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

 

CS100a-cover

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.

Build a tiny house…

tiny house1We are so excited about our tiny house courses – new from us to you!

Running three times this year, spaces are filling up fast.

Learn how to make a beautiful and bespoke tiny house from the ground up: including the timber frame structure, interior and renewable systems.

Carwyn Lloyd Jones, our very own master craftsman (and TV star!) will guide you through an inspiring and practical week where you’ll learn how to:

• Build a timber frame tiny house (approx. 6ft x 10ft)
• Clad the walls
• Build different roof shapes (including pitched roofs, curved roofs and green   roofs
• Install windows and doors
• Fix the structure to a trailer base
• Create simple, functional and smart fitted furniture
• Integrate Solar PV and thermal for electricity and hot water
• Harvest rainwater
• Include a compost toilet

Jam packed with practical hands-on exercises and talks from experts, this course will give you the skills and enthusiasm to build a tiny house of your own – whether it’s a little off-grid home, outdoor workspace or a glamping pod for summer getaways.

8096918469_1098dc91a6_mCarwyn will also give you a tour of his very own tiny house caravan as seen on George Clark’s Amazing Spaces.

Book here, before it’s completely sold out!

Need more inspiration? Read this blog, written by a CAT graduate who is building a tiny home on wheels in Australia.

CAT responds to cuts to the Feed in Tariff

Statement from Adrian Ramsay, CEO of the Centre for Alternative Technology, in response to government cuts to support for renewable energy

“With the ink barely dry on the historic deal to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees C, the UK government has this week shown just how meaningless the agreement could become.

“Today’s announcement of substantial cuts to the Feed in Tariff threatens the UK’s ability to provide a clean and resilient energy supply, risking locking us into an energy system reliant on polluting fossil fuels, and wiping out thousands of jobs in the renewables industry.

“With these changes being announced just one day after MPs voted to allow fracking under National Parks, the direction of travel of UK government policy is clear – and it’s not towards a safe climate future.

“The science is clear – we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. The technology is available – CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research has shown that we can reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today. What’s needed is the political will. The deal agreed in Paris signalled that the world’s governments are finally acknowledging the urgency of the problem – now they need to make their policy match their rhetoric.”

Richard is using his new knowledge to campaign for practical solutions

Richard Dyer studied part time on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT, whilst also working at Friends of the Earth. He graduated in November 2015, so I took the opportunity to speak to him about the course and his plans for the future.

Richard Dyer
Richard Dyer honding his degree certificate

Why did you decide to study at CAT?

I had been interested in green stuff for years – decades in fact! I currently work as an environmental campaigner, I work for a fantastic organisation but I did the course because I want to do something more practical. The course was recommended to me by someone in the industry – an environmental consultant.

How did you find the course?

Fantastic, really inspirational! It was a real personal journey. I love the place, the location and this building, but there was also something about the fact that you come away here for five nights at a time that means you completely live it. It is very intense: no TV and not much phone signal; you rarely leave site. Every conversation you have is connected to what we are studying. I went for a walk or a run in the hills around the site every morning before breakfast.

I am currently a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, which is what I was doing when I started the course too. I found I spent a lot of time talking about the problems but I wanted to make it much more about creating solutions. I took the course to give me the practical knowledge to be able to do that. My  science was a little rusty so I found some of that challenging – the electronics, statistics and computing. Overall it was very positive though, with great teaching and good camaraderie between the students which got me thorough those more challenging bits.

During one of the modules, The Reunion (BBC Radio 4 programme) about CAT was on the radio. Our lecturer Rob set up a radio so we could listen to the first half hour of it before our lecture started. Something that came up in that programme which I love about CAT is that it has never been afraid to try things that may not work, and to be honest about it. In a world where there is a triumph of PR and style over substance this is very refreshing.

I went home after the first week of the course totally knocked out by this place – energised by the possibilities. It has undoubtedly changed my outlook.

What do you feel your biggest achievement was on the course?

