Our climate is changing – so must our politics: 10 ideas for creating a political system that can get us to zero carbon

As the UK General Election moves closer it offers us an important opportunity to think what it might be like to have a political system under which very serious challenges, such as climate change, are given the profile and action they deserve.

Continue reading “Our climate is changing – so must our politics: 10 ideas for creating a political system that can get us to zero carbon”

Politicians opposing wind farms ‘a turn-off’ say voters – time for a positive vision

New independent research from ComRes – commissioned by RenewableUK – shows that political parties that oppose onshore wind development are likely to lose twice as many votes as they gain. In the 40 most marginal Lab-Con constituencies that margin doubles, with parties opposing onshore wind losing four times more voters than they attract.

The research chimes with our experience at the Centre for Alternative Technology, which is that where a positive vision is presented, people respond positively to it. Last year we launched our report Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future, a scenario for the UK in which carbon dioxide emissions were completely eliminated through concerted action to reduce energy demand, shift diets and build a new green infrastructure including wind turbines alongside a range of other renewable technologies. The research has been embraced by many communities and people calling for serious action on climate change. It is this positive vision that our Renewable Energy and the Built Environment MSc and other masters courses train people to create and implement.

People vote in favour of wind
Research reveals people more likely to vote for politicians in favour wind

New Onshore Wind Research shows politicians need positive vision

The opinion poll research revealed that of those surveyed:

  • 30% of Britons would be less likely to vote for a party that proposed to halt the deployment of further onshore wind schemes, with only 15% being more likely to.
  • Supporters of Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are all turned off by an anti-onshore wind attitude: voters of all three parties would be less likely to vote for a party which was anti-onshore wind than would be more likely.
  • In the 40 most marginal Conservative/Labour constituencies nearly four times as many people would be turned off by an anti-onshore wind party, with 39% saying they would be less likely to vote for a national party which blocked further development, and just 10% being more likely to.

According to Renewable UK,  the findings become even clearer once people were made aware of reports suggesting that household bills may need to rise if renewable targets are to be met through other means, as suggested by the Royal Academy of Engineering earlier this year. Five times more voters are likely to prefer the continued development of onshore wind compared to halting all further projects and bill rises (85% vs 15%).

In contrast, local candidates for election who are in favour of the development of onshore wind are likely see a boost in their support. Almost a quarter of adults (23%) said they would be more likely to support such a candidate, in comparison to just 16% who would be less likely to. The margin again grows in the 40 most marginal Conservative/Labour seats to 23% and 12% respectively.

Kit Jones, Zero Carbon Britain Communications Officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology said:

This research needs to be seen as the basis for a new cross-party consensus that we should be deploying all available sustainable technologies to eliminate Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. This is a clear reversal of the current direction of government policy and rhetoric, which is deliberately making it increasingly difficult for new onshore wind projects to go ahead.

Our own Zero Carbon Britain research demonstrates that it would be possible for Britain to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 whilst maintaining a modern standard of living. Onshore and offshore wind both have an important role in a renewable energy future. Most people understand this, and this new research shows they are prepared to vote for it.

RenewableUK Chief Executive Maria McCaffery said:

This poll shows that anti-onshore wind policy is a clear vote-loser, with Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem voters turned off by anti-onshore rhetoric. Those who espouse anti-wind views should pay particular attention to results in the marginal seats which will determine the next election. The public understands that we need more onshore wind.

Onshore wind is the cheapest form of low carbon technology, and provided enough power for 3.8 million households last year. Voters understand it’s wrong to rule out further onshore wind and will not back candidates who try to. This sends a clear message to politicians to back this technology and the 19,000 people who work in the industry.

The Labour party looks to a zero carbon Britain

Ed Miliband has echoed key aspects of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) report at the annual Labour conference in Brighton. He stated that “the environment is a passion of mine” before announcing: “Labour will have a world leading commitment in government to take all of the carbon out of our energy by 2030. A route map to one million new green jobs in our country. That is how we win the race to the top.”

