Cracking a nut with a sledgehammer: how killing diesel risks taking local clean energy with it

Diesel engines don’t have a good rep these days. But while most public attention has been focused on those with wheels choking our streets, it’s a different bunch that the Government has actually been cracking down on.

Every year the Government runs a reverse auction for electricity generators (and some storage and ‘demand shifting’ projects) called the capacity market. Winners are granted public subsidy to be available during the winter to provide power if supplies become tight. What the Government really wants this to do is to incentivise new, large gas plants. But it turns out it’s cheaper to build small diesel plants. Few gas plants can compete - and thus few get built. Instead, we now have up to 2GW of diesel generators installed locally. This is not good press for the Government: diesel has high carbon emissions and local air quality impacts. We shouldn’t be subsidising them (nor should we be subsidising coal plants, by the same token). So the Government set out to cut them out of the picture.

So far, so good. But what happened next risks undermining not just diesel, but the shift to local, clean, flexible energy too. What went wrong?

A quick rewind. The power sector has seen radical changes in the last decade. The major story has, of course, been renewables. Much renewables capacity in the UK is locally installed, which ushers in a fascinating new paradigm in which power doesn’t just flow from the beating hearts of vast coal, gas and nuclear plants out to the veins and capillaries of towns and villages. Now our homes, businesses and fields are themselves centres of energy; either used onsite or transmitted to local consumers.

This actually makes a lot of sense. You cannot transmit power without losing some of it. The further it travels, the more you lose. The UK wastes 8% of the electricity it generates in moving it from A to B (and over 50% overall if you include thermal power station inefficiency). But generating wasted electricity still costs money - and still incurs wear and tear of infrastructure used to transport it - all of which costs bill payers. If electricity is generated closer to demand, lower losses should entail a more efficient system, and thus lower costs overall. 

The rules governing the use of wires and pylons by generators and suppliers of electricity were not designed to support local generators, but they do end up reflecting the fact they do not use as much of the total network. There are 14 regional electricity networks, each of which connects into the larger national grid. Suppliers with customers in those regional networks pay charges based on the amount of electricity they buy into them at peak times. If local generators produce electricity during those periods less electricity needs to be imported from the national grid. This saves the suppliers money in reduced charges, part of which is then passed onto those local generators as a reward. This is called an ‘embedded benefit’, and it helps incentivise building generation closer to where electricity is consumed.

At least it did.

Connected locally, diesel plants can do what big, central gas plants cannot - access these embedded benefits. Take this revenue stream away, the Government thought, and perhaps gas will be able to compete again. Ever since, there has been pressure on Ofgem to do just that. And three weeks ago they announced a cut of up to 93% - almost entirely removing it. 

So much for diesels. But this also deals a blow to renewables and storage projects (such as batteries or pumped hydro) connected locally, of which there is several times more capacity than there is diesel. Worse, unlike subsidy cuts which only affect future projects, this hits existing projects too - punishing them for a problem they didn’t cause. Reduced projected revenue, and increased uncertainty, is expected to cool investment in local, clean, flexible electricity infrastructure. Storage - that oft-touted key to a renewable future - could be hit particularly hard. With access to few public support levers, projects often rely on being able to deliver power at times when rewards are available to build a business case. 

But was this simply an unintended consequence?

Actual rule change is undertaken by industry panels, which are dominated by sector incumbents including the ‘Big Six’. Only they have the personnel and capacity to resource such involved work. The panel that presented proposals to Ofgem in this case did not have a single renewable energy or community energy representative on it. In the consultation that preceded the final decision seven out of nine of the big commercial players were opposed to the benefit. The two in favour either have no large central generation assets of their own, or their own interest in renewables.

Whether the product of genuine manipulation, or simply the inertial imbalance of representation on Ofgem’s panels, it is the incumbent generators who won. They are, theoretically at least, now more likely to be able to build new gas stations - as diesel competitiveness is reduced - capturing public funds in the process. And the renewable and storage projects causing such havoc for their business models just lost revenue. 

So it’s the transition to a local, clean, smart - and ultimately cheap - energy system that is losing out.

Which raises several questions. Should Ofgem’s remit formally incorporate the UK’s 2050 climate target, given its pivotal role in shaping the systems that must get us there? Should incumbents be allowed to continue dominating the processes that evolve regulations? And should the Government ensure that Ofgem is driving our energy system to one that is lower cost, more local and lower carbon?

Our answers would be: yes, no and yes. The rapid (and urgent) transition in the design and operation of our energy systems for a liveable planet simply demands it.

Max Wakefield is lead campaigner at 10:10a charity that focuses on practical, participatory and positive solutions to climate change. 10:10 work with everyone, from policy makers and politicians to community energy groups and schools, to create the practical and cultural change necessary for a rapid transition to a low carbon UK. You can join 10:10’s campaign to challenge Ofgem’s decision here.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

Gove’s green guarantee: reforming the Common Agricultural Policy

On the Andrew Marr Show last weekend, the new Environment Secretary, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, offered some succinct and unambiguous answers on the outline of agricultural subsidies post-Brexit. Of particular note, he confirmed that wealthy landowners could expect to receive less money in the form of subsidies after the current Parliament.

The Common Agricultural Policy and its problems

At present, the regulatory and funding systems which govern the British countryside are dominated by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This regime sees the UK receive over £3 billion per annum, which is allocated to farmers and landowners alike. Underpinning the CAP are two ‘pillars’, which dictate as to where public money is directed. Pillar I funding consists of measures such as income support (money awarded per hectare of land owned), and receives three quarters of the total CAP budget. Pillar II funding, which is paid out through each EU member state’s Rural Development Programme, is supposed to encourage environmentally sustainable farming practices in return for cash payments.

