Carbon lock-in – 10 ways to break the cycle

Imagine a world where we have broken our ties with fossil fuels… Our towns and cities are awash with innovative practical projects that are rebuilding our relationship with food, energy, transport and buildings, openly supported by the wider economic and political systems. Such innovation has unleashed all kinds of co-benefits, from cleaner air to better diets, more jobs and income arising across the local area.

Continue reading “Carbon lock-in – 10 ways to break the cycle”

10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply

Would you like to live in a zero carbon future, where a whole new approach to energy has delivered benefits not just for the planet, but also for people and communities?

Rethinking how we access the energy we need is a key challenge as we work to build a zero carbon future. Changing our approach to the production and ownership of energy — who generates it, and who profits — could have many wider benefits, including for people and communities that could benefit financially from local renewable energy projects. Continue reading “10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply”

Waves, weirs and waterwheels – unleashing the power of water

How can we use and manage water in a more sustainable way? CAT volunteer and MSc student Ed Macdonald has been exploring the issues and delving into the detail of hydro power.

Born in the year of the water dragon, perhaps my interest in watercourses is to be expected. As a kid in a nearby natural sandpit I was enchanted by flow of the stream, able to bypass attempts to dam it with clay. Fast forward 20 years, I found a refreshing challenge in designing water treatment facilities for schools in the Kenyan highlands with an NGO, which led me to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment for further training.  Continue reading “Waves, weirs and waterwheels – unleashing the power of water”

Doing what’s required at COP22

On his way back to CAT from the UN climate talks in Marrakech, Paul Allen sums up a conference filled with hope and ambition.

Having now completed my final COP22 presentation request, I am heading back to Wales – where I hear we have just had tornadoes!

This final request came from the Brahma Kumaris Initiative, a large international organisation that pioneers renewable energy projects amongst its 6000 meditation centres across India and another 1000 across the rest of the globe. They focus on mindful practice and live a fully vegetarian lifestyle. Together with a sister organisation, the World Renewal Spiritual Trust, they operate a test-bed research station for renewable energy. I discovered that one of their 770-dish solar cookers produces 35,000 meals each day!

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Brahma Kumaris asked me to present CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain scenario, plus some initial findings from our forthcoming Making it Happen report, as they are keen to explore how new values and a new mindset can help accelerate the transformation process.

Acceleration is indeed vital. Attending COP22 has been a fantastic opportunity not only to share our solutions-focused work, but also to gain a big picture overview of where humanity actually is with its climate challenge. The Paris Agreement committed us to keeping below a 2C global temperature rise, and aiming to keep below 1.5C, which will protect many vulnerable countries such as small island nations. Less than a year later, following that agreement’s unexpectedly lightning-fast entry into force, the world has been gathering in Marrakech to begin the next challenge: charting a course to bring the Paris vision to life.

brahma-kumaris2In order to understand how much we need to accelerate actions to achieve this, I spent time visiting expert talks at COP22, to find estimates for how much of the carbon in the planet’s remaining fossil fuels we can safely burn.

An event run by Berlin’s Mercator Research Institute estimates that the safe budget for keeping below 2C is around 800Gtons, and the budget for staying below 1.5C is 200Gtons. So, if we continue at current global emission levels (around 40Gtons/year) we will have used up the 2C budget in 20 years and the safe 1.5C budget in only five years! Everyone on Earth needs to see these numbers.

The longer the world waits before making radical carbon reductions, the more we must rely on highly speculative and expensive technologies such as ‘Biomass with Carbon Capture and Storage’ (BECCS), which may be able to help us re-capture some of the carbon. More than two thirds of the official IPCC scenarios rely on BECCS, but the technology is by no means proven.

The world, therefore, needs to get to zero carbon as rapidly as is humanly possible.

Fortunately the trend is our friend. Renewables are becoming cheaper faster than anyone ever imagined, and are rapidly approaching the breakthrough prices that will offer trillion dollar investment opportunities. This year, all-time records were broken in investment in and installed capacity of clean energy.

One hundred and nine countries representing 75% of humanity’s emissions have now signed up to this target, rooted in a framework that ratchets up ambition every five years.

I was moved by Senator John Kerry’s powerful address to COP22, where he stated:

The marketplace now gives me confidence…. The question now is not will we do this, but will we do this in time?”

Fortunately the accelerating speed and momentum of the clean energy movement may well be able to trump other factors. There has been a powerful shift from fear to confidence. For the first time I didn’t see a single ‘worried looking polar bear’ costume or poster – and there were far more industry, finance and solutions-focused conferences, events and grassroots practical projects. A wide range of companies in The Climate Group, such as IKEA and Mars, are deeply committed to demonstrating that renewable energy can help you work, rest and play.