CAT’s report Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future highlights the widespread environmental and economic benefits of a rapid decarbonisation for the UK by 2030. CAT launched the report in July in recognition of the fact that the UK’s current decarbonisation targets are not ambitious enough in the face of global climate change. The report demonstrates that we have all we need to create a modern, zero carbon UK now. We can decarbonise rapidly and we needn’t rely on any promises of future technological developments.

The ZCB team in Parliament for the launch of the report

The ZCB report calculates that a greener economy could create up to 1.5 million new jobs in the UK, a figure adopted in the recent Green New Deal report.

On the eve of the launch of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is clear that more needs to be done to mitigate manmade climate change. CAT’s  Zero Carbon Britain report shows that responding to the urgency of the climate challenge is not only completely possible, but would be beneficial to the UK. It is good to see that policy circles are catching up.

Paul Allen, the ZCB project co-ordinator says: “it is good to hear that Mr Miliband sees himself as part of ‘the first generation to get the challenge of climate change, rather than the last generation not to get it’ – it is now vital all parties work together to build the political consensus that will lead to rapid action, we are confident that by exploring realistic future scenarios CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain work can play a part in this.”

The Labour Party’s pledge to decarbonise the UK’s energy system is a move in the right direction if the UK is going to meet its legally binding targets. However, there are other areas in need to be addressed, including greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, waste processing and industry. It will be interesting to see whether any of the political parties start talking about these emissions when discussing climate solutions.

For more information and to download the report for free visit: www.zerocarbonbritain.org

ZCBlog: Wind, the Liberal Democrats and Nuclear

In a disappointing U-turn for the party masquerading as ‘green’, this Saturday the Liberal Democrats voted to drop their longstanding opposition to nuclear energy.

Paul and Danielle from Zero Carbon Britain say of the decision:

“It is deeply concerning that a political party manifesting as ‘green’ would take such a regressive stance on nuclear, while the case for investment in renewables continues to build in terms of safety, local job creation and rising to the challenge of climate change.

The UK is ideally positioned to benefit from sustainable, home-grown and renewable energy technologies. Technologies that, unlike nuclear, do not have costly or difficult waste to manage; do not increase the risk of very serious and lasting damage from natural disasters or global political instabilities, and do not require expensive and lengthy decommissioning processes; we do not currently have plans for the high levels of nuclear waste we have generated already.”

Most importantly, recent modelling for the Zero Carbon Britain report demonstrates how we can in fact meet our energy needs with 100% renewable technology, with no nuclear component at all. Managing variability in a 100% renewable system can be achieved using long and short term energy storage technologies available today (see page 63 of the report).

In fact, strong winds on Sunday (just one day after the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn) led to new wind power records in the UK. At around 2pm, the National Grid’s live data feed  reported production of more than 5.7 GW of power from wind. This the highest ever recorded in the UK, producing 18% of the UK’s electricity and getting very close to the 6.6 GW produced by the UK’s nuclear power stations at that point.

And during the early hours of Monday, another record was broken: at 4am, absolute wind power output had gone down a bit to 4.7 GW, but due to the lower overall power consumption at that time of the day, this was enough for another record: for the first time in history, UK wind turbines produced 20% of all electricity in the grid.

CC Image courtesy of Phault on Flickr

Of course, the highly variable nature of wind power means that at other times there is much less power available. Opponents of wind power will be quick to point out that only a week ago UK wind output hit a low of 0.085 GW (0.2% of demand). Therefore, it’s more useful to look at longer term averages:

In 2013, the average so far has been 5.2%, up from a 4.0% average for 2012. And if the autumn of 2013 is a windy one then that figure could still increase, especially as some large offshore wind farms were completed this year.

The UK does not need base-load power from nuclear; we can manage variability in a 100% renewable system with the appropriate and flexible energy storage technologies available today.

That the Liberal Democrats are adopting this new stance, alongside pro-fracking commitments, under the banner of a ‘zero carbon Britain’ is a disgrace.

Nuclear is high risk, unsustainable and an energy source we can do without.

BBC Energy Day – Tobi’s Perspective

Thursday 5th September this year was the BBC’s ‘Energy Day’. BBC Radio 5 Live was powered entirely by renewables throughout the day as they hosted debates on and around the theme of energy. Tobi Kellner, one of CAT’s renewable technology experts, was on hand during the 5 Live breakfast programme to provide an expert opinion on Zero Carbon Britain and the future…

When I got off the tram at Salford’s MediaCity UK at shortly after 8am, I was a bit apprehensive about finding the venue for the BBC 5 Live Energy Day. I needn’t have worried. Right on the piazza in front of their snazzy their snazzy glass & steel office towers, the BBC people had assembled what looked a bit like the cross between a village fete and the CAT Renewable Energy MS. Between various tents and marquees there was a sea of solar panels, a forest of micro wind turbines, various hamster wheels and bicycles for ‘human power’, two cows – and a real Secretary of State for Energy, Ed Davey. Yes, there were some obvious flaws: Half the solar panels were evidently not wired up, the location was utterly useless for wind power, and the Energy Minister is part of David Cameron’s “greenest government ever”. But it was clear that the BBC was keen on putting renewables right at the heart of the debate about energy, and that their approach was to combine the big, heavy questions (how can we keep energy affordable?) with some more light-hearted ones (how many cyclists does it take to power a radio show?)

Bills, not bears

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the debate I was invited to join was what wasn’t talked about: climate change. Right from the very first email the BBC sent me when they invited me, it was clear that for them the energy debate is all about “how can we protect people from rising energy costs”; it’s all about (fuel) bills, not (polar) bears. And from one perspective that focus is completely understandable, as it is simply unacceptable that there are families that have to choose between heating and eating, especially while big energy companies still make obscene profits. But there is reason to suspect that this new focus of the energy debate isn’t only driven by a concern for the poor. As a quick internet search for “Daily Mail energy bills” shows, tabloids tell us that the main reason for rising prices are ‘green taxes’ and wind turbines, even though in reality rising fossil fuel prices were to blame for most of the recent increase in household energy prices.

Breakfast with Ed

Fortunately, when Radio 5 live Breakfast went on air, it became obvious that people just don’t buy the story of ‘green vs affordable’.

So I had my concerns when, clutching my copy of the latest Zero Carbon Britain report, I went into the broadcast tent for Your Call. Fortunately, around 9 minutes into the programme there was an opportunity to introduce the ZCB report and explain that, yes, it would cost a lot of money, but that it would be cheaper in the long run, and that the money would go into manufacturing jobs, not fossil fuel imports, and that CAT advocates much more ambitious policies on energy efficiency.

Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was with us in the tent and had the rather unenviable job of defending the government’s flagship programme on energy efficiency: the ‘Green Deal’. So far, around 58,000 people have had their homes assessed under the scheme but only 132 of them had signed up for energy efficiency measures under the Green Deal. As I put it to Mr Davey, by expecting people to pay market rate loans on energy efficiency measures under the Green Deal while giving generous tax rebates to ‘fracking’ companies, the government isn’t exactly sending a clear signal that energy efficiency is at the top of the agenda. Fortunately, Davey and I didn’t have to leave on a bad note. In response to a question from the studio audience about solar panels, I explained that in the ZCB energy mix it is actually offshore wind power, not solar, that plays the leading role. This gave our Secretary of State the opportunity to not only praise the UK’s windiness in general and the potential for offshore wind in particular, but also to tell stories of him inaugurating the world’s largest offshore wind farm (twice). Something tells me he prefers this topic to the Green Deal.

After the end of the show, Ed Davey went back to London with a copy of our Zero Carbon Britain report, and I went outside to try my luck on the energy-generating bicycle, while in the background the Blue Peter people were filming the cows (which were there to illustrate research on methane emissions).

It would be easy to be cynical about the Energy Day with all its token wind turbines and unconnected solar panels. But that would mean missing one very important  point: the debate during the hour-long live breakfast programme showed that people don’t buy into the rhetoric of ‘green vs affordable’, that there is a growing consensus that now is the time to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, precisely because energy bills are rising, and that people are getting impatient with the government’s lack of action. Who knows, Ed Davey might just read that report we gave him.


This week at CAT; Radio 4 programme Any Questions

The Centre for Alternative Technology is delighted to welcome the Radio 4 program, Any Questions to its sustainable education centre WISE on the 7th of June 2013.  Any Questions, hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby was first broadcast in 1948. Every week it visits a different part of the country with a panel of 4 speakers who answer questions from the audience. The programme provides the opportunity for people to challenge politicians, policy makers, writers and thinkers.

The current panel for the evening is Ann Clwyd, Owen Paterson and Leane Wood. Ann Clwyd Roberts is a Welsh Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley since 1998. Owen William Paterson is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2012 and the Member of Parliament for North Shropshire since 1997. Leanne Wood AM, is a Welsh politician and the leader of Plaid Cymru

The quality of the questions that the audience ask is crucial to the success of the programme. The producers look for questions on the most stimulating, moral, political and social issues of the day- the issues that get people talking.  At CAT the Any Questions box will be at the reception when the public enter from 18:00 and the audience can fill in their questions then.

For more information and for free tickets please contact kim.bryan@cat.org.uk/ 01654705957




AEES student Howard Miller on the recent politics module

Part of the Msc in Architecture, Advanced Environmental and Energy studies at CAT is the politics module. It is a week crammed full of lectures, debates and workshops designed to give a broad perspective of ‘environmentalism’ and enable students to delve a little deeper into the politics. In this blog post Howard Miller, a student who took part in the module reflects on his learning experience.

As a long time subscriber to ‘The Economist’, the module awakened me to my ‘Green Capitalist’ theoretical standpoint. This is the idea that free market capitalism can be tweaked by adding green ‘compensatory’ measures such as carbon trading or offsetting via tree planting.

However, the book ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ by Tim Jackson was compelling. This challenges that GDP growth has ceased to be relevant to society in developed countries as once a certain level of wealth is achieved, it delivers diminishing returns of wellbeing. In fact, the continued fixation on growth (such as attempts to restore the status quo that existed before the 2008 financial crash) are counter-productive in that they fail to address problems we face such as caring for a large elderly population, providing affordable housing, or dealing with climate change. In pursuit of GDP, payment for care-homes, cleaning up pollution and rising house prices are positive as they add to the balance sheet, while caring for a relative in your own home or avoiding car use are negative.

In contrast, focusing on wellbeing as a policy aim would address these problems. For example financial support for carers looking after relatives could allow under-used housing to be made available while simultaneously reducing isolation amongst the elderly and sharing of the cost of heating.

‘Common Cause’ presented research during the module into how ‘Values’ motivate us to act in certain ways. They aimed to interrogate how marketing by environmental groups could be made more effective. For example, promoting insulation improvements by appealing to one’s values of ‘Wealth’, (e.g. by highlighting financial benefits) raises the stock of associated values such as achievement and authority at the expense of values more normally associated with environmental causes, such as benevolence and equality. The implication being that the short-term gain of campaigns could be at the expense of the wider cause.

To shift focus from valuing GDP to valuing wellbeing, a move away from values that promote self-enhancement towards values that surround societal benefit such as community, inclusivity, and responsibility are needed.

This realisation confronted how I thought about my work as an Architect. Looking through this lense, everything, especially buildings, could be considered an ‘advert’, asserting their values on society.

So-called ‘Green Architecture’ generally falls into one of two stylistic camps; ‘Hi-Tech’, which focuses on technology to reduce the environmental impact of a building, and ‘Hobbit-house’, which attempts to be low impact by embracing creativity and individualism. Neither of these styles reinforces values that underpin environmentalism. Hi-Tech is more closely associated with intelligence and power, while the hobbit-house look is associated with self-direction.

I left the module resolving to re-align my architectural design work to promote universal values such as broadmindedness, harmony with the natural environment, beauty, equality and social justice. Lets see what happens.