Unfortunately, this system has a number of perverse unintentional environmental implications. Firstly, the strict requirements for Pillar I payments mean that farmers have a fiscal incentive to avoid agri-environment practices. One instance of this playing out in reality is reports of some farmers felling trees under the justification that it will increase the amount of land on which they can farm, and thus claim subsidies for.

Secondly, by subsidising inefficient farming operations, the CAP has allowed agriculture to take place in areas it otherwise would not. Hill farming, for instance, is rarely economic, as the market price received for produce cultivated on hillsides would not cover the costs of production – it is only thanks to subsidies that the practice persists. Without subsidies, therefore, this land would go unfarmed, potentially allowing more afforestation in the uplands, and increased biodiversity as a result.

The future of agricultural subsidies after Brexit

With woodland coverage in the UK having shrunk to just 13% of the total land area, society is missing out on a wide range of benefits that trees offer. A report from the Forestry Commission cites how trees purify the air, serve as natural flood defences, and are even associated with improving mental health amongst individuals. It is for exactly these reasons that Bright Blue launched its campaign earlier this year for the Government to improve tree planting incentives for farmers after Brexit.

But what other funding priorities should the new post-Brexit agricultural policy have? The National Trust has called for taxpayer money to be paid out to farmers only where clear public benefits are delivered. They have also pointed out the fact that there are certain aspects to agriculture which degrade the natural environment, such as through the excessive use of harmful fertilisers, and which currently are actively rewarded by the CAP. Thus, a more targeted system of granting funds to farmers would allow the Government to remove or reduce payments from those who engage in such detrimental practices.

Echoing this perspective is Professor Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford, who argues that the problem is not that farmers receive public money per se, but rather the ends to which it supports. Further, he argues that farmers should be regulated to maintain the land to a certain level in a way that avoids harming the wider environment and that public funds should be earmarked to directly purchase public goods from farmers.

The consequences of Brexit on the agricultural community will be pronounced, perhaps more so than for any other sector of the economy. Many farmers are anxious that the end to subsidy payments could imperil their businesses and livelihoods. Yet such fears may be premature and unwarranted. In 1973, New Zealand’s farmers faced a comparable situation when Britain – one of its then major trading partners for foodstuffs like lamb and dairy – joined the European Economic Community and thereby adopted its external tariffs.

New Zealand responded by removing all of its agricultural subsidies in 1984 for food production and fertiliser use. These subsidies had been blamed for environmental degradation, low productivity, and inducing a lack of innovation within the sector. Once withdrawn, some smaller farmers who lacked the requisite economies of scale went out of business. But many others successfully embraced innovations in science and technology as the means to realise increasing yields, and began to utilise the differing types of land more effectively and more efficiently. Accordingly, New Zealand’s agricultural sector enjoyed average real terms growth of 4% for the next 15 years and has since established itself as a key component of the global food supply network.

In terms of the environment, the results have been mixed. With the lucrative subsidies scrapped, farmers found it less affordable to purchase artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and their use declined accordingly. Moreover, rates of afforestation increased, and the total number of hectares of land dedicated to pasture fell. However, critics of New Zealand’s approach have cited concerns about how the rate of conversion of indigenous grassland to exotic pasture increased in the South Island by 67% between the period 1990-2001 and 2001-2008. In addition, by excessively focusing on its comparative advantage in livestock production – a highly greenhouse gas-intensive activity – New Zealand has become the largest emitter of livestock emissions per capita.


In leaving the EU, and by extension the constraints of the CAP, Britain has presented itself with an historic opportunity to review the relationship between the Government and the agricultural sector. The substantial sums of money which are currently sent to subsidise inefficient, and at times environmentally injurious, farming operations can be redirected to finance projects and farming practices that improve the environment.

During the debates which took place in the run up to the 23rd June 2016, there were only cursory mentions of the implications of Brexit for the environment, with the Remain side highlighting the potential loss of environmental regulation, and the Leave side promoting the opportunity to relinquish the EU’s unwieldly CAP. We now have a Government re-committed to “being the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition” than it inherited. Certainly, Gove’s comments this weekend indicate his desire to use Brexit and the UK’s departure from the CAP to further that ambition.

Eamonn Ives is a researcher at Bright Blue

Post-Brexit trade deals should have high environmental standards

Supporters are lauding Britain’s exit from the European Union as an opportunity for the UK to forge trade relations with new partners, and create better regulatory standards and agencies that are firmly grounded in British law and in the interests of Britain. While it is correct that this offers an opportunity, there are challenges associated with leaving well-established, definitive, and respected regulatory frameworks.

One such group we will be leaving is the ‘EU action plan against wildlife trafficking’, which offers a robust, if imperfect, response to the illegal trade of ivory, plants, bird, and furs, amongst other things. This action plan has gone over and above the international standards set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and while it has led to an enormous number of seizures of wildlife products at Europe’s borders, it is patchily enforced and fails to comprehensively address demand-side issues.

While it is possible that Britain could craft a better response to this problem, some conservationists have already expressed concern. In particular, the Government should avoid the approach outlined in a recently leaked document to water down its commitment to stopping illegal wildlife trade in the interests of better trading relations with developing countries. As the Government moves into the Brexit process and begins to negotiate trade deals with other nations, ministers should note that it is possible to have a robust stance in opposition to the illegal wildlife trade, and forge dynamic, expansive trading relations with developing countries around the world.

Negotiating trade deals with high environmental standards

Writing for Conservative Home, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom, stated it was the Government’s intention to make “UK rules on trading ivory amongst the toughest in the world”. While the illegal trade of wildlife was absent from the 2017 Conservative manifesto, the previous two manifestos included pledges to totally ban the sale of all ivory in the UK.

