So the Committee on Climate Change has published its report on the role of local authorities in addressing climate change. This is significant, as it has previously only addressed things from a central government perspective, and was only asked (by the Government) to consider the role of local government, after a fair bit of lobbying by Friends of the Earth. The Committee’s views are significant as it exists to advise government on how to achieve the UK’s statutory carbon budget.
I only have time today to make two points. One for, one against.
First, the report has to be welcomed for making it clear that not acting on carbon is not an option. The Committee is clearly concerned that “at the moment there is no requirement for councils to set targets and implement measures to reduce emissions within their area. And the scale of ambition is generally low given limited funding and lack of obligation”. As a result, it recommends “the introduction of a statutory duty for local authorities to develop and implement carbon plans, and that national funding to support such programmes is increased”. It’s a shame that the Committee has had to say this, but they’re absolutely right. The Green Alliance report, Is Localism Delivering for Climate Change? made clear in October 2011 that many local authorities’ commitment to address carbon reduction has waned recently.
Statutory duties are, I admit, a mixed blessing. They jar with me as a Localist, but I have sometimes argued for local authorities to have a single statutory duty: to ensure the future viability of their area. Everything else should flow from this; it seems to get to the point of local governance which, for me, is all about place. I could argue that a statutory duty on carbon is a proxy for this, but in practice, it’s more straightforward than that: acting on carbon reduction cannot be optional for any place. Localism cannot be about whether or not my place does anything to reduce emissions; it should be about deciding how. So I don’t have a problem with a statutory duty – but let’s avoid the classic centralist model, where local plans are sent to a central template and signed off by civil servants.
Which brings me neatly to my second point. The Committee comes out against the introduction of local carbon budgets. Their rationale is that this would not be appropriate “given the multiple drivers of emissions, many of which are beyond their control”. If this is the case, then why do councils have ambitions about job creation or waste reduction? Pretty much everything a council does that could be broadly described as ‘community leadership’ or ‘place shaping’ (ie everything except simple service delivery) is subject to forces “beyond their control”. Why should this be a barrier on carbon? Further to this, based on this logic, the UK should not have a national carbon budget; success, after all, is dependent on factors which the national government can’t fully control.
I’ve written plenty about local carbon budgets in the past, and still see the case for them as straightforward: we have a national carbon budget; our emissions are the sum total of emissions in each locality; so it makes sense for each local authority area to have a local carbon budget – that way, there is a clear role for each place in contributing to the national commitment to reduce carbon. The LGA has argued that this would be ‘centrally-imposed, top-down’ target setting; I see it as taking responsibility, arguably subsidiarity.
So I would argue for local carbon budgets as the mechanism for ensuring both that the UK meets its commitments and that each local authority is able to be ambitious about their own place. I’m disappointed that the Committee on Climate Change hasn’t taken this view, but pleased that what they do suggest looks like progress. I hope the Government listens.
Today could turn out to be a significant day in history of Britain addressing climate change. Why? Because an influential cross-party Committee has called the Government to account on the myth at the heart of UK policy on carbon emissions: that the UK’s emissions are falling. And I’m pleased to say that pioneers in local government have played a part in demonstrating to MPs that this is worth doing.
The report Consumption Based Emissions Reporting is the result of an Inquiry by the Energy and Climate Change Committee. The lead story is its assertion that the Government should be open about ‘outsourced emissions’, quoting Chairman Tim Yeo as saying that, “the Department for Energy and Climate Change likes to argue that the UK is only responsible for 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions, but the Government’s own research shows this not to be the case. We get through more consumer goods than ever before in the UK and this is pushing up emissions in manufacturing countries like China.”
All governments since Kyoto have happily based policy on the principle that the only carbon metric that counts is ‘territorial’ emissions: in practice, the emissions this country is directly responsible for. This is an understandable conceit for government, as it can influence the energy efficiency of UK manufacturing in a way that it cannot mandate a factory in China.
This exclusive focus on territorial emissions, as the Committee recognises, leads to perverse incentives (if I fly for a weekend in Barcelona, and turn my central heating off while I’m away, this looks like a negative-carbon trip in the UK’s carbon accounts). And it leads to a total failure to recognise the carbon implications of our behaviours and decisions as citizens, beyond the realms of home energy and travel.
So, in challenging this – and the previous – government’s assertion that the UK’s emissions are falling, the Committee has made a massive leap in policy terms: it asserts that we, as individuals, have some responsibility for the emissions in the supply chains of the goods and services we buy and use, and that policy-makers should have an interest in this. In fact, it has asked DECC to “explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data into the policy-making progress”.
Amen to that. Because this matters.
In projects I have been involved in over the past year with Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting, we’ve established that mainstream policy-makers are completely at odds with people’s intuitive understanding of what they are responsible for. If you ask someone to compare the carbon impact of a flight they could take with the impact of a product they might buy, they do not distinguish between emissions in the UK and those elsewhere.
Yet policy-makers do nothing but, at national and local level. This is incongruous and helps explain why government action on climate change has so little salience with the public. It is why local government, for example, has an established track record encouraging behaviour change and demand management on the ‘territorial’ segments of our carbon footprint (transport modal shift, home energy, but relatively little on our broader consumption patterns. Food, in its different guises, accounts for approaching 25% of the consumption-based emissions of any locality, but local low-carbon food initiatives barely register compared to work on retrofitting, etc.
Let’s be realistic, though: in calling out policy-makers, the Committee hasn’t really made a giant leap: to extend the long-jump analogy, it’s really marking the start of the run-up. The real question is how we act on this.
Encouragingly, the report also says: “Ministers should explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data in to the policy making process and setting emissions targets on a consumption-basis at the national level”. And I’m delighted to see that the Committee acknowledges the work of the three local authorities who have explored the consumption perspective (West Sussex, Manchester and the Lake District NPA) in showing that this perspective is useful for local policy-makers.
What needs to happen now? In my view, though the Committee’s asks are for Central Government, the consumption perspective makes even more sense at a local level, and this is where local policy needs to be developed. It builds on local government’s strengths, as we have influenced behaviour to manage demand for a long time. However, there is no budget available for innovation in this vital area; all the work to date has relied on the political leadership from the likes of Louise Goldsmith and Sir Richard Leese.
Overall, the Committee’s report is as encouraging about using consumption-based metrics as we could reasonably have hoped. Credit to them, and also to the pioneers who have been prepared to make the early running on this. As I write, I’ve just remembered this photo I took in Parliament when the Inquiry heard evidence from local government witnesses. I hope they feel the time spent was worthwhile. I do.
Let’s be honest, it’s not often I am impressed by Ministers on carbon. So praise where it is due for Greg Barker’s speech on Green Deal to Ecobuild a couple of days ago.
His summary (below) is interesting, particularly the second and third bullets:
Today, I wanted to draw out three key points to unpack that simple description of the Green Deal:
- Firstly, this is a brand new way of approaching energy efficiency. Not a continuation of CERT, CESP, not a son of this or daughter of that;
- Secondly, it will create a brand new market and opportunities for industry. A market for the aspirational, not just for the worthy or energy sensible;
- Thirdly, don’t underestimate the power of communities in their many shapes and forms. These will be key to delivering this agenda
Along with many others, I’m often heard emphasising that ‘doing the right thing’ on carbon and sustainability needs to be seen as aspirational, not hair-shirted or twee. Unfortunately, many ‘green’ messages do come across as the latter. So it’s good to recognise this.
My present concerns about Green Deal, though, relate to whether we will be able to deliver on – and build on – an aspirational approach.
Green Deal will fail if, in the first instance, not enough households take up the offer. This is recognised by all as a real risk, but little work has been done on how to manage this risk.
A second risk of failure is if Green Deal in practice does not build local skills and economies. This risk needs to be understood and addressed by local government; the centre will not take the lead. So when I hear tales of local authorities taking the lead in bringing together local consortia, with clarity about building local skills and using local SMEs to deliver, I’m pleased. But I don’t hear these stories often enough.
A third risk is beginning to be recognised by some in local government. This is the very real fear the the actuals savings on householders will not be realised as they ‘take comfort’. As it stands, there is no real incentive for private sector installers to tackle the behaviour change issue head on. My concern here is that it is now quite late in the day for local authorities to be solving this. And yet we’ve known since Kirklees first carried out mass retrofitting that half of the potential (carbon and financial) savings can be lost to people taking advantage of living in more energy efficient, less draughty homes by ‘walking around in t-shirts’.
The fourth risk I would identify is less recognised even by sustainability professionals and climate officers. This is the risk that we do not take the opportunity of engaging with people on energy use – with a clear carbon imperative – to also find ways of encouraging behaviour change in relation to our consumption-based carbon footprint. In reality, household emissions are a small proportion of our total footprint. This could be a great opportunity to help people take responsibility for their wider footprint. I suspect that few authorities are on the case with this, but I’d love to hear from any that are.
I’ve copied a few paras below, but you really should go to the Guardian website and read the whole article.
This is important because it allows us – very briefly, and possibly illusory – a glimpse of decoupling. Could it be that it is possible after all to reduce material throughput while economic activity increases?
Like I say, it’s just a glimpse. Even if Goodall’s tentative conclusions turn out to be true (and there are important caveats), the degree of decoupling would be nowhere near that required to reduce our resource use enough to sustain our civilisation in the long-term. But – hey – when you thought you’d never see even a glimpse, be pleased.
Two quick points:
One of several important caveats about the metrics is that the story on carbon looks different. ‘Offshoring’ our emissions to China not only gets them off our books; it also multiplies them massively, according to recent (not yet peer reviewed) data I’ve seen.
My main reflection on this article is that this is exactly the sort of discussion that needs to be at the heart of our political and policy debate. This is just the sort of finding that we look at the implications of if we are trying, as Tim Jackson has challenged us, to create the new macro-economics.
We can’t pretend that it is in the mainstream. Yet. But we need to use the influence we have to make it so.
Why is our consumption falling?
From food to paper and water, Britain has gradually been guzzling less over the past decade. Why?
With so many significant events to look back on, one thing that few people will remember 2001 for is its entry in the UK’s Material Flow Accounts, a set of dry and largely ignored data published annually by the Office for National Statistics.
But, according to environment writer Chris Goodall, those stats tell an important story. “What the figures suggest,” Goodall says enthusiastically, “is that 2001 may turn out to be the year that the UK’s consumption of ‘stuff’ – the total weight of everything we use, from food and fuel to flat-pack furniture – reached its peak and began to decline.”
Goodall discovered the Material Flow Accounts while writing a research paper examining the UK’s consumption of resources. The pattern he stumbled upon caught him by surprise: time and time again, Brits seemed to be consuming fewer resources and producing less waste. What really surprised him was that consumption appears to have started dropping in the first years of the new millennium, when the economy was still rapidly growing.
In 2001, Goodall says, the UK’s consumption of paper and cardboard finally started to decline. This was followed, in 2002, by a fall in our use of primary energy: the raw heat and power generated by all fossil fuels and other energy sources. The following year, 2003, saw the start of a decline in the amount of household waste (including recycling) generated by each person in the country – a downward trend that before long could also be observed in the commercial and construction waste sectors.
Can’t argue with conclusions of @greenallianceUK @mrskumquatkid report on #localgov & climate change
I recommend this report as an overview of the current state of play in local government on climate change strategy and action. Download it for free from the site linked below. It doesn’t make for happy reading, suggesting a retrenchment overall, with few authorities seeing the arguable additional ‘localist’ freedoms as an opportunity to move action on carbon and climate up the agenda.
I like that Green Alliance (author Faye Scott is @mrskumquatkid on Twitter) seed the report with reminders that local action needs to be about building resilience and making the transition to a low carbon economy and society. Sounds like one of my blogs. But I’d like to see more recognition from them that this will require a major focus on lifestyles and (in carbon terms) acting on consumption emissions. Local government is free to ignore these, and nearly all authorities do; the report contains just two explicit references to local authority interest in the consumption perspective.
So, on the gloomy side: there is a downward trend, and many authorities aren’t hitting the low bar that has been set. On the plus side, the green shoots of local interest in consumption metrics. I hope Green Alliance and others will encourage these.
Is localism delivering for climate change? Emerging responses from local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and neighbourhood plans
This report explores the impacts of the coalition’s localism agenda on climate change action. It asks:
- Are local authorities continuing to work on climate change?
- How is action being encouraged?
- What potential do local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), local nature partnerships (LNPs) and neighbourhood plans have to strengthen local action on climate change?
Based on extensive interviews and two surveys, the report finds a three-way split between local authorities. A third are maintaining their action on climate change, a third are narrowing their work and a third are opting out of action altogether. Overall, the results suggest that climate change work has narrowed, is very weak or absent in 65 per cent of local authorities.
This is my analysis from last week’s Local Government Chronicle. What’s it about? Here’s a clue: though I learned many years ago that sub-editors never accept the author’s suggestion for a title, I still try – and for this one my attempt was “It’s The Local Economy, Stupid”.
The challenge councils are working on now, dealing with funding cuts, are minor compared to the challenges our places face as a result of systemic global problems. This is why people like Neil McInroy focus on the concept of local ‘resilience’.
I accept that there aren’t yet many local politicians looking to reshape their local economies to meet these fundamental challenges. So the argument needs to be won.
You can help by asking your local leader, “What will the local economy be like if the financial markets meltdown after a default by, say, Greek and Portugal? And wouldn’t it be good to start right now to shape it so that it can deal with shocks like that?”
Creating a sustainable future at the grass roots
22 September 2011 | By Warren Hatter
All local economies are facing instability in three systems on which we depend: in the financial markets, in energy supply and prices, and in ecosystem services. And we can already see local problems caused by instability in these systems: just look at the boarded windows on a typical high street, rapidly rising domestic energy prices, or the way that more homes are becoming uninsurable due to flood risk.
Worse, whatever the causes of the recent riots in urban England, they are a sure sign that there are many who feel detached from their local economy. Worse still, all these systems are now subject to major shocks, whether this is financial meltdown from a European country defaulting on its loans, massive jumps in food prices or cuts in oil supply.
There are concrete ways of getting to the understanding that your locality is vulnerable. Maybe through ecological footprinting of the area and starting to understand ‘one planet’ principles (like Sutton LBC); through commissioning a consumption-based carbon footprint, revealing that the true scale of the carbon challenge is more than twice what NI186 has had us believe (like West Sussex CC); or through a networked approach to place planning (like CLES’s work on local resilience).
When leaders realise that their local economy is not fit for purpose, what do we do? First, recognise where we need to go. We often hear leaders talking about the opportunities of a ‘low carbon economy’, but there is much more to this concept than benefitting from ‘green growth’ by providing goods and services related to energy provision and efficiency. The local economy that evolves will need to be:
resilient to shocks linked to food supply
resilient on energy
using much lower-carbon supply chains for everything
able to maintain its natural and social capital
If we don’t choose to be laissez faire, what can local government do to create the conditions for this new, sustainable economy to thrive?
Recognise that place is important
The “little platoons” approach to localism and big society will not suffice here. I believe that there is a vital role for leadership of place (place shaping, place stewardship, call it what you will) that is often absent from Big Society narratives and which is best carried out by a strategic body with a mandate: the local authority. As NLGN has suggested, some places are better equipped than others for the ‘Big Society’, so some intervention is needed. But this has to be about supporting communities, not top-down approaches which stifle innovation.
Grow our economic capacity
Relatively few economists work for local government; still fewer who are engaged with the ‘new economics’ and want to develop policies that let diverse, local enterprise flourish and resource loops become closed. In the future, for example, how can we encourage funding through a new local lending infrastructure? There is a range of models being used and proposed by the likes of NESTA.
Evolve our approaches to local leadership
More than ever, local authority leadership has to allow others in the community the space to lead. To do this, we need to excel at recognising civic entrepreneurship, and nurturing it. And enable the networks that are most likely to bring innovations to scale, so that every place might benefit from innovation elsewhere.
A sophisticated approach to behaviour change
More resilient, successful places can only be created with significant lifestyle changes, but we know that, in recent years, attempts to persuade people towards lower-impact lifestyles have had limited success; increasingly, we are learning to make sustainable living aspirational and in tune with people’s values.
We will have to measure our wealth in a much more rounded way than GDP and GVA do at present. One benefit of new ways of understanding success is that it will make sense for local assets to be used to their full potential.
Whatever we call it, the signs are that the new economy, the Civic Economy, the Big Society, is emerging, with massive energy, with diverse leadership and funding mechanisms and with a strong sense of place. Though these disrupt business as usual, they point to a high-wellbeing, resilient future with high social capital; this is unequivocally an opportunity agenda.
If we can work our way through the challenges, we will find that the local initiatives like these become mainstream. Delivering them is not our job in local government; creating the fertile ground for them to grow and thrive, is.
Warren Hatter is a local improvement advisor specialising in climate change, behaviour change and local leadership
Two recent reports make it clear there are already plenty of initiatives to inspire and councils are involved in many of them. Among the many initiatives highlighted in NESTA’s Compendium for the Civic Economy and NLGN’s Realising Community Wealth are:
- Fintry community energy partnership, producing profits from sustainable energy for a whole community
- Nottingham University Hospitals’ sustainable food procurement, promoting local entrepreneurs and growers while improving value for the NHS
- Sutton Bookshare, a virtual library where members lend books to each other
- Time Banks network in Islington, enabling people to share skills
- Southwark Circle, a co-designed membership scheme for older residents
- Surrey Museums’ provision by volunteers
It’s good that LGC has used this story to highlight some of the real progress made by local authorities in reducing carbon. But I’m afraid that the stats showing falling emissions in every authority only tell part of the story: the territorial part.
Once we take into account the emissions we are all responsible for, the emissions needed to create the goods and services we use and buy, the story is very different. These embedded emissions have been increasing, but central and local government don’t report them. So the real story is that every area is responsible for way more carbon that we admit, and most of it is outsourced.
Some authorities, such as West Sussex County Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, are starting to understand the consumption footprint of their area, and explore how it can influence policy. And they are part of a growing trend: only this week, an Inquiry was launched by the parliamentary Energy & Climate Change Committee to investigate the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK.
Council carbon data published
19 September, 2011 | By Rachel Salmon
Carbon emissions fell in almost all local authority areas in recent years, according to government figures.
Figures released last week by the Department for Energy and Climate Change showed an overall fall of 14% across all local authority areas between 2005 and 2009.
The report found that domestic emissions had fallen in all local authority areas but there were rises in industrial, commercial and road emissions.
Progress: a Parliamentary Ctee Inquiry into UK consumption-based #emissions reporting #carbon #climatechange
I just want to celebrate that this is happening. If you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I bang on about consumption-based emissions a lot. Because it’s vital, and because so few other people do. But most of all because naive me still cannot believe how blinkered policy-makers at all tiers are in ignoring this perspective. Rant over. Thanks to Tim Yeo. Let’s hope it’s an important step on the road to having governance arrangements and policy-making that takes account of the carbon in supply chains.
Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting
The Energy and Climate Change Committee, chaired by Tim Yeo MP, is today launching an inquiry to investigate the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK.
The UK’s reported greenhouse gas emissions have decreased since 1990, in line with our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. However, it has been suggested that this is a result of the way that emissions are currently accounted for, which is on a production basis. Production-based emissions reporting only takes account of emissions produced physically within a particular territory. If a consumption-based accounting approach was to be used—that is, reporting the carbon embedded in all of the goods and services consumed within the UK—it is very likely that the emissions attributable to the UK would be shown to have been increasing.
The Committee will examine the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK. The Committee invites responses addressing some or all of the following questions:
- How do assessments of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions differ when measured on a consumption rather than a production basis?
- Is it possible to develop a robust methodology for measuring emissions on a consumption rather than production basis and what are the challenges that need to be overcome to deliver this?
- What are the benefits and disadvantages associated with taking a consumption-based rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?
- Is there any evidence of industry relocating from the UK to other countries as a result of UK climate change policy?
- Would it be (a) desirable and (b) practicable for the UK to adopt emissions reduction targets on a consumption rather than production basis?
- What are the potential implications at the international level of the UK adopting a consumption- rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?
- Are there any other issues relating to consumption-based emissions reporting that you think the Committee should be aware of?
I recommend ‘Climate Check’, a new report from Green Alliance, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF, aimed at holding the Coalition Government to account on its low carbon commitments. In summary, it’s a mixed verdict. I want to hightlight this for two reasons:
First, to raise the profile of this as an accountability mechanism. It is vital that this sort of analysis is happening, and high profile, not least in the absence of the Sustainable Development Commission.
Second, to raise the issue (as I often to) about consumption-based emissions policy. Now that we know that half of the emissions for which we are responsible are not covered by the territorial emissions commitments the government has made, there is also a role for these NGOs to be challenging the Government to do so. This report is not about lobbying for further commitment, but …
I would like to see future editions of ‘Climate Check’ track progress on the one commitment relating to consumption-based emissions that this Government has made: in its Carbon Plan, published in March 2011, it committed to “gather evidence on the contribution that the production of goods and services that are consumed in the UK is making to carbon emissions in other countries. The Government will develop plans to reduce the most significant emissions …. for example, management of emissions through supply chains.” This may be a modest commitment, but it is the only one linked to half our footprint, so arguably more important to advance than any one of the many government pledges relating to the territorial half of our carbon impact.
The Coalition government was formed in May 2010 on the basis of a common policy platform thrashed out over several politically charged days. That platform, the Coalition Programme, contains some significant commitments to the UK’s low carbon transition which should increase the UK’s economic resilience by decreasing the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels.
This report is an assessment of the Coalition’s progress against the low carbon commitments set out in its programme for government. The analysis has been undertaken and produced by five of the UK’s leading environment and development organisations – Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Green Alliance, RSPB and WWF.
The report assesses both the quality of the policies that underpin the government’s low carbon commitments and the timeliness of their delivery. It makes recommendations about how performance on individual policies can be improved, as well as three high level recommendations which tackle the major barriers to better performance.