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.
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.
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.
Here’s the full version of an article I wrote for the recent SOLACE Foundation Imprint on Local Government and Climate Change. My chapter (theme: new metrics, new thinking) had to be edited at the last minute, so a useful graphic, and the summary, were missing from the published version. This version, I think, tells the story a bit better.I’ve embedded the full article below. Have a look, and let me know what you think.
By me, from my old-fashioned website.
I did this diagram with Ian Christie that lots of people have found helpful. So I wanted to share it more widely. So I built an article for a SOLACE Foundation Imprint around it.
But the article was on hold for a year, and I had to put in a more recent diagram. So I’m sharing a cut of the original article. One year late. But I still think it’s helpful.
(By the way, the real thing is out next week; I’ve developed some of the thinking below).
shaping low-carbon communities (the pre-mix)
Friday, 1 July 2011
Next week, SOLACE will be publishing its latest Foundation Imprint on climate change. This will include a chapter of mine which focuses on consumption-based metrics and carbon budgets. It’s more intuitive, more fun and more of an opportunity for local government than you might think.
The thing is, all the contributors first wrote their chapters a year ago. So when publication was back on, a lot of time had passed, and I made plenty of amendments, to include the most up-to-date thinking and approaches. This meant that, regrettably, I removed a section that I really wanted to see the light of day, particularly the diagram that Ian Christie and I worked on together to help decision-makers get a clear perspective on carbon, and help them take a broader perspective. So here it is, instead:
“It pays to go back to first principles to see what emissions targets really mean for a local authority, because it makes us raise our sights from the processes that were put in place to enable authorities to respond to the demands of the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan and the previous government’s performance framework. I have often argued that local government needs to avoid treating climate change as ‘just another agenda’, on a par with the dozens of other agendas we work on. There are a number of reasons why this is important, not least the consequences of failure.
One approach that can help raise members’ and officers’ sights – and help establish a place-based understanding – is to visualise the emissions in the authority area. This can be done in a number of ways; the diagram below shows one way, focusing on responsibility. It seeks to outline who is responsible for the emissions in the locality. For the sake of readability, it exaggerates the size of the council’s own emissions and those of public sector partners: typically, an authority will be directly responsible for 1-2% of emissions and the total impact of the local state (including what it procures) is a little over 10%. So Zone B in the diagram represents nearly 90% of emissions.
Emissions in a place: who’s responsible?
Having a place-based understanding of emissions helps in a number of ways. Below are a number of reflections from recent discussions with leading members and officers.
Many readers will be well versed in the principles of adaptive leadership. At an organisation level, this makes sense in dealing with emissions reduction: it hasn’t been done before; relying purely on technical solutions would miss many important aspects; and serious innovation and realignment is needed. But the diagram above shows how the leadership required needs to be projected to the community level. SOLACE Enterprises’ Leading On Climate Change, a course which sets out to develop the new types of leadership skills required to address climate change, focuses on how ‘community-wide adaptive leadership’ can work. There is already some excellent community engagement in places (some Transition Towns, for example), but people involved often feel marginalised. One of the challenges right now is to join up the people who already want a low-carbon place to happen; Islington’s Climate Change Partnership is a good example.
Infrastructure, behaviour change and capacity
Zone B of the diagram is difficult territory for local government (despite some successes addressing emissions with businesses, landlords, community groups and others), but in some respects simplifies the challenge: we do not have the technology to enable us to maintain current lifestyles and reduce emissions at the required rate. So we need to see both major behaviour change and major change in infrastructure, to enable low-carbon choices to be made.
The infrastructural challenge is starting to be grasped. For example, feed-in tariffs for PV panels make it possible to construct financial packages which are beneficial to residents and authorities, as well as the banks. Developing the skills and capacity on which a low-carbon economy can be built is an urgent part of the challenge, being grasped now in London, Greater Manchester and elsewhere.
On behaviour change, however, we are at a fork in the road in local government. There is plenty of good work leading behaviour change towards low-carbon lifestyle; in West Sussex alone, there are around ten pro-environmental initiatives supported by the County Council. And there is plenty of theory and research now being produced, such as the recent Mindspace report. But hardly anyone in local government has behaviour change in their job description, and there is very little practice transfer or sharing of evidence. So we can either begin to professionalise local government’s work on behaviour change, setting up the networks and capacity building that will enable us to be more effective and scale our efforts, or we can continue to leave it to the wilful individuals who currently take the lead.
In my view, the perspective we get from this sort of analysis is timely. The sort of solutions we need to put in place to enable genuinely low-carbon living in our localities are completely consistent with the solutions we are now developing to deal with rapidly reducing funding for public services.
With radically reduced resources, through place-based budgeting and other innovation, local government is in the process of re-designing services to support resilient communities, individuals and families – the big society. I see very little difference between the reality of a sustainable, low-carbon community and the sort of resilient community described by those re-designing local services. For example, a resilient community will be sheltered from food and energy insecurity, will have strong capacity and social capital, and waste little. That sounds like a low-carbon, sustainable place.
These are the places of the future. In local government, we can help create them.”
One of the things that has surprised me about advocates of ecological footprinting (on which basis we have been ‘eating into capital rather than living off the interest’ of the biosphere since the 1980s) and of capitals metrics (where we measure wealth by adding up social, environmental, human, physical and financial capital, and then watch the trends) is that they have not in the past used the narrative that we have been in recession for a long time.
The evidence has been there to make the case for donkey’s years.