One way the Government might seek to do this is through environmental clauses in any future trade agreement with the EU. The Prime Minister has outlined her plan for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU, as opposed to joining a preexisting arrangement like the European Economic Area (EEA), and the number of FTAs that include environmental provisions has skyrocketed since the 1990s.

The most basic of these provisions falls into the broad category of ‘measures to protect or enhance the environment’. This clause has become standard practice in FTAs, and includes a commitment to not weaken environmental regulatory regimes in order to undercut competitors or attract investment, which would prevent the Government from pursuing the rumoured deregulatory agenda on climate change or illegal wildlife trade legislation.

Cooperation clauses in trade agreements

Should Britain wish to make its rules the “toughest in the world”, there are other potential clauses of an FTA with the EU that the Government could pursue. A cooperation clause would allow the UK to maintain the current level of cross-border customs cooperation that allow agencies across Europe to detect and impound illegally imported wildlife goods such as ivory, while also compelling the EU to more stridently enforce its current rules on the illegal trade of wildlife.

Under the current system, governed by the multinational CITES, the EU is registered as a Regional Economic Integration Organisation (REIO), which means that it acts in the organisation on behalf of its members, and is accountable to CITES’ rules and standards. However, as the problem of illegal trade in wildlife is concentrated in several EU countries, namely Spain, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Ireland, which predominantly act as transit sites to larger Asian markets, the EU struggles to hold its individual members to international standards without violating its commitment to national sovereignty.

With the inclusion of environmental standards in an FTA with Britain, both groups would be held accountable to the highest possible standards, with governments being able to bring action against other states at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that are failing to meet their environmental obligations. In one example, in a case brought by India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand against the United States over seafood imports, the WTO ruled that nations should be able to take measures to conserve exhaustible resources, a precedent that would apply in cases of illegal trade in wildlife.

Some free trade agreements establish independent bodies of their own to monitor environmental standards across signatory parties. In NAFTA, environmental clauses established a Commission on Environmental Cooperation, which is obliged to investigate complaints from citizens and non-governmental organisations that signatory states are not adhering to their environmental standards. This would hold governments accountable for rules pertaining to the illegal trade in wildlife not just to the international community, but also to expert organizations such as WWF.

These same principles could be worked into trade agreements with developing countries, establishing clauses that will make sure China is held accountable to its recent commitment to banning the ivory trade, and potential trade agreements with ASEAN members in South East Asia, which currently act as a gateway to the larger Chinese market for ivory through their significantly weaker regulation of the trade.

While some in the Government may believe such clauses would reduce the willingness of potential trade partners to work with Britain because of supposed economic costs, on the contrary, the willingness of China to work with the international community on environmental issues has shown the potential benefits of further regulation. Indeed, China may be a valuable regional partner on halting the illegal trade in wildlife, as well as environmental issues more broadly, as they have recently emerged as one of the most committed global environmental leaders. The illegal trade in wildlife has been shown in numerous studies to be tied to dissident groups, terrorism, social unrest, exploitation, and drugs – all issues that developing governments in the region are seeking to tackle.

As Britain embarks on a new role in the world, with an ambitious plan for its trading relations, it’s worth bearing in mind how broad and flexible trade agreements can be, and the enormous potential for Britain to lead the way in environmental protection and the crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade by combining its trade agenda with its environmental commitments.

Neil Reilly is a research assistant at Bright Blue

Ending farm subsidies after Brexit could benefit the economy and the environment

A Brexit-driven reconfiguration of the UK’s food and agricultural sector suggests that a period of significant structural adjustment lies ahead. Set against an industry already in the midst of rapid technological displacement, value-chain disruption and regulatory change, a transformative event such as Brexit appears to add to existing uncertainty.

However, the process, if mapped successfully, can be a positive one. The UK’s current position is not unique. In the 1980s, the government of New Zealand instigated a reform programme to transform the country’s food and agriculture sector. The results were immediate and painful as well as long-term and beneficial.

At the core of the transformation that shook New Zealand’s agriculture sector in the 1980s and 1990s was a pressing need to access new markets in the face of external economic shocks and structural adjustments, such as the UK’s decision to join the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. The New Zealand experience indicates that an agenda focused on long-term goals can deliver significant economic and social benefits, but may come with considerable short-term costs. The battle about to commence in the UK is set to be as brutal, complex and ideological as that which determined the direction of the British economy in the late-1970s and early 1980s.

The removal and substantial reduction of various agricultural subsidies were a hallmark of the 1984-1989 Lange Administration. The robust programme dubbed “Rogernomics” after his Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, led to greater international competition, the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs and to a number of farmers losing their farms. The abolition list included price support, income support, fertiliser subsidies, irrigation, transport, and land development. In addition, farmers and Producer Boards lost tax concessions, free government services and concessionary funding.

The economic upshot, however, contained plenty of positives. Fewer than 800 farms – 1% of the total number of farms in New Zealand – went out of business. Even that proved temporary and the number of small farms increased over the 1990s. Diversification into higher-value foodstuffs such as horticulture became a consistent theme and rural tourism took off. Productivity gains became the norm to the extent that multifactor productivity in the agricultural sector improved at a faster rate than before the reforms and also faster than in other parts of the economy since 1984.

But was there an environmental and social price to be paid for all these output and productivity gains? The evidence suggests not. The removal of subsidies meant that farmers have applied fertiliser more efficiently. In employment terms, average annual employment growth in accommodation and food services registered an annual growth of 2% between 1989 and 2012, despite these sub-sectors’ reliance on a low-wage workforce. Direct agriculture employment fell but rose across the wider sub-sector indicating a positive impact on the overall food value chain and associated industries such as tourism.

