a series of events to acknowledge CAT’s accomplishments as part of the early green movement, as well as looking ahead to CAT’s future. All events will be posted on the blog and on the CAT homepage. We hope that CAT supporters will join with us in celebrating the inspiring work that has gone before.

Build It Live: Getting Muddy with Self-Builders in Kent, 22nd & 23rd Feb

This weekend CAT is travelling to Kent and we are planning to get muddy. Like west Wales, Kent has had more then its fair share of mud recently, but our purpose is not related to the storms; we will be demonstrating some simple techniques for using earth in construction – making a cob wall and a pizza oven at the Build It Live Exhibition at GLOW, Bluewater.

Putting the final touches to a pizza oven

Build It Live is the ideal event for anyone who dreams of building or renovating their own home. With free seminars, access to invaluable expertise and live, interactive demonstrations such as ours, we are looking forward to a lively weekend. Visitors can talk to us about all our short courses for self-builders or any of the other services offered by CAT.

Clay rendering demonstration

One of main reasons people decide to build their own home is that they want to create something that is truly individual. Using natural building techniques, and building with earth in particular, can be an excellent way to create unique architectural forms because by its very nature, every element of earth construction will be unique in terms of colour, texture and finish. Unfired clay and sand require little energy to produce and can be sourced locally in many parts of the UK. When earth is mixed with clay, straw and water it creates cob – a lovely material to work with because it sets slowly, allowing time for experimentation, trial and error, remixing and reuse.

So that is what we will be doing. Anyone who hasn’t had enough of mud in Kent is very welcome to come along and get involved. In fact, if you are reading this blog you can have two free tickets worth £24 by following this link.