The Paris Commitments are the foundation, not the ceiling. Pressure from all sectors of global society must rapidly ramp up commitment as we move towards the next crucial moment.

In 2018, a ‘facilitative dialogue’ process will take stock and serve as a springboard for more ambitious national climate commitments by 2020. COP22 has brought together around 25,000 active players from across the globe, and each and every COP from here onwards must become headline news. Many companies, cities and regions are showing great leadership, but there may not be time to convert everyone to an altruistic mindset – so an effective carbon price must be a priority to transform business as usual.

It has been amazing to see the global take up of renewable energy technologies pioneered by the crazy idealists at CAT over 40 years ago. I am really proud to have been asked to present CAT’s positive solutions at the biggest test in human history.

In the coming years we must all keep up the pressure, and much of this work will take place outside of the COP negotiations. Action by cities, businesses, religious leaders, artists, farmers, scientists, engineers and many other civil society groups will also be essential in strengthening the Paris Agreement to deliver a zero-emissions and climate resilient future.

I am reminded of a quotation from Winston Churchill:

It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

“Facilitative dialogues” – Paul Allen at the UN climate talks

Marrakech is turning out to be a different kind of meeting from Paris, but that does not make it less important, in fact quite the opposite.  If Paris was about creating the framework, Marrakech is about deciding the rules so that goals are achieved.

paulearthThe most common phrase of the day in almost every session I have attended is “increasing ambition”. This can be done by turning up the guilt or it can be done by increasing inspiration – showing both that zero is achievable and that there are additional benefits in doing it. Of course, the key advantage of the latter approach is that it is less divisive and works better to unite communities across the globe.

So many people want to accelerate the transition to the zero carbon economy. People around the world are taking action to install solar and wind solutions, block coal and oil infrastructure and protect forests. People want a different future and are creating it. This determination has grown stronger and louder since Paris.

Marrakech must ensure that this increase in ambition results in plans that match the global goals. So this is why so many need to talk about increasing ambition, as the 1.5C goal really can’t wait. However, just like Paris, Marrakech is driven by incredibly complex negotiating processes. And, thankfully, just like Paris, it has attracted an amazingly bright and highly motivated collaborative global tribe inside and outside of the official process. Working amongst them constantly inspires me, as they get to grips with it all and work out how best to influence the process, flagging up the key issues and phrases.

Perhaps the most important phrase to get to grips with at this point is “Facilitative dialogue”. Due to begin in 2018, this cop22-monday-7thdescribes the official COP process of ratcheting up ambition. It is a chance for countries to take stock of how close they are to achieving the key long-term goals of peaking emissions and achieving net zero emissions early in the second half of the century.

“Facilitative dialogues” are designed to inform the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the pledges that each country makes to show their contribution to tackling climate change. Once countries have a clearer idea of the direction of travel, they will have the motivation to either update or communicate their new NDC by 2020.

It is an incredible feeling to join these astounding people in this process, everyone I have spoken to about our Zero Carbon Britain work sees a clear role for more positive scenarios in increasing ambition for NDCs. This will be the core topic of the first session run by the American Pavilion facilitated by the World Resources Institute – I will be there to see how it goes, and to offer America a hug!

Once again climate has become the focus of global diplomacy

Up-beat delegates and observers from across the globe are now arriving in a surprisingly wet Marrakech for the 2016 UN Conference of the Parties (COP22) – Paul Allen reports.

cop22-monday-7thIn many ways, COP22 will be under a lot less pressure than its Parisian forerunner. It will not be a high-profile event, which allows space for higher quality, more detailed conversations. Coming into global force last Friday, the Paris Agreement established both the commitment and the framework for dealing with climate, but although many here are happy with the “well below 2C” goal, the means to actually deliver it require a lot more complex research and negotiations. So COP22 is really aiming at fleshing out the detail. Some key questions being explored include:

How should we track progress?

How can countries increase ambition?

How can poor nations be supported?

How does all this link to adaptation?

And not least…

Who will be the next US president – and how will that affect progress?

So perhaps the most important over-arching task for everyone participating at Marrakech is sorting out the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from COP21.  These form the basis of the Paris Agreement; they are the pledges that each country laid out at last year’s negotiations, showing their contribution to tackling climate.

The first and foremost challenge is that, cumulatively, the current pledges fall well short of achieving COP21’s “well below 2C” temperature goal, and many are waiting to see if this will be an open public discourse or an elephant in the room.  But, in addition, the NDCs are very diverse in format, as countries have been working to very different baselines – which makes it hard to quantify their cumulative impact. So at COP22, delegates will begin demystifying this process by creating a more uniform framework for future NDCs.