Crucially, New Zealand offered various transition relief measures to offset the initial shock of eliminating subsidies. This included a one-off grant of NZ$45,000 to abandon farming as well as debt restructuring. Some 7% of farms in New Zealand benefitted from these transitional relief measures. Farmers were also provided with better access to social-security schemes that catered to the unemployed and to low-income families.

A further set of reforms, implemented between 1999 and 2001, saw the removal of the export monopoly enjoyed by most producer boards. This included the Dairy Board and allowed free competition between the boards and other exporters. To continue research and development in the decentralised market environment, DairyNZ was formed and was funded by a levy on dairy farmers, which was subject to a vote every six years. DairyNZ focuses on research, training programmes, bio-security and advocating on behalf of dairy farmers. Similarly, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Ltd, is a farmer-owned, levy-funded organisation, which undertakes research, training, and advocacy.

More recently in 2009, the government initiated the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme to foster innovation across the value chain in the agriculture and food sectors. The programme envisaged a partnership between government and private sector. To encourage exports, the government plays a key role in maintaining the reputation of the “New Zealand” brand. This involves ensuring that exporters maintain high standards for food safety, bio-security and animal welfare. Some examples of current PGP projects are to:

  1. Spread best practices through knowledge sharing across the avocado industry, the objective being to triple yields to 12 tonnes per hectare and quadruple industry returns to NZ$280 million by 2023
  2. Encourage the use of prototype harvesting systems that can target specific species and sizes of fish, and ensure they are in better condition than those caught using traditional trawls
  3. Promote demand-driven value chain for the red-meat industry, bringing farmers closer to processors and consumers
  4. Develop tools and software to improve fertiliser-use efficiency and reduce loss of nutrients into waterways and pastures
  5. Improve precision application of fertiliser after remote sensing of nutrient status in hill-country farms

The New Zealand experience indicates, above all, that a subsidy-free agricultural landscape not only can deliver economic and financial gains, it can also deliver wider social and environmental benefits. The future of British agriculture beyond 2020 when the CAP is likely to be reformed could prove more sustainable and better for our environment than we might currently think.

Richard Ferguson is Managing Director of Ferguson Cardo

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

The best way to preserve our environment is to conserve our energy

Bright Blue’s ‘Green conservatives?’ research, published last month, provides a close-up view of what Conservatives think on environmental issues and the need to tackle climate change.

Respondents to the poll are very clear: protecting the environment and tackling climate change are priorities for the majority of Conservatives. As well as showing strong support for investment in renewables, it was great to see those polled displaying high awareness of smart meters, storage technology and solar panels, with 73% of those polled either having a smart meter or being interested in getting one installed.

Bright Blue’s findings on willingness to take up new technology in the home reflects Smart Energy GB’s own research. The latest edition of Smart energy outlook, our bi-annual national survey of public opinion on energy use and smart meters, indicated that of those who understand what smart meters are, more than seven in ten already have one or are interested in getting one installed.

Between now and 2020, smart gas and electricity meters are being offered to every household and small business in England, Scotland and Wales, and almost 6 million have now been installed across the country.

Through smart meters the energy system is being digitised, enabling better integration of renewable generation, storage and smart technologies, which consumers can benefit from.

Smart meters will also enable better management of our energy grid, meaning less need for large polluting power stations, and better integration of renewable energy at scale. And smart meters will make it easy to fully benefit from in-home energy storage, electric vehicles and solar panels, which all contribute to further erode dependence on fossil fuel generation. Ultimately, smart meters put people in control. By providing them with near-real time information on their energy use in a language they understand, our research also shows that they contribute to behaviour change in the home. And once people are engaged with their energy, there is no limit to what can happen.

In a recent paper commissioned by Smart Energy GB, academic Dr Jeff Hardy outlined how new ways of engaging in the energy market would open up to consumers. From peer-to-peer energy trading to third party control and energy services companies, he showed how we might all be buying energy in the not-too-distant future, and each mechanism relies on smart meters as key enablers.

We all know that predicting the future is a dangerous game and the most exciting innovations may be those that we as yet cannot conceive. But one thing, I would hazard, is certain: Great Britain’s path to reducing carbon emissions requires progress on all fronts, with new technologies deployed at scale alongside cleaner generation, underpinned by people engaged with their energy.

Ultimately, the cheapest energy is that which we do not consume, and by putting consumers in control, smart meters help us save energy while preserving the environment we all cherish and depend upon to thrive.

Claire Maugham is Director of Policy and Communication at Smart Energy GB

Transport innovation can cut carbon and reduce pollution

With a snap general election in the offing, climate change – and in particular air pollution - looks set to feature on the agenda this time around due to a breach of EU air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) across much of the country.  In fact the UK is one of five EU countries that is persistently contravening legal nitrogen dioxide levels with factory- and vehicle-related pollution.  Last November the NGO Client Earth won a High Court case against the government over its failure to tackle air pollution in the UK.

Over the past few years academics and health professionals have put forward a wealth of robust evidence looking at the impact of dirty air in our towns and cities.

Recent initiatives include London Air, a monitoring and forecasting network which works alongside local councils to show current pollution levels.  Last year the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, representing some 600,000 health professionals across 15 bodies, released a report called ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ in response to their members’ concerns for the health of those living in areas with high pollution.

The alarm bells are ringing but Westminster still doesn’t seem to be listening.  The European Commission has handed the UK a final warning over its repeated failure to comply with EU regulations over NO2 levels, giving just two months to show how it intends to comply or face the prospect of a further court battle in the European Court of Justice by the end of the year. Substantial fines are a distinct possibility.

