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

A cool change is coming and business needs to get ready

The case for decisive action on diesel pollution gets stronger by the day. The main reason is of course the toll on public health. Every year, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) kill around 40,000 Britons, cause the loss of 6 million working days, and cost the economy up to £20 billion per year – equal to more than 16% of the NHS budget.

But pollution also threatens the health of companies.

While many companies are successfully adopting a variety of new technologies, others still have work to do – particularly operators of refrigerated vehicles. The industry continues to rely on decades-old diesel cooling technology that remains essentially unregulated and highly polluting; despite that, unlike the atmosphere in our major cities, the regulatory direction of travel is now clear.

Britain has been in breach of EU air pollution standards since 2010, and the courts have twice ordered the government to strengthen its plans. The European Commission has given Britain a “final warning” to act within two months or face big fines and referral to the European Court of Justice. The political momentum means regulation will tighten regardless of Brexit, and will almost certainly include a network of low emission zones in major cities and possibly a diesel scrappage scheme. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has just announced a £10 Toxicity-charge (T-charge) for the most polluting cars from October this year.

However, the most polluting engines on the road are not being used to drive cars or trucks. The worst emitters are in fact the secondary diesel engines used to provide cooling on refrigerated trucks and trailers. Analysis by Dearman, the clean cold technology developer, has shown that these independent transport refrigeration units (TRUs) can emit six times as much NOx and 29 times as much PM as the Euro VI propulsion engine dragging them around. Compared to the official emissions limits of a modern Euro 6 diesel car, the TRU emits up to 93 times more NOx and 165 times more PM.  

These disproportionately high emissions evaded the radar for many years, but are now beginning to be recognised by policymakers. TRUs were mentioned in both the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Clean Air Zone Framework published last autumn, and the Clean Air Bill, a Private Member’s Bill tabled by Labour MP Geraint Davies. Both make clear that TRUs will be covered by the new national network of Clean Air Zones. Defra talks of “encouraging the upgrade of refrigeration units on cold chain vehicles to the least polluting options”, while the Clean Air Bill calls for TRU use to be restricted in “specified urban areas”.

TRUs are vulnerable to regulation not only because they are highly polluting, but also because they are few in number. If the 84,000-strong UK TRU fleet were replaced with zero-emission alternatives, allowing for the total fleet mix it would equate to taking approximately 4 million Euro 6 diesel cars off the road. Come election time, businesses don’t have a vote, private motorists generally do.

TRUs may be relatively scarce, but they are hardly low profile. Each year in Britain they transport food worth £52 billion, often operating in residential areas or busy high streets. It can only be a matter of time before people realise that, while they are about to be penalised for driving a car, TRUs are operating on our streets unhindered by regulation or penalty.

Imagine the public fury when people realise that independent TRUs are also entitled to run on half price ‘red’ diesel. So not only do they spew much more pollution than cars - even old cars -  but taxpayers subsidise them to do so!

TRUs are allowed to run on red diesel – bizarrely - because they are classed as ‘non-road mobile machinery’, even though they operate on a truck or trailer. But there is no conceivable economic justification for continuing to subsidise such a mature and highly polluting technology against new zero-emission competitors. Britain is one of only a handful of countries in the EU that still permits it. This loophole is unlikely to survive the intensified scrutiny the introduction of Clean Air Zones is likely to bring.

The TRU red diesel subsidy is also vulnerable because it prevents new clean cold technologies from taking off in the UK. The government has invested tens of millions of pounds into supporting clean cold technologies through Innovate UK and the Research Councils, and is unlikely to want to squander it by maintaining perverse fossil fuel subsidies that stop these innovations being taken up in their home market.

Air pollution regulations will soon be toughened to meet the scale of the challenge, and refrigerated transport will not escape. At some point operators will be forced to act by the combination of rising public awareness and regulatory pressure. Companies that want to demonstrate they are responsible corporate citizens would do well to embrace this opportunity early, not as the laggard who did the right thing only when compelled by regulation.

Happily, cold logistics operators might also find that doing the right thing is also good for business. Some of the newly designed zero-emission TRUs materially outperform conventional diesel systems delivering additional benefits. A win for business, customers, the environment and public health – now wouldn’t that be cool?