Finishing the MSc and doing well. I got my best mark ever in the dissertation; I’ve only just got the result a few weeks ago so I’m very pleased about it. I took on an ambitious, almost foolhardy!, subject for the dissertation looking at the viability of ground source heat pumps in dense terraced streets, and whether combining it with solar thermal makes it more viable. I’m looking at the possibility of publishing the results in a peer reviewed journal.

graduation
The class of 2015

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t work in the energy side of Friends of the Earth at the moment, but I would like to move into that area. I’m looking at getting involved in a community land trust which might be interested in testing the ideas in my dissertation in real life, so that is very exciting. I’m also looking at career opportunities abroad, particularly in developing countries. My skills could also be useful for a large company looking to improve the sustainability of its building stock. The course has given me a good general skill base in renewable energy where I have the knowledge to be able to assess the viability of various schemes, and have some knowledge of all the issues. I want to find a way to put these new skills to use.

Proposed cuts to Feed in Tariffs are ‘a disaster for the climate’ say experts at CAT

Proposed cuts to Feed in Tariffs are ‘a disaster for the climate’ say experts at CAT

The Feed in Tariff (FiT) scheme was set up in 2010 to promote small-scale renewables through ensuring householders, communities or businesses are paid a set tariff by electricity suppliers for the power their projects generate.IMG_9818

On 27th August, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced a review of the FiT scheme, proposing a set of measures including revised tariffs based on updated technology cost data, a more stringent degression mechanism and deployment caps leading to the phased closure of the scheme in 2018-19. The consultation proposes that if such measures cannot put the scheme on an affordable and sustainable footing then there should be an end to generation tariffs for new applicants as soon as legislatively possible, which could be as early as January 2016.

What the headlines from yesterday’s announcement on Feed in Tariffs should have shown was clear support for the deployment of small to medium scale renewable technology. A visionary policy on renewables could have driven an increased uptake of low carbon initiatives in farms, households, communities and businesses, slashing carbon emissions and generating energy and income for people across the UK.

Instead, we are seeing a wholesale dismantling of a scheme that has enjoyed huge success – small to medium scale wind alone has injected £174 million into the economy in the past year. The announcement has come as a great blow to a flourishing industry and threatens tens of thousands of jobs. DECC needs to show that it understands the climate science, that it recognises that we have the technologies to reduce emissions, and that it has the capacity to make the right decisions to support a flourishing industry.

Whilst this government may protest about the amount of money spent growing the clean energy sector, it is important to remember that kick-start subsidies are only temporary measures and if they are cut too sharply the uncertainty created in these vital new markets actually devalues the money invested to date. Furthermore, it must be recognised that the long-mature coal, gas and oil energy markets also get generous and on-going subsidies and incur additional externalised costs that occur at some point in the future or in other places.

Unless long-industrialised countries like the UK begin to make deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions there is a severe risk that we will be unable to stop global temperatures from rising by above 2 degrees – the consequences of which will be devastating across the world.

The Centre for Alternative Technology will next week launch a new report – ‘Who’s Getting Ready for Zero?’ – showing that across the globe countries, regions and cities are preparing for the transition to a zero carbon future. DECC’s announcement is another in a series that show a radical rethinking is required in the current UK government to meet the climate challenges we face.
To take part in the online consultation follow this link
Further analysis from Friends of the Earth, Renewable UK , Business Green

Interview: Jake’s making renewable energy work for housing associations

Jake Lock Profile

Jake Lock started studying MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment in 2012. He has now completed studying all the taught modules on the course and is about to embark on his dissertation. We caught up with him about how studying the course has been useful for him and the housing association he works for.

Jake is studying renewable energy
Jake Lock – Renewable Energy Student

How has studying the course been useful for your career?

I work in a housing association development team. I have been working there since before I started the course. A big part of the motivation for studying Renewable Energy and the Built Environment was that we were starting a lot of projects involving solar thermal, heat pumps, combined heat and power and biomass. Neither our team nor the contractors we were using really understood it. We were installing systems for people in fuel poverty but they didn’t understand the system and neither did we.

I’m still working in the same company now, and I have become the ‘green guru’ within the team. I feel a lot more knowledgeable, so it has been very useful.

What made you choose this course?