In response to the growing crisis, local councils and cities across the country are beginning to tackle these issues.  London had exceeded its annual air pollution limits just five days into 2017 hence the introduction of a new ‘T-Charge’ in October which will charge the most polluting private vehicles if they drive through central London.

The widening and bringing forward of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) that will charge the dirtiest vehicles across most of London is also welcome, but unlikely to come into effect until 2019 at the earliest. In the meantime, the students and children at more than 800 educational establishments across the capital are being exposed to illegal levels of air pollution now.

The awarding of funding to five Low Emission Neighbourhoods (LENs) across London means that parking a diesel vehicle in Marylebone will imminently face a 50% surcharge compared to a petrol vehicle and it will be possible to fine vehicles that refuse to switch off their engines when idling.

Ashden has been searching the country for initiatives such as these to find the winner of our first ever Clean Air in Towns and Cities Award as part of the 2017 Ashden Awards. Our two shortlisted applicants, Nottingham City Council and Big Birmingham Bikes, are working tirelessly to tackle this issue in their cities, both of which have been instructed by the government to introduce Clean Air Zones by 2020, although their work to reduce local air pollution precedes the government plan.

Birmingham City Council’s Big Birmingham Bikes project has provided more than 4000 residents with a free bicycle, as well as free lessons and guided cycle rides to over 1000 people across the city.  They have focused their efforts upon the neighbourhoods with the highest levels of deprivation, the very people who suffer most from poor air pollution. By working closely with local residents and more than 50 community organisations they have enabled over 200,000 miles to be cycled on the new bikes, of which at least 37,000 miles would have otherwise been made by car.  In addition to reducing congestion and improving people’s mobility, health and wellbeing, the scheme is also helping to increase access to workplaces, education and training.

Nottingham City Council has had a progressive, ambitious approach to transport across the city for many years. Despite government cuts, it has expanded its work in recent years and is the first local authority in the UK to introduce a workplace parking levy. This levy charges businesses in the city for each staff car parking space, encouraging staff to use public transport instead and creating a reliable revenue stream that is ringfenced for further transport work. The money has been used in part to fund a new tram line, towards Nottingham’s fleet of electric buses (the largest in Europe), and for the expansion of an ‘Oyster-style’ smartcard to be used across the city. As a result, the city’s public transport usage is one of the highest in the country with 60 million passenger trips made last year, helping to get cars off the road and address associated air pollution.

The sustainable transport industry is starting to gain momentum around the UK.  As well as city-wide projects to improve low carbon transport infrastructure and cut air pollution like those mentioned, we are also seeing the rise and rise of electric vehicles and pioneering initiatives like using waste heat from the London Underground to warm homes.  With transportation currently responsible for one quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and its emissions increasing at a faster rate than any other sector, there has never been a more pressing need for sustainable transport solutions that improve both air quality and people’s lives.

Mike Snowden is a UK Programme Officer at Ashden, a charity that champions and supports leaders in sustainable energy to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon world.  The 2017 Ashden Awards Ceremony takes place on 15 June at the Royal Geographic Society with former Vice-President of the USA Al Gore as keynote speaker.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

A manifesto for green conservatism

The Conservative Party manifesto for the upcoming General Election should feature a bold, positive offer on the environment. Importantly, protecting and improving the environment is popular with the Conservatives’ base: recent polling for Bright Blue found that many environmental policies are supported by a majority of 2015 Conservative voters, including those that voted to remain in the EU and those that voted to leave.

At the last General Election in 2015, the Conservatives were anxious about losing voters on the Right to UKIP, while the Liberal Democrats’ unpopularity meant that the threat from the centre ground was weaker. But in this election, the dynamic is reversed. UKIP is now weak, and its voters’ desire to have Brexit implemented is seeing many already switch their allegiance to the Conservatives.

The greatest electoral challenge for the Conservative Party at the upcoming General Election comes from their left flank, not the right: the Liberal Democrats in Southern England, Labour in the North and Midlands, and the SNP in Scotland. To win a big majority, Theresa May must reassure Remain voters that she has a liberal, outward-looking vision for Britain as it leaves the EU. The 2017 Conservative manifesto, therefore, must look to the Centre, not to the Right. It must reassure Remain voters that Theresa May has a liberal, outward-looking vision for Britain as it leaves the EU. The environment should be an important part of this proposition to the voters of liberal Britain.

Our polling found that concern about the environment was particularly strong among Remain-voting Conservatives. For instance, 81% of Remain-voting Conservatives are concerned about the impacts of climate change, compared to 70% of all Conservatives. Similarly, 80% of Remain-voting Conservatives are proud of the UK being the first country in the world to set legally binding emission reduction targets, compared to 71% of all Conservatives.

Drawing on the findings in our recent report, Green conservatives?, we propose several environmental policies that are supported in general by the mainstream of Conservative voters, but also particularly by Remain-voting Conservatives. Together, they form Bright Blue’s 2017 manifesto for green conservatism.

High-level ambitions

  • The UK should continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change. 
    Seventy percent of Conservatives are concerned about the impacts of climate change.
  • This generation should be the first to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited it.
    A big majority of Conservatives (71%) are concerned about the state of the UK’s natural environment (such as wildlife, landscapes, waterways, and forests). This level of concern is consistent across the different kinds of Conservatives, including Remain- and Leave-voting Conservatives. Eighty-nine percent of Conservatives think that policies to mitigate climate change like tree planting also benefit the natural environment.