Professor Toby Peters was the co-founder of Dearman, was recently appointed Visiting Professor in Transformational Innovation for Sustainability at Heriot-Watt University, and is Visiting Professor in Power and Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham

An opportunity to cut harmful air pollution from coal

Coal in the UK is in terminal decline. The fuel that powered the industrial revolution and has been a staple of our economy for over a century is on its way out. Recent Carbon Brief analysisfound that last year coal use more than halved. This in turn contributed to an impressive six per cent annual fall in carbon emissions. Excluding the general strikes in the 1920s, emissions are now at the lowest level since the Victorian era.

But the job of phasing out coal from our energy mix is not complete. There are still eight coal-fired power stations on the British grid, with a combined capacity of around 14GW. In 2015, Bright Blue recommended that the Government regulate to close these last coal plants in the early 2020s. A few months later, the government adopted this policy and has just now finished consulting on its proposals to force their closure by the end of 2025.

This sharp decrease has several probable causes: anticipation of the 2025 coal phase-out, the abundance of relatively cheap gas, the build-out of zero-marginal-cost renewables, and the UK's 'Carbon Price Support', which charges power generators for each tonne of carbon they emit. But there is another factor that has helped to make the economics of coal challenging, over which EU Ministers are soon to make a decision at the European Council: the EU's 'Industrial Emissions Directive'.

The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) came into force at the start of 2016 and its aim is to reduce harmful air pollution from industry. It sets legal limits on the levels of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and dust that large plants can emit. Of the highest emitting 30 plants affected by the IED, 26 are coal-fired power stations.

The damage to public health from coal is significant: across all EU Member States, air pollution from coal is estimated to contribute to nearly 23,000 deaths each year with a health bill ranging from €32bn to €62bn. But the IED is not realising all the promised emissions savings. Over half of coal plants in the EU have been given special 'derogations' by the EU, meaning that they do not need to apply them.

Under the policy, national governments must issue permits to all plants affected by the IED. These permits are issued with reference to guidelines that are set out in the EU's 'Best Available Technique Reference Document' (BREF). This document is currently being reviewed, and the European Council is soon to vote on proposals to amend the BREF that would make the application of the IED by national governments more stringent.

Put simply, if these proposals are accepted, many more plants will have to choose whether to make expensive upgrades in order to cut their emissions, or simply to close. The upgrade costs could be substantial: in the UK, government-commissioned research found that for a 500 MW coal plant, the cost of compliance would typically be between £50m and £75m.

So in many cases, this investment decision will lead to plant closures, with the investment generating insufficient returns to justify the costs. The three factors named above (cheap and plentiful gas, zero-marginal-cost renewables, and carbon pricing) assist and reinforce this dynamic.

With the UK's support at the European Council, it is expected that the proposals will be passed through qualified majority voting. However, without the UK's support, they are vulnerable to defeat. For this reason, the decision of UK Ministers is absolutely critical to the pace of the coal phase-out in Europe.

Not only would these regulations help to hasten the closure of the remaining coal plants in the UK. But they could help to bring about the end of coal generation throughout EU. The benefits would be great. In relation to climate, it would greatly reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions, for which coal is responsible for 16 per cent of the total. In relation to air pollution, the proposed new BREF would reduce the number of premature deaths from coal-related air pollution to under 9,000.

Supporting and championing these tougher environmental regulations is an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate international leadership post-Brexit. By committing to phasing out coal by 2025, the UK became the first industrialised country to burn coal for electricity and the first to commit to closing its coal fleet. We have recommended before that this significant domestic legacy should be leveraged internationally, in order to make a major contribution to reducing global emissions and tackling climate change.

In its coal phase-out impact assessment, the government listed UK international climate change leadership as one of the policy's main benefits. In the European Council, the UK has an opportunity to realise some of this benefit. It should seize it.

Sam Hall is a senior researcher at Bright Blue

This article first appeared on BusinessGreen 

Conservative cities are leading the way on clean energy

For too long tackling climate change has been perceived as something that makes people’s lives harder, not easier. For that very reason, those elected politicians tasked with making sure that life runs smoothly, from emptying the bins to keeping the lights on, have tended to ignore or skirt round the subject. But as the economics of renewable energy become more compelling, pragmatic local leaders are seeing opportunity rather than inconvenience in pursuing this agenda.

Local leaders choosing to seize the clean energy agenda are doing it for a range of reasons: it makes financial sense since it saves the council money (and can generate income too), it’s a growth and jobs agenda, and it can create opportunities to tackle social injustice through smart technology and markets.

Peterborough and Swindon, both Conservative-run councils, are just two such authorities, using innovative financial approaches and practical public engagement to reduce costs, make money, and provide for the community they serve. Crucially this has been achieved through building public consent less through planet-saving and much more through place-making.

Aspirational voters don’t wish for a degraded environment: being close to nature is something that many people are prepared to pay for. And ensuring that the environment is safe for future generations is close to the philosophy of many local leaders, especially those leading their local communities at council level. As devolution develops, there will be more and more opportunity for local leaders to shape the response to these challenges that meets the needs of their local community now and in the future.

Peterborough has made a reality of the aphorism that where there is muck there’s brass. Crucially they have ensured the proceeds of their new energy from waste plant stay with the council. The contract is unique in that not only does the authority own the facility outright, funded through prudential borrowing, but also that it retains the full value of the energy generated by the facility.

Almost everything residents put in their black bins is converted into heat and electricity, and it has virtually eliminated waste going to landfill. This will save the authority over £1 million per year in gate fees and tax for landfill and generate 7.5MW of electricity for export to the grid (the equivalent of 15% of residents’ electricity use), sufficient to power over 16,000 homes.

Future proofing the plant ensures it has the capacity to deal with extra waste from 26,400 more homes due to be built over the next few years.

Often local authorities do this and don’t shout about it. But they are missing a trick. It is important to tell a story that speaks to the hearts as well as the heads of residents. While saving the planet is rarely the main driver of voters’ behaviour, feeling they are part of a city’s mission to do the responsible thing increases the chances of residents supporting this activity, especially if it is combined with more immediate tangible benefits for themselves and the wider community.

Mainstreaming environmental policies is essential to their widespread deployment.  Early engagement with residents was vital for the success of this project: they were involved in every step of the process, helping to choose the technology involved and residents continue to meet on a regular basis with the council.

Making the most of the waste from the growing city is key to the vision of Peterborough as the environmental capital of the UK, and generating energy in a safe, efficient and sustainable way saves money and reduces the impact on the environment.

If the fact that it reduces the amount of CO2 equivalent the city produces by 10,000 tonnes per year sounds like an add-on, that matters less than that it is being done, while telling a story that links environmental policies with city pride and sensible savings.

Swindon Borough Council has a solar strategy that makes money for the council and for residents, issuing solar bonds to create a financial incentive for residents to buy in to the project. Their unique target of installing 200MW of renewable energy by 2020, the equivalent to 100% of all energy used in local homes has driven innovative approaches to finance, to removing red tape and bureaucracy and to working with communities to retain support.

They launched the first bond available to the general public in over 100 years, and the first “Green ISA”. The council’s first “solar bond” sold out within two months, a month earlier than the deadline. This success continues with the Green ISA. The current offer is the UK’s first council-backed Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA), giving investors an effective rate of return of 6% tax-free over the 20 year life of the investment. The minimum investment is just £5, to make the offer available to as many people as possible. The first dividend from the Swindon Common Solar Farm solar bond has just paid out, at exactly the rate that was predicted when residents signed up to invest.

The project received planning consent through the council’s innovative use of local development orders. This speeded up the planning process, provided an incentive for developers to come forward and show their hands early, remove inappropriate sites and avoided large concentrations around villages, while allowing for a full public consultation to take place.

As a result Swindon is on track to meet its stretching 2020 target. When the second farm is finished (due this month), Swindon will have achieved building 167 MW, equivalent to 83% of all energy used by local homes. And £45,000 per annum from the rent, and business rates from the second solar farm, will be used to finance a £600,000 1300m noise barrier along a dual carriageway.

Cities like Peterborough and Swindon have much to shout about but they are aware they also have much to learn from other local leaders who have also spotted the opportunities available in renewable energy and energy productivity. That is the reason UK100 was established – a network of UK cities and communities committed to 100% clean energy. Not just because it is good for the planet but for the people we serve, in terms of jobs, prosperity, health and wellbeing. Connecting the leaders to accelerate the shift to clean energy is essential so that their innovation can be implemented at scale. Local leaders on clean energy are potential allies of a government which has stretching climate change targets to meet and an industrial strategy it needs to forge that meets the challenges of the 21st century, from skills to manufacturing. A localised response to energy generation and efficiency will enable leaders to shape a programme of national renewal that meets the challenges of a post-Brexit Britain.

Polly Billington is Director of UK100, the network of cities and communities committed to 100% clean energy by 2050.

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

Building places that work for everyone

In her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May highlighted the plight of ordinary families ‘who can just about manage but worry about the cost of living’ or ‘who have their own home, but worry about paying the mortgage’.  And in her foreword to last month’s Housing White Paper she identified the ‘broken housing market’ as one of the biggest barriers to progress in Britain today.

Her concern is our concern too.  Mrs May knows that we urgently need to build new homes that are within reach of those being left behind.  We must reduce energy bills for those who are just about managing.  We must reduce the burden on the NHS by maximising the health and well-being of UK citizens.  And in a post-Brexit Britain we must create jobs, improve skills and grow our export opportunities. 

This is a vision that we share. And in our brand new paper, Building Places That Work for Everyone, we show how the built environment is already playing a key role in delivering on the Government’s aims.  We shine a spotlight on refurbishment projects that have delivered warmer, healthier homes and workplaces alongside significant fuel bill savings.  We show how high-quality design and smarter construction methods are already delivering new homes at scale and at speed.  And we demonstrate that the construction industry plays a crucial role in creating jobs, improving skills and growing our exports of cutting-edge products and services.

Let’s start with new buildings.  It is a common – but false – assumption that high-quality buildings take longer to build and are more expensive.  Offsite manufacture can substantially reduce construction waste and speed up delivery.  And well-designed developments, in which communities have had a real say, can sweep away planning objections – especially when they bring with them new amenities, green spaces and wildlife havens.   Take igloo Regeneration’s Dundas Hill development in Glasgow, which sailed through planning because of local community involvement in the development process right from the start. Delivering, sustainably, the numbers of new homes the country needs is well within our reach.

But it’s not just about new buildings. Around 80% of the buildings that will be occupied in in 2050 have already been built. If we are to meet our 2050 carbon target, we need to retrofit almost 25 million homes – that’s 1.4 homes every minute between now and 2050. Refurbishing homes can bring down bills for hard-pressed families; and for firms large and small more efficient use of energy frees up money to invest in the core business. A great example comes from Land Securities who over the past year have invested £2.6 million in energy reduction initiatives across 23 leading commercial and retail sites around the UK, saving customers 8.2 million kWh of energy, equal to £940,000 per annum. This includes Lewisham Shopping Centre, where lighting upgrades to LEDs will reduce landlord energy consumption by 20% - with benefits shared with customers including Marks & Spencer, Clarks and H&M.

We also mustn’t forget the health benefits of a well-designed, high-performing building.  A healthier, happier workforce means a more productive, successful business – it’s as simple as that.  Our members Skanska UK eliminated hazardous substances and made full use of natural daylight when rebuilding their Doncaster facility – leading to a more comfortable workplace and a huge drop in building-related sick days.  Meanwhile, in their landmark Boilers on Prescription pilot, social housing provider Gentoo provided energy efficiency upgrades for vulnerable residents.  The results were staggering: after 18 months GP appointments had decreased by 60%, and the project has generated widespread interest from healthcare professionals nationwide. 

These shining examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  And they show not just what might be possible in the future, but what is possible right now.  With the right combination of industry expertise, community engagement and a clear steer from Government, they can be the norm rather than the exception.

And I’m not the only one who is saying it.  It was standing room only when we launched our paper in Parliament on 28 February – and I was particularly thrilled by the welcome it received from Conservative politicians.  Our keynote speaker was Chair of the No. 10 Policy Board and Bright Blue supporter George Freeman MP.  He commended our ‘powerful, fact-based paper’, saying that it would be ‘really valuable in shaping policy’.  He highlighted how we must ‘build not yesterday’s boxes but tomorrow’s homes’ and mooted the interesting idea of rewarding local councils for delivering housing that uses less energy.  Meanwhile, another Bright Blue supporter James Heappey echoed George’s words, adding that truly sustainable homes can make people happier and healthier, reduce demand on the NHS and enable communities to be more cohesive.  Music to my ears!

So hopefully this is just the start of our new conversation with Government as we spread the word about the multiple benefits – social, economic and environmental – that high-quality buildings and neighbourhoods can deliver.  UK-GBC is uniquely placed to help Government achieve its vision in close partnership with the built environment industry whom we represent.  We look forward to working with them and all our partners to deliver on our shared vision – to build places that work for everyone.

Julie Hirigoyen is CEO of the UK Green Building Council

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