So, while I agree that there is an opportunity here, because the economic situation is so high profile and affecting most people personally, the big question is ‘where is the leadership going to come from to make these ideas mainstream?’. There’s even a populist case to be made that we’ve been tricked by always hearing about mean, rather than median, income: the top X% have been getting wealthier at the expense of the rest of us. You don’t even need to reference capitals models or wellbeing metrics to make this case. But even this sort of argument seems beyond those in the political mainstream.
Remember when you were given an injection at school? You were told to look away and then, before you had time to panic, the nurse was telling you it was all over. Maybe the best way to get people to accept something daunting is to tell them it’s happened already.
June 28, 2011 by Matthew Taylor
This thought occurred to me following a conversation yesterday and reading an article today. The conversation was with Jonathan Porritt, the Founder Director of Forum for the Future and perhaps our most influential and distinguished environmentalist (by the way I am very impressed by the ambition and rigor of Forum’s new strategy, based as it is on fundamental system reform).
As our conversation ranged far and wide,we agreed that in these times of economic difficulty and public spending austerity, the suggestion we should question traditional ideas of economic growth seems to most people at best irrelevant and at worst barmy. We didn’t pursue the issue much further but the implication was that it is only when growth feels reasonably secure that we can begin again to ask ‘but what kind of growth?’
Then, this morning, I read a powerful article in the Financial Times headlined ‘spectre of stagnating incomes stalks globe’. Here is a quote from the piece:
‘Median male real US earnings have not risen since 1975. Average real Japanese household income after taxation fell in the decade to mid-2000. And those in German have been falling for 10 years’.
We know from research commissioned by the TUC and the excellent work of the Resolution Foundation that the same is broadly true for the UK. The future looks no better (indeed it looks much worse in the short term for many countries including the UK). The impact is not just on those in the ‘squeezed middle’ but, arguably, on the whole liberal market model.
A second FT article on the same topic concluded thus:
‘Dick Longworth of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is more categorical ‘this is a consumer society and they’re the consumers…if they don’t buy, we don’t survive’
It is important to understand that what we are seeing is not the result of a downward blip but the collapse of the device – excessive household and national borrowing – which disguised the reality for the decade up to 2007. This is a profound crisis of global capitalism in the developed world.
But if you put the FT piece together with the Porritt conversation a surprising possibility emerges. Instead of talking about abandoning traditional growth as some kind of outlandish and unrealistic green vision, how about recognising that for most earners in the West no growth (in their living standards) has been the reality for over a generation.
In other words, the question is not how do we create a different model of growth but how do we adapt to the long drawn out end of the traditional model of growth? Or, to put it another way, how can the quality of our lives and our society improve even if for the majority of citizens disposable incomes (including the social wage of public investment) are not?
I saw this post (h/t @bankfieldbecky) and thought it highlighted the dilemma faced by policy-makers working out how to ‘do’ low carbon. This blog presents one side of the story, I’ve chosen to put the other side, here and also in the comments below the original blog post.
James argues for a moral revolution on climate change, similar to that witnessed in the Arab Spring, but I don’t think the analogy works. It’s not as though Egyptians, etc had ever felt as though they were choosing to live with no voice. In contrast, the high-carbon behaviours that are putting our species at risk are ones that we, as people in the developed world, are choosing. Not in full knowledge of the throughput of natural resources or an understanding of natural limits or awareness, but choosing nonetheless. In these circumstances, the idea of an analagous moral breakthrough (“We’re not standing for this any more; and we’re going to put ourselves in mortal danger to say so”) doesn’t stack up.
Climate change and moral revolutions
By James Garvey ⋅ June 10, 2011
I gave a talk on the ethics of climate change last night to the good people of 10:10, “a movement of people, schools, businesses and organisations, cutting their carbon 10% at a time”. They’re in a tiny, buzzing office down a back alley in London, and from that little spot a handful of exceptional people co-ordinate the carbon-cutting activities of more than one hundred thousand individuals, thousands of businesses, schools, colleges, universities and other organisations, including 155 local councils representing over 24 million people. They’re sometimes in the Skype Hut (a soundproofing measure) liaising with other 10:10 campaigns in 40 countries. The team involved are environmental X-Men, each one with a different superpower. If you let your guard down for a second, you’ll find them inspirational.
What do you say to a roomful of committed, bright, energetic people, who are actually doing something about climate change? I trotted out some moral arguments for action on climate change – trying to do something about the thought that morality is a turn off. I hear that a lot – the claim that we ought to find reasons other than moral ones for fighting climate change. Maybe we should talk about energy independence or saving money instead. You can read the talk here, but it is informal, not a careful piece for a journal.
It got me thinking about moral revolutions. There are moments in human history when the stars line up and people insist on something else entirely, largely or anyway partly because they think that it’s right. Think of the end of slavery in the US, campaigns against child labour or in favour of suffrage. Think of the Arab Spring and the part of that motivated by the thought that autonomy is right and despotism is wrong. I wonder what it is that shifts moral talk from irritating moralising that no one wants to hear, to a reason for standing in front of a tank. Any idea?
A good event at the LGA tonight, which sparked lots of thoughts and reminded of several things as well. I’m going to pick on just one. It was good to meet Alexis Rowell again, who stood for election and became a councillor (in Camden) purely because of his motivation to do something about climate change. This reminded me of something I was muttering about a year or two ago – that, from now on, every council member on election should see their core duty as ensuring the future viability of the area, or somesuch wording to encompass being sustainable and addressing both the mitigation and adaptation aspects of climate change. Whether through central legislation or through action by the local government ‘family’, we need to find a way. To me, this is all part of one of my main themes, namely making sure we do not address climate change as ‘just another agenda’, competing for priority with other activities. (Not quite) in the words of Bill Shankly – it’s more fundamental than that.