Energy and climate

  • Further deployment of renewable energy in the power sector should be encouraged.
    The most popular environmental issue Conservatives want to see the Government deliver is increasing renewable energy generation, which 53% put in their top three. The most popular energy sources among Conservatives are all renewable, ahead of nuclear and fossil fuels: first, solar power; second, tidal; third, offshore wind; fourth, biomass; and fifth, onshore wind.
  • Further development of onshore wind should be permitted, provided local people have the final say and there is no subsidy.
    A majority of Conservatives (59%) support the further development of onshore wind farms, provided they receive no subsidies. Bright Blue’s policy is to enable new onshore wind farms to be awarded zero-subsidy fixed-price contracts, which are now required to help the financing of all new capital-intensive energy infrastructure.
  • Britain’s remaining coal-fired power stations should be phased out, by 2023 at the latest.
    Phasing out the remaining coal-fired power stations in Britain by the mid-2020s is supported by two-thirds of Conservatives. Bright Blue-commissioned analysis has found that there is more than sufficient time to build enough new gas and renewables capacity to guarantee security of supply as coal is phased out, in a range of scenarios.
  • Air pollution should be tackled through an expansion of low emission zones and a targeted diesel scrappage scheme for the oldest cars in polluted areas.
    Bright Blue’s campaign to establish more low emission zones in pollution hotspots is supported by 57% of Conservatives. Sixty-seven percent of Conservatives support a diesel scrappage scheme, under which motorists would receive a cash payment from the government in return for trading in an old diesel vehicle. The second most popular environmental issue Conservatives want to see the Government deliver is improving air quality, which 30% put in their top three. Thirty-seven percent of Conservatives are concerned about local air pollution, rising to a majority (65%) of Conservatives in London.
  • Private investment in domestic energy efficiency and decentralised renewables like solar photovoltaics and heat pumps should be incentivised by providing government loan guarantees.
    Sixty-six percent of Conservatives support Bright Blue’s policy to introduce government loan guarantees for households to reduce the interest rate for Green Deal loans. The loans would fund the upfront cost of home energy improvement measures, which is then paid back through energy bills. Our polling finds that many Conservatives were interested in installing energy improvements in their homes, but a high upfront cost was the main barrier.
  • All homes that are sold should have to meet a basic minimum energy performance standard.
    Seventy percent of Conservatives support a new rule, proposed by Bright Blue, that all homes being sold must first meet a minimum energy performance rating (EPC), with some exemptions, such as for listed buildings or fuel poor households. Just 12% are opposed.
  • The UK should continue to lead internationally on tackling climate change.
    A clear majority of Conservatives (71%) are proud of the UK passing the world-leading Climate Change Act in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% relative to 1990.

Natural environment

  • Current environmental protections that derive from the EU should at least be maintained after Brexit.
    Large majorities of Conservatives want to at least maintain, and in some cases strengthen, existing EU environmental regulations after Brexit: 96% of Conservatives want to maintain or strengthen water quality and beach cleanliness standards; 93% protections for habitats and wildlife; 92% air pollution reduction targets; 91% household waste recycling targets; 85% renewable energy generation targets; 85% regulations to increase energy efficiency of household appliances; 85% restrictions on use of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture; and 64% fishing quotas. Large majorities of Conservative Leave voters also want to at least maintain all these EU environmental regulations after Brexit.
  • Farming payments should continue after Brexit once the UK has withdrawn from the Common Agricultural Policy.
    Most Conservatives (61%) want to see payments to farmers, which currently support food production and farming practices that improve the environment, continue after Brexit.
  • After Brexit, improved grants for farmers for tree planting should be a priority in a future domestic agricultural policy.
    Of those Conservatives who want farm payments to continue, 41% think they should be targeted on farming practices that improve the environment such as tree planting or natural flood management, as recommended in Bright Blue’s campaign. Half of Conservative voters think that the government should give forests priority when awarding new funding and planning protections, making them the most popular natural space.
  • After Brexit, the UK should assume an international leadership role on environmental issues, such as reversing deforestation and increasing ambition to tackle climate change.
    Reversing deforestation is the most popular global environmental issue that most Conservatives want the UK Government to prioritise, with 67% putting it among the top three. Fifty-one percent of Conservatives want increasing ambition to tackle climate change to be prioritised.

Making agroforestry mainstream

The cultivation of trees alongside crops or animals has been a part of farming practice in Europe for millennia. Sadly, like many traditional land uses, it has slowly been consigned to the agricultural history books here in the UK. As farming intensified over the latter half of the twentieth century – with vast monoculture crops and intensive animal units taking the place of many mixed farms – trees were steadily lost from Britain’s agricultural landscape.

Now is the time to reverse that trend, with Bright Blue’s tree planting campaign shining a spotlight on the benefits of trees on farms. Momentum is starting to build; MPs on the cross-party  Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee backed agroforestry in a recent inquiry, and on 22 June, leading agroforestry experts will come together with farmers, foresters and policymakers for a major conference convened by the Soil Association, the Woodland Trust, and the Royal Forestry Society.

What makes agroforestry different from other tree planting is the deliberate integration of productive trees and farming systems - and the range of benefits this brings in terms of productivity, biodiversity, environment and animal welfare. Growing two crops from the same land - for example, rows of fruit trees in cereal crops – can yield more than growing them separately and thereby increase farm profitability.

This productivity increase is measured by the Land Equivalent Ratio (LER): the ratio of the area needed in a monocrop to the area of mixed cropping (such as in agroforestry) to produce the same yield of a particular crop. So, an LER of 1.2 indicates a 20% yield advantage to the mixed crop. Studies of different agroforestry systems, in countries with similar climates to the UK, have found LERs ranging from 1 to 2.01. The implications are dramatic. Combining commercial forestry and farming with LER of just 1.1 would release 10% of the area involved, whether for woodland, rewilding or farming less intensively, for example reverting from crops to pasture.

The adoption of agroforestry could dramatically help to reduce soil erosion and nitrogen leaching, and biodiversity loss while increasing carbon sequestration to help mitigate the UK’s agricultural carbon emissions.

The biodiversity and ecosystem benefits of agroforestry are also significant. Research has concluded that agroforestry systems can increase farm biodiversity by a factor of 2.6. This is because trees provide habitats for birds, insects and mammals which might otherwise not be found in agricultural landscapes, while the understory (the ground below trees) can be home to a more diverse number of plant species.  Agroforestry can also provide animal welfare benefits by providing shelter, shade and food to livestock – especially poultry, pigs, sheep and cattle.

With all these benefits, why does agroforestry remain a niche farming practice? There are a number of reasons why we aren’t yet seeing more trees on farms in the UK – from lack of financial support, to short farm tenancies discouraging farmers from making long-term investments. There is also a scarcity of understanding among farmers and landowners of the benefits that agroforestry can bring, and how to get started.

Luckily, these barriers could be overcome, and we don’t have to look too far for a model to kick-start agroforestry. In 2016, the French government launched a wide-reaching and ambitious national agroforestry strategy.  There is no reason why the UK Government should not seek to adopt a national agroforestry strategy of its own. This should draw on domestic and international experience, and it should be led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, working closely with the devolved administrations and the Forestry Commission. It should be drawn up with input from farmers, foresters, civil society organisations and the public.

There are farmers experimenting with agroforestry systems in the UK, paving the way for others to follow. In Shropshire, one farmer has integrated a number of tree species on is farm, and has observed significant benefits in the health and welfare of his cattle as a result. In Cambridgeshire, agroforestry pioneer Stephen Briggs is producing apples alongside cereal crops, improving his farm’s economic resilience, achieving significant reductions in soil loss and improving biodiversity. The Soil Association’s own Chief Executive, Helen Browning, is embarking on an extensive and ambitious agroforestry project at her organic farm near Swindon.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will require a new national farming policy to replace the love-it-or-hate-it Common Agricultural Policy. There is no single silver bullet, but if any farming practice embodies sustainability, innovation and resilience, surely it’s agroforestry, which is why it should be a core component of the future of farming in the UK.

Georgia Farnworth is a policy officer at the Soil Association, the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use.  The Soil Association, in partnership with the Woodland Trust and the Royal Forestry Society, are hosting the national agroforestry conference on 22 June.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

Global challenge, local leadership: a Scottish perspective

Scotland is widely considered of one of the global leaders on tackling climate change and enhancing our environment. We have some of the most ambitious targets in the world and this is to be welcomed. However, it is time that Scotland set aside the notion that missed targets and slipping deadlines are something simply to be accepted. For example, despite having some of the most stretching recycling targets in the world, Scotland has a worse recycling rate than England and lags even further behind Wales. Scotland is facing a biodiversity crisis with Scotland’s rating on the Biodiversity Intactness Index in the bottom fifth of all countries.

The Scottish Conservatives recently set out our commitment to deliver a more sustainable Scotland in a new environment and climate change policy position paper. We believe in protecting and enhancing our natural heritage. We believe it is our duty to the next generation to leave Scotland a better place than we found it. A Scotland that builds and heats more homes without destroying green space or polluting our planet. A Scotland where we work with our farmers and communities to restore our landscape. A Scotland where every person and every place can see the benefits of cherishing our vast natural capital.

At a time when the global economic demand and environmental systems are under intensive and competing strain, a new approach is required, we can no longer consume our natural resources at the current unsustainable rate, and we can no longer think of economic development as a competing force against environmental protection.

The Scottish Conservative approach to the environment and climate change is founded on three key tenets. The first is a belief that climate change is a critically important issue, and one for which we must show leadership on the world stage in order to achieve results. The second is that, in the long term, resource prices will increase and access to these resources will become less reliable. By decreasing our reliance on products which are manufactured abroad we can reduce global emissions but also grow the economy here in Scotland. The third tenet is that we need to look holistically at our management of the environment. That means making the business case but also recognising that for certain projects the business case will not be viable if assessed via conventional accounting. Therefore, we recognise a role for natural capital in order to progress key projects. We will prioritise achieving behaviour change, technological advancement, big data and innovation in order to tackle climate change, boost biodiversity, grow the economy and ensure new ideas are delivered for the benefit of Scotland.

We have put the circular economy at the heart of everything we do. The circular economy is an economic system where resources are used for as long as possible at their highest utility value in order to extract the maximum benefit from them. For Scotland, this would create more, higher skilled jobs, close the productivity gap as well as help to reduce income inequality. For Scottish businesses, the implementation of circular economy business models will improve their ability to control supply chains and manage long-term costs, turning inputs into assets.  For consumers, this will provide opportunities and flexibility to reduce and manage the costs of products and services. For the environment, it can minimise negative externalities and help play a part in minimising our carbon footprint. The bottom line is that a circular economy will be a win for businesses, a win for consumers and a win for the environment.

To successfully transition to a circular economy, we need to refocus current government intervention. Government leadership on technological advancement, education and behaviour change, and the creation of a Centre for Circular Economy Excellence will together help to achieve an estimated, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, £3 billion economic boost. A Design Academy will stimulate innovation and become a catalyst for embedding circular economic practices and thinking into the design sector. This will cover system, product and business model design. We will support the design of new technologies that enable innovative asset tracking, data management, reverse logistic solutions and connectivity. New business models will be encouraged around renting, leasing, servitisation, remanufacturing and reuse. We will take a cohesive approach to delivering all business support functions provided by government.