The ‘global stocktake’ is one of the key elements of the COP process, designed to deal with the recognition that current NDCs will not meet the “well below 2C” temperature goals. Stocktakes regularly assess collective progress towards meeting the goals, and are part of the ratchet mechanism that is designed to raise nations’ ambitions.  Worryingly, the first one does not take place until 2023 although there will be a test run, called the “facilitative dialogue”, in 2018 – we need to make sure this sets a good pace.

I feel confident we will see progress during COP22. Zero Carbon Britain has been invited to the COP to present robust scenarios showing that we can get to zero carbon, to support those working to raise ambition. Despite the rain, the atmosphere feels very positive this afternoon as I sit observing the first meeting of the technology framework negotiations. If the speed with which the Paris Agreement was ratified is anything to go by, there is commitment. This early ratification means that once-distant deadlines have been brought forward to drive forward action during these coming 10 days.

The EU and the environment

What would UK environmental policy and practice look like if we voted to leave the EU? With the referendum fast approaching, we explore the possibilities.

Once known as ‘the Dirty Man of Europe’, the UK has cleaned up its act in recent years thanks, in large part, to the influence of the European Union. If the UK votes to leave the EU, how might this impact environmental policy and legislation in the UK? And how would the UK’s exit affect environmental protection in the remaining EU countries?

leavesEU countries have worked together over decades to build one of the most comprehensive packages of environmental legislation in the world, including habitat protection, pollution control and climate change mitigation. Much of the UK’s environmental law has been developed through its membership of the EU, so it’s important to explore the potential impacts of a Brexit scenario.

A large number of EU directives have helped to enforce standards in areas as diverse as water quality, air quality, fish stocks, waste disposal, hazardous substances, radioactive waste, recycling, construction, habitat and wildlife protection, GMOs, animal welfare and climate change.

Whilst some aspects of EU policy (such as the Common Agricultural Policy), have been damaging to the environment, most EU environmental policies have resulted in a raising of standards across EU member states. The EU-wide nature of these policies makes them more effective as many of the issues are trans-boundary (water, air and wildlife all move across boundaries). Single nations are also less likely to raise standards unilaterally due to fear of competitive disadvantage. EU-wide legislation creates a level playing field that countries are more willing to sign up to.

In the event of a ‘leave’ vote, there’s no clear consensus over which exit scenario the UK would follow but, irrespective of what the final arrangement might be, Brexit would result in some important changes:

  • Loss of the UK’s voice in EU decisions affecting the environment.
  • In international negotiations, such as the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change, the UK would contribute independently. This would allow us to steer our own path, but we would lose influence over the EU position, which holds more sway at a global level owing to its size and economic importance.
  • The Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy would cease to apply and we would need to find alternatives. The consequences of this change for land and marine management could be significant.

 

Options for the UK and Europe

Other impacts would be dependent on the type of relationship negotiated between the UK and the remaining EU Member States. There are a number of options, but it’s uncertain which option would be pursued by the UK government.

One option in the event of an ‘out’ vote is that the UK joins countries such as Norway and Iceland as part of the European Economic Area (EEA). In this scenario, most EU environmental legislation would continue to apply, with notable exceptions being the Bathing Water Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives (see box). If the UK stayed within the EEA, we would retain some routes into EU policy debates, but could no longer vote on decisions affecting EU legislation.

In relation to industry, EU environmental law covers two broad areas: ensuring industrial processes don’t cause undue environmental damage and ensuring products entering the EEA meet agreed standards. Examples of the former include limiting emissions and setting broad standards for air and water quality; the latter includes restriction of hazardous substances in products and ensuring suitability for recycling. Most of this legislation would continue to apply if the UK left the EU but remained in the EEA.

 


Bathing water and habitats

The Bathing Water Directive was the main reason that the UK introduced improved water treatment from the 1970s onwards. Prior to this, the seas around the UK were some of the dirtiest in Europe, thanks to the government policy of ‘dilute and disperse’. In the event of the UK leaving the EU, this directive would cease to apply. Although it is unlikely that the UK government would take the unpopular step of weakening standards in this area, there would no longer be pressure from Europe to keep our seas clean.

Similarly, the Habitats Directive would no longer be in force under any of the likely Brexit scenarios. Enacted in 1992, this protects habitats and important species of animals and plants. The UK government has made clear its frustration with some aspects of the Habitats Directive, particularly where infrastructure developments have been affected. There is therefore real concern that UK habitats and wildlife could receive less protection outside of the EU.


 

Other options include a negotiated bilateral agreement with the EU, with some access to the Single Market, or the UK could withdraw completely from the Single Market.  In both of these scenarios, different types of legislation would be affected in different ways.

treeEU regulations are applied directly in member countries so would no longer be applicable in the UK if we chose to leave the EU and not join the EEA. It would then be up to the UK government to decide on UK legislation in these areas.

EU directives are not directly applicable in UK law. Many of them have been transposed into UK law so would continue to apply until changed by the UK parliament even if we left the EEA. Other directives have been implemented under the 1972 European Communities Act, so new legislation would have to be enacted if this act was repealed.

New UK legislation could of course increase, maintain or reduce the level of environmental protection. However, the current government’s actions and promises to ‘cut the green crap’ do not bode well. It’s worth noting that EU states are currently allowed to adopt ‘more stringent protection measures’ than EU legislation requires (albeit with some limitations), yet the UK government has chosen to adopt a ‘no gold plating’ approach – sticking with the minimum standards – while complaining that many of those standards are unnecessary ‘red tape’ for industry.

Even where the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental legislation, companies exporting to the EU would have to comply with EU industry standards. The EU is unlikely to allow equal access to the market for products developed under lower environmental standards where this might have implications for competitiveness.

In or out?

Overall, there’s still much uncertainty over what impact an ‘out’ vote might have. Before its involvement in Europe, the UK did not have a strong record on environmental protections, but in some areas it’s unlikely that we would move backwards. If we remain in the EEA then many protections remain.

However, evidence of the government’s dislike of ‘red tape’ and ‘green crap’, particularly when it comes to protecting the environment against the interests of big business, does give cause for concern. Environmental protection is a long-term investment, often overshadowed by headline-grabbing short-term issues, and in the age of austerity it’s easy to see how certain environmental considerations could become neglected without the safeguards offered by the EU.

In the next few weeks, the voices for ‘in’ and ‘out’ will clamour ever more loudly for your vote – you can use this chance to ask questions about their vision for the environment, putting the issues you care about at the heart of the debate.

 


Climate change

Both the EU collectively and individual members states sign up to new treaties on climate change.
Climate targets are implemented through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), covering emissions from power plants and aviation, and the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), covering emissions from elsewhere. Together, these policies govern overall totals for emissions, and EU legislation determines how allowances are allocated.

Other policies that help reduce emissions within the EU include legislation on transport and energy, including rules on energy efficiency and renewables, and emissions targets for car manufacturers. Energy efficiency rules include the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive. Targets are set for the percentage of energy that should come from renewable sources, plus targets and regulations on biomass.

EU commitments agreed at the Paris climate change talks are currently being developed into a package of new measures, including revisions to ETS, new renewables targets, changes to energy efficiency legislation, and the possibility of the inclusion of legislation on carbon stored in land and forestry.

So what would be the impact of Brexit on EU climate policy? The UK, along with other North-West Member States, has pushed for an ambitious approach to targets, whilst states in the South and East of the EU have been more reluctant. The UK has been particularly influential in determining targets for 2020 and 2030. UK support has been for market-based mechanisms such as ETS over targets for particular technologies. Under a Brexit scenario, EU policy may therefore become less ambitious and more technology-focused in its targets.


 

Read more

There are a few useful reports that cover these issues in more depth:

The EU Referendum and the UK Environment

The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure from the European Union

Brexit – the Implications for UK Environmental Policy and Regulation

 

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This is an extract from Clean Slate Summer 2016. To receive Clean Slate once a quarter and stay up to date with news and veiws from CAT, sign up for membership today.


‘Zero carbon to be enshrined in UK law’

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) welcomes the news that the government intends to enshrine a commitment to zero carbon in UK law, and calls on Ministers to outline a clear plan for how this target will be reached.

CAT Chief Executive Adrian Ramsay said:

The climate science demands that we get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of this century. To do this, we must set ambitious targets and we must start investing in the technologies that will help get us there.

Having stated that ‘The question is not whether but how we do it,’ Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom should now commit to a target date for getting to zero, and outline a clear plan of action. CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research has shown that we can reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today – all that’s needed is the political will. CAT calls on the government to revisit recent changes to UK energy policy and reinstate support for proven, effective renewable technologies that will help us meet our climate commitments.”

Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future outlines a scenario that would allow us to ‘keep the lights on’ through a combination of ‘powering down’ our energy demand through efficiency measures and ‘powering up’ our renewable energy supply. We can do this without pinning our hopes on future technologies, and without new nuclear.  CAT’s most recent research project, Zero Carbon: Making it Happen looks at the barriers to achieving net zero emissions, and how these can be overcome.