Category Archives: Environment

Will government stand by its pledge to wind down coal-fired power generation?

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.

 

 

 

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“The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people”

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.

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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.

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Likeminded advocates 

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 the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world,, 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”.

 

 

 

 

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Gove ‘pledges’ cheaper, unlabelled, gene-edited food in his Brave New World

At a time when apprehensions about low-quality food entering the country post Brexit are rising, the Times reports that Michael Gove, the environment secretary has announced that “Britain will lead an agricultural revolution with the use of gene editing”.

In July, after hearing scientific evidence that gene editing “causes many profound mutations and DNA damage”, the European Court of Justice ruled that food resulting from genome editing would be regarded as genetically modified, which is outlawed in Europe.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is underwhelmed

Disregarding this science-based evidence, Gove pledged, at yesterday’s CLA meeting in Westminster, that scientists and farmers would be freed from this European court ruling. The first report seen however, makes no reference to this exciting prospect, whatsoever.

Genome editing, or genome engineering is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in a specific location in the genome (genetic material) of a living organism, unlike early genetic engineering techniques that randomly insert genetic material into a host genome.

Support from vested interests

Scientists in the industry, like the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, funded by the government’s Department of Business believe that the technique will lead to crops and animals with higher yields, resistance to disease and the ability to cope with the effects of climate change.

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, urged the government to keep the UK aligned with the European court: “Scientific research has long shown that these new gene-editing technologies give rise to similar uncertainties and risks as GM always has. We have always been clear that these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and therefore are banned in organic farming and food”.

Bloomberg reports that under the Trump administration, gene-edited foods don’t need to be labelled or regulated and that Zach Luttrell, a principal at industry consultant StraightRow LLC, sees gene-editing as a way to continue lowering costs. 

 

 

 

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Inaction over climate change is shameful: Martin Wolf

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”.

 

 

 

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FT: City of London’s clean air plan is a model for others

The FT’s editorial board highlights actions being taken by the local authority to turn parts of the City of London’s ‘Square Mile’ into a zero-emissions zone by 2022. Details here.

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”.

 

 

 

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Only one group in Britain is acting on the danger to the country’s food security

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Nationally and internationally eminent researchers and commentators are focusing on the damage done to damage the environment and human health by agriculture (example).

This, in a country whose manufacturing industry was the first to pollute its air, water and soil and whose armaments industry continues the process (see a recent study of pollution caused by war activity, during development and testing of hardware, weapon systems and procedures, war operations and subsequent reconstruction).

A country which could and should provide its own staple food is becoming increasingly dependent on imports because their family farmers have been grossly underpaid for many years by middlemen and large retailers. According to the NFU (2015), the number of dairy farmers in England and Wales has halved since 2002 – cause and effect.

As family farmers leave in droves each year we must assume that the country’s environment and human health will improve by leaps and bounds. Not so, their land will be bought by those largescale investors who have reaped the benefit of EU subsidies for so many years.

William Taylor and other leaders of Northern Ireland’s farming organisations have been actively lobbying politicians from all parties and none. Their August press release ended:

Farming families traditionally were charity givers, now 25%+ are living below the poverty line, therefore, denoting complete current Government policy failure. FFA therefore call on the Westminster Government to implement legislation on farm gate prices which would return farmers a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked forthwith across the staples throughout the UK to force fairness into the food chain for farmers immediately. 

There is now proof from University College Dublin that in the farming industry every new job on a farm would create 4 down the line and whilst farming is not viewed by Westminster as the biggest UK industry in money terms (partly the fault of the food corporates) it is the largest UK industry by tonnage handled, 60%+ of all commercial road vehicles haul food or food related products to give but one example. 

If legislation on farm gate prices is not forthcoming from Westminster, such as that being sought at Stormont when it re-sits to sort the UK’s farm gate price crisis, then it will confirm what we all suspect, the large food retailers are out of control with their influence in ‘Democratic’ Westminster, the limited powers of the supermarket Ombudsman’s Office a case in point!

 

 

 

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Reinsurers: heed industry thinktank as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires escalate

 

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 FTs 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.

 

 

 

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Incinerators 7: Cross-party MPs – escalating “incinerator boom” is harmful to public health.

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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.

A warning about toxic air pollution at a power from waste incineration plant in Billingham, Teeside. 

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.

Apologia

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.”

 

 

 

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Media 89: accolade for Clean Technica: clear and accurate


As social and mainstream media gave the impression that Ireland has become the world’s first country to fully divest from fossil fuel investments, Clean Technica’s coverage makes it clear that this has not yet happened:

“Ireland is likely to become the world’s first country to fully divest from fossil fuel investments after a bill was approved by the Irish lower house this week, and now awaits approval by the country’s Senate . . .

“The bill will now move on to the Seanad Éireann, the upper house of Ireland’s legislature, the Oireachtas, through which it is expected to pass smoothly”.

 

 

 

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Secret State 22: Mega farms – Owners? Directors? Donations?

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Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.

Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?

Why are there no official records held by DEFRA  on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations  say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:

-an industrial facility,
-manufacturing facility
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory

Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?

A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian

Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.

The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.

Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.

Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by  Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.

A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.

The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.

Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…

“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”

 

 

 

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