A Circular Economy Education and Skills Academy will encapsulate a schools’ programme which will engage with pupils across a diverse range of disciplines to highlight the opportunities a circular economy presents. In the tertiary sector, the Academy will link diverse research topics to speed up the pollination of innovative work. Development of key skills such as engineering, repair, remanufacturing and circular economy accounting will also be important in realising our circular economy plans.

We must also do more to support biodiversity given that Scotland is blessed with a rich and diverse range of flora and fauna. We will take a three-step approach – understand, safeguard and enhance. Information is the key to protecting our natural heritage, and that is why we will tackle the existing gaps in knowledge by establishing a Biodiversity Baseline. Crucial to that process will be working alongside key stakeholders to involve them as full partners and leverage their expertise.

We take a broad view of safeguarding our biodiversity across Scotland, from the great glens to suburban Scotland. Our approach will introduce new agricultural methods to support the environment, halt the spread of invasive species and effectively manage deer. We want to go further than conservation and see our biodiversity enriched. Our towns and cities will be improved by the creation of new greenspaces, and our countryside will see the increased restoration of natural habitats.

Our approach will provide Scots with a greener and more pleasant land to call home. We set ourselves this task because it is one of the greatest challenges of our times. It is for this generation to rise to the occasion and ensure that the next will live in a better, more productive and more sustainable world. It is time for local leadership to meet this global challenge.

Maurice Golden MSP is the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR), Deputy Convenor of the ECCLR Committee and Scottish Conservative Deputy Chief Whip. Prior to being elected, he led the Circular Economy programme for Zero Waste Scotland. He is a Chartered Waste Manager and Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. His recent portfolio paper sets the Scottish Conservative vision to provide local leadership for our global challenge

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

The sky’s the limit for the circular economy

On the 30th March, the first ‘second-hand’ rocket was launched into our skies. Rockets - like many products in our current economy - are traditionally one-use only items. They are made, used and, with their mission complete, discarded. SpaceX have made history by finding a way for their boosters to return safely to Earth to be used again. Through this new approach, rockets can return to the skies again.

SpaceX is just one in a growing line of businesses - including Maersk, Rolls Royce and Caterpillar -  embracing a new way of thinking about the world: the circular economy. Our current way of doing things is primarily linear; products - from rockets to mobile phones - are made, used, and thrown away at the end of their life (or when we just don’t want them anymore). At this point, all the energy, materials and water used to make them are thrown away too. A circular economy, by contrast, keeps resources in use for as long as possible. Products are designed to last, to be reused, repaired or rebuilt when parts break. They can be safely dismantled and their components reused. Nothing is wasted in a circular economy.

Circular approaches save companies money; one reason that “businesses that work on the basis of circular principles are amongst the fastest growing in the economy, according to McKinsey’s Dr Martin Stuchtey. They also create jobs because though they are resource efficient, they are labour intensive, with the potential to help address the global job gap of 600 million according to Dominic Waughray from the World Economic Forum. Circular practices also need less energy, which reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. Manufacturing can be a polluting process; making fewer new things from scratch reduces the amount of pollution created

Whilst circular practices are beginning to be embraced in high-income countries - exemplified by the recent announcement of London’s £50 million circular economy business plan - the discourse has to-date not tapped into the circular economy’s full potential.

This was the basis for a circular economy launch of a different kind much closer to home: the parliamentary launch of the Tearfund and the Institute of Development Studies report, Virtuous Circle: How the circular economy can create jobs and save lives in low and middle-income countries on the 21st March. Joanne Green, Tearfund’s Senior Policy Associate, provided the context for the report; over recent decades, there has been incredible progress in reducing poverty, but it has come at a cost to the natural environment. The more we succeed in economic development, the more we fail on damage to the natural world; this approach could undo progress made and push millions more people into greater vulnerability.

The circular economy offers us a way to - in the words of Jeremy Lefroy MP - “make a virtue of necessity”, by not only addressing this environmental problem, but also creating jobs and saving lives at the same time. Indeed, the circular economy offers a triple win for low- and middle-income countries:

  1. Boosting and creating jobs: the circular economy creates more jobs, often in highly skilled areas such as remanufacturing, repair and high-tech recycling. It also has the potential to create safer, better paid jobs for the millions of people already informally working as waste pickers.
  2. Saving lives: at present, approximately nine million people die every year as a result of the mismanagement of waste and pollutants. That’s twenty times more than die of malaria. Reducing waste would improve the health of those living and working around waste, and it would reduce the sulphur dioxide and other emissions that trouble cities in the developing world.
  3. Respecting our natural environment: a 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that India’s greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 44% by 2050 if it adopted a circular approach. Circular principles can mitigate climate change and keep valuable resources in the system so we can do more with what we have.

There are already examples of circular practices in low- and middle-income countries, as profiled in the four-minute Tearfund film ‘How waste can save lives and create jobs’ and outlined by Dr Patrick Schröder from the Institute of Development Studies. The challenge is to accelerate and scale up the transition.

As the UK redefines its position on the international stage, it has an opportunity to embrace and champion circular economy approaches at home and overseas. SystemiQ Associate Ben Dixon highlighted that a system-wide approach like the circular economy needs multiple actors. There are roles for government, business, and civil society to play in mainstreaming the circular economy.

The launches of the last month mark what is hopefully just the beginning. Reusing rockets won’t just save the industry money; circular principles open up new possibilities for space exploration. They also open up a new pathway for development: creating jobs without the traditional cost to nature. When it comes to the circular economy, not even the sky is the limit.

Julia Kendal is a Policy Associate at Tearfund, a Christian relief and development agency working in nearly 50 countries around the world

The views expressed in this essay are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue