Category Archives: Environment
August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change.
More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.
All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff
Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.
They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.
The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:
“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”
Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.
Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.
A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movement. Thousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.
Media 97: An inconvenient truth? A Dutch reader notes UK’s ZERO coverage of 40,000 climate change demo in Amsterdam
She writes: “*zero* coverage in the UK over climate demo Sunday 10th in Amsterdam?! 40,000 people at climate change demo in Amsterdam and it RAINED heavily all day … we got soaked to our underwear …)!!”
An online search today saw no UK coverage on the first four ‘result’ pages – only American and European coverage.
Adding wryly: “When 40 yellow vests get together it’s shared all over the planet…
The demonstration, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, drew around 40,000 people despite heavy rain, according to Agence France-Presse.
“The high turnout is the proof that people now want a decisive policy on climate from the government,” Greenpeace, one of the march organizers, said in a statement.
The Netherlands could be especially vulnerable to the rising tides brought on by climate change. Much of the country already sits below sea level, and some of its land is sinking.
While the U.S. has been backpedalling out of global climate change agreements like the Paris accord, Dutch lawmakers have passed ambitious climate change laws, seeking a 95% reduction of the 1990 emissions levels by 2050.
In January, however, a Dutch environmental research agency said the government is lagging behind its goals. “We are under sea level, so we really need to do something about it,” said a 21-year-old climate studies student at Amsterdam University.
Students around the world have been leading protests to prompt their governments to address climate change. A worldwide school strike is planned for later this week. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager widely known for her climate change activism, said on Twitter that at least 82 countries plan to participate in the upcoming protest.
Will British media fail to report the forthcoming school strikes as well as this one?
Government has pledged that all UK coal-fired power generation must end by 2025 and it accounted for less than 7% of UK power generation last year. That helped to push down UK carbon emissions to levels last seen in 1890 and to cut greenhouse gases faster than most other developed economies.
It is startling – in view of the government’s pledge – to learn that coal is still being imported from Russia, Colombia and the United States. GEGB engineers in the 70s complained about the imports of inefficient ‘dirty’ coal from Eastern Europe whilst good quality British coal was being stockpiled.
Muir Dean – one of many open cast mines closed in 2016
It is even more startling to read that a local coal mining company, Banks Group, which mothballed its Rusha mine in Scotland early because it couldn’t get a good enough price, has applied to extract coal from land behind the sand dunes of Druridge Bay (below). The social, economic and environmental objections received were deemed ‘insignificant’ by Justice Ouseley in the High Court.
The planning application submitted by Banks Group was approved by Northumberland County Council in July 2016. In September the plans were put on hold subject to a government inquiry. In March 2018, the proposal was rejected by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, citing among other environmental reasons the “very considerable negative impact” the opencasting would have on greenhouse gas emissions and on climate change, as well as on landscape and heritage assets.
The high court over-ruled Sajid Javid’s decision in November and James Brokenshire, the minister for communities and local government, is to re-examine the application.
Gavin Styles, managing director of Banks, had described Mr Javid’s decision as perverse and political: “the government . . . has now demonstrated that it would prefer to source the coal that is essential for a variety of important industries across the UK from Russia or the US, rather than support substantial investment and job creation plans in our region.”
Anne Harris of Coal Action Network, which is fighting Banks’s plans across the north-east, said: “If James Brokenshire approves this scheme at Highthorn, he’s showing the government has no intention of meaningfully following through on the 2025 coal phase-out. It would mean the concerns and opposition of people in the area are being ignored for a coal company that’s trying to grab resources and run.”
All sides have submitted their case to Brokenshire, who will begin his deliberations on Friday.
A year ago, Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt challenged the “permanent propping up of whole sectors of our economy as a direct result of our failure to train people properly here in the UK”.
They called for the training of enough IT experts, doctors, nurses and carers from our own population to “prevent the shameful theft of such vital staff from the poorer countries which originally paid for their education”.
Mass migration from developing countries deprives those places of the young, enterprising, dynamic citizens they desperately need at home
Dependence on the free movement of peoples as practised in the UK is the opposite of internationalism, since it implies that we will continue to employ workers from other countries in agriculture and service industries and steal doctors, nurses, IT experts etc from poorer countries, rather than train enough of our own.
Many individuals who migrate have experienced multiple stresses that can impact their mental well-being
Professor Dinesh Bhugrah is an authority on the stresses of migration. Years of research have revealed that the rates of mental illness are increased in some migrant groups. Stresses include the loss of the familiar, including language (especially colloquial and dialect), attitudes, values, loss of cultural norms, religious customs, social structures and support networks.
Porritt and Hines advocate – like former Chancellor Merkel – a redoubling of our commitments to improve people’s economic and social prospects in their own countries, tackling the root causes of why people feel they have no choice but to leave family, friends and communities in the first place.
They advocate the replacement of the so-called free market with an emphasis on rebuilding local economies . . . dramatically lessening the need for people to emigrate in the first case. Hines gives a route to localization in his classic: Localization: a global manifesto, pages 63-67.
The seven basic steps to be introduced, over a suitable transition period are:
- Reintroduction of protective safeguards for domestic economies (tariffs, quotas etc);
- a site-here-to-sell-here policy for manufacturing and services domestically or regionally;
- localising money so that the majority stays within its place of origin;
- enforcing a local competition policy to eliminate monopolies from the more protected economies;
- introduction of resource taxes to increase environmental improvements and help fund the transition to Protect the Local, Globally;
- increased democratic involvement both politically and economically to ensure the effectiveness and equity of the movement to more diverse local economies;
- reorientation of the end goals of aid and trade rules so that they contribute to the rebuilding of local economies and local control, particularly through the global transfer of relevant information and technology.
Since that book was written, a gifted group of people set out the Green New Deal which – though aimed initially at transforming the British economy – is valid for all countries and most urgently needed in the poorest countries from which people feel impelled to emigrate.
Funded by fairer taxes, savings, government expenditure and if necessary green quantitative easing, it addresses the need to develop ‘green energy’ and ‘energy-proofing’ buildings, creating new jobs, a reliable energy supply and slowing down the rate of climate change.
Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest person ever to be elected in Congress, now advocate a Green New Deal in the US.
Professor John Roberts, in one of the newsletters posted on http://www.jrmundialist.org/ says: “Increasingly my thoughts return to the overwhelming need for all of us to think (and then act) as world citizens, conscious of a primary loyalty not to our local nationalism but to the human race (however confused and divided) as a whole”.
Jonathon Porritt quotes Alistair Sawday: “I remembered that the skills and the policies to reverse the damage are there; it is a matter of will – and of all of us waking up.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has developed urges all to work to “…Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals. Unity is our path. Our future depends on it.” –
Jeremy Corbyn addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations Geneva headquarters last year. He concluded:
“The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people. . . But let us be clear: the long-term answer is genuine international cooperation based on human rights, which confronts the root causes of conflict, persecution and inequality . . . The world demands the UN Security Council responds, becomes more representative and plays the role it was set up to on peace and security. We can live in a more peaceful world. The desire to help create a better life for all burns within us. Governments, civil society, social movements and international organisations can all help realise that goal. We need to redouble our efforts to create a global rules based system that applies to all and works for the many, not the few.
“With solidarity, calm leadership and cooperation we can build a new social and economic system with human rights and justice at its core, deliver climate justice and a better way to live together on this planet, recognise the humanity of refugees and offer them a place of safety. Work for peace, security and understanding. The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less”.
Martin Wolf, former senior World Bank economist who left after becoming disillusioned with its policies, reminds readers that a goal of the Paris agreement of 2015 was to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. He comments:
“Achieving it means drastic reductions in emissions from now. This is very unlikely to happen. That is no longer because it is technically impossible. It is because it is politically painful.
He refers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the implications of warming of just 1.5C, making plain the risks the world runs if this limit is ignored and concluding that life will survive, but not life as we know it, continuing:
“We are the shapers of the planet now. This ought to transform how we think. Unfortunately, it has not”.
Wolf believes that the theoretical and empirical arguments for man-made climate change are overwhelming, supporting this and other points made with graphs in his recent Financial Times article. The rise in average temperatures above the pre-industrial average is already about 1C. That shows how hard it will be to keep the final increase below 1.5C, or even 2C. Under the “nationally determined contributions”, he adds, we are in fact on a track towards warming of 3-4C by 2100.
if we are to have a high chance of keeping the ultimate temperature rise to below 1.5C:
- net global CO2 emissions would need to fall to zero not long after 2040
- and other sources of climate change — emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, for example — would also need to fall from 2030.
Emissions from industry would need to fall by 75-90 per cent by 2050, relative to 2010. This would need a combination of electrification, hydrogen and product substitution. These options are technically proven, but their deployment on a planetary scale is another matter. Emissions reductions by efficiency improvement will be inadequate.
(Ed) One reservation: many will disagree with Wolf’s assertion that generating energy from bio-based feedstocks is necessary and that agriculture will need to shift to production of energy crops on a huge scale.
He calls for planning changes in urban infrastructure and carbon capture and storage on a large scale, shifting the world on to a different investment and growth path right now and commenting, “This is more technically possible than we used to think. But it is politically highly challenging”.
The natural tendencies are either to do nothing, while insisting there is no problem, or to agree there is a problem, while merely pretending to act. It is not clear which form of obfuscation is worse.
Wolf points out that to preserve our planet requires co-operative effort on a planetary scale – a challenge human beings have historically only met in times of war. Climate change involves huge distributional issues between countries that caused the problem and those that did not, and, not least, between people today, who make the decisions, and people tomorrow, who suffer the results.
He warns that the chances of co-operative action seem near zero in today’s nationalistic world . . . Donald Trump has already repudiated the US pledge – other countries may fail, too:
“It is five minutes to midnight on climate change. We will have to alter our trajectory very quickly but appear to be set on running an irreversible bet on our ability to manage the consequences of a far bigger rise even than 2C, risking a world of runaway — and unmanageable — climate chaos.
“Our progeny will see this as a crime”.
As the FT’s Simon Kuper recently reported, air pollution is said to contribute to more than 9,000 premature deaths in London each year and its harmful nitrogen dioxide levels are nearly as bad as those in Beijing and New Delhi – and much worse than in other developed cities such as New York or Madrid.
Nitrogen dioxide, which inflames lungs and is linked to shorter life expectancy, has become a major problem. The capital missed binding EU limits on air quality that came into force in 2010, largely due to diesel vehicles — which, it later emerged, emitted higher levels of pollutants in the real world than in tests. Congestion, which has pushed average traffic speed down to 8mph, compounds the problem. Add in the City of London’s narrow streets and tall buildings, and two of the capital’s five hotspots for excessive nitrogen levels lie within it.
The mayor of London is making headway
The impact of the City’s plans will be even greater if they bolster commitments by Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, to prioritise fighting air pollution throughout the capital and force the government to take action across the country.
- From this year, all new single-decker buses will be zero emission.
- New taxis must be hybrid or electric.
- Next year, an ultra-low emission zone will come into force in central London, expanding outwards in 2021.
The borough of Westminster has proposed turning Oxford Street, the UK’s busiest shopping location, into a zero-emissions zone by 2022 and a parliamentary committee has called for a UK-wide ban on new petrol and diesel cars to be brought forward eight years, to 2032.
The FT reports ‘lessons elsewhere’. Singapore has had an automated electronic road pricing scheme since 1988 and is moving to a satellite-based scheme in 2020 and advocates a move to cycling rates such as those In Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
Take a carrot-and-stick approach? The FT editorial board thinks that governments should both help and oblige people to change their behaviour
It cites Germany’s carrot-and-stick approach. A court ruling this week banned older diesel cars from driving in certain parts of Berlin – after the government had offered car owners generous bonuses for trading in older diesel cars.
The FT believes that The British government has not provided enough fiscal incentives to businesses and individuals who bought diesel vehicles in the mistaken belief that they were greener.
The Centre for London think-tank has proposed offering cash or mobility credits — which can be used to pay for public or shared transport — for scrapping diesel cars, as well as smarter distance-based car charges, and higher vehicle excise duties on the most polluting cars. The FT’s truism:
“Despite efforts to address it in London and other big cities, air pollution will remain dangerously high unless more people change behaviour. The City of London’s bold moves are worthwhile — but need to be happening not in a bubble, but right across the world’s major cities”.
After a year of disasters (documented in detail here), the reinsurance industry travelled to Monte Carlo for its annual get together (8-14 September).
Hurricane Irma was accompanied last year by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, along with earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in California. In all, there was $136bn of insured losses from natural and man-made catastrophes in 2017 according to Swiss Re, the third highest on record.
A report, “Climate Change and the Insurance Industry: Taking Action as Risk Managers and Investors”, was written by Maryam Golnaraghi, Director, Extreme Events and Climate Risk research programme for The Geneva Association, which is described as the industry’s leading thinktank.
It notes that following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there has been a burst of initiatives and activities across a wide range of stakeholders to support the transition to a low-carbon economy (mitigation side).
Latest developments include:
- growing but highly fragmented and in some cases conflicting climate policy and regulatory frameworks at national to local levels and across regions;
- innovation in clean and green technologies, with some gaining market share;
- rising interest in green financing, with efforts to reduce barriers to green investment on the part of shareholders, asset managers, standard-setting bodies and rating agencies, and growing demand for low-carbon commodities.
As well as building financial resilience to extreme events and other physical risks by providing risk information, improving distribution channels and payout mechanisms, Ms Golnaraghi reports that the insurance industry is supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy through its underwriting business, investment strategies and active reduction of its carbon footprint.
There is no reference to this support in the FT’s report of the insurance industry’s response to escalating disasters, summarised as:
- ‘a wave of merger and acquisition activity’ as insurers and reinsurers reconsider their business models,
- some are ‘bulking up’,
- others have decided to get out.
Reinsurance companies should call for immediate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, as climate change continues to progress and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and dangerous and heed the Environmental Defense Fund warning that if these are not ramped up, last year’s unprecedented disasters may soon become the norm.
The Times reports that incineration has grown from 5.5 million tonnes in 2012/13 to over 10 million in 2016/17 according to government data and since 2010 21 incinerators have been built, almost doubling the number in use, with another 18 under construction.
Cross-party MPs warning of an escalating “incinerator boom” releasing harmful particulates, harmful to public health.
UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), has launched its report with cross-party support from John Grogan MP (Lab), Philip Davies MP (Con), and Lord Tyler (Lib Dem). They called on the Government to introduce an incineration tax.
The research revealed that harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were equivalent to the emissions of more than a quarter-of-a-million 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles per year. This exceeds pollution reporting thresholds for particulates, but the report claimed that “due to a loophole” the public is not informed of the emissions.
Despite public resistance, the average incineration rate in the country is rising: about 38%, up from 30% two years earlier.
According to latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, about 342,872 tonnes of rubbish, 69% of all waste, ended up in specialist Energy-from-Waste (EfW) power plants as fuel to generate heat and electricity in 2016-2017.
Many communities have resisted incineration with all the means they had and, for many years, Gloucestershire residents did so, in a saga worth recording in full – see one instance.
Following the disclosure of the full contract and Information Tribunal ruling, Community R4C, a not for profit Community Benefit Society, commissioned two consultants not associated with CR4C, and drew on contributions from other independent experts, to provide evidence on the incinerator contract between GCC and UBB. Main findings:
Construction has started, despite this ongoing investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority into the contract held between the county council and Urbaser Balfour Beattie.
Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), goes to the heart of the matter: “Many councils are locked into long-term waste contracts that encourage the incineration of recyclable and compostable material.”
An online search supports the observation that some councils have already broken free of waste contracts: on the first page of results Ealing, Lancashire CC/Blackpool, Sheffield, Peterborough were named.
Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at Environmental Services Association, reckons the increase of waste incineration should be celebrated. She said: “Energy from Waste has increased because we are successfully moving away from landfill, which is more damaging to the environment. Energy from Waste saves 200kg of CO₂ per tonne of waste diverted from landfill, and generates low-carbon power far more efficiently than landfill, contributing to renewable energy targets and energy security”.
Jenny Jones (House of Lords) said: “There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option. What we have created instead is a market-driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed.”