I liked this course because it is so hands on. There is a good bit of theory too but you also get to play with the stuff. I did an engineering foundation course prior to starting the MSc because I wanted to make sure I would be able to keep up with the engineering parts of the course.

How was the experience of the course for you?

I have really enjoyed the course. It is very hard work working full time alongside studying, but I love coming here and spending time with like minded people from a real wide variety of different backgrounds. It feels like a hideaway where we can all come and geek it up for a week.

Interview: Petra’s employed in solar and researching renewable energy for conservation

Petra is studying on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT. After taking a break between finishing here taught modules and starting her dissertation she has been up at CAT today speaking to her tutor about a dissertation idea. It was a great opportunity for us to catch up with her about her experience of the course so far and what she has been able to do with it.

Profile petra varga
Petra Varga – Renewable Energy Student

What is the dissertation about?

I’m looking a coral reef restoration project. For restoring coral they use submerged metal cages with an electrical current going through them at a low voltage. Over time these cages grow limestone on them, which helps establish the coral. At the moment this electric current is usually powered by diesel generators. I am looking at the potential of using marine current generators instead.

How did you get into studying renewable energy at CAT?

I trained as an Electrical Engineer in Hungary, and then worked as an automation specialist for eight years. I worked particularly on software testing in automated warehouses.

I guess I was looking for something that felt more important. I find that just working for money isn’t very motivating.

So I found the course at CAT and decided to come over and study here.

How has studying at CAT impacted on your career?

Initially I continued working in automation alongside studying, but I was looking for a new job. I used to find it was whenever I was meant to be writing an essay I would get distracted with looking for jobs instead! I wanted to find something in the renewable energy sector.

In January 2014, whilst still studying at CAT, I got a contract with a PV installation company as a project engineer. I had tried looking for a renewable energy job before starting the course and nobody was interested, so I certainly think being on the course made a difference. In the interview we had to complete some calculations, which seemed very simple after studying on the course. I didn’t find it to difficult to get into the work once I had started either.

How was your experience of studying at CAT?

I really enjoyed it. When I was doing my undergraduate degree I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. I was much more motivated with my MSc because I had a sense of purpose.

I met lots of people on the course, which was fun. I like the whole setup at CAT. When I first came for an open day it took hours to get here and I thought ‘is the drive going to be worth it?’ It definitely was. The setting here is so beautiful it is almost like being on a holiday. I always enjoy coming away here.

Interview: Colin’s taken his skills into research and development

Colin Jones studied on the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment programme at CAT from 2010 to 2014. This week he has been back helping to run a practical with current students on PV flash testing. We took the opportunity to catch up with him about his experience of the course and what he has gone on to do since graduation.

Colin Jones, Ex-Student

What first convinced you to study the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course?

I first came to CAT is 2007 when I did a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) installers course. I met Stuart (the programme leader) who told me about this new course they were launching. I joined the following year.

I didn’t have a degree previously, but they accepted me onto the course on the basis of my previous experience. I had my own electrical engineering company and we had been working on a lot of residential solar installations since the feed in tariff was introduced.

I was particularly attracted to the practical bias of the course at CAT. I also liked the idea of the modular structure, where each module included intensive residential weeks.

How has doing the course impacted on your career?

Half way through the course I got a job with Carillion Energy working as a project manager on commercial, medium scale, PV projects. These were larger and more complex projects than I had previously been working on, and it gave me a chance to put into practice all I had learned on the PV module of the course. I’m sure I was offered the job because of being on the Renewable Energy course. I also still had my own company, so that was doing the residential installations whilst I was working on the commercial projects with Carillion Energy.

12 months ago, after completing the course, I got a new job working for Tharsus. Tharsus is an engineering company that is researching and developing new technology. My job is not just to do with renewable energy now; I look at automation and processes more generally. Having said that, we do have some work to do with renewable energy products, particularly in energy storage.

Although I am not always working directly on renewable energy systems now, the skills I learned from the MSc course are definitely still useful. In particular, the skills around data collection and processing that I learned on the course. I use these skills all the time.

Find out more about studying MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment