2 Dec 2008

Building a low carbon economy? No not really

Had this from Jonathon, thanks!

Just tried to get a flavour for the new report - building for a low carbon future (see http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Environment/documents/2008/12/01/BuildingALowCarbonEconomy.pdf)

which sets out the way the government intends to implement the new climate change act. It is useless and dangerous.

Four things stand out for me...

1. Technology-led and assumes business and economic growth as usual. No demand reduction, culture or societal change. Even has a picture of a jumbo jet flying over wind turbiines on the front cover - which sums up the lack of an inspiring vision on the inside.
2. Produced with big business not climate/green thinkers.
3. Currently only aims for a short term target that is 68% of that needed - and the increase to dependant on a global agreement allows 32% offsetting (anyone able to read this properly and confirm?)
4. Construction, consumption and continuous economic growth are ignored: a triple-con.

Few thoughts below

1. You don't have to get far beyond the front cover for the hypocrisy to be self evident - the image of a jumbo jet flying over a few wind turbines. Surely this is climate denial at its most dangerous - not simply encouraged by government but practicised by government. Seems that it is (low) carbon business as usual and no action required by anyone except business and the government. Pretty disempowering. The best way to avoid transition before tipping point, to avoid a climate secure future is to convince everyone that we have already achieved what is required - that a new climate bill removes the need for us to act at all.

2. Nice to see that the bill was produced with the help of Shell, British Energy and EdF Energy (p10) - a shame that the Tyndall Centre on Climate Change or the Centre for Alternative Technology (for example) were not invited!

3. Can offset 32% emissions up until 2020 once a global agreement signed and before it is signed only have to head towards a 54% emission reduction by 2050.


Missing 20% of total UK emissions - twice.

Bill appears to miss the impacts of construction entirely (see below) which accounts for 20% emissions. You cannot control construction with ETS applied to the supply chain. Not having targets to ever expand the built environment - housebuilidng, urban renaissance, regeneration, etc would help. Planning restraint not ETS is needed - but that has just been relaxed - both for individual homes (Oct 1st) and for large schemes (last week).

Also misses consumption. Around 20% of emissions according to WWF's counting consumption are due to our net imports (and shipping and flying them and us around the world). Probably a lot more if you count the emissions to build the factories, infrastructure etc for export-led development, to sustain our consumption addiction, that we foster upon the majority world.

So if it is only 80% of 64% of the total UK emissions are actually targetted in the report and 32% of this can be offset then the bill only really commits the UK to about 36% of emission reductions by 2050. Not really worth staying up to read!

Specific things can criticise too like only need an 'expectation' that CCS can be achieved by 2020 before more coal fired power, etc. but the whole approach looks flawed.

PS - Construction emissions are 15-20% of UK emissions (Defra total emissions in UK, excluding international shipping and aviation. This is around 13% for construction materials (principally bricks, steel and concrete), 30% of UK freight transport, energy on site, indirect sector emissions). About half of this is housing. Table 2-13 (p99) highlights potential for 17% potential savings in iron/steel and 12% in cement but volume of global steel production has increased 20 fold from 1980 to 2006 so this is not exactly going to help much. Brick production has not slowed either. Bricks used to made of earth and straw - not heat. Technology will not reduce construction emissions when our response to lower energy intensity of materials is to use more. This highlights the fallacy of a technology led approach that fails to consider economic growth.

Construction emissions cannot be controlled by ETS on supply of industrial products – as there is no constraint on the scale of these sectors – and demand is growing. Planning would be a more effective measure – and would stop the unneccesary.

- additional housing (increase heating/building emissions – since 1970 average house temperature gone up by 7C – Defra data – and total emissions proportional to no. of homes and not influenced by any insulation measures at all)

- additional transport (unless trends of increased distance travelled are stopped by constraining demand by stopping road/rail/air building and focusing on pedestrian/bike localisation transport targets are a joke

- increased need for future maintenance, which is roughly 50% of construction industry spend, and currently around 10% of UK emissions, depending how choose to measure. The only note on emissions of construction noted in the report is that for the construction of cars and wind turbines.

We have had the triple crunch. This is the triple con - failing to consider the impact of construction, consumerism and continuous economic growth as usual. It looks like the neo-con project for assured planetary destruction remains the only thing that is likely to remain alive and living well.

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